Why I loved flying the world’s most beautiful fighter jet

Air Marshal G A ‘Black’ Robertson flew the most beautiful jet fighter even flown (outside of the Sea Hawk that is). We met him to find out more about flying the gorgeous Hawker Hunter.

Flt Lt Tim Thorn taking off from Sharjah in one of 8 Sqn’s FR Mk 10s, 1968. Photos: Air Marshal G A Robertson unless otherwise credited
Fg Off GA ‘Black’ Robertson with his own 8 Sqn aircraft, FGA Mk 9, tail letter ‘H’, serial XJ 684; Bahrain, 1968.

“…a remark I heard a number of times: the engine ate eagles. Not strictly true, of course, but a tribute to the Avon’s strength and reliability.

What were your first impressions of the Hunter? At last, I thought, here’s a proper aircraft: a camouflaged single-seater with an almost bewildering array of instrumentation – weapons switches too. It’s hard to describe the sense of excitement I felt, strapping into an F6 (XF 526) for my first solo on 8 Nov 67. To put these remarks in context, I was fresh out of training – well, almost. I’d spent the previous five months holding at St Athan, and was privileged to fly five different types, four as captain. But my first operational aircraft was a step beyond all this – a very considerable step too.

Describe the Hunter in 3 words. A pilot’s aircraft.

What was the best thing about the Hunter? Its aesthetic beauty is the obvious answer – a beauty one felt privileged to share.

….and the worst? I’d never say a bad word about the aircraft – even if I could think of one, which I can’t.

What was your unit’s role and how effective was the Hunter at this role? My first and only front-line squadron was 8, a DF/GA unit. For its time – before the advent of precision weapons – the Hunter was more effective than any other aircraft in this dual role. That said, the more powerful Lightning could outperform it in some air combat scenarios, and aircraft like the Canberra and Vulcan  could deliver a heavier weapon load. It could be argued that the Hunter was the first multi-role fighter.

Many people love the aircraft’s looks, do you? Its beauty is ageless and its design, for a relatively modern aircraft, is matchless. I’d put only two other aircraft in its class: the SE5A and the Spitfire – arguably the world’s most beautiful and iconic aircraft. But I never felt the same about the two-seat T7. The widening of the fuselage to accommodate side-by-side seating seemed to me to destroy, certainly in part, the cleanliness of the single-seat design.

Is there a popular myth about the Hunter? The only thing close to this is a remark I heard a number of times: the engine ate eagles. Not strictly true, of course, but a tribute to the Avon’s strength and reliability.

How would you rate it in the following categories

A. Sustained turn
B. Instantaneous turn
C. Acceleration
D. Climb
E. Ergonomics
F. Cockpit comfort

It’s impossible to rate the majority of these categories in absolute terms. To avoid subjectivity one needs a comparator. All I have is the Phantom, and a fading memory. So, other than to say I have no complaints about any of them, I’ll pass on the first four items.

Two 8 Sqn Mk 9s taking off from Sharjah, September 1968.

            On ergonomics, it’s often said that the switches in later marks of the aircraft were all over the place – an exaggeration, but it makes the point that cockpit ergonomics could have been better. By way of example, aids such as the radio compass weren’t easy to interpret, tucked away down on the lower right-hand side of the cockpit. But any criticism in this respect must be seen in the light of a design that was progressively improved and updated, not least by the addition of additional equipment, year by year and mark by mark.

            Cockpit comfort was such that one felt very much part of the aeroplane. One could perhaps argue that reaching down to the flap lever during air combat sorties was a bit of a stretch and an exercise in dexterity, but it would be stretching a point to complain about imperfect ergonomics. The HOTAS concept was some years away, of course.

What was your most memorable flight in the Hunter?

It was 7 Feb 1969. Two of us were ferrying refurbished FGA Mk 9s back from the UK to Bahrain. The second leg of the first day was from Hal Far, Malta, to Akrotiri, Cyprus. The last forty minutes of a three-hour trip were completed at night, in and out of massive thunderstorms accompanied by lightning flashes that lit up the entire sky. By the time I was handed over to the final controller for the mandatory radar approach I was more than a little tense. However, my nerves were quickly calmed by the crystal clear tones of a woman’s voice; the very model of professionalism, she guided me down to a safe landing. Rarely had ‘On centre-line, on glidepath,’ sounded so sweet, and rarely had I been so relieved to see runway lights emerge from the gloom. I was eventually reunited with my leader, who’d earlier exercised his prerogative to descend first, ‘to see what it was like’ – a questionable decision given that I was much lower on fuel. What if he’d found conditions difficult? There was little he could do to help. In the end though, a valuable lesson was learned: check sunset time at the destination airfield before departure! Night flying, let alone night formation, hadn’t been part of the plan.

Was the absence of missiles or a serious radar an issue? Not in the DF/GA role in my time. While both might have been nice to have, they would probably have brought penalties (performance?) too. The aircraft had arguably reached the end of its stretch potential when it was retired from operational service.

What other equipment did Hunter pilots long for? While nothing comes to mind, given that even experienced pilots managed to land wheels up, some scraping along on the 230-gallon underwing tanks before lurching airborne again, a (radio altimeter-type) indication that the wheels weren’t down as the aircraft reached a critical height might have proved useful.

Tell me something I don’t know about the Hunter. Sydney Camm was reputedly less than enamoured with the addition of the under-fuselage air brake – it ruined the aesthetics of his elegant design. While he wanted it removed, it was deemed a necessary addition.

What should I have asked you?  Where does the Hunter rank amongst all the aircraft you’ve flown? Apart from a single, memorable hour in a Sea Fury, it’s the aircraft I love best

Where/when and in which service did you fly the Hunter?

No 130 DFGA (Day Fighter/Ground Attack) Course, No 229 OCU, RAF Chivenor; Oct 67-Feb 68.

8 Sqn, RAF Muharraq, Bahrain; Mar 68-Apr 69.

No 101 Short TWU Course, 79 Sqn, RAF Brawdy; Mar-Jul 82.

8 Sqn arrive at Sharjah for APC, April 1968. Black is flying the no 2 aircraft, on the immediate right of the CO (Sqn Ldr Fred Trowern)

Cold War Flashpoints: 20th air combat from Suez to Iraq with former Tornado pilot Michael Napier

A Royal Navy Westland Wyvern practices a rocket atttack prior to the Suez Crisis. (W.H. COWLING VIA B. CULL via Keymilitray.com)

Former RAF Tornado pilot Michael Napier has written a book about some of the most exciting and intrigueing military air campaigns of the Cold War, we met up with him to find out more.

HK: I know some historians are uncomfortable with the term ‘Cold War’- how do you feel about it? Also, the term ‘crisis*’ relating to post or late colonial warfare? 

I am very comfortable with the term Cold War – I think that it is an apt description of the world order in the ’50s, 60s, 70s and 80s when there was definite hostility between the USSR and Warsaw Pact on one side and the USA and NATO on the other, but the balance of force – both nuclear and conventional – ensured that open conflict never broke out. ‘Crisis’ too is a good description of various relatively short-term events where conflict either nearly or actually occurred.

*Hush-Kit note: Some see ‘crisis’ as a Government approved term to play down military actions, akin to the Russia state using ‘special military operation’ to describe the current attempted invasion of Ukraine. For example, ‘Suez Crisis’ is the British term for what others describe as the Tripartite Aggression

What was the Suez Crisis and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The Suez Crisis was an attempt by the UK and France (colluding with Israel) to use force to seize back the Suez Canal which had been nationalised by the Egyptian government. A short bombing campaign was followed by amphibious landings and parachute assaults on the Canal Zone. Although the Anglo-French forces achieved the military aim, the venture was a politico-strategic failure. The RAF bombing force – Valiants and Canberras – were used to neutralise Egyptian air bases and military targets, supported by British and French carrier-borne aircraft – Wyverns, Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms, TBM Avengers and Corsairs. The carrier aircraft and land-based fighter-bombers – Venoms, Thunderstreaks and Mystères – also bombed and strafed tactical targets in the Canal Zone and provided air support to the amphibious and parachute troops. The Israeli air force operated over Sinai with Mustangs, B-17s, Meteors, Mosquitoes and Ouragans, while the Egyptian air force had Vampires, MiG-15s, Meteors and Il-28s. The Egyptian air force realised early on that it could not win, so it very sensible withdrew its aircraft out of range of the Anglo-French forces to preserve it to be able to fight another day.

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Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Suez attacks?

The most surprising thing for me was to learn that the RAF Valiant and Canberra force were still using WW2 bomber tactics, with ‘pathfinders’ dropping Target Indicator flares n the targets and the bomber dropping on the flares. While it had worked to some extent for Lancasters bombing city-sized targets it did not really work against targets like airfields. So I would say that the bombing campaign was a failure. The most successful work was done by the French air force F-84F Thunderstreaks operating from Lod which destroyed 10 Egyptian Il-28s at Luxor. The most interesting aircraft from my perspective was the Wyvern which carried out attacks on coastal targets; unfortunately, it was restricted to operating over coastal areas because of concerns that propeller-driven aircraft would be vulnerable to Egyptian jet fighters. Wyverns from 830 NAS successfully destroyed an Egyptian coast guard barracks which was holding up the advance of paratroops near Port Said, but one aircraft was shot down by groundfire.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Suez campaign?

I think that the main lesson is that for anti-airfield attacks to be successful they must be delivered extremely accurately onto the operating surfaces and that medium-level bombing by heavy bombers and low-level attacks by fighter-bombers without specific-to-role weapons are unlikely to succeed. This lesson had not been learnt during the Falklands conflict. Another lesson was that reconnaissance interpretation equipment needs to be co-located with the aircraft operators if the intelligence is to be used in a timely manner; this was why the French recce effort was more successful than the RAF effort.

