The greatest aircraft that never were

Since the first caveman looked up from his ram-raiding to see a police helicopter majestically hovering over the high street, man has been fascinated by the idea of flight.Soon after, Icarus’ life-coach told him to be more ambitious and the path was set: humans were the ‘aviator ape’, the ‘flying monkey’. It was then a short hop from the farm animals and criminals sent into the Parisian skies by the Montgolfier Brothers to today’s 600mph airliners where you can purchase a mini tube of Pringles for £1.80. While some aircraft, like the 747 and Edgley Optica, are household names, many incredible flying machines have been placed into the overflowing recycling bin of history only to be blown down the pavement of obscurity by a gust of anonymity. Today we will run down the road in the unbelted dressing gown and Birkenstocks of historical research —  and retrieve these lost birds. Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles teamed up with Texan automotive illustrator Web Pierce, a little too much peyote and lost weekend to bring you The greatest aircraft that never were

Baratynsky By-12


The By-12 was described by test pilot Ivan Platonov as a ‘total dick’ to fly. It is rumoured that Chief Designer Pyotr Baratynsky was a ‘Frisby buddy’ of Joseph Stalin.

The Baratynsky By-12 was a Soviet jet fighter-bomber of the late 1940s. Resembling a swept-forward wing de Havilland Vampire, the type was in fact twice as large as the British aircraft. Its novel Chukovsky RL-24 power-plant, described as a ‘Wankel rotary-type scramjet compressed turbine’ was a technological cul-de-sac; though capable of astonishing acceleration rates the engine was so loud that the pilot had to be housed in a metal pod sound-insulated with three-feet of mattress material, earning it the unofficial nickname of ‘The Devil’s Bed’ (Krovat’ d’yavola). Capable of astonishing agility and armed with two 120-mm recoilless cannon, the type proved extremely effective in combat trials. However, the  type never went into full production due to what an official investigation described as a ‘gypsy curse’.

Stetson AD-54 Despoiler


The Despoiler was the first aircraft to land before its maiden flight.

The AD-54 was designed to fulfil a 1962 US Army requirement for a close air support aircraft capable of feeling love while requiring less maintenance than a Jeep. The brainchild of eccentric rubber magnate and television psychic Elber T. Stetson, the aircraft was designed in only twelve minutes using what Stetson mysteriously described as the ‘wiggle principle’. The Despoiler was powered by a Ford V8 automobile engine and armed with a fire axe, a stun grenade and working knowledge of Beat poetry. During clandestine operations in Viennese sex clubs in the early 60s the type proved popular with couples.

The only bi-sonic business jet to enter service, the Connasse was a one-off aircraft built for the French singer Serge Gainsbourg. Combining features found on the Mirage IV with those of the Citroen DS created an aircraft of singular appearance, listed by the the Académie d’Esthétique Aéronautique de Paris as the second most beautiful object in the world after the Citroen Picasso. The aircraft was unusual in landing backwards (to avoid airport tax). The airframe is currently displayed in a backstreet behind Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, where it functions as a brothel and phone repair shop.

HB Aero-Basilica


The Aero-Basilica received a comprehensive upgrade in the 1980s after which it became both weaponised and canonised.


Vatican City’s only aircraft design bureau, the Holy Order of Heavenly Bodies Built in Furtherance of Our Lord, created the Aero-Basilica in an attempt to create a Sacrament of Penance/Indulgences enforcement vehicle capable of effective operation at tree-top level. The aircraft consists of a cathedral mated to the airframes of three Mi-10 ‘Hark’ helicopters bonded with super-defused faith. The Aero-Basilica is the fastest aircraft in its class and can perform three Hail Marys in one 360 degree turn.

The Wiltshire Aeroplane Company Shire Horse Mk. III

The Shire House was designed to operate from the gardens of country pubs. The cockpit smelt of brass and ale.

Despite being made from butterscotch and powered by the unpublished works of Jerome K. Jerome, the Shire Horse was a formidable local fighter of the early interwar period. Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown’s notorious twin brother Alan ‘Picker’ Brown flew the aircraft in the village harassment role during the unsuccessful Wiltshire War of Independence (1922-28), he described the aircraft as, “A maddening bitch wrought from speed, terror and linseed oil with the landing characteristics of an obese cadaver falling down a spiral staircase.”

More of Will’s amazing illustration’s here.

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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 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 aircraft design – Part 4: Manoeuvre Performance

When we think of a fighter aircraft we think of its high manoeuvrability. Even today, this exciting and romantic trait is still highly desirable. We look at the best ‘turners and burners’ in service today and the science behind it. 

A missile needs to be placed into the right section of sky to kill its target, and a fighter aircraft must also have a decent chance of dodging enemy missiles. High manoeuvrability also gives the fighter a greater opportunity to evade enemy sensors or eyes. Even when missiles can be told the position of their target not just through their own limited ‘vision’ by via the direction the pilot is pointing her head, or sensors both on and off the launcher aircraft, manoeuvrability is still valuable. High manoeuvrability is expensive though both in terms of the g-force it generates, and the demands it will put on the design of the aeroplane. The g-force, is a measurement of the type of force that causes a perception of weight. On Earth normal gravity gives us 1G conditions, and that’s what the human body is best at dealing with. A hard manoeuvring fighter can reach 9G, though greater G is possible, 9G is the effective limit of what the body can withstand repeatedly while performing the tasks required of a fighter pilot. At 9G a 100kg pilot would feel and move as if he weighed 900kg.


Over to Jim Smith for more:  “For significant parts of the flight envelope, manoeuvre performance may be limited by the structural design of the aircraft, which is likely to be constrained to no more than 9g. This is due to the limitations of the human pilot, even supported by a ‘g-suit’. One key manoeuvre parameter is the instantaneous turn rate (the ability to suddenly pull a turn from level flight)which fundamentally depends on wing loading (how much weight each square of metre is supporting) and usable lift coefficient (in simple terms, how much lift is available to the aircraft). The significance is that this is a measure of how rapidly energy may be traded against turn rate to temporarily point the nose to the aircraft, for example to gain a firing opportunity, or to evade a threat such as a surface-to-air missile. Since supersonic combat aircraft have relatively low lift curve slopes*, due to sweep, and low aspect ratio wings, a number of the following may be used to provide a short-term increase in turn rate: Thrust-vectoring (the mechanical steering of the jet exhaust) provides a powerful way of nose-pointing, particularly at relatively low speeds; A delta wing with sharp leading edges will generate a leading edge vortex, which will increase both lift and drag; A leading-edge root extension (LERX) or strake may be added to a lower sweep wing to mimic the vortex flows generated by a delta and increase lift; Higher thrust-to-weight ratio may be required to overcome the drag at high incidence – particularly if the turn is to be sustained, rather than allowing energy to bleed off; Finally, unstable configurations are preferred, as these maximise the effect of controls. European and Chinese aircraft favour the use of a destabilising canard, while US aircraft generally do not, preferring closely-coupled tailed near-delta configurations.

*Lift curve slope is the amount of lift you get for a given angle between the wing and the airflow. Low lift curve slope means this is less than usual.


 A leading-edge root extension (LERX) – the curving surface joining the front of the wing to the main body of the aircraft- may be added to a lower sweep wing to mimic the vortex flows generated by a delta and increase lift.

For instantaneous turn rate  the aircraft may be either structurally limited to 9g, or aerodynamically limited by the lift available, dependent on the maximum possible wing lift (known as CLmax), speed, density and wing loading. Except for that area of the flight envelope where the aircraft is capable of delivering a sustained turn at 9g, energy and speed will reduce, and the rate of reduction will depend on Thrust to Weight ratio (high T/W reduces decay rate), and lift dependent drag (high lift dependent drag increases decay rate). 


