Phantom pregnancies: F-4 variants that never were

 

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Everyone loves the F-4 Phantom, a brutal smoking Cold War monster that polluted the sky in an apocalyptic belch of black sooty thunder. As thrilling as the actual Phantoms that entered service were, there is a tantalising family of F-4s that almost made it into the real world. Several of them were cancelled for being too good and threatening sales of newer aircraft — and one succeeded in its role as a unique test aircraft. Here are some of the Phantoms that never were. 

RF-4X Mach 3 Hellraiser 

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In the 1970s, the Israeli air force wanted a reconnaissance aircraft capable of carrying the extremely impressive HIAC-1 camera. The F-4 was considered, but the G-139 pod that contained the sensor was over 22 feet long and weighed over 4000 pounds – and the Phantom did not have the power to carry such a bulky store and remain fast and agile enough to survive in hostile airspace. One solution was to increase the power of the engines with water injection, something that had been done for various successful F-4 record attempts. This combined with new inlets, a new canopy and huge bolt-on water tanks promised a mouth-watering 150% increase in power. This would have allowed a startling top speed of mach 3.2 and a cruising speed of mach 2.7. This level of performance would have made the F-4X almost impossible to shoot-down with the technology then in service.

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The F-4X would also have been a formidable interceptor – something that threatened the F-15 development effort, causing the State Department to revoke an export licence for the RF-4X. Even with the increase in power, the Israeli air force was still worried about the huge amount of drag, but a solution came in the form of a slimmed-down camera installation in a specially elongated nose. This meant the interceptor radar had to be removed, which assuaged the State Department’s fears and the project was allowed to continue. However worries from the F-15 project community returned (as did worries about how safe the F-4X would have been to fly) and the US pulled out. Israel tried to go it alone but didn’t have enough money, so the mach 3 Phantom never flew.

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F-4E(F) ‘Ein Mann’ 

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The Luftwaffe are cheapskates: historical examples including their desire to procure a Eurofighter ‘Lite’ with no sunroof, stereo or defensive aids — and the fact they kept the F-4F in service until 2013! To be fair, their less than zealous desire for free-spending militarism is probably a good thing considering the 20th century. Their Deutschmark-saving instincts for poundshop versions of popular aircraft applied to the Phantom, and a simplified single-seat F-4E was considered. This intriguing option was passed up for a simplified F-4E, dubbed the F-4F (which later became formidable). I couldn’t find any illustrations of this variant so have included a mock-up of a speculative RAF single-seater.

RF-4M ‘Big nosed Brit’ 

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When the RAF ordered Phantoms they considered a dedicated reconnaissance version. McDonnell (it being 1966 — a year before the merger with Douglas) proposed a F-4M airframe with internal reconnaissance equipment. Known as the RF-4M (model 98HT), the longer camera nose would have made the aircraft over two and-a-half feet longer longer than a F-4M. Range would have been greater than a Phantom with an external recce pod, as this left the centreline station free for a drop-tank — and the removal of the Fire Control System and AIM-7 related hardware reduced weight. After considering the cost of such an undertaking, the RAF instead opted for an external recce pod meaning that any airframe in the fleet could perform the reconnaissance mission without sacrificing a beyond-visual-range weapon. Fascinating interview with a British Phantom pilot here.

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In the late 1970s McDonnell Douglas proposed a dedicated Air Superiority variant of the F-4E, the F-4T. More spritely performance was expected as all systems associated with the air-to-ground role were to be removed, making a significant weight saving. It was to be armed with M61A1 cannon, four AIM-7 Sparrows and four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, or an alternative war-load of six AIM-7 (as seen in this computer generated image). Additionally, a new digital computer would have been at the heart of its weapon system. It is unclear who the intended launch customer for this variant was —  Iran, Britain, Israel, Japan or West Germany may all have found the type useful. No customer went for the T as either a new-build or an upgrade — as those air arms requiring a high level of Air Superiority could turn to the F-15 Eagle which was already in production (and was significantly more capable the proposed F-4T even its it early iterations).

Read why the F-4 was the world’s best fighter in 1969 here.

F-4 (FVS) The Phlogger and the Phitter

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The US Navy’s F-111B project was looking distinctly shaky in the mid-1960s. It was too heavy and too sluggish, so the Navy looked around for alternatives, a search which would eventually led to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The McDonnell company offered an unsolicited solution, a variable geometry wing variant of the hugely successful F-4 Phantom II. An assessment of this proposal, given the provisional designation F-4 (FV)S, revealed that this it was lacking in several key areas, notably combat effectiveness: the AN / AWG-10 radar and AIM-7F missiles would be a significant downgrade from the desired AN /AWG-9/AIM-54 combination. Scorned by the Navy, McDonnell offered the aircraft to Britain as a cheaper alternative to the Anglo-French AFVG then under consideration. This aircraft would have been powered by the British Rolls-Royce RB-168-27R  and given the designation F-4M (FVS). This promising project never left the drawing board.

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Boeing PW1120 Phantom/IAI Super Phantom

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By the 1980s, the Phantom’s geriatric J79 powerplant was a liability — its poor thrust-to-weight ratio, mass of smoke and Oliver Reed-esque thirst did not belong in an age of efficient powerful turbofans. Replacing the J79 with the Pratt & Whitney PW1120 (a derivative of the F-15’s F100 for the abortive Israeli Lavi) was an obvious solution – offering a massive 25% increase in dry thrust and a whole 30% greater thrust in reheat. The new Phantom would have been a hotrod: capable of Mach 1+ speeds in dry thrust alone. The aircraft would also have an 1,100 US gal (4230 litre) conformal fuel tank under the fuselage, offering an increase in range.  The proposal was cancelled early on as some thought it was a threat to F/A-18 and F-15 sales. Despite this, Israel Aircraft Industries liked the idea of PW1120s in Phantoms, partly as this promised parts commonality with the Lavi and partly because Israel had a big Phantom force.  IAI’s F-4 Super Phantom or F-4-2000 was displayed at the 1987 Paris Air Show, but, like the earlier US concept, was also quashed.

YRF-4C PACT demonstrator CCV ‘You canard handle the truth!’

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Aircraft 62-12200 was a very important airframe, after life as the RF-4C prototype it did the same for the cannon-armed F-4E project. Its testing life was still not over — in 1972 it became part of a fly-by-wire (FBW) research effort. A FBW system was fitted to what was now known as the Precision Aircraft Control Technology (PACT) demonstrator. Following the successful completion of the FBW tests, it was fitted with a set of canard foreplanes mounted on the upper air intakes. In order to shift the centre of gravity to the rear and to destabilise the aircraft in pitch, lead ballast was added to the rear fuselage. It is not known if this aircraft was the source of the continued American distaste for canards!

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Flying & Fighting in the Harrier: RAF pilot interview

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Prior to flying the F-35B Lightning IIRAF Wing Commander James Schofield flew and fought in RAF Harriers. We interviewed him to find out more about mastering the immortal jump-jet. 

What were your first impressions of the Harrier?

Coming from the Hawk T.1 with its analogue dials and navigating by map and stopwatch, its one type of takeoff and three types of landing (normal, flapless and glide), on arriving at the Operational Conversion Unit in 2000 reading the Harrier GR.7 groundschool notes gave a good impression of the step increase in capability ahead! The systems included a GPS/INS, frequency-agile radios, colour moving map, Zeus electronic warfare (EW) system and infra-red camera both integrated into the head-up display, angle-rate bombing system with a TV/laser tracker… Then there were rockets, freefall bombs, retarded bombs, cluster bombs, practice bombs, laser guided bombs, infra-red guided Maverick missiles, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles… The laser could come from your aircraft (via the TIALD targeting pod), a wingman or a chap on the ground. There were manual releases, computed impact point releases, automatic releases, toss/loft releases. There was visual targeting, GPS/INS targeting, TV targeting, laser targeting. Also chaff, flares, night vision goggles. A lot to read up on!

 

 But before you got to play with much of that you had to learn how to take off (conventional, short, strip, creeping vertical or vertical) and land (conventional, fixed-throttle variable-nozzle, slow, rolling vertical, creeping vertical, vertical). Additional variables were the use of auto flap or STOL flap, and the use of water injection to augment the thrust. You could land on normal runways, roads, grass, on perforated steel planking runways and aircraft carriers. Each of those combinations had a prescribed technique, often complicated and challenging, that you strayed from at your peril. Before every flight you put the aircraft tail number, temperature, pressure and stores configuration into a computer and it told you what nozzle angle to use for whichever flavour of takeoff you were going to attempt, and how much fuel/water you could hover or try a rolling vertical landing with.

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 Key indicators to watch like a hawk in order to make it to the bar that evening without an ejection and a trip to hospital were: the velocity vector in the HUD which became an inertial vertical speed indicator in the hover (watch out for any unwanted descent!), the “Billy Whizz” hexagon diagram in the HUD telling you how close you were to the most limiting engine parameter (be it RPM, jet pipe temperature or the non-dimensional fan speed), and the unique wind vane in front of the cockpit that enabled you to minimise potentially fatal crosswinds. Oh, and a vibrating rudder pedal that you had to stamp on at your soonest convenience if you ignored the vane.