What was the Congo Crisis and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The Congo Crisis was precipitated by the province of Katanga attempting to break away from Congo and the efforts of the United Nations to drive a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Katangese air force (Avikat) comprised DH Doves and Dakotas converted into bombers as well as Fouga Magisters and later Harvards. The UN force included Indian Canberras, Ethiopian, Iranian and Philippine F-86 Sabres and Swedish Saab J-29s.

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Congo attacks?

The UN J-29s were very successful, as was the single Avikat Magister which ran a short “reign of terror” before the arrival in the country of UN fighters. Perhaps the most disappointing were the F-86s which did not appear to achieve vey much!

What air power lessons could be learned from the Congo Crisis?

The Congo Crisis is fascinating from an air power perspective because it shows firstly how effective airpower is if it is unopposed and secondly how limited it is once it is opposed. Avikat had the run of the country before the UN fighter force arrived, but once the UN fighters were established in Congo, Avikat was completely sidelined from the ground campaign.

What were the Arab-Israeli Wars and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The Arab-Israeli wars were fought in 1967 (the Six-Day War) and 1973 (The October War) as Israel tried to secure its borders and the Egyptians and Syrians attempted to invade and destroy the state of Israel. In 1967, the Israeli air force was mainly equipped with French aircraft such as Mirages, Ouragans, Mystères and Vautors, all of which were employed as fighter-bombers, while in 1973 it had reequipped with American aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk. The Egyptian and Syrian air forces flew Soviet aircraft such as MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, MiG-21 and Su-7, while the Iraqi and Jordanian air forces flew the Hunter.

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Arab-Israeli Wars attacks?

The star of the ’67 War was undoubtedly the Mirage and of the ’73 War the F-4; however, the MiG-21 also performed very well in ’73. The older MiG variants were generally outclassed in the combat arena.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Arab-Israeli Wars?

The pre-emptive counter-air strikes by the Israeli air force in the ’67 War was a masterclass in how to neutralise enemy airfields and prevent the opposition from using its own air power effectively. In ’73 probably the greatest lesson was the effectiveness of modern SAMs against aircraft and the necessity of electronic countermeasures and dedicated Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) missions. In addition, the lack of effectiveness of the Egyptian air force showed how the appointment of political, rather than professionally competent, officers to high ranks will inevitably render the entire force unfit for purpose.

What were the Indo-Pakistan Wars and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

The ’65 Indo-Pak War started with an attempt by Pakistan to cut Indian land access to Kashmir and was met by an Indian counter-offensive further to the south, resulting in a stalemate. In ’71, India intervened in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in support of the separatist movement, and Pakistan responded by attacking northwest India. East Pakistan succeeded in breaking away from West Pakistan, and in the west the ground campaign was much like a re-run of the ’65 campaign, once again ending in a stalemate. The Pakistan air force was all-American in ’65, comprising F-86 Sabres (both air-to-ground and air-to-air), F-104 Starfighters (air defence) and B-57 Canberras (bombers); in ’71 these aircraft had been supplemented by the Shenyang F-6 (Chinese version of the MiG-19 used for both air defence and offensive support)). The Indian air force was equipped with Hunters, Gnats, Canberras, Mystères, Ouragans and MiG-21s (the latter in the air-to-air role) in ’65 and in ’73 the line-up included more MiG-21s, the Su-7 and the HAL Marut (both of these types used for offensive support).

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Indo-Pakistan Wars?

The Pakistan air force F-86 Sabres performed very well in both conflicts, reflecting the excellent training and leadership of the Pakistan air force. On the Indian side, the Gnat was impressive in ’65 and in ’71 the Su-7 and Marut both performed very well in the ground-attack role. The Indian MiG-21s did not do well in ’65 largely due to poor Soviet missile technology.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Indo-Pakistan Wars?

The quality of leadership and training of the Pakistan air force showed just how important these factors are in the overall effectiveness of an air force. As Gen George Patton observed “you fight like to train” so high-quality relevant training is vital for any air force. In ’73, the Indian air force ran a highly successful counter-air campaign against airfields in East Pakistan and grounded the Pakistan air force, by using excellent weapon-to-target matching and employing an overwhelming force.

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What was the Iran-Iraq War and which aircraft types were used – and for what roles?

Taking advantage of the post-revolution chaos in Iran, Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 in order to take control, of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Expecting a swift and successful campaign, Iraq was surprised by the robust and ferocious response from Iran and by a war which dragged on for eight years. With the ground forces bogged down in a WW1-style war of attrition, the air forces switched to attacking each other’s oil production and export infrastructure, including the “tanker war” in which oil tankers were attacked in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian air force fielded F-4 Phantoms, F-5 Tigers for ground attack and F-14 Tomcats for air defence, while the Iraqis operated MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-7, Su-22 as well as Mirage F1s and MiG-25s.

Which aircraft performed well and which performed badly in the Iran-Iraq War?

Despite limited spares support, the Iranian F-4s and F-14s were very effective in role; the Iraqi Mirage F-1s also achieved some spectacular successes with long-range strikes against Iranian oil terminals. Perhaps the least successful was the Iraqi MiG-23 thanks to its less than ideal handling characteristics.

What air power lessons could be learned from the Iran-Iraq War?

Much like the Egyptians in 1967, the big lesson here is that political or quasi-religious interference in air forces will render them ineffective. Both the Iraqi and Iranian air forces suffered badly because of interference and mismanagement by political (Iraq) and religious (Iran) figures who knew nothing about air power.

UK Swats Mosquito ‘Loyal Wingman’ Project

What is going on in with the UK programme and ‘Loyal Wingmen’ in general?

The UK has walked away from Project Mosquito, an effort to create a technology demonstrator of a ‘Loyal Wingman’ technology (an unmanned fast aircraft that could support manned aircraft in high-threat environments). Jim Smith looks at what this means – and considers the current state of autonomous buddy aircraft and what the UK wants and needs.

In a fairly recent article for @Hush_Kit, examining the future of air operations:

I observed that “… the US, China, and Russia, all appear to be converging on a system-of-systems approach to both air combat and strike missions” and also noted that “the ‘system-of-systems’ approach I am considering is also intended to allow unfettered operation over hostile territory, is ‘offensive’ rather than ‘defensive’ in nature, and appears to be the direction being taken by the US, Russia, and China.”

In this context, it was extremely interesting to read, from defbrief.com that the UK has decided not to proceed with its unmanned loyal wingman demonstrator being examined under Project Mosquito.

Unpacking this a little, we can observe the following key points:

  • The LANCA programme will not proceed beyond the design phase
  • The capability can be achieved more cost-effectively with smaller (and by implication) more specialised off-board assets
  • The intent is to introduce such capabilities in the near-term
  • Examination of loyal wingman concepts will continue as part of the Future Combat Air Systems Enterprise

So, what might lie behind this change in direction?

At the simplest level, it seems the work done towards LANCA has given an indication of the likely cost, size, complexity, and hence timescale, of developing the MoD’s concept of a loyal wingman system, and the result is not in line with the near-term needs of the RAF.

By implication, cost-effectiveness and timeliness appear to be the main issues, and short-term alternatives are suggested, while keeping the option open of broader and longer-term studies and options under the FCASE program.

Project Mosquito is named for Britain’s famous de Havilland Mosquito. The UK has been unable to think of a new name for a combat aircraft since the Harrier of the 1960s. Tornado, Typhoon and Tempest are all callbacks to Hawker aircraft of the 1940s.

What is the ‘capability need’?

All well and good, and perhaps a sensible compromise, in order to contain costs while continuing FCASE studies and keeping an eye on the Australian and US unmanned combat aircraft adjunct programs, perhaps with an eye to a future Off-The-Shelf purchase. However, there remain some fundamental question about what the UK might actually be looking for in the Future Combat Air Systems Enterprise.

Loyal Wingman is a Boeing term that is currently being used informally as a generic term for a pilotless aircraft with enough flight performance to accompany fighters. The term is controversial as it implies a wingman is normally disloyal.

Of course, the critical aspects will be to determine what future capability is likely to be needed, in what timescale, against what threats, and in what operational context. By the latter, I mean whether the capability is primarily perceived to be driven by the UK acting in coalition, or in a stand-alone capacity.

The details of all that would be secret, but some guesses can be made. Firstly, if the UK is involved in direct conflict with a 1st tier opponent such as Russia or China, this is only credible in a coalition, as the capability and force structure to do so in a stand-alone sense would be unaffordable.

A second consideration would be how long a conflict might need to be sustained. All recent experience suggests that the idea of a ‘short, sharp conflict’ against capable opposition are long gone. Recent UK coalition operations have lasted years, not months.

A third consideration is whether the UK would be involved in primarily defensive, or primarily offensive operations. Since the second world war, this has been a changing picture. As a post-war colonial power, the UK was involved in all sorts of operations. This shrank when activities were constrained to no longer be ‘East of Suez’, and changed again with the Gulf War and successor activities including engagement in Afghanistan. So, Air Defence of the UK and its Colonies focussed down to Air Defence of the UK, and then expanded to Support to the US in Coalition.

From all this, I conclude that the main actual driver for the UK Force structure is now supporting the US in coalition operations, essentially worldwide and of long duration, but leavened by an expectation that the US would do the heavy lifting against the most difficult targets.

Short-term and Longer-term needs

The Project Mosquito announcement essentially defers introduction of a loyal wingman capability to consideration under the FCASE project. Instead, the focus is to shift “to aggressively pursue the RAF’s unchanged firm commitment to integrate advanced uncrewed capabilities into the near-term force mix with more immediate beneficial value”.