European and Chinese aircraft favour the use of a destabilising canard, while US aircraft generally do not, preferring closely-coupled tailed near-delta configurations. The Russian approach largely uses closely-coupled tailed near-deltas, but sometimes includes canards and in the near future , with Su-57,  will include adjustable leading–edge vortex controllers (LEVCONs)

At altitude, at some point, an instantaneous turn rate of 9g will no longer be achievable because the wing will have reached maximum available lift, Clmax. Above this altitude, the turn rate available will depend on wing loading and Cl max, and the bleed off in energy will depend on T/W, and lift-dependent drag as indicated above. Thrust vectoring may assist in generating a rapid pitch response, as will an unstable configuration with an advanced flight control system.


At transonic and supersonic speeds, wave drag will become an additional factor, with high wave drag increasing the speed decay rate.

From all this, we can extract the following pointers for good instantaneous turn rate:

– Low wing loading (the ‘wing loading’ is how much weight each square metre of wing is supporting)

– High max lift coefficient

– Thrust Vectoring

– Unstable designs with advanced Flight Control Systems

And for lower bleed-off in energy

– Low lift-dependent drag

– High Thrust to Weight

– Low wave drag if transonic or supersonic


The close coupled Euro-canards, Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen are likely to be very good; F-22 is also good due to high T/W, thrust vectoring, and wing area; Su-35 likely to be pretty good too – big wing, reasonable aspect ratio, canards, and thrust vectoring. F-35 will perhaps have more energy bleed off due to its higher wave drag, lower T/W, and higher wing loading

Best current aircraft: Difficult to assess and likely to vary dependent on Mach number and altitude, but suggest Typhoon and Rafale, with perhaps Gripen, F-22 and Su-35 also very good.



Sustained turn rate for part of the flight envelope will be limited to the best that can be achieved with a ‘g-suit’ equipped human pilot. Reaching those levels may influence wing design, through wing loading, aspect ratio and sweep, unless these are constrained by other requirements. Thrust-to-weight ratio will possibly also be influenced by the turn rates required, as sustained turning flight is a high drag situation.


However, the area of the flight envelope in which the aircraft will be capable of sustaining 9g will be substantially less than the area in which it can generate an instantaneous 9g turn rate. To generate and sustain a high turn rate, the aircraft will be relying on the extra energy available – as we have seen ((T-D)/W) x V, but with the wing at high lift.

For good sustained turn rate, we need:

– Low lift-dependent drag, and hence a higher aspect ratio

– Low wave drag if transonic or supersonic – noting this is likely to drive to low aspect ratio and high sweep

– High Thrust to Weight

– Low wing loading

The highly-optimised close-coupled Euro-canards are likely to be the best current aircraft; the Su-35 has higher aspect ratio but potentially higher wing loading. I suspect F-22 will be competitive, but F-35 is likely to have lower sustained turn rate, as it has higher wing loading. In considering the F-22 and F-35, one should remember that the operating concept for both is likely to avoid the close-in turning fight typical of within-visual-range air combat. 


Flight at high alpha: Flight at a high angle of attack where the nose is high relative to the direction of flight. Twin tails are better at maintaining controllability at high alpha.


Flight at high-alpha seems to me to be a contentious requirement that, in general should not be a design driver. At high incidence, a combat aircraft is likely to be at low, or very low speed. While, given powerful control effectors, this may minimise turn radius and allow rapid change in nose pointing angle, the loss of energy may make surviving a missile engagement very unlikely, and re-joining combat difficult. 

However, given the convergence of structural limits, and the limitation of airshow performances to subsonic speeds, high-alpha performance remains one way of impressing the tax-payers. With unstable aircraft, thrust vectoring and a host of other aerodynamic gizmos, the Su-35 is probably champion at this. But many of today’s aircraft have at least equally high thrust to weight ratios, and similar aerodynamic and structural performance at low altitude and subsonic speeds. Personal experience of displays by the F-22, F-35, Typhoon, Rafale, Su-27, Su-35 and even the less capable Super Hornet show that all of these can put on a jolly good airshow performance.


On turning performance, and generally awesome airshow characteristics, the canard-equipped, thrust-vectoring Su-35 gets my vote for high alpha performance. On more general manoeuvre performance, all the other aircraft mentioned are very capable, with Typhoon, Rafale and F-22 all benefitting from high thrust to weight ratio, clean aerodynamic design and sophisticated flight control systems.

Click here for part one.

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Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

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. 


Turbines & typewriters: Aircraft matched to authors



In an attempt to create an aviation article that will only be read by twelve people, we have paired notable aircraft with notable writers (or in one case, her character). Shared chronology, traits or nationality sees these titans of literature matched with their flying riveted twins. Whereas Roald Dahl, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Thomas Ruggles Pynchon have readily obvious links to aviation, our approach was a little more oblique. Confused? Keep reading. 

Hawker Hunter – Graham Greene ‘The future’s in the air’


These two great British characters are clear matches. The Hawker Hunter and Greene’s prose style were functional and simple, and both employ elegant uncluttered lines. Greene wrote his brilliant ‘End of the affair’ in 1951 and, perhaps in as celebration, the prototype Hunter flew. Both were occasional spies, but we know more about the Hunter’s reconnaissance duties.  Both were fascinated with decrepit corrupt regimes: the Hunter fighting for them and Greene documenting them. The ‘near idiot-proof’, Hunter was kind and undemanding to its pilots, similarly Greene is easy and accessible to read, spurning unnecessarily complicated tricks. Greene died in 1991, the Hunter in 1994. Though the Hunter, perhaps proving Catholic in belief, has enjoyed a long afterlife, returning to fight for the Lebanese Air Force in the 2010s and continuing in several support roles around the world. Both remain much-loved to the present day.

Antonov A-40/ MikhailBulgakov ‘The heart of a tank’


Antonovs are Russian right? Oh wait no, they’re Ukrainian, but Kiev was in the Soviet Union when the design bureau started in 1946.  Bulgakov was Russian right? Sort of, he was born in Kiev when it was in the Russian Empire. Bulgakov died in 1940 as work on a flying tank began. Whether he reincarnated himself as this flying tank is hard to say, but this absurd (yet at the time strangely ubiquitous) was as unlikely and thrilling as his classic works. In his most famous book,  The Master & Margarita, the titular character female learns to fly across the USSR. She then welcomes the dark celebrities of human history as they arrive from Hell – the A-40 was expected to send some of the darkest celebrities (the leaders of the nazi invasion) into hell, while aiding the extremely dark Stalin. Both Bulgakov and the A-40 endured a complicated relationship with the communist monster, and neither helped the Soviet Union.

AH-64 Apache – Bret Easton Ellis ‘Imperial Gunships’ 


In an ugly modern world of brutal psychopathy, the killiest military aircraft is certainly an American Psycho. Less than zero and the Apache become operational in the mid-1980s and both displayed a love of gadgets and a glee in dismembering people. The Apache fought in Desert Storm in 1991, the same year American Psycho hit the shelves.


Airbus A320Alain de Botton ‘The school of lift’


Ahh, these clever, helpful, Europeans are often scorned by snobs, but both are huge successes that make life easier. Alain, born in 1969, is a year older than Airbus. Airbus mastered the Architecture of Happiness with the A380, popular with passengers for its winding alleys and charming squares, but sadly a world full of beancounters killed it. He also made a brilliant diagram about the probability of falling in love on an airliner that I’ll add to this article when I find it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – Lockheed Model 10 ‘Electra Ladyland’



Elegance, glamour and a touch of tragedy unite these two two American interwar heroes. The exquisite Electra carried Amelia Earhart to a fate unknown in 1937, the year Fitzgerald signed a contract with MGM. Though the aircraft had a rather later heyday than the author, these two poetic beings shared the excitement of an age with the same fresh energised beauty.

Raymond Queneau —SNECMA Coléoptère  ‘Doukipudonktan?’

Beetle-C450-1.jpgRaymond_Queneau_photo.jpgExperimental, bizarre and extremely clever – it’s hard to understand what the hell either of this two French innovators was up to. The bonkers Coléoptère took to the sky in 1959, the  year Zazie dans le métro was published, both are surreal, and full of visual jokes.

