Ask the expert: What does the J-20’s configuration reveal?

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Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked his opinion on what we can learn from looking at China’s next superfighter, the Chengdu J-20. 

“The J-20 and the Su-57 are generally described as F-22 Raptor-class aircraft. In many ways this is true, but I think the J-20 is particularly interesting because of its rather different configuration.

The J-20 has a canard-delta rather than the (essentially) tailed-delta of both the Raptor and the Su-57. Additionally, unlike Typhoon, the canard is not closely coupled to the wing.

What might be the trade-offs here? I think the main benefit to be gained from this arrangement is the carriage of significantly more fuel, coupled with the scope for use of a longer weapons bay. The overall outcome could be a remarkable multi-role aircraft, with a particular strike role, carrying area-denial weapons. These might include, but are unlikely to be limited to, anti-ship missiles. The additional fuel could confer either additional range, or long combat persistence, and this suggests that, if armed with a long-range AAM a role as an anti-AWACS or anti-tanker system.

The large weapons bay might also provide sufficient volume for a wide range of strike weapons, but I would suggest this as a secondary role compared to the conflict-shaping area-denial role. Future internal carriage of high-speed weapons is a speculative possibility.

What of the compromises? I would suggest less energy manoeuvrability, as the configuration is likely to have somewhat higher transonic drag. In addition, signature (other than head on) looks likely to be a bit greater. Head on signature could be comparable to competing systems if appropriate engine installation and airframe treatments are used. The canard, I am assuming, will be held at low deflection for supersonic flight, especially if Su-35-like thrust vectoring is available to trim the aircraft. It is not clear from open source literature if this is the case, but if I were a PLA customer, I would be looking for it.”

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Hush-Kit notes

Some have speculated that the J-20 design may have been based on the Russian MiG project 1.44 tactical fighter design of the 1990s. MiG had been working on new generation fighters since the 1980s, and MiG’s 1.44 technology testbed flew in support of this effort, taking its first flight in 2000.

The theory goes that China bought research data and possibly worked with MiG to create the J-20. Though it is true that several Chinese aircraft (notably the Kamov designed CAIC Z-10 attack helicopter) were Russian designs never ordered by their parent state, the idea that MiG helped with the J-20 does raise some big questions. The first is ‘where did the money go?’ If MiG did provide vital work for a massively important programme they must have negotiated a very poor deal. MiG has been in a perilous state for years, in the 1990s in the chaotic early days of the Russian Federation, it fell out of favour. Despite its impressive history, it was at the mercy of officials friendly to the rival Sukhoi design bureau. The company limped on in the 1990s and early 2000s, and certainly didn’t seem buoyed by mysterious funds. The MiG 1.44 was killed for good in 2000, so presumably the Chinese relationship would have happened around this time. It could have happened before, as anything was possible in Russia in the 1990s, but selling high-tech secrets while trying to pitch the same projects to your own government seems a risky strategy. We also have the question of when this collaboration could have happened. According to Western sources, development of the J-20 began in the late 1990s, and it was officially announced by the Chinese in 2002. Things were still pretty terrible for MiG at this time, later still MiG were caught trying to palm off old (or ‘inferior quality’) MiG-29s as new aircraft to the Algerian air force. The infuriated Algerians returned the initial fifteen aircraft. This move severely damaged MiG’s reputation – would a company with lucrative secret deals have bothered with such dangerous chutzpah?

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There’s also the question of what the design similarities are. Though superficially similar the two designs have a great deal of differences. They do indeed have a similar tailplane configuration, and are both canard deltas —  however we then start running out of physical similarities. Now at this point it should be noted that the the Russian aircraft was a testbed and the eventual aircraft may have been different in key details, though MiG has never confirmed this was the case. So lets look at the differences:

The J-20 uses the Lockheed Martin model for reduced radar conspicuity. The Raptor-like forward fuselage, angle alignment and F-35-style inlets are a far cry from the squashed forward fuselage and underslung box intake arrangement of the MiG. The canard foreplanes also seem to have a different relationship to the wing. The MiG’s foreplanes are far closer to the main leading edge of the wing, the J-20s meet a leading-edge root extension. The MiG’s foreplanes are mounted higher than the wing, the J-20’s start at the same height as the wing and at a pronounced dihedral angle. Not everything can be judged from the outline of an aircraft, and is possible that much in the way of internal structure or materials was directly informed by the Russian aircraft. If this was the case, then much Lockheed Martin DNA was also spliced into the programme. The LM stealth solution could have been arrived at completely independently, but this seems unlikely: a look at the other entrants to the ATF contest reveal there is more than one way to skin a cat. If American allegations of Chinese espionage relating to the F-35 are grounded, the similarities to the US’ fifth generation fighters may be more than skin-deep.

In conclusion, the evidence is far from damning, and appears to lead back to the Skunk Works as much as it does to Moscow.

 

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Image: http://www.zone5aviation.com/

Here is RUSI think-tanker Justin Bronk ‘s assessment of the J-20.

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Two Up

 

“Two Up is a collection of anecdotes and stories drawn from our more than 50-year experience of photographing, flying, analysing, designing and generally working with aircraft. The 26 episodes in the book cover everything from schoolboy expeditions to photograph aircraft in England; to Ron’s visit as Westland’s Chief Future Project Engineer to Russia and Poland to examine their helicopter industry; my learning to fly aerobatics in the Chipmunk; Ron’s flight to Oshkosh on Concorde; and many more.

Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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. 

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YF-23 Versus YF-22: Why did USAF choose the F-22? 

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Jim Smith was working in a technical liaison role in the British Embassy in Washington during the high stakes competition between the YF-22 and YF-23 to provide USAF with its next super fighter. In this role, he attended the YF-22 roll-out, and also wrote an analysis of the two aircraft.

Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

Why did USAF choose the F-22 and was this the right choice? 

My analysis observed the obvious differences in size, planform and shaping for two aircraft designed to meet the same requirements. From material available at the time, it was evident that the performance and range requirements were as demanding as the signature requirements, exceeding those of the F-15 while having a signature of the order of 1% of that aircraft.

I concluded that the YF-23 design looked to have been optimised for low signature, and that to achieve this, the wing design had been compromised, resulting in a less efficient wing design, and ending up with a larger, heavier design. At the time Aviation Week reported a wing area of 950 sq ft compared to 830 sq ft for the YF-22.

The high-risk of thrust vectoring 

The use of the 2-D vectoring nozzle, integrated with the FCS is an essential enabler for the YF-22, as this allows the agility and manoeuvre requirements to be met with a smaller airframe. At the time, this represented a significant risk for the design, as no current US exemplars existed although thrust-vectoring experimental systems had been flown using external paddle arrangements, incompatible with a low-signature solution. Apart from low-speed manoeuvre, thrust vectoring can also allow supersonic trim drag and signature to be reduced, as control surfaces can remain un-deflected and in line with the wing to reduce head-on RCS.

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The YF-22 looked to me to have been designed to meet the manoeuvre and range requirements, and then shaped, packaged and integrated to have the lowest signature that could be achieved with the selected configuration. The fuselage shaping and planform appears less sophisticated than that of the YF-23, but I judged at the time that Lockheed had the know-how to meet the signature requirements, and, in delivering a smaller, lighter solution, stood well-placed in the competition provided the 2-D thrust-vectoring nozzles could be integrated successfully with the fcs.

In making this judgement, I was aware that there is a strong correlation between mass and cost at a given technology level. Although the technology decisions made by the designers were somewhat different, the smaller, lighter Lockheed design was likely also to come in at a lower cost (at least as viewed through the lense of this cost-mass correlation).

Was this the right decision? It is of course, impossible to know. But in my judgement, USAF expectations do appear to have been met by the developed F-22 Raptor.

Two Up

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“Two Up is a collection of anecdotes and stories drawn from our more than 50-year experience of photographing, flying, analysing, designing and generally working with aircraft. The 26 episodes in the book cover everything from schoolboy expeditions to photograph aircraft in England; to Ron’s visit as Westland’s Chief Future Project Engineer to Russia and Poland to examine their helicopter industry; my learning to fly aerobatics in the Chipmunk; Ron’s flight to Oshkosh on Concorde; and many more.