Hence, given the near-term force mix essentially being JSF and Typhoon, off-board, unmanned assets to support those assets. From which one might expect off-board defensive aids, including deployable EW capabilities, possibly Datalink and communications relays, perhaps some ISR and damage assessment capabilities, and perhaps deception drones to aid in defence suppression. Are numerous, separate, unmanned and deployable capabilities a cheaper option than a loyal wingman?

Almost certainly, provided they are managed intelligently, for example using a simple unmanned bus concept, which would be loaded with the appropriate mission systems to deliver the different capabilities. Developed as separate capabilities – much less certainly, especially if integration with the platform or other unmanned systems were to be required.



If we assume the longer-term objective is to support FCASE, then the timescale should allow mature consideration of what loyal wingman capabilities are required. It would also allow possible alternative options to appear, with UA and AUS systems as possible alternatives to a UK programme.

The capability arguments suggest a sustainable rather than throw-away capability would be required. While there is a certain attraction in using unmanned QF-16 aircraft as a thrust to erode defence capabilities ahead of a ‘Shock and Awe’ first strike mission, this is a destabilising, overtly offensive, one-shot capability that, however attractive, could not really be a credible approach for the UK. Or, indeed, anyone, except perhaps the US or Israel.

A loyal wingman which was, itself, survivable (aka stealthy), but which might be used to deploy decoys, jammers, harassment drones, anti-radar and, perhaps, offensive cyber capabilities might well be a good adjunct to whatever manned system comes out of FCASE (Tempest?).

Such a system would, inevitably, be nearly as expensive as a low signature manned system, but, through its ability to forward-deploy defence suppression aids, could make survivable manned strike and air superiority missions much easier to deliver. The wingman platform might also be adaptable for other capabilities such as Air-to-air refuelling, electronic surveillance, target acquisition and designation.

What Next?

The US is at the forefront of military aircraft technology. The Boeing Loyal Wingman is already flying while European attempts to ape the project are in concept definition phases.

The UK appears to have had a look at a near-term Loyal Wingman capability and realised that any Lightweight and Affordable system is unlikely to be available in the short-term, and perhaps unable to deliver the capability it requires. A short-term shift to multiple, separate, deployable systems appears likely to be the outcome. To deliver this in a cost-effective way will require early attention to detail in integrating the various systems with their platforms, and perhaps with each other.

Will Western manufacturers ‘goldplate’ buddy aircraft rather than creating cheaper attritable systems? Major US and European defence companies find it seemingly impossible to make low-cost simple air systems, this is likely to continue.

Continuation of the loyal wingman studies under the FCASE project also appears to be a sensible option, and to have the benefit of allowing UK thinking on capability requirements to mature, while keeping a watchful eye on relevant International programmes. Critical questions to be resolved will be the balance between survivable and attritable systems; identification of the missions which can be delivered by unmanned systems; and designing a cost-effective integrated system to deliver the capability outcomes required.

10 Reasons the Vickers Wellesley was amazing (and how it won the War)

The deeply unconventional Vickers Wellesley had a vital and seldom discussed part in the Allies’ victory in World War II. An utterly unorthodox combination of cutting-edge technologies and decidedly old-fashioned thinking, the Wellesley was a world-record-setting aeroplane of beastly good looks.

10. Led to the Wellington

The redoubtable Vickers Wellington was the best bomber of Bomber Command in the early years of the War and found gainful employment in every RAF command. Key to its effectiveness was its ‘basket-weave’ geodetic construction that was both light and remarkably strong. The Wellington could not have happened without the maturation of geodetic aircraft construction via the Wellesley.

The Wellington could absorb a huge amount of groundfire and return to base, thanks to its unusual structure.

9. Low weight

The Wellesley’s structure weighed only two-thirds that of the more conventional Vickers Vincent

8. The mystery of Wellesley K7734

Shortly before midnight on the 23rd February 1938  two Vickers Wellesley aircraft of the RAF’s Long Range Development Unit took off from Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire. The aircraft were tasked with long-distance ‘endurance flight’ around Britain. One of the aircraft never returned. Despite a vast air-sea search effort and news appeals for information, the aircraft and its aircrew were never found. No Mayday was sent, and its last signal was at 7.15 am on Thursday 24th February.  The mystery has never been solved definitively, but on 22nd March 1938, a Dunlop tailwheel was found floating off Karmo, 25 miles north of Stavanger in Norway. The type matched that of the Wellesley.

7. Hercules testbed

The Hercules radial engine was a massive success, powering over 25 different aircraft types. The Wellesley Type 289 engine testbed was used to test the Hercules HE15 and was vital to its development.

6. Massawa naval base attack

Egypt, which contains the strategically vital Suez Canal. In the War, the Suez Canal connected Britain with its Empire, which was supplying huge amounts of critical material to the war effort. Without the Suez canal, Britain would be dangerously starved of oil and other vital supplies: it could easily have meant the end for the Empire. When Italy declared war on Britain and France in 1940, it left Egypt extremely vulnerable. The Italians had the Suez canal in their sights and massive numerical superiority in Africa, the Italians also had a powerful local naval force which was composed of nine destroyers, eight submarines as well as a squadron of fast torpedo boats.

Though the British lacked the most advanced warplanes in this region, there was a Wellesley force. No 14 Squadron, along with two other RAF squadrons, was equipped with Wellesleys and based in Sudan. On 11 June nine aircraft from No 14 Squadron mounted an audacious raid against the Italian naval base at Massawa. Massawa was the homeport for the Red Sea Flotilla of the Italian Royal Navy. At sunset 14 Squadron attacked at extremely low level, lower than 500 feet at times, and ignoring the tempting ships, ravaged the port’s fuel stores. The resultant firestorm destroyed an estimated 10,000 tons of fuel.

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It is likely that the attempted Italian invasion of Sudan in July was stalled by fuel shortages caused by the raid, buying time for the arrival of later Indian reinforcements that would turn the tide of war. The plucky nine aircraft and their extremely brave crews achieved a great deal in their bold sunset raid on Massawa.

5. It didn’t kill Jeffrey Quill

The 2nd prototype Wellesley flown by test pilot Jeffrey Quill went into a spin and lost control at 10,000 feet on 5 July 1937. Quill pilot baled out and survived. The aircraft landed in the front garden of house in New Malden in South London, photographs taken by a schoolboy on his Box Brownie reveal how remarkably intact the airframe remained, a testament to its extremely tough construction. Quill was the 2nd test pilot to fly the Spitfire and masterminded the development and production test flying of all 52 variants of the Spitfire.

4. Incredible strength

To ensure new aircraft of the time were able to survive the extreme flight loads safely, they were subject to brutal tests that added weights to the airframe equivalent to five times the maximum expected flight loading. Whereas the Vickers Valiant barely survived this test, the prototype Wellesley’s fuselage had successfully endured a factor of 8! The wings had stood up to an astonishing factor of 11. Tests were only halted to prevent the destruction of the test rig. The Wellesley was built like a brick shithouse.

4B. Its looks

The Wellesley looked tough as hell.

3. Geodetic construction

 A geodetic construction makes use of a rigid, lightweight, truss-like structure constructed from interlocking struts formed from a spirally crossing basket-weave of load-bearing members. Put simply the basket weave style is stronger and lighter than equivalent conventional structures. This style of construction was first adopted in German airships, then tried in an experimental French aeroplane before reaching maturity in the Wellesley from the design board of Barnes Wallis (famous for his renewable energy generator wrecking ‘bouncing bomb’). Wallis’ famous Wellington bomber could not have been developed without the pioneering design of the Wellesley.

2. Insanely long-range

 The long-range capabilities of the Wellesley were astonishing. To demonstrate the startlingly effective work the RAF Long Range Development Unit (LRDU) had carried out on the Wellesley, a widely publicised long-range flight took place in November 1938. The flight was to use three of the five LRDU Wellesleys. These aircraft differed from standard Wellesleys in several ways each designed to maximise range, the most immediately obvious being the replacement of the characterful Townend ring with a slick NACA-style low-drag engine cowling housing a more powerful Pegasus XII engine. Less visible, but as important, was the addition of a slew of cutting-edge technologies that included a constant speed propeller, three-axis autopilot and automatic mixture and engine boost controls. The aircraft was also given plentiful additional extra fuel capacity, bringing the total load to 1,290 gallons. The three aircraft set off on a daunting adventure to fly non-stop from IsmailiaEgypt to DarwinAustralia, a distance of 7,162 miles (11,526 km) on the Fireworks Night 1938. Two days later two of the three aircraft arrived at Darwin (one landed to refuel at Koepang 500 miles short of Darwin, Australia). The result was a world distance record that smashed the previous Soviet-held record by a decisive 1500 kilometres. The record would stand for over seven years when it was beaten by a B-29.

  1. Recovering the Engima key

It is widely acknowledged that the cracking of Germany’s Enigma code was hugely important to the eventual Allied victory. Key to cracking the code was obtaining a codebook and an Engima machine, both of which were recovered from the German submarine U-559, thanks to a dramatic combined operation which featured an RAF Sunderland and four Royal Navy destroyers, and of pivotal importance – a Wellesley. At 12.34 on 30 October 1942, the 47 Squadron Wellesley spotted the periscope of the invaluable U-559 and attacked with depth charges. The submarine crew eventually surrendered without having time to destroy the coding equipment providing the greatest intelligence windfall of the War.

Beyond Bayraktar: 5th Gen Fighters and Turkey’s new place in military aerospace

With its Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aircraft proving itself as a formidable weapon in Ukraine, a fifth-generation fighter in development, and a wealth of other aerospace projects, Turkey is growing in importance as an aircraft-producing nation. We get the Turkish perspective on the latest Turkish aerospace developments.