Sue Townsend/ Nimrod AEW. 3 ‘Big nose strikes again’


Thatcher’s Britain wasn’t very good as military equipment. It gave birth to the hopeless SA80 rifle, the overpriced and limited Hawk 200, the seriously flawed Challenger I, the gunless Harrier GR5 (years behind its US equivalent), the radarless unagile Tornado ADV and the awkward Nimrod AEW.3. This wannabe AWACS soaked up a great deal of money only to be binned and to have the role filled by a US aircraft (see Nimrod MRA.4 for the more expensive reboot of the story). Like the BAe ‘Big Nose’, Townsend’s Adrian Mole is a deluded and awkward individual failing to live up to his delusions of grandeur.

(Special thanks to Thomas Lovegrove) 




An idiot’s guide to aircraft design – Part 3: Take-Off and Landing


Which are the easiest and hardest aircraft types to take-off and land? Over to Jim Smith to explain more.

“To minimise take-off distance, a slow take-off speed is desirable, aided by a rapid acceleration to reach that speed as quickly as possible, implying a low wing loading, high-lift wing, and high thrust-to-weight ratio, or some assistance, such as a catapult or some form of rocket assistance. Similarly, for landing, a low approach speed is desirable, enabled by low wing-loading, and a high-lift wing; after touch-down effective braking, thrust reversers, or (for carrier-based aircraft) the use of an arrester system, will all reduce stopping distance.

Alternatively, the VTOL or STOVL approach can be used, as in the Harrier or F-35B, but as indicated in my recent article on ASTOVL, this brings a whole world of additional complexity into the choice of propulsion and lift system, and how the packaging of this impacts on the configuration. One problem is that the desirable low wing loading, and extensive high lift devices, add weight and drag, and may not be compatible with the mission required. For example, the F-104 has high wing loading to achieve a high maximum speed and rapid acceleration in its role as an interceptor. Taming the landing speed requires the use of a blown flap system and brake chute. Some aircraft, which seek to combine high take-off (and possibly landing) weights with high dash speed capability, use variable geometry to get around the delivery of a good high-lift wing which is also compatible with high-speed flight.


Obvious examples here include the Rockwell B-1B, Tupolev Tu-160, General Dynamics F-111, and Panavia Tornado. The Tornado, in particular is interesting in the use of a thrust reverser system rather than a brake chute to shorten the landing roll. I assume this comes from a desire to minimise turn-around time while operating from short tactical runways. Inevitably, though, there is a trade-off due to the additional weight and space requirements for the wing pivot and wing sweep system.

One example of an aircraft which sacrificed take-off distance to the mission is the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, which is said to have depended on the curvature of the earth to achieve take off. In this case a combination of high weight, two crew, a single engine, and a high wing loading, driven by a desire for high speed at low level, will have contributed to the long take-off run.

From the landing perspective, the U-2/TR-1 has a reputation for being particularly difficult to settle on to the runway, due to its long-span, and pronounced ground-effect, which results in the aircraft floating on landing, and generally being talked down by a pursuing car.

Oddly enough, while the structure and undercarriage design of carrier-borne aircraft are heavily influenced by landing loads, take-off and landing do not seem to heavily constrain the configuration of such aircraft. This is largely because of the reliance on arrester gear to control the landing run, and catapult assistance on take-off. Weight penalties are incurred by the additional structure and landing gear weight, and (normally) provision for wing folding. One exception would be the
Crusader, which featured a variable incidence wing to manage the approach attitude of the aircraft and improve deck landing safety.

Nomination for best – I like the Tornado because of its variable sweep and high lift devices, but I’m going for the SAAB Viggen, for all round panache, a huge afterburner and thrust-reverser.


For worst, the U-2/TR-2 is clearly a contender. I suspect the Chance-Vought Cutlass may be the historic ‘reserve champion’, because of the draggy, low lift-curve slope configuration coupled with engines that would not spool up rapidly.


At a larger scale, the Tu-22 ‘Blinder’ looks simply terrifying.


The historic champion would be the Messerschmitt 163 Komet – no power, so no go around; tailless, with no high lift devices; and nasty hypergolic fuel mix, prone to exploding on landing. Compared to the Komet, almost anything modern is relatively tame, and significant effort will have gone into the control laws for the approach, so even plausible candidates like the Mirage 2000 are now much more tractable than their predecessor the Mirage III.

Worst- historic: Me 163, with Cutlass and Tu-22 close behind.

Worst – current: TR-1″

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Eurofighter to offer laserdisc, carphone and Betamax video for Typhoon



The European consortium that builds the Eurofighter Typhoon has announced a comprehensive upgrade package that could see the integration of a Betamax video player as soon as 2056. 

Work on an active electronic scanning radar for the Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft began in 1923, but so far has failed to enter service. In 1923 they predicted an service date of 1927, but with the reduction of the Soviet threat in 1924 (following Lenin’s burial) work slowed. Attempts to get the radar operational during the Battle of Britain failed due to differences between two of the partner nations (Germany and the UK). The 1977 Eurovision Song Contest results was responsible for a further delay as was the three-day week, and the unpredicted success of Roland Rat.


In an attempt to assuage customers’ worries that the type contains obsolete equipment, Eurofighter announced on Wednesday a package of upgrades intended to put the aircraft at the technological forefront. Under Project Gladiator, Typhoon will receive the same weapons capabilities the aircraft it is replacing had twenty years ago.

According to a member of the Eurofighter sales team —

“We see this as a major step forward – OK, so it may not have the range of the Tornado, or the advantage of a second crew-member or a dedicated reconnaissance pod but it is definitely MUCH MUCH faster (at higher altitudes). Anyway, as I like the look of you I’m going to chuck in a laserdisc player, a carphone and a Betamax player. All free for you. All top of the range stuff. F-35 does not have any of that. And a Tamagotchi if you like.” On seeing a passing policeman, the company representative quickly packed his suitcase of electronic goods and sprinted away from his headquarters outside the Leicester Square branch of Beefeater Steakhouse.


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Britain’s secret projects 5: Britain’s Space Shuttle – Dan Sharp (Crécy) – Book review

specialty_press_bsp_5_britains_space_shuttle_cover_frontSpace travel belongs to the 20th Century (at least for the time being). Its myth only existed at full potency for thirty years, from the late 1940s to the 1980s. The true source of the myth, more than science fiction films or even the real thing, was the artist’s impressions released by aerospace companies. Unabashedly priapic machines trailed flames and explored space in a cosily dangerous, and utterly appealing, vision of the not too distant future. And space belonged to the two superpowers of the time, the US and the USSR. Despite the latter’s initial lead, NASA had branded space. We hear the ‘ 5-4-3-2-1’ and ‘we have lift-off’ in an American accent. But there were others working in the shadows.

Britain had world class aerospace know-how, but had neither the money, governmental inclination or political need to develop a successful space programme. It tried — and though the Black Arrow satellite carrier rocket was a technical success (launching the Prospero satellite into orbit) — it was cancelled in 1971. The programme was axed on economic grounds as NASA had offered to launch British payloads for free. Rather unsportingly, this offer was withdrawn following the Black Arrow’s cancellation. The United Kingdom is the only nation that had, and then lost, the ability to launch satellites. Far less publicised was Project MUSTARD, an absurdly British acronym for a secret effort to build what would later be known as a space shuttle.

Dan Sharp, judging by just how obsessively researched this book is, is a lunatic (something we should be grateful for). He has unearthed a litany of blueprints, design concepts and models that tell a remarkable story. The concepts are universally exciting to the eternal ten year old boy within all of us (not literally you weirdo). Many of the machines, are winged deltas that fly in conjoined triple clusters, a somewhat bizarre solution. The book also covers many related high speed schemes including the particularly thrilling English Electric P.42. Conceived as a replacement for the abortive TSR.2 recce-bomber, the P.42 was intended to cruise at Mach 4 at 85,000ft. Looking like an arrow-winged — and extremely belligerent — Concorde, the P.42 looks like an absolute winner. Its coverage is expansive, and includes other space shuttle and orbital vehicles from around the world. 