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor Wallpapers (6)

Two Up Down Under focuses on a visit Ron made to Australia to enjoy an aviation and photographic road trip around the Riverina, leading to our visit to the Australian Antique Aeroplane Association’s fly-in at Echuca, Victoria. There is something for everyone in here, whether you are interested in Volkswagen kombis, recreational and antique aircraft in Australia, flying, photography or classic cars. In his later career, he was a well-regarded analyst working primarily on Land Systems for BAe Systems. Both Ron and I have been private pilots. He has owned a number of interesting aircraft, including a 1938 Tipsy B, and is also a winner of the Dawn to Dusk Trophy. My flying experience highlights include Chipmunk aerobatics and flying recreational aircraft in Australia.”

Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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. 

 

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Ask the insider: The Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile 

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Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked him about the concept behind the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile 

Why did Australia choose the ASRAAM? 

“I had a significant role in this program. As manager of the Air Superiority and Anti-Air weapons research program, and then as Science adviser to the MoD Customer, technical lead  for the UK on the UK-Aus collaborative Group, and latterly as a member on that Group for Australia, I have a good understanding of both the technical capability, and of the partnership between Industry, Governments and research agencies underpinning the programme.

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However, my past roles make it not possible for me to be very explicit on ASRAAM matters.

I will, however, observe, that the collaboration between UK and AS on ASRAAM has been one of full disclosure and access at the deepest technical level. This has been of benefit to both Nations. Australia has added new capabilities to the weapon, and has worked in cooperation with UK MoD and research agencies to ensure the capability of the weapon against advanced countermeasures.

This level of cooperative development is simply not available elsewhere.”

Does it need a thrust vector control to be effective against future threats?

“No. The missile seeker and kinematic capabilities make it highly capable at much greater range than other systems. It also has demonstrated all aspect capability.”

How is it different in concept to say- AIM-9X and IRIS-T?

“Primarily in the high-speed low-drag airframe coupled with highly advanced processing enabling long range all aspect engagements against targets deploying countermeasures.”

Is it effective? 

“Known as ‘the death dart’ in the F3 community. Stated to be well-ahead of any competing IR weapon. The weapon brings a pre-merge capability to the ‘SR’ AAM.”

Two Up

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“Two Up is a collection of anecdotes and stories drawn from our more than 50-year experience of photographing, flying, analysing, designing and generally working with aircraft. The 26 episodes in the book cover everything from schoolboy expeditions to photograph aircraft in England; to Ron’s visit as Westland’s Chief Future Project Engineer to Russia and Poland to examine their helicopter industry; my learning to fly aerobatics in the Chipmunk; Ron’s flight to Oshkosh on Concorde; and many more.

Two Up Down Under focuses on a visit Ron made to Australia to enjoy an aviation and photographic road trip around the Riverina, leading to our visit to the Australian Antique Aeroplane Association’s fly-in at Echuca, Victoria. There is something for everyone in here, whether you are interested in Volkswagen kombis, recreational and antique aircraft in Australia, flying, photography or classic cars. In his later career, he was a well-regarded analyst working primarily on Land Systems for BAe Systems. Both Ron and I have been private pilots. He has owned a number of interesting aircraft, including a 1938 Tipsy B, and is also a winner of the Dawn to Dusk Trophy. My flying experience highlights include Chipmunk aerobatics and flying recreational aircraft in Australia.”

Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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. 

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Copyright: Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Ltd

Ask the insider: Eurofighter Typhoon

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Copyright: Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Ltd

Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked him about the concept behind the Eurofighter Typhoon. 

What was your role on this project? 