By Arda Mevlutoglu

What is going on with Kale & Rolls-Royce? Kale Group and Rolls Royce formed up a joint venture named Turkish Air Engine Company (TAEC) in 2017, primarily for the development of the engine of the MMU (Milli Muharip Ucak; National Combat Aircraft). Back then, negotiations were underway with the Kale – Rolls Royce partnership and Turkey’s Savunma Sanayii Baskanligi (SSB; Presidency for Defence Industries) who oversees the whole MMU programme.

The negotiations, which continued until around 2019 did not produce a result and SSB looked for other alternatives. According to local media, one of the main reasons for this was Turkish side insisting on the involvement of the TRMotor company, a joint venture which was then formed up by Turkish Aerospace (TA), SSB and BMC Power, a Turkish – Qatari joint venture for powerplant technologies. Reportedly, the British side did not welcome the inclusion of the TRMotor, mainly due to the presence of another country (Qatar) through shares, because of intellectual property (IP) and export end-use issues.

In the meantime, several F110 turbofan engines were ordered from General Electric for the prototypes. Also, TA has purchased all other shares in the TRMotor, making it its subsidiary, thereby addressing British concerns of the Qatari involvement. Very recently, the head of SSB, Prof. Ismail Demir announced negotiations with TAEC to be resumed. As of today, negotiations are underway and if everything goes well, a collaboration agreement will be signed with the TAEC. The role of the TRMotor and other Turkish engine companies, such as TEI is unclear, at least for the public for now.

  • What new Turkish aircraft projects are in development and how are the programme’s going?

The main aircraft development project is the MMU. TA has started manufacturing of structural parts of the prototype, and the roll-out is planned to take place on March 18, next year. First flight is expected to be sometime between 2025-26.

Another project is the Hurjet, advanced jet trainer development programme. Hurjet is being developd as a replacement for the T-38M trainers and the F-5 2000 of the Turkish Stars aerobatics team. The aircraft will be powered by a single General Electric F404 turbofan and will be capable of achieving Mach 1.4 speed at around 45,000ft altitude. It will be equipped with advanced avionics and communication systems, suited for training of 5th generation combat aircraft pilots. The first flight of the Hurjet is planned for 2023.

  • Why does a Turkish Typhoon deal seem a possibility again?

Turkey was expelled from the F-35 project as a result of the acquisition of S-400 air defence system from the Russian Federation. Until then, Turkey had been a Level III industrial partner to the project from the very start and planned to acquire 100 F-35As for the Air Force and between 12 and 20 F-35Bs for the Navy, for use with the Anadolu LHD, which is under construction.

The TurAF planned to equip the first squadron, the 171 Filo with the F-35As by early 2020s. The 100 F-35As were to be delivered to 171, 172, 111 and 112 Filos, replacing the F-4E 2020 Terminator. In the meantime, the MMU, which is planned to be delivered from late 2020’s would gradually replace the F-16 fleet, starting from the oldest Block 30 models.

Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 programme therefore dealt a severe blow to the TurAF’s modernization roadmap. The time required for the MMU to achieve a full operational capability and in significant number of aircraft will most likely see the first half of the next decade, and neighbouring countries’ significant investments in air power create major risk of losing qualitative superiority. As a result, Turkey requested from the United States the sale of 40 new F-16Vs and kits for 80 existing aircraft to upgrade them to F-16V standard. The Turkish – American relations, however, have significantly deteriorated in the past years and the mood in the Congress towards Turkey is especially negative. That’s why, as an alternative, acquisition of Typhoons from United Kingdom, either as second hand or new production -or maybe both- have been brought to agenda. There are not much details on this issue, but given the deepening bilateral relations and increased defence cooperation, Typhoon is most likely being discussed upon.

What is Erdogan’s relationship with Putin, and his position on the Russian invasion attempt in Ukraine? Does Russia have good relations with Turkey?

Turkey’s relationship with Russia has so far maintained on the razor’s edge. Russia is Turkey’s neighbour and the two nations have fought, made peace, made business and interacted culturally for many centuries. Even during certain periods in the Cold War, the Soviet Union and Turkey had good economic relations. But at the end of the day it is geopolitics that have the last word. The two states are geopolitical competitors, though remarkably successful in maintaining compartmentalizing issues and challenges.

From the very first day, Turkey has officially condemned Russia’s unprovoked and unjust attack on Ukraine. Ankara has also been refusing to recognize the annexation of Crimea. Turkey has been providing Ukraine with Bayraktar TB2 armed drones, and in early February the two countries signed an agreement to establish a factory in Ukraine to manufacture a localized version of the TB2, through transfer of technology. Turkey is also constructing a derivative of the MilGem class corvette for the Ukrainian navy and ASELSAN has provided advanced communication systems. Ukraine, on the other hand has become one of the important suppliers for the Turkish defence industry: Ukrainian turboprop engines are being used on the Bayraktar Akıncı strike drone, the T929 ATAK II next-generation attack helicopter and the upcoming Bayraktar Kızıl Elma jet-powered UCAV.

  • Why is Erdogan critical of NATO entry for Sweden and Finland?

One of the main reasons for Turkey’s negative position regarding these countries, especially Sweden providing a safe haven and even support for the PKK terrorist organization [editor note: the group is not described as a terrorist organisation by some] and Gulenist movement, which organized the July 15th coup attempt in 2016. Both countries have been more than reluctant in cooperating with Turkey in counter-terrorism operations.

  • Is there any chance Turkey could provide air defence systems to Ukraine, if so which? If not, why?

Turkey has so far developed the Korkut self- propelled low altitude air defence gun system, the Hisar A+ low altitude and the Hisar O+ medium-altitude air defence missile systems. These platforms have completed development and are in serial production phase. It is theoretically possible for Turkey to provide some of these systems to Ukraine but I believe this decision would be subject to complex military and political considerations.


  • Has Turkey provided military aid to Ukraine, if so, what?

I don’t have information on whether or not Turkey has supplied any type of military equipment to Ukraine after the start of the war. Baykar Technology has recently announced the donation of a Bayraktar TB2, after a fundraising campaign by Lithuania raised enough money for one system along with weapons.

  • Is there a possibility of Turkey rejoining the F-35 effort?

I believe, Turkey rejoining the programme as an industrial partner is impossible. Getting the aircraft in the not-so-soon future might be a slim possibility and that would depend on a number of conditions, the S-400 issue being the number one.

  • What should I have asked you?

What’s next for the Turkish Air Force? Well, the MMU and the drone programme have the utmost priorities. The MMU is the most complex and the most strategic project, albeit being an over-ambitious one in terms of budget, schedule, human capital, infrastructure and requirements. On the drone side, the Akıncı, Aksungur, and the Kızıl Elma will contribute to the transformation of the Turkish Air Force into something new, and something big. It is important to underline that a major part of this transformation is Turkey’s unprecedented leap in developing and fielding a wide range of precision-guided weapon systems such as guidance kits, multi-mode guided bombs, cruise missiles and miniature bombs.

Arda Mevlutoglu is an astronautical engineer. He is currently working as the VP of an international trading and consultancy company, focusing on defense and aerospace sector. He is currently working as the Vice President of Defense Programs at an international trading and consultancy company. His research focuses on defense industry technology, policies and geopolitical assessments, with a focus to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region. His works have been published in various local and international journals such as Air Forces Monthly, Air International, Combat Aircraft, EurasiaCritic, ORSAM Middle East Analysis. He has been quoted by Financial Times, Reuters, BBC, Al Monitor, CNN Turk and TRT on issues covering Turkish defence industry and military developments.

Support the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes and pre-order here. 


“If you have any interest in aviation, you’ll be surprised, entertained and fascinated by Hush-Kit – the world’s best aviation blog”. Rowland White, author of the best-selling ‘Vulcan 607’

I’ve selected the richest juiciest cuts of Hush-Kit, added a huge slab of new unpublished material, and with Unbound, I want to create a beautiful coffee-table book. Pre-order your copy now right here  


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

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

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

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


  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, MiG-25, English Electric Lighting, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
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  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
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Snoop Dogg’s Top 10 Target Tug Aircraft

As tha D-O-double-G (double G) folks often ask me if I know the most poppin’ aerial target tugs. Say what? Fo’ shizzle, I do. Light that chronic, dig out tha mary-Jane’s All tha World’s Bitchin’ Aircraft and prepare for 10 planes that want your fire.

It’s the Tea You Double G!

10. Vultee A-31 Vengeance

Have to mention this West Coast hero, California dreamin’ and schemin’ with Vengence. Startin’ life as a dive-bomber for France, had got a body that girls would die for.

9. Westland Lysander

Just say the word and his undercarriage spat out all over the curb. Shoot ’em up bang bang, yeah it’s a cold thang, the Lysander gotta high high wing. Love this fat-ass spat-wearin’ baller.

8. Boulton Paul Defiant

I swear, I feel like I’m ballin’, yeah I’m ballin’, yeah I’m ball turreting – but I ball so hard the motherfuckin’ ball turret fall off. It’s so easy to see, painted and pimped up like some player bumblebee.

7. Hawker Henley

Bring out the Hennessy for the Hawker Henley, this Merlin-ass bitch’ll tug you and thug you and say thank you for the fire you brung too. Too much of a pussy to be a light bomber – as a tug it had the disgrace to be replaced by the mos def turrent-compliant Defiant. The Henley was bullshit.

6. Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle

Dog-to-dog love for the Finnish touch, the Il-28 was much too much. Fly so regal, fly like a Beagle.

5. Miles M.25 Martinet 

Dr Dre’s favourite target tug, gonna whip you with my martinet. A martinet is a disciplinarian, so get your money, whip your hair, the Martinet is gonna be there. It was based on the Master, staying on an S to the M to the S&M tip. Whip your booty girl!

4. Douglas Skyraider

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ayronautica/30375209527/sizes/h/

Poppin’, stoppin’, hoppin’ like a rabbit – tha Swedish Shiznit don’t need no gat to tug a target. This be troll-hatin’ all the way to Trollhättan.