 

Every aircraft has its challenges/foibles but I remember getting the books out and thinking “bugger me, there’s a lot here”! Looking back on it now, there was an awful lot to not get wrong but at the time we flew daily which made a big difference. I remember feeling rusty on a Monday morning having had a weekend off!

 There were also a fearsome array of limitations to remember, both engine and airframe, which varied depending on aircraft build standard, load-out and speed.

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Memories of flying the beast will always stay with me. A fantastic view from that big bubble canopy, a neat and well-laid out cockpit, on the ground the impingement of the jet efflux on the tailplane making it tremble like an attack dog straining to be released, massive air intakes right next to you with a loud whine at full power, brutal acceleration during takeoff, a very responsive aircraft to fly, a strange rumble at idle power as air spilled from those intakes, the laws of physics overpowering common sense as you decelerated towards the hover between swaying trees over some nondescript field in Rutland, cows looking on curiously, your throttle hand advancing all the time as wing lift receded, in your multi-million pound jet fighter. Halcyon days.

 I don’t think I was alone, however, in spending most of each flight worrying about the landing – something the Harrier and the Pitts Special sports biplane have in common!” 

 What is the hardest thing about flying the Harrier? 

 “Not screwing up in the VSTOL regime.”

 What was your most memorable Harrier mission or flight? 

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There were hundreds of memorable moments, but Ill pick my first takeoff from an aircraft carrier. You read the notes, youre talked through the procedures by an instructor, then you walk out to the aircraft, fire her up and line up on the deck. Although the ski jump is only at an angle of 12 degrees, it looks like a vertical wall in front of you! Up to full power, release the brakes only when the tyres start to skid and youre off. Screaming down the deck towards the ramp wondering idly if this is actually going to work or whether its all an incredibly elaborate wind-up! Up the ramp, lower the nozzles at the top, and youre airborne. Ease the nozzles aft. Huh, it worked. Time to start worrying about the landing a mere hour away…

Rate the Harrier in the following:

A. Instantaneous turn rate.

“Good, particularly with Vectoring In Forward Flight (VIFF).”

B. Sustained turn rate.

“OK at low level, not much good at medium level.”

C. Climb rate.

“With a thrust to weight ratio of greater than 1:1 it went up very nicely!”

D. High AoA performance.

“Although there were no AoA limits in the earlier aircraft with small LERX (leading edge root extensions) – just handling limits, it wasn’t built for large angles. The larger LERX came with a 24 AoA limit so couldn’t quite match a Hornet (60 AoA) in a nose-pointing contest!”

E. Acceleration.

“Eye-watering going down the runway, disappointing at high speed (all that drag…).”

 Did you fly the Harrier in combat? How combat effective was the type? 

 “Yes, over Iraq in 2003. It was very effective; flexible basing options, lots of hardpoints, a good all-rounder. Obviously combat missions come in a range of exciting flavours. In 2003 over Iraq ours involved both close air support (CAS) and strike missions. 

The background to all of this starts back in the UK where we had the luxury of an extensive pre-deployment training period. This was interspersed with intelligence briefs so you’d know what the enemy order of battle was, location of units and so on. We were also very focused on understanding how all of the extra gear worked in the various pockets our jackets were festooned with – mostly survival gear – and what the plans were for egressing on foot if we had to.

In theatre, you’d have regular intelligence briefs to keep abreast of what was always a fluid situation on the ground. On the day, you’d have a weather brief and would then be allocated a piece of sky to hold in and wait for tasking (for CAS) or you’d be given target details (for strike). Significant planning was required to understand what was expected of us, particularly critical given that there would be myriad other air and ground assets in the area, all with their own missions. It was always obvious that we were just one part of a much larger war effort.

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The missions themselves were fairly tense at the start of hostilities as each side assessed what was being brought to bear against them. As things progressed it was easier to get into a rhythm, whilst always trying to guard against complacency. There’s nothing like getting shot at over barren, hostile territory to focus the mind back on the task at hand! It’s difficult to convey how stressful releasing live ordnance over a battlefield is, particularly with CAS where friendlies are often perilously close. One incorrectly typed digit, or the slightest ambiguity on the radio leading to misidentification of the target area, could lead to disaster. Clearly, there were well-honed procedures to mitigate against these risks but when the chap on the ground is shouting at you to get the bomb off because he’s under attack – you need to be disciplined under pressure.

There’s always a sense of relief after a mission, but it may not be long until you’re off again…” 

 Are there any things a Harrier can do that a F-35B can’t? 

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 “Not many – bow in the hover; operate from a grass runway; punish the pilot for careless handling. That’s your lot!”

 Was the Harrier the most demanding aircraft you have flown?

 “It’s certainly in the top three; take the rolling vertical landing (RVL) for instance. You’re on final approach to a 1000 foot long strip at night in rain: fore and aft on the stick initially controls flightpath as you’d expect. You then move the nozzle lever to the hover stop to decelerate at which point you use the stick to control pitch attitude. At 50 knots groundspeed you select a lesser nozzle angle to stop decelerating and the stick then controls groundspeed. Just prior to touchdown it reverts to pitch attitude. So four control strategies with just one of the three hand controllers (stick, throttle, nozzle lever) in under 30 seconds while trying to execute a precise landing with little margin for error – lots of armchair flying required for that one!

 The up-and-away handling was occasionally a little tricky too. During an air-to-air refuelling test flight in a very aft CG configuration I was working so hard just to put the probe in the basket I lost the power of speech! Requiring full back stick around finals was common in the two-seater; if the nose carried on dropping the only way out was to add power, which was somewhat counter-intuitive.

 It would potentially depart from controlled flight due to intake momentum drag if you let sideslip build up during the transition to or from the hover, with fatal consequences – hence the wind vane in front of the cockpit, and rudder pedal shakers if you didn’t notice the vane!

 High speed departures were also not unheard of and could be violent, particularly if you exceeded the lateral stick limits and/or reversed the roll rate rapidly.

 Flying at low level at night also had its moments, and no one enjoyed landing on the carrier at night!”

 What were the best and worst things about the Harrier?

 “The best things were its V/STOL capabilities and its ability to reliably project air power for a reasonable cost; it was ultimately a relatively simple aircraft which kept costs down and reliability up.

 The worst things were the unforgiving handling (however, the satisfaction of successfully operating a challenging aircraft was half the appeal) and the V/STOL design compromises meaning we always got whooped during air combat training by F-15s / F-16s / F/A-18s.”

 What equipment/weapons or sensors would have you liked to have seen added to the Harrier? 

 

 Easy – radar and AMRAAM. Having some Harrier II+ configured aircraft would have been fantastic.

 What is the biggest myth about the aircraft? 

 “That the whining doesn’t stop when you turn off the engine! (The joke being that Harrier pilots whinge incessantly. I mean, have you ever met an F.3 pilot??)”

 Is STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing) a good idea?

 “If you’re confident that any conventional runways you may operate from – either at home or at a forward operating base – are invulnerable then you don’t need it. I would opine that such a stance would be foolhardy. Also, stopping then landing on a carrier will always be easier and cheaper than landing then stopping (acknowledging that this leads to design compromises, e.g. a single engine, large intakes or a lift fan).”

 Was the absence of cannon and radar problematic? 

 “The lack of radar did get you looking out of the window a lot, and building a mental picture of the tactical situation from radio transmissions was a cherished skill. At times you did feel like you were stumbling around in the dark – the absolute opposite of the level of situational awareness that today’s F-35 brings. At least we had a very good EW system, the display for which was in the HUD, to let you know who was looking at you and from what angle.

 As for the gun, it’s always nice to have a cheap forward-firing weapon but the attempts to fit a 25mm derivative of the Aden cannon failed and, anecdotally, at that point there was no money to buy the GAU-12 5-barrel cannon (drool).”

 What advice would you give to Harrier pilots? 

 “To any US Marine Corps, Italian Navy or Spanish Navy Harrier pilots; I envy you – enjoy it while it lasts!

Which three words would you use to describe the Harrier? 

 Best. Of. British. (Harrier GR.3 / FA.2)

Revolutionary, legendary, challenging!

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Do you think the British got rid of their fleet too early? And what do you think about what happened to the air frames? 

 “Absolutely, but as I understand it the MoD had to save a load of money and they couldn’t bin the Tornado GR.4 due to its unique (at the time) ability to carry Storm Shadow. We’d have much rather seen the airframes continue to fly than mothballed and used for spares, but the GR.9 was so different from the USMC’s aircraft that they would effectively have had two fleets, which wouldn’t have been a practical proposition.”

 What should I have asked you? 

“F-35 or Harrier? F-35 for everything bar the satisfaction of mastering the handling challenge of the Harrier.

 

Would Vectoring in Forward Flight (VIFFing) have been useful in a dogfight? 