“I worked on Typhoon advising the Project Office on Mass and Performance. This involved understanding and validating data from the project, and advising both the UK and NETMA (NATO Eurofighter/Tornado Management Agency) on compliance with requirements for mass and point and mission performance. As part of this role, I was delegated UK airworthiness sign off for the Performance System for first flight of the aircraft. This was not as grand as it sounds, as for first flight the concerns are take off and lading distances, brakes and brake parachute. Moving into the Chief Scientists area, I also wrote the Mass and Performance chapters of the Chief Scientist’s review of the programme”

Was Typhoon the right concept, what is the airframe optimised for?

“The aircraft, or more properly, the system, was designed to meet a variety of requirements from the partner nations. These are classified and I will not detail them. The mission performance requirements from most partners emphasised air superiority, but there were also some air to surface missions. Point performance requirements were owned by specific Nations and included requirements on climb performance, acceleration, instantaneous and sustained turn rates and specific points required by the Nations. 

I would summarise the intent as providing the best possible air superiority aircraft within weight and affordability constraints, and against the need to replace then in-service systems like Tornado F3. Acceleration in the transonic and supersonic regime was a high point, as was supersonic manoeuvrability. The aircraft is required to be able to pull significant g at a Mach number a clean F-35 cannot achieve in level flight. 

From a UK perspective the aircraft was seen as primarily an air defence and air superiority fighter, but with a strong capability to transition to swing roles, where both air-to-air and air-to-surface capability can be delivered if required. The UK considered the Typhoon and F-35 to be complementary, with F-35 delivering primarily a strike role.

I think Typhoon has proven itself to be an excellent choice for the RAF, given that it is in service with proven capability, has replaced the Tornado F3, and has increasing capability in all roles as radar and weapons development and integration continue.”

 What was most interesting about this project? 

“The complexity of working in a 4-nation collaboration, with 4 National Industries, 4 National Governments, and Industry Joint Venture, and a NATO Management agency. Any significant review meeting would have many participants, and a focussed approach was required.

The interaction of the flight control system, the load management system and the aircraft aerodynamics, coupled with the highly unstable configuration resulted in a flight-test program which focussed on identifying any difference between predicted and observed flight behaviour. The emphasis was on validating the Aerodynamic, FCS and Loads models to ensure safety while expanding the flight envelope.

Also, as with all modern weapons systems, development takes time; this should not be a surprise.”

Is it an issue that Typhoon has inferior High Alpha performance compared to twin-tailed rivals/potential threats?

“I don’t regard this as significant. The most likely result of close-in combat these days is a mutual kill, and it does not make sense to compromise the system to favour high alpha performance. If you are in that type of combat, you have effectively lost both the BVR combat and the merge. Integration of Meteor on Eurofighter, coupled with the capabilities of ASRAAM should make this type of engagement unnecessary.”

Why did the cranked delta wing of early concepts change to the conventional delta?

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“I was not involved in EF configuration design decisions. Because I was not involved, I can speculate a bit. 

The essentials for EF were keeping the weight low (maximising thrust to weight) and minimising transonic and supersonic drag to achieve outstanding energy manoeuvrability. This is the ability to engage, manoeuvre, shoot, disengage, accelerate and re-engage at high energy, and the aircraft is quite exceptional in this regard. Other key factors are high instantaneous turn rate delivered through a highly unstable configuration and a smart fcs which delivers pilot intent while managing airframe loads; and good sustained turn rate, delivered through low weight and wing loading, and an aerodynamically optimised close coupled canard configuration.

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Why might the cranked delta of EAP not have been used? Some possibilities are:

– A straight leading edge should lead to a simpler and lighter wing structure (Weight, Cost/Complexity);

– Maintaining a higher sweep on the outboard leading edge rather than having a reduced-sweep cranked planform should reduce wave drag, improving both acceleration and supersonic performance (Drag);

– Aerodynamic interaction with the canard may have been more favourable, either through having more linear characteristics at incidence, and/or allowing the fcs to manage a greater degree of instability (Drag, fcs design);

It is possible either more favourable or more linear aerodynamic cross coupling characteristics are obtained. For highly manoeuvrable unstable designs the cross terms such as rolling moment and yawing moment due to sideslip can have a big impact on handling qualities (fcs design).

What might have been traded away? 