Winning artworks

As well as original diagrams, what really impresses is the digital work – the quality is outstanding throughout. The P.42 is shown in three-quarter and three-view in the same tactical scheme that adorned No. 31 Squadron Tornadoes in the 1980s. These superb speculative artworks really bring, what is a rather serious book, to life. The BAC EAG 4458 is a cranked delta that would look futuristic today, it again resembles Concorde a little, but this time a stealthy hypersonic manifestation.

This book is extremely dense, packed with extremely interesting material — the sheer amount of information is a little daunting. For anyone with an interest in either space systems or British aviation this tells a seldom told story that will offer revelations to even the most well-informed historian. Thoroughly recommended. 


Rating: Four out of five (1)

Reviews of Vickers Viscount, The Aviation Historian, Big Book of Flight, Ascent: The story of a Korean Mig ace


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Dassault confident that internet will be able to spell Rafael correctly by 2045: three injured in press briefing


The Dessault Reffale is an omnivore fighter-bomber operated by France’s Army & Navy store. It is currently being considered as a political bargaining tool by the Canadian Government.

Yesterday a Paris press conference intended to address an ongoing problem with a fighter aircraft’s name ended in violence. The event presented by Eric Frappier, Head of Nomenclature & Onomastics for aero giant Dassault, ended in a brawl requiring the intervention of local police. 

A spokesman for French aerospace giant Dassault Aviation SA announced his company’s confidence that online journalists, pundits and individuals will be able to correctly spell the name of France’s fighter aircraft, the Raphael, by 2045. According to the statement by Eric Frappier, “What’s so hard about writing Raphelle? It’s a simple word. It’s a simple word we all know — you know, it means like a breeze or a squall or a burst of machine-gun fire or something. We can all speak French everywhere so what’s the big problem? Eurofighter picked a word that’s not even spelt right for all its partner nations… and named it after an aircraft that was designed and used to kill Germans (one of the partner nations). At least we weren’t at bad at naming as those fuckers.” When asked by reporter Bim Squittle from Aviation Pervert Week why the aircraft hadn’t simply been named Mirage, a hugely successful brand that had spanned many decades, Frappier replied- “Because it was twin-engined, which makes it different.”  This was followed by a cough from the back of the room that sounded like ‘Mirage IV and 4000?‘ He then explained that they’d run out of numbers  — “We got to 2000 in the 70s, and no one wanted the 4000. Then Eurofighter stole the number 2000 and we want to seem different, 5000 is just ridiculous right?” At this point, a member of the Bombardier (producer of the Global 5000) media team threw a milkshake at Frappier. The milkshake missed its intended target and hit a MiG representative (who was trying to sell Flubber 3 DVDs from a suitcase) in the back of the head. In the ensuing melee three lanyards were snapped and a woman from HAL kicked a Collins Aerospace datalink specialist in the shin. Frappier attempted to calm the situation by changing his story,  noting that no preceding naval fighter had been a Mirage so a new name was needed to keep the navy happy. “We called it Rafphaele because we could hardly name it after the navy’s last jets as they were American. And Super Super Etendard seemed demented – who even knows what an Enterdard is? Let alone able to spell it.”  As local police stepped in to quell the escalating violenceSmilla Strömberg (a barista for the Swedish Saab Grippen programme attending a conference in the next room on the effects of  high G on coffee flavour perception) escorted Frappier out of the building where he escaped in an unmarked Reno Kleo.

Related articles: Donald Trump reveals radical plan for a more powerful Air Force, Sigmund Freud’s guide to spyplanesHipsters guide to aircraft

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Due to careful airframe shaping and materials use, Rofule appears on enemy radar screens as some huge fuel tanks, sensor pods and munitions with no aircraft attached.



Dassault confiant que l’internet sera capable d’épeler Rafael correctement d’ici 2045: Trois blessés lors d’un point presse


Hier, une conférence de presse tenue à Paris et destinée à résoudre un problème persistant lié au nom d’un avion de combat, a terminé dans la violence. L’événement organisé par Eric Frappier, responsable de la nomenclature et de l’onomastique pour le géant de l’aéronautique Dassault, s’est terminé en bagarre et a nécessité l’intervention de la police locale.


Un porte-parole du géant français de l’aérospatiale, Dassault Aviation SA, a annoncé que l’entreprise demeurait convaincue que les journalistes, experts et le public en ligne seraient en mesure d’épeler correctement le nom de l’avion de combat français, le Raphael, d’ici 2045.


Selon une déclaration d’Eric Frappier qui paraissait vraiment surpris par la difficulté rencontrée par le public et les medias: “Est-il vraiment si difficile d’écrire Raffaelle? C’est un mot si simple, un mot simple que nous connaissons tous… Comme vous le savez, il signifie une brise ou une bourrasque; ou une rafale de mitraillette ou quelque chose de ce genre. Et puis tout le monde parle français, alors ou est le problème? Eurofighter, eux, ont choisi un mot qui n’est même pas bien orthographié pour tous les pays partenaires… et l’ont baptisé du nom d’un avion conçu et utilisé pour tuer des Allemands (l’un des pays partenaires). Au moins, nous avons fait mieux qu’eux!”


Bim Squittle, journaliste à l’hedomadaire Aviation Perverse, lui a alors demandé pourquoi l’avion ne s’appelait pas Mirage, tout simplement, une marque au succès retentissant sur plusieurs décennies. Frappier a répondu: “Parce que c’est un bimoteur, ce qui le rend différent.” Quelqu’un s’est presque étouffé au fond de la salle en lançant: “Et le Mirage IV?! Et Mirage 4000?!”


Frappier a alors expliqué qu’ils n’avaient plus de chiffres à utiliser: ” Nous avions le 2000 dans les années 70, et personne ne voulait du 4000. Ensuite, Eurofighter nous a piqué l’extension 2000 et nous voulions nous presenter différemment; 5000 est tout simplement ridicule, non? ”


À ce moment, un membre de l’équipe de comm’ Bombardier (constructeur du Global 5000) a lancé son milkshake à Frappier. Le milkshake a manqué sa cible mais a touché un représentant de MiG (qui essayait de vendre des DVD de Flubber 3 dont il avait une pleine valise). Dans la mêlée qui a suivi, trois lanières de badges d’identification ont été arrachées et une représentante de HAL a donné un coup de pied au tibia à un spécialiste de système de données de Collins Aerospace.


Frappier a alors tenté de ramener le calme dans la salle en ajoutant qu’aucun chasseur de la Marine Nationale n’avait recu l’appélation de Mirage par le passé, et qu’en conséquence un nom différent était nécessaire pour satisfaire les marins: «Nous l’avons donc appelé Rafphaele, car nous ne pouvions pas le nommer après les derniers avions à réaction de la Marine Nationale, car ils étaient américains. Et Super Super Etendard etait un peu fort – et qui sait même ce qu’est un étendard? Encore moins est capable de l’épeler?! »


Alors que la police locale intervenait pour contrôler la montée de violence dans la salle, Smilla Strömberg (barista du programme suédois Saab Grippen qui participait à une conférence sur les effets du niveau élevé de G sur la perception de la saveur du café dans la salle voisine) escortait Frappier vers la sortie de l’immeuble, d’où il s’est finalement échappé dans un Reno Kleo banalisé.

Translated by Herve Morvan

List of warplane pilot interviews

Top 16 Aircraft of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm


When the Fleet Air Arm formed in 1924, the British Empire held sway over about 458 million people, one-quarter of the world’s population at the time. The cornerstone of this imperial superpower was its navy, and the Royal Navy’s air force was the Fleet Air Arm. The Fleet Air Arm, which became fully independent from the RAF in 1939, has since fought across the globe. From the epic battles of World War II to 21st century pirate hunting, it has been equipped with some of the most exciting aircraft types in history. A small minority of these aircraft were superb, many (perhaps even most) were terrible  — but regardless the FAA has proven itself time and time again. The following aircraft were vital to the FAA, this list is certainly not exhaustive and is intended to provoke a discussion rather than end one. As ever, reality does not conform to a ‘top 10’ format, but we have chosen 16 types that were important in historical significance, longevity or as technological achievements.