“Using a smidge of nozzle at higher speeds was a valid proposition to gain a little more turn performance. Using a lot of nozzle at lower speeds gave a marked increase in turn rate, but physics being what it is the side-effect was a large reduction in energy which left you a sitting duck if your attempt to snap the nose around for a missile shot failed. I usually found that VIFFing worked quite well when pulling down from the vertical – people weren’t expecting a Hornet-like ability to nose-point – but if I was fighting in the horizontal the nozzle lever often led to disappointment! Putting the nozzles all the way forward in a “Braking Stop Spiral” manoeuvre meant you could descend vertically at a ridiculously low speed and often opponents couldn’t stay behind you. But you had to leave plenty of height to recover…”

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 How good was the GR9 at the time of its retirement? 

 “As with most aircraft when they’re retired, it had never been better and had an amazing future ahead of it! I started flying the GR.7 in 2000 and the GR.9/9A was retired in early 2011; by then it had been fitted with a larger engine (GR.9A) and some truly cutting-edge avionics, sensors and weapons: the excellent Sniper targeting pod, the TIEC datalink which went some way to offsetting the lack of radar, the Paveway 4 GPS/laser bomb with which we could simultaneously release six bombs against six different targets through cloud, the Brimstone anti-armour weapon, the ASRAAM air-to-air missile, encrypted radios…such a shame it went before its time.”

With which units did you fly the Harrier and what was your rank? 

 “I served on No 3 (Fighter) Squadron (2000-2003) at RAF Cottesmore, and the Fast Jet Test Squadron (2005-2006) at MoD Boscombe Down, both as a Flight Lieutenant.

(I joined the RAF in 1996 as a Pilot Officer and left as a Wing Commander in 2016.)”

Tell me something I don’t know about the Harrier 

“Flying through hail would smash the EW “tusk” fairings under the nose. Ask me how I know…” 

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Dornier Do 31: the jump-jet tactical transport that actually flew

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Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked his opinion on what we can learn from the Dornier Do 31. 

As with the Royal Air Force, in the early 1960s, the Luftwaffe became concerned about the vulnerability of aircraft operating from large air bases.  The British developed and eventually deployed the Harrier; the Germans, in a frenzy of innovation, developed and flew, but did not put into service, two potentially supersonic VTOL fast-jets, and a VTOL transport, the Do 31E. They also experimented with a zero-length launch system for the Starfighter, the ZELL.

The two fast-jets were the VFW VAK 191, which was intended as a strike aircraft with a limited supersonic dash capability, and the EWR VJ 101C, which was a Mach 1.8-capable VTOL interceptor. The Do 31, as a production aircraft, was envisaged as supplying tactical logistic support to the fast jets, itself using as forward operating bases the airstrips on which the ZELL Starfighters were expected to land using arrester gear.

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image005.jpgThe events at the start of the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt in 1967 showed that the concern about the vulnerability of aircraft on the ground at airbases was somewhat justified. Israel essentially destroyed the capability of the Egyptian Air Force in strikes against their airbases in the first hours of the conflict. At that time, the aircraft discussed here were all in development.

Do 31E Configuration

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The Dornier 31E3 shown in the heading photo was the first, and to date, the only jet VTOL transport aircraft to fly, doing so in the E3 version in July 1967. In December of that year, the aircraft successfully completed transition from vertical take-off to forward flight, and the reverse transition to vertical landing. To do this, it operated with no less than 10 engines, two 15,000lb thrust Pegasus engines in the mid-span nacelles, and a further 4 Rolls-Royce RB 162-4D lift engines in each wing tip pod, each providing a further 4,400lb thrust. Total thrust was an impressive 65,200lb, providing some margin for hot-gas re-ingestion and suckdown effects at the maximum take-off weight of 60,600lb (Data from Janes All the World’s Aircraft 1966-67).

Payload capability was 36 fully equipped troops, or ‘two or three’ Jeeps, or palleted freight, up to a maximum of 11,000lb, and a range of 1100 miles was expected with maximum payload.

The Problems

Given the quite impressive technical achievements of the design, you may wonder why the Do 31 appears in this list. The real problem with this aircraft, and indeed the associated EWR VJ101C and VFW VAK 191B, was with the totally unachievable operating concept. It turns out that airbases (and aircraft carriers) provide really useful capabilities supporting tactical aircraft.

Without some form of operating base, maintenance, spares, fuel, accommodation, mission preparation, and protection and shelter of aircrew and maintenance personnel become major logistic problems.

When you add to this the impact on cost and complexity, weight and drag, of carrying around 10 engines, only 2 of which are used in forward flight, it becomes clear that the Dornier 31E was really up against it, both operationally and technically.

The Eventual Solution

What was the resolution, beyond cancelling all the related projects? Well, once the difficulty of operating without airbase infrastructure had been considered, the answer was to effectively protect the airbases with capable surface-to-air defences, and to protect the aircraft and support infrastructure with appropriate hardened shelters. This enabled conventional solutions to be found to the tactical requirements of most air forces, noting, however, the extremely effective use of carrier-borne (or forward-based) Harriers in support of operations by the US Marines, RAF and a number of Navies.

The tactical and logistic support of forward air operations, it turns out, can be well supported by another aircraft which was in development at the time – the Fiat G222. This has now been developed into today’s C-27 Spartan, which offers similar payload-range performance to the Dornier 31E, albeit with STOL rather than VTOL capability, at a fraction of the cost, risk and complexity of a production Do 31.

Was it worth the effort

Was the Do-31 (and for that matter, the other related projects) worth the effort? Well, all three aircraft explored the difficult VSTOL regimes, with quite challenging requirements. There is no doubt that German Industry gained significantly in understanding computer-assisted control of some advanced and challenging designs.  This may well have helped the Industry play its part in the later development of the Tornado and Eurofighter.

That said, no operational system eventuated, mainly, I suggest, because technical progress had run ahead of operational analysis, resulting in flawed requirements.

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You love planes. We love planes. Save the Hush-Kit blog!

Donate here. 

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Donate here. 

In order to carry on we need donations— even £8 a month could do a lot of good. If you don’t wish to donate but would like to help us, then sharing our articles is the way! Thank you for your time you lovely aviation expert. 

 

* There is no scientific evidence for these claims.

Jim Smith had significant  roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. His latest book is available here.

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

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

10 Worst German aircraft

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Ever since the Lilienthal brothers bird-like gliders of the 19th Century, Germany has been batshit crazy about flying machines. Rocket fighters, suicide pulse-jets and airships over three times longer than a 747; seemingly nothing was too crazy for the Germany aviation industry to try in the 20th century. Here is a kladderadatsch of unheimlich German aircraft that will make you spit out your Spätzle with profound fremdschämen. 

10. Messerschmitt Me 210 Hochgeschwindigkeits-Rufmörder’

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If ever you wish to challenge the famed German stereotype of meticulous efficiency, then you need look no further than the Messerschmitt Me 210, an aircraft that looked great on paper but didn’t look so great anywhere else – in the sky for example.

It all started off well enough: As well as possessing aviation’s most emphatic forehead, Willy Messerschmitt had delivered the Bf 109, which by the outbreak of war was arguably the best single-seat fighter in the world. He had followed that up with the Bf 110 which was arguably the best twin-engine fighter in the world. Messerschmitt tried for many years to design a replacement for the 109 but any new aircraft he came up with was either inferior to its great rival the Focke Wulf Fw 190 or could offer nothing more than an updated model of 109 and as a result no new design proceeded past the prototype stage. By contrast there was no obvious rival in production to the 110 and a replacement would surely be needed (an opinion strengthened by the apparently poor showing of the 110 during the Battle of Britain – though this was arguably down to inadequate understanding of the tactical limitations of this class of aircraft rather than any particular intrinsic fault of the 110 itself. Thus the requirement for the 210 was born. Unfortunately for customer and designer, Messerschmitt’s reputation was riding high on the incredible and ongoing success of the 109 and 110 and apparently he could do no wrong. An order for 1000 of the new twin-engine fighter-bomber was placed, off the drawing board, before the new aircraft had even flown.

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But fly it did and then the terrible mistake became apparent. The Me 210 was a purposefully good looking aircraft but that was about it. The new aircraft was underpowered and its handling was so bad that it was dangerous to fly, being prone to enter a sudden and vicious stall under the least provocation. The chief test pilot commented that the Me 210 had “all the least desirable attributes an aeroplane could possess.”  It took the ridiculous total of 16 prototypes and 94 pre-production models to iron out the worst of the problems that bedevilled the 210. To put this in context the Fw 190, a contemporary (but very successful) aircraft which also took considerable development to get ‘right’ went through five prototypes and 28 pre-production examples. And then, even after all this time and effort was expended the 210 was not an acceptable machine. Compared to the 110 it was replacing the 210 was slower and shorter-ranged as well as possessing appalling handling qualities. Even the undercarriage was lousy and kept failing on the 210. The 210s that had managed to make it into service, nearly three years after the first flight, were withdrawn after a month and superseded by the very aircraft they were supposed to replace. The production line was shut down and the Bf 110 was put back into production fitted with the 210’s better streamlined engine nacelles. Willy Messerschmitt’s reputation was in tatters and his resignation was officially demanded from the company that bore his name.