Perhaps an impact on low-speed, high alpha qualities. The value of extreme high alpha flight to a modern fighter is questionable, and EF performance already benefits from low wing loading, loads management from the FCS, and high thrust to weight.”

With an unlimited budget, how would you upgrade Typhoon? 

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For the Air Defence role, integrate the active e-scan radar, Meteor and conformal fuel tanks. All planned, but sooner rather than later would be good.

For the swing role/strike role, continue integrating stand-off weapons. Conformal tanks as above. Look hard at maximising interoperability with JSF.”

 

Two Up

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“Two Up is a collection of anecdotes and stories drawn from our more than 50-year experience of photographing, flying, analysing, designing and generally working with aircraft. The 26 episodes in the book cover everything from schoolboy expeditions to photograph aircraft in England; to Ron’s visit as Westland’s Chief Future Project Engineer to Russia and Poland to examine their helicopter industry; my learning to fly aerobatics in the Chipmunk; Ron’s flight to Oshkosh on Concorde; and many more.

Two Up Down Under focuses on a visit Ron made to Australia to enjoy an aviation and photographic road trip around the Riverina, leading to our visit to the Australian Antique Aeroplane Association’s fly-in at Echuca, Victoria. There is something for everyone in here, whether you are interested in Volkswagen kombis, recreational and antique aircraft in Australia, flying, photography or classic cars. In his later career, he was a well-regarded analyst working primarily on Land Systems for BAe Systems. Both Ron and I have been private pilots. He has owned a number of interesting aircraft, including a 1938 Tipsy B, and is also a winner of the Dawn to Dusk Trophy. My flying experience highlights include Chipmunk aerobatics and flying recreational aircraft in Australia.”

Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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. 

Lee:Plane Focus

Copyright: Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Ltd

US Navy releases UFO footage: we ask former UK Ministry of Defence expert what this means

Recently released footage from a US Navy Super Hornet’s sensor pod (above) shows a currently unexplained aerial phenomenon or aircraft. Hush-Kit spoke to former UK Government and Ministry of Defence UFO expert Nick Pope for his opinion. 
What happened, and what does the footage tell us?

Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

There’s still a lot about this footage that we don’t know. The film does appear to be genuine (which isn’t always the case with UFO footage), but while some media reporting makes it sound as if this was an official release by the Pentagon, it was actually released by former Blink-182 rocker Tom DeLonge’s To The Stars Academy, which is essentially a commercial venture. The fact that footage like this exists formed part of a story in the New York Times on December 16, revealing that the Pentagon had a UFO investigation program, and that it focused on sightings from the military. This is a big deal, not just because of the footage, but because for many years the US government has consistently and very specifically denied that there was any official interest or involvement in the subject. It turns out that there was.

 What was the 2004 case and is this similar?

We probably know more about the 2004 case than the other footage, mainly because it caught the attention of the New York Times, who ran a second story focusing specifically on this incident, naming Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight as the two Navy airmen involved. Once this information was in the public domain the airmen themselves spoke out and this filled in a lot of the blanks. Both these cases tell the media and the public what government UFO investigators have known for many years: pilots sometimes encounter things that they can’t identify, and these things are sometimes tracked on military radar. Pilots have chased them, footage of these chases exists, and on occasion these objects seem to be capable of extraordinary speeds and maneuvers. Unfortunately, none of this footage tells us what these things actually are. Conspiracy theorists believe the government knows all about UFOs and is covering up the truth. The reality – as we see in these videos – is that the government doesn’t know either. There’s something going on, but we don’t know what it is.

Some have said that the gimbal footage case is a result of a misreading of the IR sensor imagery, does this make sense to you?