See the 10 worst Royal Navy aircraft here and the world’s worst carrier aircraft here. 

Thanks to the Fleet Air Museum for their assistance in creating this article.

Note from Matt Willis from 

A word on the subject: ‘best’ or ‘top’ is always a difficult concept to pin down in this context. Because of the situation in which the Fleet Air Arm found itself for much of its history – at a low priority, under-resourced, under-manned and suffering from years of doctrinal misconceptions – some of the aircraft with which it made the biggest impact, could not be said to be the best of their type. Low-performance machines such as the Blackburn Skua inflicted serious damage on German forces during the 1940 Norwegian campaign, and as for the Swordfish…

Then, aircraft that had an excellent performance in the air were objectively bad as naval aircraft – the Seafire was seriously unsuited to carrier operations. Ultimately, throughout history, the Fleet Air Arm has proven itself able to extract maximum value from whatever compromised machinery it has been issued with, mainly due to the quality of its personnel.

16. Hawker Sea Hawk (1953-1960 in frontline FAA service)


Engine starts for the Sea Hawk involved a starter cartridge to get the turbine up to speed, basically a shotgun cartridge without the pellets.

The UK aircraft industry produced a string of turbine-powered carrier fighters and attack aircraft in the early Cold War period, none of which were world-beaters.

The Sydney Camm-designed Hawker Sea Hawk, however, was an exception: combat-proven, export-winning and able to incorporate successive improvements.

Perhaps most importantly, it struck a balance between performance, capability and handling – making it an ideal mount for the Royal Navy aircraft carriers of the period. (Flattops like HMS Victorious were World War II-era designs, with limited-size air groups, and not all were converted with the angled decks required for safe jet operations).


Flying from smaller carriers, British naval fighters needed to combine compact dimensions with docile flying qualities. The Sea Hawk was the best of the lot, a conventional design with a single Rolls-Royce Nene engine in the centre fuselage fed by wing root intakes and exhausting via a bifurcated jet pipe at the trailing edge of the wing roots. Unlike the Attacker that preceded it, the Sea Hawk utilised nosewheel undercarriage.

The Sea Hawk was progressively improved, maturing from a simple day fighter before emerging as a more versatile fighter-bomber with a range of underwing ordnance and finally introducing a more powerful engine. With a production total of 520, more Sea Hawks were built than Buccaneers, Scimitars and Sea Vixens combined.

In the ground-attack role, six squadrons of Sea Hawks saw service during the Suez fiasco and the type later went to battle in Indian hands during the Indo-Pakistani conflicts of 1965 and 1971. Dutch Sea Hawks were perhaps the best equipped, carrying a pair of infrared-guided AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. The other export operator was West Germany, which flew the type into the mid-1960s. In Indian hands, the Sea Hawk soldiered on in service until 1983, when finally replaced by the Sea Harrier – another British naval fighter with design input from Sydney Camm.

— Thomas Newdick, Editor of Air Forces Monthly & Author


15. Hawker Sea Fury (1945-53)


The Sea Fury was the pinnacle of Hawker’s illustrious prop fighter line, it was also probably the best prop fighter that ever flew. The Sea Fury had everything a great fighter needs: it was tough, well-armed, fast and agile. Despite its enormous size and 2,480 horsepower grunt, it had delightful handling qualities (pilots were particularly  impressed with how spin-resistant it was). We spoke to Sea Fury pilot Dave Eagles who gave it it ‘top marks for agility’. The Sea Fury held the fort while carrier jets were still immature, and was much safer and easier to operate around the ‘deck’. It kept the FAA competitive in the interim period between the end of World War II and the jet age – and was the best piston-engined carrier fighter/fighter-bomber of the period. The Sea Fury was sent to war in Korea, where it proved it could do more than merely survive in the jet age, notably downing a MiG-15 jet fighter in 1952.

— Joe Coles, Hush-Kit

14. Blackburn Skua (1938-1941)


Highly successful as a dive-bomber when the FAA was most limited, far more successful as a fighter in Norway and the Mediterranean than anyone had a right to expect. The Skua did far better than anyone could have predicted for such a mediocre design, simply because it had to. Skuas fought bitterly hard when Britain was closest to defeat.

Skuas were for a while credited with the first confirmed kill by British aircraft during the Second World War, as three Skuas (from 803, on Ark Royal) shot down a Dornier Do 18 over the North Sea on 26 September 1939, but it later transpired a RAF Battle had actually staked this historical claim a full six days earlier in France.

On 10 April 1940, 16 Skuas led by Lieutenant Commander William Lucy, sank the German cruiser Königsberg at Bergen harbour during the German invasion of Norway. Königsberg was the first major warship ever sunk in combat by air attack and the first to be sunk by dive-bombing.

13. de Havilland Sea Hornet (1946-56)


For two decades the Fleet Air Arm had to rely on second-hand or inadequate designs, and then after a series of reports from RAE Farnborough, they got it right. In 1947, it all came together in the de Havilland Sea Hornet.

The Sea Hornet was available in three sub-variants – fleet day fighter; photo-reconnaissance aircraft and night fighter. All three shared the same attributes: a robust airframe married to two late-model 2000 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin engines giving speed; counter-turning airscrew to prevent take-off swing; good low-speed handling; slotted flaps; the pilot at the front with all-round visibility, especially of the flight deck at every stage of the landing – but just too late to see war service.

It is possible to describe the Sea Hornet as the fighter version of the Mosquito that should have been developed three years before. It married the 1,500 miles range of two engines and big wing tanks with the ability to climb to height (20,000 ft) in just four minutes with the punch of four 20mm cannon.

The first naval air squadron to receive the Sea Hornet was 801 at RNAS Ford on 1 June 1947 and 809 took the night fighter variant to sea in HMS Vengeance later in the year. A single prototype was even modified to carry two of Barnes Wallis’ Highball bouncing bombs.

Don’t just take my word for it. Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown described it as his favourite aeroplane of all time; “sheer bliss” he told me.

Paul Beaver FRSA FRAeS VR

Authorised Biographer of Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown 


12. Blackburn Buccaneer (1962-1978)


A world-beating nuclear strike jet that became a world-beating conventional maritime strike and ground-attack jet. The improved S.2 was the first FAA aircraft to make a non-stop unrefuelled crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Blackburn Aircraft Limited produced some of the worst aeroplanes ever made. From the TB of 1915 (an engine start set the float on fire), the Sidecar of 1919 (sold at Harrods, but couldn’t fly), the Roc (a fighter of 1938, that was slower than any bomber), and the pathetic Botha (underpowered, impossible to see out of in rain), through to the shameful Firebrand (late, extremely dangerous to pilots- but scandalously pushed into service with a hush-up that resulted in many deaths) – their track record was pretty appalling, so it is all the more impressive that they went on to make the wonderful ‘Bucc’, a masterpiece from 1958.

The Buccaneer was designed to counter the Soviet fleet, with particular emphasis on the  Sverdlov-class cruisers. It was prepared in great secrecy, as a fast, low-level maritime attack aircraft capable of using nuclear weapons.

The S. Mk.1 was underpowered, as test pilot Dave Eagles quipped in his Hush-Kit interview it “relied on the curvature of the earth to get airborne ”. This was solved when the S.Mk 2 was introduced in 1962, powered by the Spey. The result was a superb low-level aircraft with a long-range (longer even than the Tornado), of virtually indestructible construction with a rock-steady low-level ride. It was a world class attack aircraft with a formidable weapon-load. Later in its life its relatively austere avionics would let it down, but had it been fitted with the same systems as the US A-6 it would have undoubtedly been the best maritime attack aircraft in the world, bar none. In fact, a version superior even to this had been proposed; the Buccaneer 2 would have had systems inherited from two extremely advanced projects the P.1154 (a proposed supersonic Harrier in the F-4 weight class) and the TSR.2 super bomber (the advanced Buccaneer would have used its extremely advanced terrain-following radar).  It was not to be, however.