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Worse was to come. Back when it still looked like the 210 might mature into a decent fighter, permission had been granted to Dunai Repülőgépgyár Rt. (Danubian Aircraft Plant) to build the 210 under licence and Hungarian authorities decided to continue development even after production in Germany was halted. The Hungarian aircraft utilised the more powerful DB 605 engine and a lengthened fuselage which transformed the aircraft into something generally acceptable. The colossal irony is that a lengthened fuselage was demanded by the test pilot on the Me 210’s first flight back in September 1939. Willy Messerschmitt had refused, pointing out that to alter the fuselage would require scrapping millions of Reichsmarks’ worth of production jigs. The Hungarian aircraft Me 210Ca was generally popular in service and proved that a lengthened fuselage would have solved literally years of painful development. And of course, that it took the Hungarians to solve the problems that the supposed finest designers of Germany apparently could not overcome was unbearable to the hyper-nationalistic Third Reich. Eventually a German redesign of the 210 with yet more powerful DB 603 engines was accepted into service but re-designated the Me 410 Hornisse to make it seem like it was a completely new design (it wasn’t). The Me 410 was a decent enough aircraft but was at least two years too late – had it been available when it should have, back in 1941, it would have been sensational.

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9. Messerschmitt Me 321/Me 323 Gigant

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The success of the Bf 109 should not obscure the story of the most calamitous aircraft to emerge from the Messerschmitt aircraft company, the ‘321/323. To invade England, the fast movement of tanks and artillery was essential. In the absence of a route by land, air transport was the obvious solution. Messerschmitt initially proposed towing winged battle tanks, a daft concept that proved bizarrely ubiquitous to World War II technical advisors. A less mad idea was the creation of large unpowered gliders, and by large I mean large: we are talking a wingspan of 55 metres… almost that of a Boeing 747! Junkers initially won the German Air Ministry contest with the Ju 322, but even a wartime assessment team couldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact a tank fell through the weak wooden floor of the ‘322. They went back to Messerschmitt, who created an aircraft too large to be launched. Even with 3280 horsepower, the Ju 90 airliner struggled to tow this behemoth sky-bound. So they tried tying it to three (yes three!) Bf 110 fighters to drag it into the sky (in a triangular ‘troika schlepp’ formation) which, of course, proved problematic. The next attempt to create an adequately powerful tow aircraft involved bolting two bombers together resulting in the conjoined He-111Z Zwilling — which was also far from ideal. Even strapping rockets to the machine wasn’t getting the desired results. While these slapstick endeavours had been taking place, Messerschmitt had been simultaneously working on a powered version – the Me 323. This worked, but was so slow and cumbersome that in contested airspace proved abysmally vulnerable. In 1943, in desperate need of resupply, General Rommel’s Afrika Korps was sent 300 tons of equipment in 16 Me 323s. Only two reached their destination, 14 had been shot down.

 

8. Dornier Do 31E

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As with the Royal Air Force, in the early 1960s, the Luftwaffe became concerned about the vulnerability of aircraft operating from large air bases.  The British developed and eventually deployed the Harrier; the Germans, in a frenzy of innovation, developed and flew, but did not put into service, two potentially supersonic VTOL fast-jets, and a VTOL transport, the Do 31E. They also experimented with a zero-length launch system for the Starfighter, the ZELL (based on ideas from the rocket genius and occultist sex magician Jack Parsons). The Do 31, as a production aircraft, was envisaged as supplying tactical logistic support to the fast jets, itself using as forward operating bases the airstrips on which the ZELL Starfighters were expected to land using arrester gear.

The tactical and logistic support of forward air operations, it turns out, can be well supported by another aircraft which was in development at the time – the Fiat G222. This has now been developed into today’s C-27 Spartan, which offers similar payload-range performance to the Dornier 31E, albeit with STOL rather than VTOL capability, at a fraction of the cost, risk and complexity of a production Do 31.

The Do 31 was an impressive answer to a question that shouldn’t have been asked.  Technical progress and ambition had run ahead of operational analysis, resulting in flawed requirements.

More on the Do 31 here

—  Jim Smith had significant  roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. His latest book is available here.

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7. Baade 152 Baade to the Bone 

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That the wretched Baade ever got built says much for the charm of its designer Brunolf Baade. From 1936 he worked for Junkers and was involved in the design of the Ju 88Ju 188Ju 388 and Ju 287. Following defeat and partitioning, the Soviet Union took many German aerospace experts — including Baade—  to aid in the development of new military projects. The Soviets had a pressing need for a fast twin-engine jet bomber, and the German boffins set about designing one. The resultant EF 150 was conceived by Baade, Hans Wocke and other former Junkers staff. Hugely delayed by engine problems, the aircraft ended up having to compete and lose out to a greatly superior aircraft from a newer generation, the Tu-88 (which became the Tu-16 ‘Badger’).

Despite this, Baade may not have been having such a bad time. It is rumoured that Baade’s winning personality made him a favourite with his Russian masters, and that while his colleagues were enduring the biting 1947 Moscow winter he was enjoying a holiday in Crimea. In 1953 the Germans were sent back to East Germany, where some attempted to start an aviation industry for the new nation.

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A new jetliner was desired, and Baade initiated a project — dubbed the Type 152 — based on the EF 150. This was a terrible basic design for a jetliner. For a start, it had a bicycle undercarriage — meaning the aircraft could not rotate promptly on take-off and it required great precision to land precisely (something they attempted to rectify with a  later, somewhat bizarre, configuration). It also had terrible engines, Pirna 014s based on wartime technology, which offered a miserly 3:1 thrust-to-weight ratio (compare this to the 4.5: 1 of the Pratt & Whitney JT3D which first ran a year earlier than the Pirna) and a lousy specific fuel consumption. The wings were the wrong shape and in the wrong place: a low aspect ratio broad chord slab that was far from ideal for cruising efficiency. The high placing of the wings obstructed the cabin, while the space under the floor was occupied by the undercarriage.

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The maiden flight of this aircraft took place on 4 December 1958. Four months later the aircraft took its second flight and crashed killing all on board. In mid-1961 the East German government stopped all aeronautical industry activities, as the Soviet Union did not want to buy any of these aircraft or support a potential rival to their own Tu-124. This mercifully put an end to what would have certainly been a horrible airliner.

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6. Heinkel He 177

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The eternally repeated adage, ‘if it looks right, it will fly right’ is proved by the giant Heinkel He 177, four-engined bomber; even before entering service it attracted the epitaphs of ‘widow maker’ and ‘flying coffin’. Göring called it a ‘misbegotten monster’.

Conceived as a long-range bomber to attack targets beyond the Soviet Urals or operate against convoys in the North Atlantic, it was too late to make a difference. It is the only example of a German design, equivalent of the American YB-17 design and the British plans, including R J Mitchell’s B16/36, for long-range strategic warfare. The Heinkel design was immediately beset by compromises, engine issues and top-level mind-changing.

Even in its development, Oberst Ernst Udet caused a fundamental re-design by requiring a dive-bombing capability. The engineers were in despair, the dive-bombing profile would require fuselage and wing strengthening, increasing the empty weight significantly. Then, in September 1942, after the work had been done, Göring rescinded the requirement.

So, it had a flawed operational requirement; an inadequate power plant with four engines, driving two huge propellers and surface evaporative cooling in place of conventional radiators. Engine fires were frequent during trials and by the time it came into service, the there was no fuel. Even so there was a plan to convert it into a rocket-carrying fighter! Final words to Winkle Brown: “it was one of the very few German aircraft I did not enjoy flying.”

Paul Beaver is the biographer of Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown

5. Siemens-Schuckert Forssman  Großernutzloser Ladenhüter

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Virtually all First World War aircraft were, by modern standards, hopeless and awful. However Siemens-Schuckert’s first foray into the world of large bomber aircraft was a stand-out example of dreadful uselessness, an aircraft so woeful that it eventually collapsed in an act of overdue self-destructive embarrassment. The Forssman’s problems began before even the first wood was cut, canvas sewn or the workers got out of bed in the eponymous form of Villehad Forssman, the luckless aircraft’s Swedish designer. German aviation benefited immensely from at least one aircraft designer from a neutral nation in the form of Dutchman Antony Fokker, a notorious self-publicist but undeniably an engineer of talent. Sadly Forssman was no Fokker, and his engineering abilities would not prove equal to his Jules Verne-eque dreams of giant aircraft.

It would appear that the Forssman aircraft was ‘inspired’ (less sympathetic voices might say ‘a copy’) of Igor Sikorsky’s impressive Ilya Muromets, the world’s first four engine aircraft. A famous photograph depicts one of these aircraft in flight and the first thing one notices is the two stalwart Russian cavalry officers promenading on the roof of the aircraft as if taking a stroll on an aircraft during flight were the most normal thing in the world. One of the other things one may notice is that the pilot is shoving in downward elevator as though his life depended on it, as indeed it might. In other words it appears to be tail heavy. When Forssman designed his own aircraft for German cavalry officers to stroll on the roof of, he apparently decided being insanely tail heavy was also definitely the way to go, a situation that would prove almost fatal to the test pilot once the aircraft actually managed to fly. However, any proper idea of flight was a long way off yet as during taxi trials and minimal hops, many of the faults of Forssman’s creation became apparent. The structure was deemed to be too weak and was beefed up, not least by adding more wing struts, the first of an unprecedented five major, and ultimately futile, rebuilds and redesigns. There was insufficient tail area, so a second rudder was added and the wings were rigged with slight dihedral. At the same time an attempt to balance the tail-heaviness issue was made by crudely adding a tub-like gunner’s position on the nose.