3. Hawker Fury

Marzipan ain’t tha only shit straight outta Lübeck, rollin’ down tha air-strasses keepin’ it gangsta was this grimy limey.

2. Short Sturgeon TT.2

This is some Optimus Prime Transformer Beef, folds up like g’s. ‘Cause Snoop Dogg is trump tight like a virgin, tha Sturgeon. Tupac knew Tug life, and I know mo’.

  1. F+W C-3605

Fo shizzle, it got to be tha Alpine anteater itself at tha top slot. Effin’ W, tha F, tha F & W. Holy like Swiss cheese, this neautral-ass muthafucker is 3 to tha 6 to tha 05. Bitches be lovin’ its long long nose poking right up their alpine p’ass. Based on tha Bf 109 originally, and painted up like some funky-ass fluorescent bumble-bee. That long-dong snout holding tha Lycomings-and-Lygoings-of tha T-mother-fuckin-53.

Don’t think, do. Why Top Gun Maverick is such a snoozefest (contains spoilers)

I just went to see Top Gun Maverick. I went with high expectations as I have only seen and heard good things; I don’t know why…I almost fell asleep twice.

By Nick Astle

I don’t know what ideal the brave pilots of Maverick are defending, or why I should like them. Their world is one without humour, the characters have the kind of wit, emotional intelligence and sensitivity of a tired stag party staggering through a city centre dressed as Spice Girls. The credo Maverick teaches his aircrew: Don’t Think, Do. I lazily wondered if this made the film Trumpist, but it could only dream of having a relationship with reality as tangible as that (though it’s not not Trumpist). The lack of likeability is an issue, as though Cruise is fun to watch, he hasn’t got much to work with as the dialogue is just guff – though mercifully minimal.

Still Gay enough?

The 1986 Top Gun was famous for its beach volleyball scene, an unapologetically homoerotic celebration of the male form, youth and life in the sunshine. As a couple of tokenistic female fighter pilots are chucked into the new movie, I wondered if we would be perving over them in the same way during Maverick’s inevitable volleyball call-back scene – interestingly we were not. The girls wore more than the boys and remained in the shadows while the glistening semi-nude young men (and Cruise) sweated in the sunshine. While this could be viewed as progressive, the women in the film are literally and figuratively in the shadows throughout the film. Any viewers fearing the film would be overly woke can sleep easily, it reaches, in terms of representation, a film from around 2003. This is perhaps understandable when you remember the central theme of the first film seemed to be masculinity (along with militarism and an awkward attempt to reconcile the individualism of American capitalism fits with the collaborative conformist nature of military culture). How do you make a handsome brilliant test pilot and war hero an outsider? Not very convincingly is the answer in this case. The ‘man’, the voice of bureaucratic naysayers is played by Jon Hamm. Maverick’s renegade views are a bit Clarksonesque, the sleepy unimaginative mantra of men of a certain age complaining everything is ‘health and safety gone mad’. Quite how a carrier pilot who is so clearly slapdash has survived this long is anybody’s guess. Can’t imagine Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown in Maverick’s role (though a British Top Gun set in the 1950s would be amazing).


The Darkstar does look great, if a little small.

The Darkstar aircraft section is very revealing. Why did Lockheed Martin Skunkworks help with the design of this stealthy Mach 10 aircraft – and allow their logo to be used? Because the virtual absence of F-35s must have been embarrassing. The F-35 cannot be used for the main mission in the plot as the target is protected by GPS-jammers and requires the laser designation capabilities of the Super Hornet. I’m not sure this stands up to much scrutiny, and I guess the real reason is that it was easy to film using Super Hornets rather than precious and security restricted F-35s. Or maybe it’s just hard to film in a single-seater! Without Darkstar, Boeing with its Super Hornet would have all of the glory. Wanking over the hardware of the military-industrial complex is, like the first film, a major part of the film. In a comically shameless defence of the F-35 programme and eternally delayed Lockheed Martin projects, Darkstar is threatened by the usual pencil-pushers who believe that the aircraft project is behind schedule and are threatening to cancel it. The project can only demonstrate the required milestone of development by Maverick risking his life and the aircraft by flying irresponsibly fast – and then flying even faster for no reason other than his own inexplicable need for speed. Making multi-billion dollar warplane acquisition projects vulnerable underdogs is really weird.

The enemies – a chimera of Russia and Iran boringly enriching uranium – are faceless, an utterly childish and dangerously easy way to dehumanise them (Austin Powers had greater sympathy for the ‘bad guys’). They operate Su-57s (as Russia pretends to), F-14s (as Iran actually does) and pimped-up Mi-24s (as pretty much everyone does).

The real hero

The hero of the film is not Tom Cruise – or the Super Hornet – or the CGI F-14 for that matter – It is the Su-57 ‘Felon’ (or rather the CGI depiction of it) described vaguely as an invincible ‘fifth generation’ fighter, that steals the show. It is a real Russian fighter design, and it looks utterly badass in the film, piloted by black-visored baddies in black. It is far more exciting than the rather workmanlike Super Hornet or tired F-14, though predictably as combat effective as a TIE fighter. There is strong Firefox (the film not the web browser) and MiG-28 energy in the ‘Felon’ scenes and these are the high points of the movie.

As in all war movies featuring jets, infra-red flares can fool radar-guided missiles. The pedantically minded may also enjoy spotting that shadow of Maverick’s single-seat aircraft is that of a two-seater.

What, if anything, is the film’s central message? It is far too conventional not to have a central message – and it seems to revolve around ageism. Both Maverick and the F-14 are older, seemingly obsolete, and win the day. This is reassuring to the millions of 40+ plus moviegoers feeling increasingly obsolete in their own lives.

The flying sections are very well done, but much like the first film, do not represent a great percentage of screen time.

The movie is a pointless – and occasionally fun – exercise in nostalgia. Is American cinema a rusty old F-14 expensively limping home with one engine? Unmanned aircraft are villainous threats to the future existence of fighter pilots in this movie, and Maverick would clearly rather have his kicks than entertain a future without friendly casualties. Villianising unmanned aircraft is itself a quite old fashioned view nowadays, it should be noted that songs are sung in celebration of the Bayraktar in 2022. The whole experience was like lying in a long cold bath. It is soupy pointless nostalgia that cost god knows how much to make.

The biggest mystery of the film, apart from the inexplicably universal positive reviews, is that a naval aviator would choose a P-51, an air force aircraft, as his weekend ride.

10 Aircraft Made Great By a New Engine

A great aircraft is the civil (or military) partnership of a good engine and good airframe, and sometimes a separation is necessary to make way for a more appropriate partner. Many great airframe aircraft have been held back by combination with inappropriate or inferior engines. Here are 10 power-hungry flying machines that finally got the grunt they deserved.

10. Tupolev Tu-22/Tu-22M ‘Ziggy Red Stardust’

The Tu-22 is the David Bowie of aircraft, reinventing itself with such radical vision that you’re left to ponder what exactly is left of the original. Little wonder the supersonic bomber required reinvention really when you consider how awful the original Tu-22 was. The original Tu-22 was abysmal in almost every sense and detested by its crew and maintainers. Appalling unserviceability, misanthropic handling characteristics – a wing that allowed aileron reversal at high deflections – a tendency to pitch up and strike its rear end on landing, disappointing range and poor pilot view were only some of the problems endured by the hapless Soviet aircrew condemned to fly the ‘Blinder’.

The Backfire served with the Soviet air force and navy, and was then inherited by the analogous services of Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine had a huge number (60) but the last was retired in 2006. Russia would go on to attack Ukraine with the Tu-22 in 2022.

The design bureau, Tupolev, was under pressure and didn’t take long to plan a major upgrade to this stinker, starting work the very same year the type entered service, 1962. Ten years later a virtually unrecognisable aeroplane, with different (and variable geometry) wings and a host of other modifications, entered service.

Early DoD artist’s impression of the ‘Tu-26’, the actual Tu-22M was very different.

Despite all the radical changes, it didn’t get a new model number, just the humble addition of an M. NATO intelligence more appropriately, but incorrectly, guessed it to be the ‘Tu-26’. But it was still a dog. The terrible Dobrynin RD-7 turbojet of the Tu-22 had been replaced with the newer, but also shit, NK-22.


The most important change didn’t happen until the Tu-22M3 update, which included the replacement of the NK-22 with the hunky-dory Kuznetsov NK-25 turbofan and rather handsome wedge intakes. The new engines came hand-in-hand with other aerodynamic improvemts including a recontoured nose and greater maximum wingsweep. With these all new refinements, the top speed leapt from Mach 1.65 to 2.05 and its range was increased by a third.

(In retrospect I feel terrible comparing a Russian bomber to David Bowie)

Andrei Shmatko

9. Blackburn Buccaneer ‘The Speyed Seadog’

Blackburn are famous for making less than brilliant aeroplanes, and the initial Blackburn Buccaneer was no exception. The innovative S.Mk 1 was powered by the de Havilland Gyron Junior, and was a weakling. It 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. Replacing the Gyron Junior of 7,100 pounds-force each with the 11,000 lbf Spey was a masterstroke. The result was a superb low-level aircraft with a long-range (longer even than the Tornado), a virtually indestructible construction and a rock-steady low-level ride. The type proved its worth in Desert Storm, and remained to the end of its life a potent weapon.

-Joe Coles

8. Douglas C-47/DC-3 ‘Dakota turbo Fanning’

The DC-3 was a civilian airliner developed in the mid-1930s. At the beginning of the Second World War, it was adapted (with minor modifications) into a military transport aircraft and (predominately) designated the C-47. Over 95% of the airframes built were these military versions. During the decade of C-47 production, several engine variants were used, without significant changes to the type or size of the engine. The original DC-3 was powered by the 9-cylinder Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9 producing 1,000 horsepower. The C-47 predominately used the 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp which produced 1,200 horsepower.