When I worked at the UK Ministry of Defence on their UFO project (1991 to 1994) I had access to various imagery analysis resources and capabilities. Specifically, I was able to task DIS (Defence Intelligence Staff) and JARIC (Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre) experts with analyzing any photos and videos of UFOs that we acquired. However, I wasn’t an imagery analyst myself, and had to rely on the advice of the deep specialists who I consulted. Accordingly, I know what I don’t know. It may be that there’s a misreading of the imagery here, but I don’t have the specialist knowledge to call this either way. I’m wary when non-specialists – whether they’re true believers or die-hard debunkers – get their hands on this sort of evidence and undertake what I call a ‘conclusion-led analysis’, trying either to validate it or debunk it, depending on their existing belief system. I genuinely don’t know what to make of this footage, but I’m happy to adopt a wait-and-see approach, listen to genuine experts, and see where the data take us.

What do you think the US Navy ‘gimbal footage’ was? Or wasn’t?

The basic instinct of pilots and air force intelligence officers will be to assume that these sorts of sightings are attributable to drones, missiles, or some sort of atmospheric plasma phenomenon that science doesn’t yet fully understand. This is why those of us who have investigated UFOs from within government tend to use soundbites like ‘more likely Russian than Martian’ when we look at such things. That said, few people who’ve looked at this issue officially are prepared to entirely rule out other more exotic options. ‘Never say never’, in other words. There are some intriguing clues here. We should bear in mind that these aren’t leaked videos. The footage has been reviewed, declassified and released by the Pentagon, albeit by or at the request of Luis Elizondo himself, in one of his last acts before leaving government service. This latter point may open him to investigation, given that these videos are seemingly a key part of Tom DeLonge’s commercial venture, in which Elizondo is involved, presumably as a paid consultant and/or shareholder. However, the key point to me is that given that the Pentagon declassified the footage, it’s unlikely they think it shows a new drone or missile, irrespective of whether it’s American, Russian or Chinese. Similarly, if the Pentagon genuinely thought this was the smoking gun that proves UFOs are extraterrestrial, it’s unlikely they’d authorize public release of the footage. The public release implies the authorities regard this material as unclassified. Sadly, this suggests a prosaic explanation.

What do you make of the recent Iranian claims? 

My gut feeling is that any unexplained aerial activity in the vicinity of Iranian military facilities is likely to be connected to US or Israeli reconnaissance flights, involving spy planes or drones. That said, I think we’d have to look at just how this story got out in the first place: was it leaked, was it the result of investigative journalism, or did the Iranian authorities themselves have a hand in things? If the latter, we need to consider the possibility of some sort of Iranian deception/disinformation operation – though I confess the strategic aim of such an operation escapes me.

Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read

You should also enjoy our Top Tens! There’s a whole feast of fantastic BritishFrenchSwedishAustralian, Japanese , Belgian,  German and Latin American aeroplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read as is the Top Ten cancelled fighters.

Read an interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.

 Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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What the public say about the big aviation issue

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

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

— Chris Disraeli, Berlin

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— Harold Herman, Uxbridge

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— Gemma Winkler, Catolonia

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

— Dr Thomas Mann, Cockermouth

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

— Dawn Fecundity, Egremont

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

— Bertha Cowling, Madrid

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Cancelled! Ten great fighter aircraft that never entered service

 

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

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

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

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

9. Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow (1958)

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

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

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

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8. Martin-Baker MB5 (1944)

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

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

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

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

6. Dassault Mirage 4000 (1979)

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

5. IAI Lavi (1986)

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

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4. Northrop F-20 Tigershark

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

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

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3. Lockheed YF-12 (1963)

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

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2. Focke-Wulf Fw 187 (1937)

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

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

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

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

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

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

Save the Hush-Kit blog. This site is in peril, we are far behind our funding targets. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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

 

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

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

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How did it differ from the other aircraft you flew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part two coming soon

paki.jpgHave a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

Top Ten Asymmetric Aircraft

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

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

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10. Canopy capers: Lockheed RP-38

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

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

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

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«Быстро, спрячься! Вот идет Хрущев»

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gyrodyne: cute but doomed

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

6. Mars Attacks: Scaled Composites ARES

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

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

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5. Skew-whiff pioneer: Wright Flyers

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

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

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

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


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

3. Slew but Sure: NASA AD-1

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

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

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

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Blohm to lose

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

1. Smoker’s delight: Rutan Model 202 Boomerang

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

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

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