Further short hops revealed that the modifications had not made the aircraft anywhere near acceptable. Any reasonable manufacturer would have cut their losses, dumped this hopeless aircraft and moved on but Siemens-Schuckert were determined that they should get some kind of return for their investment and besides, Vilehad Forssman had by now severed connections with the company so, they reasoned, a different (better) engineer should be able to rework the aircraft into something acceptable. Harald Wolff, who would later design Siemens-Schuckert’s excellent fighter aircraft, was the man chosen for this unenviable task. Wolff Added more powerful Mercedes engines in the inboard positons, leaving the outer engines as they were. All the engines received streamlined and strengthened mountings and the whole nose of the aircraft was reworked into a pointed shape with massive round windows. The pilot now sat in comfort under a fully enclosed cockpit, an incongrously advanced feature. Unfortunately the designated test pilot, after some ground runs and despite his comfortable enclosed cockpit, refused (wisely) to fly the aircraft.  Siemens-Schuckert managed to persuade air-ace and pre-war test pilot Walter Hohndorf to perform the first flight but in September 1915, whilst completing another test hop, something went awry, the aircraft turned onto its back and was partially wrecked.

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Siemens-Schuckert, who were nothing if not persistent, mended the wings of the aircraft and fitted another new nose. Now desperate to get something – anything – for their hopeless machine, Dr Reichel the technical director of Siemens-Schuckert persuaded the Army to lower the specification the aircraft was required to achieve before they would buy it in return for a reduction in the purchase price. The new specification required the aircraft to reach 2000 meters in 30 minutes carrying a useful load of 1000 kg and enough fuel for 4 hours. Meanwhile he offered Bruno Steffen, himself a successful aircraft designer, 10% of the sale price if he could make the acceptance flight which was scheduled for October. Despite warnings from friends regarding the structural safety of the aircraft, Bruno decided after inspecting factory drawings and the aircraft itself that it was strong enough. However he was concerned that he would lack the strength necessary to operate the massive tail surfaces. On the day of the flight Steffen invited five passengers to accompany him, including members of the Army acceptance commission but all politely declined.

On take off Steffen found that the Forssman’s tail-heaviness meant that he had to push the control column fully forward to maintain level flight. To make turns he had to pull it back to the neutral position, turn the wheel as quickly as he could, and immediately return it to the fully-forward position to avoid a stall. The aircraft was virtually uncontrollable. Nonetheless it achieved the required 2000 metres in 30 minutes and the Army agreed in April 1916 to buy it as a trainer, despite its total unsuitability for that or any other task. Luckily for everyone however the rear fuselage collapsed when the engines were run up on the ground and no one else had to risk life and limb in Forssman’s pathetic aircraft.

And that would have been that except for one strange coda – in 1918 a truly gigantic ten-engine triplane named ‘Poll’ after the town of its construction was designed. It was structurally weak, of unprecedented size and ludicrously tail-heavy, which sounds oddly familiar. It was intended to bomb New York but construction was halted due to the armistice. Its designer was Villehad Forssman and one wonders how he managed to persuade anyone to build this new ridiculous aircraft. A single giant wheel from the Poll survives to this day in the collection of the Imperial War Museum to remind the world of Forssman’s folly.

4. Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet Wie Ein Floh, Aber Oho!’

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Although it was a horrific death trap with a litany of flaws, no one could deny the Komet was amazingly impressive. The fastest aircraft of the second world war, Messerschmitt’s rocket plane also possessed the best climb rate of any aircraft in the world until the supersonic (and strictly research) Bell X-1. It’s vertical performance could not be bettered by any combat aircraft until the mid-1950s. In every other respect of course the Komet was totally appalling:

The first problem, and worst when looked at from a tactical point of view was its endurance. The Walter HWK 509 rocket motor that imparted the Komet with its blistering performance was colossally thirsty and only eight minutes of fuel could be carried. The engine was either on or off, there was no ability to cruise or throttle back which led inexorably to its second major flaw – the closing speed between it and its target was so great that it was extremely difficult to aim and fire with any hope of success. This problem was compounded by the powerful MK 108 cannon. The low muzzle velocity of this weapon meant it was only effective at close range and this was difficult to achieve as the Me 163 flashed past its intended target. Thirdly, once the rocket fuel was expended the aircraft had to glide home. Totally immune from fighter attack while under power, the Komet was vulnerable as a glider. True, it was fast and handled nicely but eventually it would have to land, and, unable to move, could be destroyed at will by any pursuing aircraft.

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It’s woeful endurance led to the Komet employing the weight-saving feature of jettisoning undercarriage. The wheels were attached to a dolly that was dropped as the aircraft climbed away from the airfield. If dropped too high, they would be destroyed. However if dropped too low there was a danger that they would bounce off the ground and into the aircraft with disastrous results. On occasion the wheels got stuck: test pilot Hanna Reitsch was nearly killed attempting to land a Komet with its wheels still attached. Even if the take-off was successful, landing the Komet was fraught with danger. Landings were unpowered so there was no option to go around if something went wrong and the aircraft landed on a retractable sprung skid which had to be lowered to provide shock absorbing, if it stuck up or the pilot forgot to lower it the result was often a fractured spine.

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But absolutely the worst aspect for the pilot was the fuel. The Komet was propelled by two toxic liquids called C-stoff and T-stoff that explode when brought into contact. Indeed, T-stoff would cause virtually any organic material such as leather or cloth to spontaneously combust, furthermore it would dissolve human flesh. When the luckless Joschi Pöhs crashed an early Komet on landing in 1943 he was covered in T-stoff and, despite wearing a protective suit, “his entire right arm had been dissolved by T-stoff. It simply wasn’t there. The other arm, as well as the head, was nothing more than a mass of soft jelly.” Regular aviation fuel is dangerous enough but this was nightmarish. Even if the landing were successful, the shock of landing could rupture a fuel line or slosh any residual propellants into contact with each other and a catastrophic explosion would be the near inevitable result. So volatile were the fuels that there are accounts of Komets spontaneously exploding for no apparent reason whilst simply sitting on the ground.

But if the pilot survived the take-off, the landing, the fuels, and prowling enemy fighters the Komet had one final trick up its sleeve. Despite having generally exemplary handling characteristics the Me 163 entered an unrecoverable condition known as the ‘graveyard dive’ if its speed exceeded Mach 0.84, which was not difficult in a Komet, and the results were invariably fatal.

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Despite all these horrific issues combat operations were maintained from May 1944 to spring 1945. During this time, there were nine confirmed kills, with 14 Me 163s lost. Feldwebel Siegfried Schubert was the most successful pilot, with three bombers to his credit but he was killed when his Komet exploded on take off. Despite, or perhaps because of, its obvious catastrophic flaws, the Komet remains one of the most charismatic aircraft in history.

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3. DFW T.28 Floh Lustiger kleiner knuddliger Kerl

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Back in 1915 people still didn’t know what aeroplanes were supposed to look like. At least that’s the only explanation I can think of to explain the delightfully chunky appearance of DFW’s T.28, cheerily named Floh (flea), the cuddliest combat aircraft ever built. There seems to no other reason for building this tiny yet simultaneously weirdly massive machine. Despite being reputedly very fast, because of its daft shape the Floh was never a serious contender for fighter operations. The main problem was visibility, which was excellent so long as you only wanted to look upwards. The pilot’s view forwards for take off and landing was non-existent and the massive triangular tail surfaces conspired with the biplane wings to obscure the view of more or less anything below the aircraft. With all that fuselage side area and only a relatively modest rudder, one can only assume that directional control was not the aircraft’s strong suit. Add to that a perversely narrow undercarriage and it should come us no surprise that the Floh crashed on landing after its first test flight. On the upside the arrangement of intakes on the aircraft’s nose gives it the appearance of a jolly smiling face – always a major boon for an aircraft intended for the deadly skies over the Western front. Just to prove that he wasn’t insane or obsessed with giving aircraft a Rubens-esque profile, Herman Dorner, who designed the Floh, went on to produce the outstanding Hannover CL series of two-seat fighters which were boringly slender by comparison, did not feature a jolly smiling face, and proved highly successful.