When the Royal Navy got rid of its carrier some ‘Bucc’s ended up with the Royal Air Force. The type proved its worth in Desert Storm, and remained to the end of its life a potent weapon.

— Joe Coles, Hush-Kit


Interview with British Phantom pilot here.

11. Westland Wessex (1962-1982)


In the late 1950s Westland acquired a Sikorsky S-58 for use as a pattern aircraft, after playing around with it for a bit they removed the weighty Wright Cyclone piston engine and replaced it with one of the up and coming gas turbines everyone was talking about.  A weight saving was not the only improvement, the vibration level in the aircraft also reduced to a level where you could read the instruments thanks to the much smoother running of the Napier Gazelle engine.  An order from the Royal Navy soon followed for the first of over 200 Wessex for that service alone. 

The original HAS 1 came with a dipping sonar and was soon embarked at sea hunting for the ever-increasing number of Soviet submarines.  At the same time the Commando 1 version was produced by removing the submarine hunting equipment and putting in some seats for 16 Royal Marines.  These Commando Wessex were soon hard at work in the jungles of Borneo during the confrontation with Indonesia.  Such was their success that the squadrons involved have been known as Junglies ever since, despite spending most of their time in famously jungle free Norway, or the deserts of the Middle East.

By 1962 it was realised that one engine was half as good as two.  So, Westlands crammed a pair of Rolls-Royce Gnomes into the nose of the Wessex HU5 for the Junglies.  This almost doubled the installed power and made an engine failure much less worrying for the pilot as there was a spare.

Not to be outdone the ASW Pingers gained the improved HAS 3 which featured a radar and uprated sonar.  It did not however feature an extra engine, so performance was marginal with the added weight.

The swan song for the Wessex in the Royal Navy came during the 1982 Falklands Conflict.  Fifty-Five HU5s deployed along with 2 HAS 3s.  On the night of 21st April Humphrey, the HAS 3 of HMS Antrim’s flight, guided two HU5s from RFA Tidespring to Fortuna Glacier on South Georgia as part of the operation to retake the island.  With poor weather hampering them the SBS team deployed on the glacier requested evacuation.  Unfortunately, the two HU5 crashed due to the poor weather, leaving the underpowered HAS3 to return and successfully recover the troops and the crew from both aircraft.  Not satisfied with this Humphrey subsequently spotted the ANA Santa Fe, one in a series of ex-USN ships to be attacked during the conflict, and attacked her with depth charges, possibly the only such attack to take place post WW2. After surviving gunfire from attacking fast jets Humphrey retired to the Fleet Air Arm museum shortly after the conflict ended.

The Wessex was a mainstay of the Fleet Air Arm through the cold war, operating from carriers, destroyers, and ashore, as an ASW platform, a troop carrier, and a Search and Rescue aircraft.  The type remained in service with the RAF until 2003, 42 years after it entered service, testimony to its robustness and utility.


— Bing Chandler

10. Sea Harrier (1978-2006)


The Royal Navy gave up its large aircraft carriers in the 1970s, but was reluctant to give up fixed-wing air power. One solution was to use Harriers, an aircraft capable of taking-off and landing like a helicopter from smaller ships. The USMC had been doing this successfully since the early ’70s with a lightly adapted version of the RAF’s GR.1, known as the AV-8A. The Royal Navy sought a more radical solution, adding a redesigned forward fuselage with a raised cockpit giving an improved view for the pilot and athe addition of basic radar (additionally some parts were changed to make the aircraft more resistant to salt water).


Two other naval jump-jets have seen service. The Soviet Yak-38, seen here, and the US’ F-35B.

Only 111 Sea Harriers were built but the type is assured a place in Royal Navy for its performance in the Falklands War of 1982. Flying in abysmal weather, the type performed air defence and ground attack missions. In the former, the Sea Harrier shot down 20 Argentine aircraft with no air-to-air losses, although two Sea Harriers were lost to ground fire and four to accidents. One particular Sea Harrier, flown by RAF Flight Lieutenant David Morgan, shot down three A-4 Skyhawks on one mission. The Sea Harrier’s performance earned it comprehensive upgrade. FA.2 standard added the excellent Blue Vixen radar in a new bulbous nose, AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles (making it the first none US-designed aircraft to carry the then formidable weapon), a data-link, a fuselage plug for extra fuel, a semi ‘glass’ cockpit including HOTAS, improved radar warning receiver and various aerodynamic enhancements including a kinked leading-edge. The FA.2 served in both the Yugoslavian Civil War and the 1999 campaign against Yugoslavia. Over to Pete Sandeman from Save the Royal Navy:

“It is a recurring theme for the Fleet Air Arm, being equipped with what are perceived as poor aircraft but achieving great success. The Sea Harrier epitomised this, as the last all-British designed fighter aircraft it secured its place in aviation history as a war-winning weapon. 

Having evolved from the RAF ground attack variant many, many, even in the RN, initially underestimated the capabilities of the subsonic Sea Harrier and assumed it had little value beyond intercepting high flying reconnaissance aircraft. Those involved in the test and development of the aircraft knew better. The ‘SHAR’ had already outperformed the mighty F-15 and other NATO fighters while conducting Dissimilar Combat Air Training (DACT) exercises, particularly in within visual range dogfights.   

The SHAR deployed to the Falklands war, just 30 months after the first production aircraft had been delivered. The Blue Fox multimode radar and the hastily acquired AIM-9L version of the Sidewinder were critical to its success. Combined with the aggression and confidence of the RN pilots, the Harrier achieved 20 kills without a single loss in air-air combat. The outstanding performance in the Falklands cemented the ‘SHAR’s iconic status and place in the public affection.

In 1993 the original Sea Harrier FRS1 was replaced by the substantially modified Sea Harrier FA2. Most notably, an enlarged nose cone housed a new pulse doppler radar giving the ability to launch the AIM-120. This gave the SHAR arguably the best BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air-air combat capability in the world for a period.

During the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s SHARs flew from RN carriers in the Adriatic proving a rapid response for both ground support and to keep Yugosalv MiGs grounded. In 1994 a SHAR from HMS Ark Royal was shot down by a Serbian Igla-1 SAM, the pilot ejected but was quickly recovered.

The controversial and premature retirement of the Sea Harrier in 2006 saw the RN give up its organic naval fighters and control of fixed-wing combat aircraft in exchange for the Harrier GR7s and GR9s, under the unsatisfactory ‘Joint Force Harrier’ arrangement. The Indian navy was the only export customer for the SHAR which they finally retired in 2016.”

9.  Westland Lynx (1981-2017)


Developed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s the Lynx is a rare example of a multi-national programme where the French didn’t insist on design leadership, Sud Aviation only having a 30 percent share.  This probably explains why the main rotor spins in the correct direction. The AH.1 entered service with the Army Air Corps in 1979, while the Fleet Air Arm’s HAS.2 followed in 1981, on account of having radars and other technical features beyond the Army’s understanding.


The bugs in the Lynx HAS Mk2 were still being worked out when the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands and 14 were deployed on the task force’s frigates and destroyers.  On the night of third May the Lynx carried out its most notable action of the conflict.  A Sea King of 826 Naval Air Squadron had discovered the ARA Alférez Sobral, and after being shot at, identified it as hostile.  Retreating to a safe distance the Sea King then vectored the Lynx from HMS Coventry and Glasgow which conducted an attack with Sea Skua missiles, severely damaging the Argentinian vessel and taking it out of action for the duration of the war.