Roughly one-third of the US-built aircraft was the C-47B variant. This aircraft used Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90 engines with a high-altitude two-speed supercharger. This 1942 modification was critical for the China-Burma-India supply routes and allowed the aircraft to carry full payload over the 15,000’ mountain passes.

The Super DC-3 was developed post-war using 9-cylinder Wright R-1820 Cyclones producing 1,475 horsepower. While not commercially viable due to the extensive airframe modifications required, the US Navy converted 100 aircraft and they were designated R4D-8 and later the C-117D. This variant had a cruise speed of 250 mph, up from 224 mph for the original C-47.

C-47s were also produced during the war in the Soviet Union and in Japan (due to pre-war licensing agreements). In both cases, similar engines produced in those respective countries were used. The Soviet version used the 9-cylinder Shvetsov M-62 producing 900 horsepower, and the Japanese used the 14-cylinder Mitsubishi MK8 Kinsei 43 producing 1,000 horsepower.

A captured Shōwa L2D3 (or L2D3-L) at Mindanao, Philippines, May 1945

On a final note, a few airframes have been upgraded in recent years with various turboprop engines. With similar power, the aircraft performance is only modestly improved. However, the upgrade does significantly improve the engine maintenance and reliability.

-Joe Wilding

7. Lynx RR Gem to LHTEC CTS800Lynx Wray’s Comanche

The Westland Lynx burst onto the scene in the 70s showing previously unknown levels of manoeuvrability for a helicopter thanks to a semi-rigid rotor head hewn from a solid block of titanium and two Rolls-Royce Gem gas turbines. The 2,000 odd horsepower available from two tweaked Gem 60s helping drive G-LYNX to a helicopter World Speed Record of 216kts (400 km/h, M0.32) in 1986, a record which it still holds today.

The Gem began life with de Havilland prior to its merger with Bristol Siddeley in 1961. Rolls-Royce acquired Bristol in 1966 and the engine finally entered production in 1970 as the Gem RR.360. A compact design the Gem features an axial and a radial compressor, mounted on separate concentric shafts, with a third shaft for the power turbine passing through the centre to the reduction gearbox in front of the intake. The small size is aided by reverse flow combustion chambers where compressed air enters towards the rear of the engine before moving forwards to have fuel added. The resultant hot gases then turn through 180 degrees to pass over the three turbine stages which are surrounded by the combustion chambers.

Unfortunately, as with people, as aircraft age they tend to put on weight – the odd defensive aids suite here, an infra-red camera there – and suddenly you’re struggling to see your toes in the morning. A process made worse if rather than flitting around the North Atlantic you find yourself committing the classic blunder of getting involved in a land war in Asia, where the air is hotter and thinner. Both factors that count against engine and rotor blade performance. There are basically two ways out of this inevitable decline, you could choose violence, set higher limits for the engines and gearbox to run at, and accept the parts won’t last as long. Or you could try finding a new engine.

Handily for Westlands, the Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company (LHTEC) had just want they needed left over from the RAH-66 Comanche programme. The CTS800 despite weighing the same as the Gem produces 35% more power with a max output of 1563shp. Only 300 less than the max continuous power you could get from two Gems. This massively improved the hot and high performance of the Lynx Mk9A introducing novel concepts such as taking a full fuel load, and maintaining level flight after an engine failure, things the Mk9 couldn’t do in places such as Afghanistan or Iraq. The CTS800 also bought with it FADEC controls which are far more responsive and reliable than the frankly baffling system the Gem used to control fuel flow which seemed to involve blowing air from the compressors through a stainless-steel ocarina. Perhaps most confusing of all for aircrew and maintainers bought up on earlier gas turbines is the complete absence of oil or fuel leaks from the LHTEC engine.

The CTS800 was basically hormone replacement therapy for the Lynx and was so successful that after receiving the first of 12 converted aircraft the UK MoD stumped up £42M to have the remaining 10 Mk9s upgraded.

-Bing Chandler

6. Wessex Wright Cyclone to Gnome, via Gazelle ‘Gnome Alone’

The Sikorsky S-58 was an entirely adequate helicopter powered by a Wright Cyclone piston engine that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Dauntless dive bomber, or a Wildcat. If only because that’s where it started out. US manufacturers apparently having the same problem kicking the radial engine habit as British ones did going cold turkey on the Merlin. In the mid-1960s With the Royal Navy in the market for an ASW and General-Purpose helicopter Westlands hit on the idea of licence building the American aircraft, with one crucial difference. Out went 1200hp of high-octane, war-winning reciprocation and in came the Napier Gazelle. Which looked like an accident in a metal tube factory.

This was in fact a move of some genius. Although the Gazelle was down on horsepower compared to the Cyclone, 1450shp to 1525shp [1], it made up for this by being a few hundred pounds lighter. This gave it a power-to-weight ratio of 1.31shp/lb to the Cyclone’s 1.03shp/lb. Unlike the Cyclone the Gazelle didn’t need a heavy clutch and fan to keep air flowing over its cooling fins, nor did it vibrate like a tumble dryer full of bricks. For while the piston engine attempts to recycle dead dinosaurs into a rotational force by accelerating lumps of metal up and down a collection of tubes the gas turbine is a far more civilised device that does its magic by spinning a balanced shaft at high speed. Say 20,400 RPM for the Gazelle or about 10 times what the Cyclone was doing. At the same time gas turbines have about an order of magnitude fewer moving parts which is less of a headache if you’re trying to maintain them.

If one gas turbine is good, then two must be better right? Right. Which is just the approach Westlands took an upgrade was called for. This time two Rolls-Royce Gnome engines [2] were substituted for the Gazelle. These provided 1350shp each giving the Wessex Mk2 and 5 almost the same performance with One Engine Inoperative (OEI) as the Mk1 achieved with everything working. The Mk1’s OEI performance being something of an obvious weak point. The packaging was made relatively easy due to the compact size of the Gnome, 18.2” wide to the Gazelle’s 33”. In fact, the nose of an early Mk 2 is virtually indistinguishable from a Mk 1, apart from a baffling halving of the number of exhausts. To simplify the engineering challenge the output from the two Gnomes feeds into a combining gearbox the output of which goes to the same input on the main rotor gearbox as the Gazelle and Cyclone’s driveshafts did.

This extra power didn’t significantly alter the basic performance of the Wessex, the main rotor gear box just wasn’t designed to take much more than 1550hp continuously. However, it did allow it to take this basic performance to new places. For example, the H-34A had an out of ground effect hover ceiling of 5,500’, where the Wessex Mk5 had one of 10,000’ at an all-up mass of 11,500lbs. More power, smoother running, and capable of surviving an engine failure the Gnome-powered Wessex were Top Gun to the S-58’s Iron Eagle. [3]

[1] Accurate engine power figures are a bit tricky to get as it can be hard to know if the figure quoted is the max continuous power, or just what you can wring out of it for two minutes if your life depends on it. These figures are undoubtedly the latter.

[2] Inherited from de Havilland who had obtained a licence to build the GE T58.

[3] An honourable mention could be made for the S-58T where Sikorsky replaced the Cyclone with a Pratt & Whitney PT6T Twin-Pac turboshaft giving similar performance to a Wessex Mk5. But the resulting nose job was too ugly to be considered an all-round success.

– Bing Chandler

(special thanks to Ron Smith)

5. Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker ‘Stratocruising’

The KC-135 is a great example of an aircraft with enough longevity to receive a significant performance upgrade with a new-technology engine. This aerial tanker, which is roughly based on a Boeing 707 airliner (both of which evolved from the Boeing 367-80) first flew in 1956 when turbojet engines were the norm. A turbojet, the simplest version of a jet engine, passes all the engine airflow through the compressor, burner and turbine. By contrast, later turbofan engines have a ducted fan at the front of the engine, and only a portion of the airflow goes through the core of the engine. This allows better optimisation of the engine and provides better fuel and weight efficiency, lower noise and less pollution. The KC-135 originally used four Pratt & Whitney J57 engines each producing 13,000 pounds of take-off thrust (with water injection). The first production turbofan engine, the Rolls-Royce Conway, entered service soon after the KC-135. However, its performance was only marginally better than a turbojet, and an engine retrofit at that time was not justified. Turbofan technology continued over the next twenty years, and it was finally time for an upgrade in the 1980s. And what an upgrade it was! An initial upgrade to the Pratt & Whitney TF33 engine was performed on 157 aircraft. This increased the tanker performance (fuel off-loaded and/or mission range) by 20%. The more significant upgrade came in the mid-1980s with the KC-135R model. This upgrade used the CFM56 engine and was applied to a majority of the fleet. The CFM56 produces 22,000 pounds of take-off thrust, a 60% increase over the J57 engine. This, along with a few airframe upgrades, allowed for a maximum take-off weight increase, and a significant increase in aircraft performance. Compared to the original A model, the R model can offload nearly 30% more fuel, and its mission radius is increased by 60% or more, depending on fuel offload. Takeoff field performance, noise, and emissions are also improved.

As a postscript to this story, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber is in the process of a modern turbofan upgrade. The aircraft, from a similar era, was upgraded to TF33 turbofan engines with the H model in the early 1960s. Further upgrades have been discussed for decades, but finally last year a retrofit to the Rolls-Royce F130 engine was approved by the USAF, with full development work now in progress.

– Joe Wilding

4. North American P-51 Mustang ‘The 51st State’

Pairing the most aerodynamically advanced airframe in creation with the best aero-engine in the world was a match made in heaven. An excellent low-level fighter became a superb all-round fighter. Jealous British historians may claim the re-engining was an entirely British idea, but several in the US had also considered this happy marriage.