2. Zeppelin L 2 Wasserstoffbrennstoff Feueranzünder

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Zeppelins are preposterous. That such a ludicrous vehicle could inspire such panic from people on the ground (which it did) seems, with the benefit of hindsight, insane. Of course no one had experienced a sustained strategic bombing campaign back then and facing such attacks for the first time was and is a scary prospect, The sheer inexorable massiveness of the rigid airship is also certainly compelling. Back in the first couple of years of the First World War they were the only aerial vehicle with a useful disposable loaded the range necessary to mount meaningful bombing attacks deep behind enemy lines. But the fact is that the Zeppelins of World War One consisted of a fabric bag filled with between about one and two million cubic feet of hydrogen, the most flammable element in the universe. Zeppelins are huge and inflammable, present an unmissably massive target, are slow and susceptible to bad weather. Bizarrely, despite having more than enough carrying capacity to reasonably carry them, German airship crews chose not to bother taking parachutes on missions. Presumably being able to escape having to choose between plummeting to one’s death or being incinerated in a hydrogen-fuelled inferno was just too namby-pamby for the stalwart Zeppelin men of the Imperial German Navy. And that was a choice that became increasingly commonplace after the first Zeppelin was shot down over Belgium in June 1915.

That the Navy persisted in using these giant airships for bombing raids was largely down to the insistence of one dangerously psychopathic zealot, Kapitän zur See Peter Strasser. Despite ever-increasing evidence of the ever-decreasing effectiveness of the Zeppelin as a bombing aircraft, Strasser continued to demand his crews fly strategic raids over London with ever greater losses. “We who strike the enemy where his heart beats have been slandered as ‘baby killers’ … Nowadays, there is no such animal as a noncombatant. Modern warfare is total warfare.” he said in answer to criticism of the morality of strategic bombing.  This may have been true but does not exactly paint a glowing picture of Strasser’s character. It feels like a there was a certain poetic justice at work when, after this particular baby-killer had chosen to ride along with Zeppelin L 70 on what would be the last airship bombing raid attempted against Britain, Strasser’s Zeppelin was intercepted by a DH-4 piloted by Egbert Cadbury (of the noted chocolate making family) and shot down in an example of the afore-mentioned hydrogen-fuelled inferno. The crew did not have parachutes.

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But all this was in the future in 1913 when Navy Zeppelin L 2 chugged its way over Berlin and into the somewhat obscure history books. That the Zeppelin was a bizarrely horrific weapon of war for all concerned is not in doubt but the L 2 was probably the most hopeless of them all. Not content with being an impractical and dangerous vehicle when under attack by a determined enemy, L 2 showed the world that Zeppelins were dangerous and impractical when there were literally no threats present at all, unless you consider a warm day or the aircraft itself a ‘threat’. First off the engines wouldn’t start, which caused a delay in take off which allowed the hydrogen to expand in the gas bags due to the warm sun. Once the engines were persuaded into life the Zeppelin shot into the sky due to the hydrogen expansion. The normal cure for this is to release some of the gas and stop the aircraft rising. Unfortunately the hydrogen vented from L 2’s gasbags was sucked into the forward engine and exploded, which caused a fire and further explosions resulting in the destruction of L 2 along with the death of all 28 people on board (in a hydrogen-fuelled inferno). That this occurred only six weeks after the navy’s other Zeppelin, L 1, had been caused to crash (with 14 fatalities) by cold rain causing the gas to contract makes one wonder why the German Navy persisted in the development of large airships at all. Zeppelin eventually delivered over 100 large rigid airships during the First World War, with Schütte-Lanz delivering about 20 more.

— Ed Ward

 

  1. Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenbergreichenberg_1945

Imagine yourself as a plucky young Luftwaffe pilot in 1944. You have a talent for flying, and the Nazi propaganda machine has filled you with a mad zeal to fight. You leap at the chance to fly an experimental aircraft—a futuristic aeroplane that could turn the tide and save your nation. You are shown a sleek, sexy, jet-propelled Wunderwaffe that makes the latest Fw 190 look positively ancient. Or perhaps you’re a bewildered child pushed into a moribund hell that was not of your making. Either way you’re absolutely fucked, because your new steed is essentially a V-1 flying bomb with a human guidance mechanism. Say ‘guten morgen’ to the Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg.

The Reichenberg had a quick development period, probably too quick. The German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight started development in mid-1944, and had a prototype ready for testing within days. A cramped cockpit with a jettisonable canopy was placed just under the pulse-jets air intake, and flight controls were rudimentary, although straightforward. After release from a carrier aircraft, the Reichenberg was meant to be piloted towards a target and put into a dive, following which the pilot baled out. Pilot survival was optimistically rated as being “most unlikely” (it was estimated at a terrifying 1% due to the proximity of the pulsejet’s intake to the cockpit)

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Tricky landing controls ensured that two test articles crashed during developmental trials, and although the designers claimed a distinction between their Selbstopfermänner and the Japanese Kamikaze, to the pilot there was little difference. Thankfully for the young men expected to fly this screaming tomb, it was quickly abandoned after Albert Speer and Werner Baumbach pleaded with Hitler that suicide was not in the German warrior tradition.

Mihir Shah

Neu Tramm, US-Soldaten mit V4

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Top ten fighters of 1969

AIRPOWER16_-_Air_to_Air_SK35C_Draken_(29366239356).jpgTwenty years prior to 1969 most air forces had been flying piston-engined fighters essentially no different from those of World War II. In the following twenty years, top speeds almost quadrupled and cannons were complemented with guided missiles capable of destroying an enemy thirty miles away. To survive the carnage of the Middle East and Vietnam air wars, aircraft became ever more potent and by 1969 had become extraordinarily sophisticated killing machines. The fighters of this time were also far more demanding and dangerous to their own pilots than today’s generation of digital fighters, and these brutish machines were unforgiving of mistakes. Here are the 10 best fighters of 1969. 

10. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 ‘The Fighting Farmer’

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Like most MiG fighters, the ’19 was a rough and ready hotrod. Agile, powerful and capable of gut-wrenching acceleration— it was also ill-equipped, unforgiving and brutal. Armed with three cannon and two K-13 missiles,  a well flown MiG-19 remained an opponent to be respected in 1969, however its lack of a modern radar and modest top speed of mach 1.22 put it at a distinct disadvantage. Pakistan Air Force MiG-19 pilot Wg. Cdr. Irfan Masum told Hush-Kit, “We did not fear fighting any opposing aircraft. The Intel, at the time, was that we were most likely to face the Hunter in the war as that was the aircraft which was to cross over the border to do battlefield air-interdiction and airfield strikes. The Hunter was a manoeuvrable aircraft like the F-86, and we had gained valuable experience during DACT with our F-86s. So we pretty much knew what tactics to employ. Firstly, force the Hunter to get into a vertical plane combat where our superior thrust-to-weight ratio would give us a distinct advantage. Secondly, allow the Hunter to exit and then catch him with the MiG-19’s excellent acceleration and let the heat-seeking Sidewinder do the rest.”  The type served in several air wars including Vietnam; Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) received their first MiG-19 at the end of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1968. Relatively small numbers of MiG-19s were involved in extensive combat during Operations Linebacker and Linebacker 2. The aircraft could easily outturn the Phantom (and out accelerate it up to Mach 1.2) and VPAF MiG-19 downed seven F-4 Phantom IIs.  Among its failings were its endurance, which was exceptionally poor.

Armament: 3 x 30-mm cannon (type dependent on variant), up to four short range air-to-air missiles (K-5 or AIM-9) (note: VPAF aircraft were cannon only)

9. Folland/HAL Gnat ‘Petter’s Pocket Rocket’

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Though highly specialised as a short range dogfighter, the tiny and viciously manoeuvrable, Gnat developed a fierce reputation in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war— earning the  nickname ‘Sabre-slayer‘. The Gnat shot down seven Pakistani Canadair Sabres, though two Gnats were downed by PAF fighters. During the the Battle of Boyra, the Indian Air Force (IAF) Gnats downed two PAF Canadair Sabres in minutes and badly damaged another. Another notable dogfight over Srinagar airfield saw a lone Indian pilot hold out against six Sabres scoring hits on two of the Sabres in the process before himself being shot down. The lighter, more modern, Gnat with its higher thrust-to-weight ratio had an advantage against the Sabre in the vertical plane.

Designed by W. E. W. Petter, who also created the EE Lightning, this subsonic British pugilist punched well about its weight, but in a world of supersonic radar-equipped fighters it is questionable how effectively it would have performed against a well-equipped enemy. The Gnat was the smallest jet fighter to ever see service and may well have been the tightest turning — it also had a climb rate twice that of the Sabre.

(Note: The Gnat has knocked the F-86 out of our top ten, but the Sabre was still a respectable fighter in ’69, notably where it was armed with Sidewinders.)

Armament: 2 x 30-mm ADEN cannon

ims-scan-tele-01325174-f-1000x10008. Joint place: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17/Dassault Super Mystère/ Lockheed F-104 Starfighter ‘The Outsiders’

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These fighters each had huge advantages and disadvantages and were the hardest to place in the top 10.