Nine years later the Lynx was again in action, this time in the warmer waters of the Persian Gulf.  Aircraft from HMS Manchester, Gloucester, Southampton and London teamed up with US Navy Seahawks to neutralise the Iraqi Navy threat to the allied task force.  The Seahawks superior sensors were used to detect the numerous small patrol craft the Iraqis deployed to the cluttered waters off Kuwait.  They would then vector the Lynx who had an effective anti-ship weapon, this teaming proved highly effective sinking ten vessels and damaging a further three.

After the Gulf War the Royal Navy’s Lynx would continue to serve until 2017.  Modifications included a 360-degree radome, although without the upgrade to the radar to take advantage of it, a tail rotor that spun in the right direction to improve its effectiveness, and a central tactical system to save the Observer doing real-time scale-drawing to keep track of where everything was.  Deployed around the globe the Lynx’s tasks included anti-drug operations, disaster relief, search and rescue, and most importantly collecting the ship’s mail for almost 40 years.

Not only was the Lynx the Royal Navy’s most successful Maritime Attack Helicopter, it was also the best anti-submarine aircraft the British Army ever operated.

FX07_0275_4206 (1).jpg

— Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer, current Air Safety Officer and struggling Naval History MA student. He also has some great offers on his internal organs now Seafire PP972 is up for sale.  

8. Chance Vought F4U Corsair (1943-1954)


Though famous for its role in the Pacific with US Navy, the Corsair’s first carrier combat action came in the North Sea with the British Fleet Air Arm. On 2 April 1944, Corsairs provided fighter cover for an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz. British Corsairs spent the bulk of their wartime service in the Pacific and Indian oceans. They supported strikes against Japanese targets in Burma and Sumatra, then in 1945 they fought in the  final attacks on Japan. British Corsairs intercepted Kamikaze attacks as the British Pacific Fleet attacked the Sakishima Islands, before spending the end of the war making attacking on the Tokyo. 

Interview with a British F-35B Lightning II pilot here 


It wasn’t until the Sea Fury arrived, that an indigenous naval fighter surpassed the Corsair’s fearsome effectiveness. The Royal Navy received 2,012 Corsairs. 


7. Grumman Avenger (1944-1955)


When the Royal Navy took on the Grumman Avenger, the intention was that it would supplement, and if possible, replace the Swordfish in the anti-submarine role aboard escort carriers. The American aircraft was big, heavy, rather unwieldy in the air and could not carry the British aerial torpedo. This made it something of a second choice in the strike role next to the manoeuvrable Fairey Barracuda, which was designed for – and good at – dive-bombing and torpedo attack. The Avenger’s first job in the Fleet Air Arm, therefore, was in action against U-boats, a task at which it excelled, thanks to its loitering ability and vast stores carriage. It could carry a useful load of depth charges in conditions when the venerable Swordfish could not, and had the advantage that it could be launched with the catapult fitted to US-built lend-lease escort carriers. If there had been enough Avengers available, they would undoubtedly have replaced the ‘Stringbag’ in the anti-submarine rule. When the Barracuda went to the Far East, however, and experienced much hotter conditions, the shortage of power from its Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 became acute, while its endurance was even more problematic during raids in the East Indies. As a possible solution, two anti-submarine Avenger squadrons in theatre were hastily trained in strike and sent on a bombing raid in place of the Barracudas. The experiment was a success, and the Admiralty immediately began replacing Barracuda squadrons in the Far East with Avenger units. Several Avenger units, meanwhile, had distinguished themselves in anti-submarine/surface vessel operations over the English Channel during Operation ‘Overlord’, and were quickly packed off East as soon as the war in Europe began to reach its conclusion.


The Avenger might, therefore, have replaced the Swordfish and almost did replace the Barracuda. While the Barras in theatre in mid-1944 had been replaced by Avengers, more were on their way out East when the war ended, so it’s not quite true to say that the Avenger replaced the Barracuda. It is unquestionable, however, that the Avenger was the FAA’s main strike aircraft at the climax of the war in the Pacific, where once again its prodigious range and payload meant it acquitted itself admirably.


Matthew Willis is a writer and journalist with a particular focus on naval aviation, which you can read more about at his website He is the author of a feature in the May issue of Aeroplane about the FAA’s Swordfish and Avenger squadrons on D-Day.

6. Grumman Martlet/Wildcat (1941-1945)


“I would still assess the Wildcat as the outstanding naval fighter of the early years of World War II … I can vouch as a matter of personal experience, this Grumman fighter was one of the finest shipboard aeroplanes ever created.”

— Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, British test pilot

Between them, the British authorities and the industry failed to provide the Fleet Air Arm with the fighter it really needed from 1941. Fortunately, the US Navy did not suffer from the same temporary insanity that its British equivalent fell prey to in the 1930s, in the abandonment of single-seat fighters, nor the Admiralty’s permanent pathological insistence that every aircraft be capable of doing every job going. The upshot was that the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation was able to produce the kind of fighter that a naval air arm could actually use.


The USN’s F4F, and its G-36 export version, was moderately fast, manoeuvrable, tough, long-legged, well-armed and had excellent deck-landing characteristics. With each of the British equivalents in late 1941-early 1942, you’d be lucky to get any two of those characteristics. The worst thing about the Grumman Martlet (renamed Wildcat in 1944) for the Royal Navy was that the USN wanted it too, and had priority.

For that reason, there were never enough Martlets/Wildcats to go around, and after the first few squadrons were formed on them, it became clear that the FAA was only going to have enough aircraft to maintain these units rather than form new ones. The Martlet immediately proved itself with a convoy to Gibraltar on HMS Audacity with 802 Squadron in September, including one ‘Winkle’ Brown in its personnel, shooting down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, followed by four more on the next cruise. The FAA’s Martlets/Wildcats saw action in the Mediterranean, with the Allied landings at Madagascar and North Africa, and in Arctic convoys, where composite squadrons of fighters and anti-submarine aircraft made their presence felt against U-boats. The Martlet/Wildcat with its 0.50in machine guns was particularly useful for strafing any U-boat that decided to stay on the surface and fight it out. Moreover, the development of the type with more powerful engines and other improvements, kept it competitive until the end of the war. If the FAA had had enough of the compact Grumman fighter, it would not have been necessary to rely on hurriedly lashed-up naval single seaters like the Sea Hurricane and Seafire for so long, if at all. Sadly, the relative shortage means that while the Martlet/Wildcat was undoubtedly one of the best aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm in World War II, it could have had a much greater impact than it did.

— Matthew Willis


5.  Fairey Fulmar (1940-1945)


As World War II approached the Admiralty was desperate for anything that could be described as a modern fighter.  Thus specification O.8/38 was issued for a monoplane fleet fighter and observation aircraft, this was rapidly filled by a modified light dive-bomber originally intended for a cancelled RAF requirement.  The resulting Fulmar shared the Merlin engine, and eight 0.303” guns, with the Spitfire and Hurricane, there though the similarity ended.  With a maximum speed of 247mph and a service ceiling of 16,000’ it was several years behind its contemporaries in terms of performance. More worryingly it was also 30mph slower than the Heinkel He 111 it would face in the Mediterranean. Fair to say as a fighter it made an adequate cancelled dive-bomber.

Where it excelled though was in endurance, it could happily stay airborne for over four hours, and amount of ammunition (having 1000 rounds per gun compared to a Spitfire’s 250).  This allowed the Fulmar to hold a standing CAP with minimal interruption to the carrier’s progress to launch and recover aircraft.  On its own this wouldn’t have tipped the balance in the Fulmar’s favour, however action off the coast of Norway in 1940 had given the RN the beginnings of a Fighter Direction capability.  Which initially involved radar information being relayed from the carrier’s escort via semaphore to the carrier for onward transmission to the CAP.  The escort not having the necessary radios and Ark Royal not having a radar.  This crude arrangement allowed even the Skua to conduct successful intercepts before the Battle of Britain showed its potential to the world.

Consequently, when the Fulmar made its first operational deployment with HMS Illustrious it soon proved itself by downing shadowing reconnaissance aircraft and then breaking up any follow up raids.  Loitering at altitude the Fighter Directors would vector them towards the attackers and once sighted the dive bomber heritage would come into play as they dived on their prey to gain a speed advantage.  Okay speed parity.