-Joe Coles

3. Macchi C.200-C.202/205V

When the Italian air force took the Macchi C.200 to war on the French border, Africa and the Balkans it proved utterly and dangerously outclassed. Its Fiat radial engine generated an unimpressive 870hp, leaving it underpowered compared to Allied opposition boasting 1000hp inline powerplants. Poor thinking in the 1930s had led Italy away from adopting powerful inline engines, in favour of the promise of reliable uncomplicated radials; in reality, all this thinking had got the Regia Aeronautica was a fighter force too slow to survive. Aware of the mauling Italian fighters were receiving, the General Staff frantically turned to Alfa Romeo and Fiat begging for radials of greater power, but none were forthcoming. In desperation, they turned to their German allies to request licence-production rights for the inline Daimler-Benz DB 601, as used by the formidable Bf 109 and Bf 110. The German engine had a far smaller frontal cross-section than the Fiat engine allowing for greater streamlining and far more power. A 601 was fitted to a C.202, and the machine was also given an enclosed cockpit. Thus the ‘Folgore’ was born in 1940- and it was one hell of a fighter. With a top speed of 372mph, it was as fast or faster than contemporary Spitfires and 109s – and its climb rate was spectacular, it was also agile and of extremely rugged construction. In North Africa, the Folgore proved a viciously superior fighter to the Kittyhawks, Tomahawks, Hurricanes and Fulmars it faced.

-Joe Coles

2. Grumman F-14 Tomcat ‘Flopgun’

The F-14 inherited a curse from the fat wheezy abortive F-111B it was made to replace, the lamentable TF30 engines. The TF30 story goes back even further, as it was originally conceived for the Douglas F6D Missileer a loitering ‘missile-truck’ of an aircraft which never flew. The TF30 proved passable for bombers looking to move extremely quickly at low-altitude without the violence of extreme dogfight manoeuvring and found gainful employment with the F-111. But, as a fighter engine it was terrible. Weak, thirsty, smoky, unreliable, pilots of the otherwise excellent Tomcat had to learn to manage these untrustworthy engines. The TF30-P-414A solved the reliability issue to some extent but the Tomcat was still underpowered. Eventually the Tomcat got the engine it needed, with the fitment of the excellent General Electric F110-GE-400. The new Tomcat was an awe-inspiring machine, with performance to match the world-class weapons and sensors.

-Joe Coles

The F-14’s engines have a bad reputation, is this deserved?

“Yes, as long as we are talking about the TF30 engines of the F-14A. You may know that the TF30 was intended as an interim engine for the F-14, but for several reasons it ended up as the primary. Plenty of other sources have described its limitations in a fighter. Something hardly ever mentioned is that in order to improve engine stability and longevity, maximum thrust in afterburner was actually decreased to roughly 17,000 lbs per engine. As I mentioned before, the TF30 did have good fuel specs and it also had good thrust, especially at lower altitude – but these points did not outweigh their poor performance as a fighter engine. But still, I flew A-models my entire career and I can tell you pilots did not sit around complaining about the TF30: they learned its weaknesses, worked around them, and went out and flew the best jet they could. They were Navy fighter pilots.”Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek, TopGun instructor and Radar Intercept Officer

  1. Avro Manchester ‘So much to answer for’

The famous Lancaster was more than a re-engined Manchester, but was not that much more. In fact, the prototype Lancaster was a conversion of the earlier twin-engined bomber and was initially known as the Manchester III . The obvious change was the addition of two extra engines, but there was also a larger wing, general beefing up and a new undercarriage. Despite these changes it is absolutely fair to describe the Lancaster as a new ‘Manc’. The result was spectacular, and the mediocre Manchester became the most destructive and survivable bomber of its time.

-Joe Coles

10 Reasons the Sud Aviation Caravelle Jetliner is Fantastic

Unbearably beautiful, featuring a wealth of innovations and capable of recording gypsy jazz singles in flight, there are many reasons why the Caravelle was a technological tour de force that inspired love in those that came close to the French jetliner. We take a jet-age saunter through the boulevard of aeronautical nostalgia to meet an incredible (and all too frequently overlooked) masterpiece to take a look at just 10 fantastic things about the Caravelle.

10. X-210 Tri-Atar

By the end of the War, the French aviation industry had been reduced to nothing. Its factories, in the hands of the Germans, had been priority targets for the Allied bombers. The French aeronautical industry had lost the international lead it had held since the very beginning of aviation, and had seemingly lost everything else. Its renaissance was close to a miracle and was the result of extremely confident and clear thinking. This assertiveness led to the superlative Mirage series in the military realm, and civil ambitions were no less hopeful. In 1951, the General Secretariat for Civil and Commercial Aviation (SGACC) launched an extremely ambitious competition among French aircraft manufacturers to develop a medium-haul aircraft. This new airliner was to connect the main European destinations, with 55 to 65 passengers and one ton of freight, on routes of more than 2000 km, flying at a minimum cruising speed of 600 km/h at an altitude of 7,500 meters, and be able to take off in less than 1800 metres for a maximum landing distance of 1125 metres. Despite the technical and technological backwardness of France at the time, the vast majority of response proposals made the bold choice of skipping the turboprop stage and opting instead for the use of turbojets, a new and risky technology. This was a daring choice, as only the United Kingdom had developed (somewhat hastily) a commercial jet aircraft, several years ahead of the USA and the Soviet Union*.

The SNCASE company’s answer to these specifications was the X-210 Tri-Atar. It was planned, as its name indicates, to be an aircraft powered by three SNECMA Atar turbojet engines with an arrangement that would later feature on the Boeing 727: two turbojets in nacelles at the rear of the fuselage and a third one integrated into the fuselage. However, there were delays in the development of these Atar engines and when Rolls-Royce announced that its new, more powerful version of the Avon turbojet engine was available for civil aircraft under development SNCASE paid close attention. Thanks to the power gain the new engine had over the Atar, a new aircraft could easily make do with only two engines. This new configuration, with only two engines placed far from most of the cabin would be far quieter than any rivals. It would certainly offer a far quieter experience for travellers than rivals like the British Comet and Soviet Tu-104 with their engines buried into the inner section of the wing. In 1953, shortly after the tri-jet concept had become a bi-jet, it was definitively renamed SE-210 Caravelle, and the appearance we know today was finalised. The name refers to the caravel ships of the 15th century, which by dint of their speed and strength opened the world to European exploration.

Many radical technical solutions put the aircraft at the forefront of technology. For example, the Caravelle’s designers opted for hydraulic servos whereas the Boeing 707, Tu-104 and D.H. Comet used entirely mechanical flight controls operated by a system of cables running through the fuselage and wings. The Caravelle was the first commercial aircraft certified to fly with hydraulic servos. Piloting the Caravelle was thus far less tiring than for its rivals, and it had the most comfortable controls of any civil aircraft of the time.

9. Triangular portholes

Caravelle is a unique aircraft because of its many small eccentricities. One of the most obvious, at first glance, is surely the strange shape of its windows: triangles with widely rounded-off corners. Although some may think that they result from a study of pressurization carried out after the various accidents of the English D.H. Comet (the square shape of its portholes being one of the main causes of the accidents), the triangular shape was actually decided well before the complete analysis of the causes of the crashes had been concluded. Indeed, the final report of the Cohen C1 committee, in charge of understanding the disasters, gave its conclusions on November 24, 1954: the first Caravelle prototype registered F-WHH, had been in production since March 1953.

The truth about this surprising shape comes from a very thorough study on the visual comfort of the passenger: the section was narrow and partly high to limit the risks of glare due to the sun, and the lower wider part gave a clearer view down, allowing the travellers to more easily admire the often epic landscape visible from 10000 metres in the sky. This formula obviously passed numerous pressurization tests, just like the rest of the Caravelle airframe, which was immersed in a large water chamber to study the weaknesses and possible premature fatigue of the metal. The iconic windows become omnipresent in the 1960s advertising campaigns of the 60s of Sud-Aviation and the airlines operating the SE-210. The campaigns were so successful that the general public learnt to associate the image of triangular windows with the Caravelle.

Unfortunately, this shape, although innovative, was something of a design cul de sac. It can nevertheless be found on the private jet Rockwell Sabreliner 65 which, in the broad lines, takes again the general configuration of Caravelle.

8. Land anywhere

It was all very well for France to develop the first medium-haul jet, but were airports around the world ready to receive it? For an aircraft of this category, it is imperative to be able to land on as many runways as possible, everywhere in the world, and not just at international airports. The problem was the length of runways. At that time, the most modern four-engine aircraft with their greed for long strips of concrete could enjoy 170 sufficiently long runways in the United States of America. But on how many European, African or South American runways could such a plane land? This is where the genius of Sud Aviation comes into play again. The Caravelle was designed to land on all runways built for the earlier DC-4 era, and even shorter ones if necessary. For the latter, a tail parachute – until then the reserve of military aircraft – could be deployed, reducing the landing distance considerably (this would also feature on the Tu-104).

This is how Caravelle became the first commercial jet to land at the airports of Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Belem, Montevideo and many others. But another problem arose at many airports still suitable for traditional propeller planes: there was no infrastructure in place for boarding and disembarking passengers from a jet. Once again, this problem was quickly solved, Sud-Aviation equipped its aircraft with an elegant retractable staircase located in the tail of the aircraft, allowing passengers to board and disembark the aircraft anywhere without infrastructure.

7. A gliding airliner

On April 15, 1959, Air France carried out a novel publicity event to promote the safety of the new aircraft. A Caravelle deliberately glid, without propulsion, between Paris and Dijon in France, a distance of more than 262 kilometres (163 miles). The first production aircraft (F-BHRA) Alsace was chosen. The aeroplane took off with its two engines at 13:42 from Orly airport near Paris piloted by Marcel Guibert and René Duguet. The aircraft climbed to 13200 m and reached speed of 665 km/h above Paris, at 14.46, the engines spooled down. Above the capital, the thrust of the engines was now cut.