Any enemy foolish or ignorant enough opponent to fight the MiG-17 in the 300-330 knot regime was likely to learn a particularly nasty one-off lesson, as many did in Vietnam. Above 450 knots however, it was a pig — and its equipment was primitive; without hydraulic assistance much of the MiG-17’s manoeuvrability depended on the physical strength of its pilot! The MiG-17 was very tough and extremely reliable, but by 1969 was verging on obsolescence.

smysterThe French Super Mystère was Europe’s first supersonic fighter, but by 1969 was also showing its age, despite its good performance in the Middle East. It was liked by Israeli pilots and fought in the 1967 Six-Day War and it was said to be a decent counter to the MiG-19. During this conflict, Super Mystères achieved a number of air victories: two IL-14, one MiG-17 and two MiG-21s.

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Many would argue the Mach 2 F-104 Starfighter deserves a higher ranking, but the fact USAF did not use it as a fighter is revealing.  That most operators used the aircraft in the fighter-bomber or maritime attack role point to the type’s limitation as a pure fighter, notably its infamously poor agility. It speed was exceptional, its armament decent and it had a large cockpit with excellent visibility for the pilot. Its combat record was at best mediocre: on 6 September 1965, a Pakistani F-104 may have shot down an IAF Dassault Mystère IV and damaged another (though this claim is disputed). The PAF lost one F-104 Starfighter during the 1965 operations, and achieved two kills (however, one of the F-104 Starfighter’s victims was a portly Breguet Alize of the Indian Navy, hardly the most challenging opponent). Later, in the 1971 war, it was trounced by the MiG-21.

On 13 January 1967, four Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force F-104G aircraft engaged 12 MiG-19s of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force over the disputed island of Kinmen. Two MiG-19s were destroyed, one of the F-104s did not return to base and its pilot was claimed as MIA.

7. Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter Schmued’s Switchblade’

Northrop F-5E

Though relegated to the fighter-bomber role in US hands, the F-5 was an extremely capable air-to-air fighter, in which role it served with several air forces in 1969 (including Taiwan).  In this role it is closely comparable, and in some ways superior, to the MiG-21. Later Soviet studies of captured F-5s  revealed the type to have superior manoeuvrability to the MiG-21, and more benign low speed and high angle of attack handling characteristics.

Armament: Two Pontiac M39A2 20-mm cannon

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6. English Electric Lightning ‘The Double Decker’

The fastest climbing and one of the most agile fighters on this list, the Lightning also boasted the best acceleration and highest service ceiling. The Lightning was a rocketship; everything was sacrificed for performance, notably endurance and the number of missiles. Though it is the received wisdom that the F2A was the best model, former Lightning pilot Ian Black noted to HushKit that this is maybe a myth, and though the F2A was the best for low level air defence over Germany, the best all-rounder was probably the F6. In an interview with Hush-Kit, pilot Ian Black noted the following aspects of life in the Lightning, “Lack of fuel was the obvious one. From a handling point of view it was gloriously over-powered, something few aircraft have. With its highly swept wing and lack of any manoeuvre /combat flaps or slats the aircraft was often flown in the ‘light- heavy buffet’ which masked any seat-of-the pants feeling of an impending stall. It actually had few of the traditional ‘vices’ but could be a handful on landing with its big fin and drag chute, which made the aircraft weathercock on a strong crosswind landing. Tyres were also by necessity very thin to fit into the wing and high pressure, so didn’t last long.”

The Lightning was superior to the F-4 in dogfight, a British Phantom pilot we spoke to opined that “You have to take advantage of the things that work for you and don’t work for him. He can out-turn you, he can out-climb you, but he ain’t going to be able to do it for very long. You can see him from a long distance, so you can get your shots off without him even seeing you. If that failed, it would be best to remain unseen. You wouldn’t voluntarily get into a turning gunfight with a Lightning, as you’re probably going to lose. Then whoever runs out of fuel first – and it’s probably him- has lost the fight. He’s got to bug out. As I said, take advantage of your own strengths and exploit the weaknesses of your opponent.”

The Lightning was never proven in combat.

Armament: Two Redtop or Firestreak missiles and/or 2/4 30-mm ADEN cannon (variant dependent)

 

5. Saab Draken J-35 Draken ‘Delta Berserker’

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Delta wings, a data-link, a Mach 2 top speed, the ability to operate from short runways and an infra-red search and track sensor are common features for 21st century fighters but the Swedish J-35F(2) was boasting these back in 1969. It was also rumoured to have the lowest radar cross section of its generation (the MiG-21 is another likely contender for this title). The Draken was a sneak preview into the future, remarkably it did all this with half the thrust of the Lightning (the Draken had one Avon, the British aircraft two). The Draken was neither combat proven nor very agile, though uncoupling the flight control could allow pilots to perform what would later be known as the ‘Cobra’, a dramatic manoeuvre in which the nose is raised momentarily beyond the vertical position, before dropping back to normal flight. Whereas the Falcon missile had a bad reputation in US service it is believed that the Swedish version, the Rb 28 with its unique seekerhead, was a superior weapon. The J-35F(2) variant was the most capable Draken in 1969.

Armament: 4 x Rb 28 Falcon or 4 x Sidewinder + 1 x 30-mm ADEN (some variants 2 x 30-mm ADEN) cannon

4. Mikoyan MiG-21 ‘Fishbed‘ – ‘Soviet switchblade’

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This particular MiG-21 shot down 14 aircraft during the Vietnam War

Fast, agile, tough and small – the MiG-21 was an excellent dogfighter and the most produced supersonic jet fighter in history, with a staggering 11,000 produced in total. The mainstay of the Warsaw Pact air forces, it served with an unparalleled 56 air arms. The lightweight Mach 2 MiG fought in Vietnam and the Middle Eastern wars. In 1969 the most capable ’21 was the SM, a comprehensively upgraded (M = Modernizirovannyy ) MiG-21S using the R13-300 engine and with a built-in GSh-23L cannon, as well as a considerably updated avionics package. The type’s greatest weaknesses were a poor endurance and lack of a medium-range weapon. When ex-MiG-21 pilot Air Marshal M Matheswaran (retd) spoke to Hush-Kit he noted the type’s fantastic acceleration, electric instantaneous turn rate and tiny radar cross section. The Soviet Union had produced a small, cheap and rugged type that could take on the best fighters of the West, a remarkable achievement.

Armament: 1 x  GSh-23L cannon, two K-3 or K-13 missiles

3. Dassault Mirage III ‘Le Triangle Fantastique’

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The Mirage III proved itself devastatingly effective in Israeli hands in the 1960s. The French fighter was a dependable jack of all trades, according to Mirage III pilot Gonzalo O’Kelly,   The Snecma Atar 9C was a very reliable engine, very resistant to compressor stalls and almost immune to flame out in flight. It was very easy to fly if you had enough speed, and stable around its envelope. We always flew with two supersonic fuel tanks but the aircraft behaviour was very docile. It was also very strong. It had a landing gear that would have been strong enough for carrier landings and it wasn’t unusual to see 30 people over the wings and fuselage posing for a photo. We didn’t need any ground support to start the engine, which was very good for detachments. It was very good at accelerating in a dive, no aircraft of that time could follow us. The aerodynamics were excellent but designed for high speed.” Counting against the Mirage were its relative lack of power, claustrophobic & cluttered cockpit and limited armament. According to Israeli sources, during the Six Day War of 1967, a mere twelve Mirage IIIs shot down 48 Arab aircraft. 

Armament: 2 x 30-mm DEFA cannon, 2 x Matra R.550 Magic AAMs plus 1× Matra R.530 AAM

2. Vought F-8 Crusader ‘The Last Gunfighter’

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The US Navy adage, “When you’re out of Crusaders, you’re out of fighters” speaks volumes. The Crusader was an agile, responsive hotrod beloved by its pilots. Unencumbered by the weight that the long range fleet defence origins had imposed on its service rival the F-4, the Crusader was a superior dogfighter. Vought wrapped the smallest lightest airframe around the most powerful engine, gave the pilot excellent visibility and created a machine that was a delight to fly and devilishly hard to beat in a dogfight. The Crusader also carried internal guns throughout its career, a dangerous omission on earlier Phantoms, which earned the F-8 the nickname, ‘The Last Gunfighter’. According to its pilots it was ‘simply unbeatable’ in the merge, though the Crusader had an inferior armament and radar to the larger F-4. Aerodynamically the French F-8E(FN) was superior to other variants, with significantly increased wing lift due to greater slat and flap deflection and the addition of a boundary layer control — and enlarged stabilators.  The US F-8L was probably the best equipped variant at this time.

Armament: 4 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Colt Mk 12 cannons in lower fuselage, 125 rpg, 2 × side fuselage mounted Y-pylons for mounting AIM-9 Sidewinders

 

  1. McDonnell Douglas Phantom II ‘Big Ugly’
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No surprises for the top spot, the fabulous Phantom was a vast ugly battleship of a fighter, quite unlike anything else flying. The Phantom had twice the air–to-air weapon load of any other aircraft on this list, and as the F-4J, had a radar that was far superior to anything else. The Phantom also had an excellent range, was exceptionally tough and had the benefit of a two-man crew. It was the most powerful fighter on the list, with almost 36,000Ib of reheated thrust. Choosing the most formidable Phantom variant of the time is trickier — it’s a toss-up between the F-4J with its (at the time) unique ability to ‘look down’ and ‘shoot down’ (its new fangled pulse doppler radar denied opponents the liberty of hiding from radar by flying low) and the internal gun toting F-4E. Though the  F-4J and F-4E were technically the most formidable Phantoms of ’69, they had yet to score a kill — and both would have to wait to be blooded in air combat (the former scored its first kill in 1970, the latter in ’72).