The Fulmar was not a great fighter, and it was relegated to second line and night fighting duties by mid-1942.  However, by being at the birth of shipborne fighter control it helped shape the techniques that continue in use to this day and became the Royal Navy’s highest scoring fighter with 116 kills for only 16 losses in air-to-air combat[1].  Which is more than you can say for the Seafire.

[1] These figures vary by source! But between 112 and 122 for kills.

— Bing Chandler

4. Westland Sea King (1969-2018)img227 (1).jpg

With the limitations of the Wessex helicopter becoming apparent if you wanted to hunt submarines and carry weapons at the same time the RN would need something new. The obvious solution was to follow the same route as the USN with the Sea King.  For political reasons a UK produced version was chosen, which thanks to a generous licence from Sikorsky, allowed Westlands to greatly modify the aircraft and ultimately sell more than the original manufacturer.  It must be assumed that unlike the Wessex the original name was kept because it wasn’t as daft as the Sea Bat moniker used for the H-34.

Although externally similar to the SH-3D, even the early HAS1 Sea Kings differed greatly from the original.  With a different operating philosophy the RN added a radar, on the tail to provide excellent coverage in every direction except forwards, along with a range of British avionics and an Observer in the cabin to act as the tactical co-ordinator for the aircraft and any other assets that might be needed to hunt submarines and surface vessels.

Like the Wessex the Sea King was also modified to carry troops, in the process losing the undercarriage sponsons, it being felt best not to let the Junglies have retractable gear.  This was taken even further when they were given surplus Mk6 aircraft in the 2000s and the retraction system was disabled just to be on the safe side.

The Sea King’s baptism of fire was the Falklands Conflict where 60 aircraft deployed, predominantly in the ASW role protecting the fleet from Argentine submarines, whales, and anything under water that looked a bit suspect.  Such was the RN’s concern over the under-water threat.  At the same time 846 Squadron with HC4s was deployed with aircraft operating from various platforms in support of the troops.  One even found its way to the Argentine/Chile border where, after much effort on the part of the crew, it burst into flames.

The Sea King also took over the Search and Rescue role, the grey and orange aircraft becoming the public face of the RN in their local areas.  She also gained a role that even her illustrious forebear had lacked when a Searchwater radar was strapped to the side to make the world’s first rotary wing AEW aircraft.  This role would see the Sea King remain in service until 2018 some 49 years after the first example had been delivered to the RN.

The Sea King operated around the World afloat and ashore, including service in the Falklands, Kosovo, Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan.  For a few decades RN carrier flight decks seemed to be awash with them, while some brave souls even embarked them on the later Type 22 Frigates which made for a tight landing spot.  Truly a great aircraft her replacement the Merlin has big shoes to fill.

The name coming from their original role of observing the fall of shot for the big guns.  The RAF originally had Observers as well but to speed up training in WW2 introduced the Navigator with a smaller skill set.  This was obviously the point at which the rot set in to that once great institution.

— Bing Chandler

3. Hawker Sea Hurricane

SeaHurriHK (1).jpg

In its role as Malta convoy protection -the Sea Hurricane prevented the entire Eastern Med from being lost.

The Hawker Sea Hurricane was not the fastest naval fighter in the Fleet Air Arm’s inventory in 1941-2, nor was it the best at deck landing. It certainly wasn’t the best armed or longest-legged. It was a pain to operate from the newer fleet carriers, and with its non-folding wings, took up a lot of space when it could be struck down into a hangar. But for a service trying to expand to an offensive footing after being led down doctrinal blind alleys, put to the back of the queue for equipment, and unable to obtain enough of the American fighters that could have solved all its problems, the Sea Hurricane was a godsend. There was probably no other fighter that could have stepped into the breach so quickly and effectively. Even before the two-seat Fairey Fulmar was in service, the Admiralty had realised that its decision to eschew single-seat, high-performance fighters was, to put it delicately, stupid. The Fulmars had their benefits and achieved a lot, but the Fleet Air Arm needed fighters with the performance to tackle fast German and Italian bombers and even fighters. Suddenly, the compromises the Admiralty had been unwilling to accept – short range, no navigator in the back, fixed wings – did not seem like deal-breakers any more. Fortunately, the Hurricane was easy to convert for carrier operation, so relatively large numbers (still small beer by RAF standards) of existing Hurricanes could be afloat relatively quickly. (Indeed, it was possible to ‘navalise’ Hurricanes in the field, so straightforward was the process – an unserviceable RAF Mk IIb was turned into a Sea Hurricane aboard HMS Indomitable during 1942 with spares held by the carrier). When the decision was taken to turn the Hurricane into a fleet fighter, the Fleet Air Arm rapidly had a vital supply of fighters with the kind of performance it needed. It was not before time. The first Sea Hurricanes afloat immediately made their mark against Luftwaffe prowlers on Arctic convoys, but it was during the vital Malta convoys in the summer of 1942 that the Sea Hurricane proved its worth. As the most numerous fighter on those operations, it saw to it that enough supplies reached the battered island that it could survive and keep threatening the Axis supply routes to North Africa. As such, the Sea Hurricane probably saved the entire Eastern Mediterranean theatre. Not bad for a hastily cobbled-together fleet fighter.

— Matt Willis

2. Fairey Barracuda (1943-55)


The Fairey Barracuda. Unloved – derided even. Unattractive, certainly. Subject of more derogatory songs than any other aircraft. “You must remember this… A Barra’s poor as piss…” But the Barracuda doesn’t need your sympathy. It may have looked like an accident that had just happened… early on, too many accidents did happen… but the Barracuda hit the enemy like few other types. Historian Norman Polmar called the Barracuda ‘almost useless as an attack aircraft’. Yet this ‘almost useless’ aircraft sunk 40,000 tons of shipping in 10 months, crippled Germany’s most powerful battleship, and equipped 26 front-line squadrons over a 10-year career.


The Albacore and Swordfish were obsolete as strike aircraft by 1943, so the Barracuda became available none too soon. The Mediterranean war ended as the Barra arrived, but in Northern latitudes it was just the aircraft needed. Barracudas carried out devastating attacks on German convoys and put the Tirpitz out of the war for months by pinpoint dive bombing. In the Far East it was almost the right aircraft… asthmatic in the hot climate, it still achieved success against targets in the East Indies. It then served quietly, but well into the 1950s. The Barracuda deserves your respect.

— Matt Willis, @navalairhistory

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1.  Fairey Swordfish (1938-1945)


The Fairey Swordfish, colloquially known as the ‘Stringbag’ could be charitably seen as the ultimate development of the carrier-borne biplane torpedo bomber — or rather less charitably as simply outdated on its introduction. To give context, its maiden flight was less than two years before that of the Spitfire. Despite this, or possibly because of it, the Stringbag went on to become one of the most beloved of Britain’s naval faring aircraft.

A distinguished wartime career certainly helped cement its place in our history. The highlights being the Taranto Raid and its part in sinking the Bismarck. The former was a daring night time operation in 1940 that took out half of Italy’s capital ships in one fell swoop, and possibly more importantly, inspired the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack of 1941 that caused the USA to directly enter the conflict. The latter saw this venerable aircraft strike the telling blow that allowed Bismarck to slip into the Royal Navy’s vengeful clutches. Ironically, the aircraft’s lumbering top speed may have helped with the Bismarck as legend has it that the anti-aircraft guns were geared to traverse whilst trained on much faster aircraft and consequently didn’t have the sensitivity to deal with a maximum target speed of a mere 143mph. 

To see the Royal Navy’s example fly is a treat, seemingly hanging in the air as her Bristol Pegasus gently thrums, pulling the crew of three through the air. She was a relic that came good, beloved of her crew and held with great affection by the public. A noble old warrior that has truly earned her place in the Fleet Air Arm hall of fame.

— Pete Sandeman, Save the Royal Navy

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