The Alsace then turned towards Dijon, 265 km away. The aircrew experienced an eerie silence across the flight only disturbed by the sound of wind on the windshield. After 46 minutes of gliding, the plane finally reached Dijon at 3:32 pm, at an altitude of 1600 m. After its descent to the arrival airport, the throttle was only turned on for the last moments of the final approach, in order to guarantee the safety of the passengers.

“Passengers?” You may ask. Yes indeed, remarkably the aircraft was loaded with 35 passengers and journalists in addition to the crew and two flight attendants for this somewhat hair-raising flight!

Shortly after, on October 11, 1959, the Brazilian airline VARIG seeking to justify to the public the purchase of a jet produced in France and not on the American continent, repeated the feat of a gliding flight in the same conditions between the airports of Passo Fundo and Ossario, almost 327 km away, thus pushing back the record of Air France, and, demonstrating once again the incredible gliding characteristics of the Caravelle. The aeroplane had a glide ratio of over 22, better than many pre-war competition gliders. The glide ratio of an aircraft is the distance of forward travel divided by the altitude lost in that distance; for comparison, the tiny-winged F-104 has a glide ratio of 5. The Caravelle’s, at 22, is almost the same as the famously glider-like U-2 spyplane!

These feats were the only demonstrations of the gliding capabilities of an airliner of such importance (except for flight accidents such as Air Transat flight 236). This was made possible thanks to the incredibly efficient wings of the aircraft, which free of any engine, offered a very pure aerodynamic form.

6. A recording studio in the stratosphere

In 1959, Air France set up another world first to promote the plane’s superiority over its competitors: in this case, it was no longer a question of its gliding abilities, but of celebrating the quiet cabin. Whereas competitors had engines in or under the wings, noisily close to most areas of the cabin, the Caravelle’s two engines were neatly tucked away in nacelles at the rear end of the aircraft. It was said that the noisiest seat on board the Caravelle was only as noisy as the quietest seat in the quietest rival airliner.

To demonstrate this guitarist and singer Sacha Distel, accompanied by his orchestra, took a trip aboard the Caravelle III Alsace to record a single inside the aircraft during a dedicated flight on 17 April 1959. In addition to musical instruments – including a piano weighing over 200 kg – a complete recording studio was installed on board. Once the plane was at an altitude of 10500 metres the recording began, made possible by the extremely quiet cabin.

Sacha Distel chose to perform a cover of the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt’s instrumental ‘Nuages’ (cloud) a fitting title. The recording, in the form of a single called “Altitude 10 500 m”, was released by the Philips record company in the same year, 1959.

5. Caravelle to the Americas: First JFK jet

After a promotional tour of both American continents in 1957, Brazil’s leading airline VARIG was utterly seduced and placed an order with Sud-Aviation. VARIG originally planned to use both Boeing 707s and Caravelles on its network, the former for overseas routes – and the Caravelles for domestic travel. While Boeing fell behind in the production and delivery of its many 707s, the first VARIG Caravelle was delivered to Brazil on 24 September 1959. For its introduction, VARIG chose to operate the Caravelle on its prestigious Rio de Janeiro – New York service. VARIG was proud of its new jet and still lacking the promised 707s. With this route, VARIG became the first airline to operate a jet from Idlewild Airport (now known as John F. Kennedy Airport) in New York, making the Caravelle the first jetliner to operate on both American continents.

On 25 February 1960, United Airlines, then one of the world’s largest airlines, signed a contract for 20 Caravelles and took 20 options, for a contract worth about $65 million (equivalent to over $635 in 2022 dollars). A huge success for Sud-Aviation. Few European aircraft had been successful in exporting to the US at that time; it would not be until the Falcons and Airbus that such successes would be seen again. The American company requested a number of small modifications to the airframe, including the enlargement of the cockpit windscreen and the addition of thrust reversers and more powerful brakes, the resultant variant was known as the Type VI-R Caravelle. The first United Airlines Type VI-R, christened ‘Ville de Toulouse‘, was received on 10 June 1961 and scheduled flights began on 14 July, Bastille Day.

4. Tough as hell

Sometimes accidents highlight theoretical but normally unprovable technical characteristics of an aircraft. The robustness of the Caravelle’s airframe and its ability to withstand collisions were proven in a spectacular accident early in the aircraft’s operating career. On 19 May 1960, at 9.46 am, a small SV 4-C Stampe biplane, registration number F-BDEV, owned by the Club aéronautique universitaire de Chelles-les-Pins and piloted by Mr René Fabbro, collided in mid-air with a Caravelle belonging to Air Algérie departing from Orly. The impact completely destroyed the small plane, which was partially stuck in the Caravelle, killing its pilot on the spot. The propeller tore the roof of the airliner over several metres, severing the back antenna in the process, killing one passenger and injuring several others. Despite extensive structural damage and a now disabled radio, the Caravelle managed to land safely at Orly airport. The damage would, in similar circumstances, have caused the loss of many comparable airliners, but the robustness of the Caravelle and its airframe demonstrated the care that Sud-Aviation had taken with its aircraft. The investigation will reveal that the Stampe was in a restricted area and that the pilot simply did not see the Caravelle coming.

3. First autopilot

The Caravelle, as you will have seen from the various points already highlighted, was a safe aircraft, especially if you compare its accident rate to its counterparts, the first generation commercial jets. The aircraft was already superb, but there was a desire to make the aircraft even more dependable, as punctual as a train. One way to do this was to ensure it could operate in weather conditions that would hinder all of its rivals. As early as 1962, the first Caravelle prototype, F-WHHH, was modified and carried out the first automatic landing tests. A military system comprising a Lear Siegler autopilot was installed and coupled to a TRT radio altimeter. This was the first time that a civilian aircraft had been fitted with such a system. (A British system developed by the Smith Company was also tested but was found to be too complicated.)

When the Caravelle entered the Air Inter fleet, it was equipped with this brand new Sud-Lear system called ‘Autoland’. This system made Air Inter’s fleet of Caravelles the first airliners in the world certified to make Phase III approaches, with 50 feet of visibility and 150 meters of runway visibility. It was not until 9 January 1969 that one of these aircraft, filled with fifty-six passengers, left Lyon and landed at Orly fully automatically in the fog, without pilot intervention. On board, Captain Pierre Larribiere had just achieved a world first: from now on, planes would no longer be afraid of fog.

2. The SE-210 Vomit Comet

Parabolic flights reproduce gravity-free conditions and involve an aircraft flying upwards and downwards in arcs interspersed with level flying. They enable research in microgravity conditions without the expense of spaceflight. So violent are the flights that they are informally known as ‘vomit comets’. At the end of the 1980s, France sought to extend its independence from the USA for parabolic flight. Indeed, for any training or experiment in microgravity, Europeans were dependent on NASA flights, which gave priority to its own activities. It was under the impetus of French astronauts Jean-François Clervoy and Jean-Pierre Haigneré that the Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES) and the flight test centre (CEV) decided to convert a Caravelle for microgravity flights. A Caravelle of type VI R produced in 1968 and which had enjoyed a successful (but relatively boring) career as an airliner in Luxembourg returned to France in 1989 under the registration F-ZACQ.

It was assigned to the Flight Test Centre and became the famous Caravelle Zero-G, after a general refit. CNES entrusted the marketing and management of this new sector to its subsidiary Novespace. Thanks to this, the Europeans gained their independence and Caravelle Zero-G allowed the first scientific parabolic flight campaigns from 1989 onwards. Caravelle Zero-G stopped flying in 1995, after six years at the CEV and a busy career before its conversion. It was this aircraft that made it possible to carry out more than 40 scientific flight campaigns, accumulating more than 4000 parabolas for a total of 24 hours of weightlessness. Thanks to the Caravelle, European was able to carry out independent research without dependence on NASA. It was replaced by another European type, the Airbus A300 Zero-G.

1. After Caravelle, Super-Caravelle: The Mother of Concorde

After such an obvious technical success, France, having gained confidence, decided to embark on the adventure of supersonic commercial transport and started the Super Caravelle project in the late 1950s. Numerous exotic projects were then explored including flying wings, nuclear aircraft but most were far too ambitious.

Sud Aviation was then asked to repeat the Caravelle’s success with the support of Dassault, with its vast experience of the science of supersonic flight. Dassault and Sud Aviation presented their work and a model of the project in 1961 at the Paris Air Show.

Pierre Henri Satre, born in 1909 in Grenoble, and died in 1980 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye was a French aeronautical engineer, to whom we owe the study of the Sud-Aviation SE 210 Caravelle airliner and the first draft of the Super-Caravelle, which will become Concorde.

The conceptual aircraft was a medium-haul design with delta ogival wing with accommodation for 70 passengers over distances of 2,000 to 3,000 km at speeds of between Mach 2 and Mach 2.5. The aircraft was promoted as a winning mixture of the Caravelle and the Mirage IV. 

At that time, the British were also developing a supersonic airliner with a rather similar project, the Bristol 223. The French and British projects were already well advanced, but it was the realisation and the enormous costs of developing a prototype that led the two countries to embark on a collaboration, both nations seeking above all to counter American market dominance. So in 1962 Super Caravelle merged with the Bristol 223 to create the famous and fabulous Concorde.

Concorde retained the look of the Super Caravelle, as well as its wonderful “ogival” wing.

By Hugo Mark Michel

(The name “Super Caravelle” will nevertheless be reused for longer models of the SE.210)

*Leaving aside abortive Canada’s C102 Jetliner