(It should be noted that the Royal Navy’s F-4K was also well-equipped.)

Disadvantages of the Phantom included a large size and smoky engines that made the aircraft easy to acquire visually, in this interview Gonzalo O’Kelly noted, “it was very easy to spot Phantoms from 6 or 7 miles because that huge black smoke trail that their engines left behind (except in afterburner) and because it was a big bird.” Flown and fought carefully by well-trained battle-hardened crews the Phantom was devastatingly effective and was certainly the best fighter in the world in the last year of the 1960s. The Phantom was responsible for 147 aerial victories in the Vietnam War, far more than any other US type.

USAF (not including other US arms) F4 Summary for Vietnam War action
Aircraft Weapons/Tactics MiG17 MiG19 MiG21 Total
F4C AIM7 Sparrow 4 0 10 14
AIM9 Sidewinder 12 0 10 22
20 mm gun 3 0 1 4
Maneuvering tactics 2 0 0 2
F4D AIM4 Falcon 4 0 1 5
AIM7 Sparrow 4 2 20 26
AIM9 Sidewinder 0 2 3 5
20-mm gun 4.5 0 2 6.5
Manoeuvring tactics 0 0 2 2
F4E AIM7 Sparrow 0 2 8 10
AIM9 Sidewinder 0 0 4 4
AIM9+20-mm gun 0 0 1 1
20-mm gun 0 1 4 5
Manoeuvring tactics 0 1 0 1
Total 33.5 8 66 107.5

Armament: 1x 20-mm M61 rotary cannon (F-4E) + 4 AIM-9C + 4 AIM-7E2

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Thank to the following people who kindly offered advice and valuable opinions in the creation of this article: Former Lightning pilot Ian Black, Jon Lake, Dave Donald, Steve Trimble, Thomas Lovegrove, former F-15 pilot Paul Woodford and Mihir Shah. 

Top fighters of 1985 here. Top fighters of 1946 here. Top fighters of 2018 here. Top fighters of 1918 here

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(Reality does not confirm to a top ten, so while our panel has taken considerable consideration in choosing the rankings the type’s relative position are to some extent arbitrary with each excelling in certain ways and lacking in others. Dedicated interceptors, such as the F-106, Su-15 and MiG-25 were excluded from selection. The Hunter, F-100 and F-86 were very close to making this list. The A-4 was disqualified on role allocation, likewise the F-105, despite 27.5 kills)

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Interview with a British F-35B Lightning II pilot: Semper Fidelis to Semper Paratus

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RAF Wing Commander Scott Williams is currently flying the F-35B Lightning II, the world’s most advanced fighter, with the US Marine Corps. We interviewed him to find out more about what is also the world’s most controversial aircraft. 

What were your first impressions of the F-35B? Technologically mind-blowing and a true engineering marvel.  As a pilot it flies extremely smoothly and the handling is exceptional, especially when converting flight regimes to slow speed or jet-borne modes; that transition is almost imperceptibly smooth with no adverse characteristics.  High angle-of-attack manoeuvring is very easy and forgiving, with excellent nose and flight control ‘authority’ throughout.  Power is very apparent with impressive acceleration in dry power on take-off.

Which three words would you use to describe the F-35B?  Lethal; Game-changing (I consider that one word!); Growth.

“‘…fighting the F-35 is like going into a boxing match and your opponent doesn’t even know you’re in the ring yet!’”

What are the greatest myths about the F-35B? That it isn’t operational; that stealth doesn’t ‘work’; that external stores on F-35 defeats the point of its design.

What are the best and worst things about the aircraft? The best thing is how quickly and effectively the F-35 allows the pilot to make decisions – fusing sensor and other data from onboard and off-board sources to display what’s out there and what’s going on.  Worst thing? I’d like a bit more fuel but what pilot doesn’t?!

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. This site is in peril as it is well below its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. A huge thank you if you have already donated and apologies for interrupting your read.

Have you flown basic fighter manoeuvres against Typhoons (or any other types) if so, how did the aircraft do? I haven’t flown BFM in the F-35B against Typhoon or other types (yet!) but I’m sure I will soon.

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Though the aircraft is not designed primarily as a WVR ‘dogfighting’ platform -and this may not be a desirable way to fight- how would it do in this respect? Pretty darn well, but there are so many factors that determine the outcome of a WVR fight; pilot proficiency, situational awareness, missile capabilities, countermeasures…every one of these things make a difference but if one were to postulate that in 1000 BVR engagements only a few would likely end up in a WVR fight, you need to ask yourself where you should invest the money, proportionally.  Designing a lightweight dogfighter was arguably relevant in the 1970s as fly-by-wire tech gave birth to increasing (super)manoeuvrability; today it isn’t anywhere near as important but still cool for air shows.

Can the aircraft currently work communicate well with Typhoons, what are the considerations in working together? I won’t talk about what we do with Typhoon but the communications have been tested on trials and they work.  I’d say a generic consideration for working latest generation fighters with legacy platforms is ensuring you understand their capabilities and limitations.

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What is your most memorable mission in the F-35B? There are a few, but the one that stands out for me has to be my first STOVL flight.  Comparing the aircraft to the Harrier first-hand was a unique privilege and genuinely brought a smile to my face. I think the UK and US teams who developed the STOVL Control Laws (CLAW), and the pioneering research from the VAAC Harrier and test pilots, were responsible for a huge triumph. Boscombe Down, take a bow!

What’s the best thing about the sensors? How they interact and complement each other with sensor fusion.  For 15 years I’ve flown aircraft that need a targeting pod strapped on – these things were normally only bought in limited numbers so you’d get to use them on specific events.  Having a targeting pod on every single F35 (the EOTS – Electro-Optical Targeting System) is hugely beneficial for training in all missions.

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How good is the situational awareness compared to other aircraft you have flown and how does that change things? Nothing compares to it.  Nothing.  And information  changes everything.  When you look at Boyd’s well-known OODA loop, traditionally the hardest things are to answer ‘what’s out there’, ‘what’s it doing’, ‘what do I need to do’.  That decision loop can cause paralysis which can lead to a quick demise in a combat fight.  F-35 helps enormously in this regard and allows the pilot to act rather than react – reacting is what we’ll make the enemy do. Constantly.

When will the British have a combat capable F-35 force? The UK has a combat capable F-35 force today and declared Initial Operating Capability very recently, so are able to deploy on combat operations at any point from herein. The Block 3F capability is highly combat capable, despite what you may wish to believe or what is written by a number of prominent bloggers.

What would you change about the F-35B? Across all three variants the B does has the least fuel, but I believe it makes up for that with the ability to operate from the QE Carriers, bases with much shorter runways (~3000ft, predominantly for a re-supply tactical AT platform), or even other nations’ carriers when required.

How does its reliability and ease of maintenance compare with other aircraft you’ve flown? Most of the previously reported reliability issues have been software-related in my experience.  Maintenance is logical and designed to be as straightforward as possible but the still maturing F-35 global sustainment enterprise results in delays in supplying spares to a high number of demanding customers and countries.  With 8.6+ million lines of software code, this aircraft is many times more complex in how it operates compared to a Typhoon (or even an F-22 Raptor) but the latest software and hardware combinations in Block 3F have resulted in improved reliability for sure!

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Will a F-35B  fly the close support mission in a different way to a GR4 or Typhoon?  F-35 will be able to fly the mission in a much more hostile and contested airspace than a GR4 and Typhoon by virtue of its low observable capabilities. However, the rudiments of how a pilot conducts CAS do not necessarily change that much but differences in platform sensor capabilities are an example.  It’s well documented that F-35 does not currently have a CCD capability in the EOTS so we’re restricted to infra-red only.  That’s something I’d like to see improved soon in impending upgrades and it’s ‘in the plan’ so to speak.  Expanded weapons integration in future will also open the variety of effects that we can give the ground commander too.

Do you like the helmet system?  The HMD is a truly incredible piece of kit because it really does bring a further dimension to the situational awareness for the pilot.  If you then consider the built-in Night Vision Camera and ability to project full-coverage IR imagery of the outside world no matter where you point your head, the ability to point or cue a weapon quickly by day or by night is a great capability.

What should I have asked you? What’s it like working closely with the US Marines!  It’s awesome – those guys and girls work like Trojans to achieve the mission and we have a close relationship building for cooperation in future.

Interview with an RAF Typhoon pilot here

How would you rate its BVR capabilities?  Second to none really.  First to see is first to shoot, is first to kill.  I recently heard a comment from someone that ‘…fighting the F-35 is like going into a boxing match and your opponent doesn’t even know you’re in the ring yet!’  I like that comment because our lethality is enhanced by being able to deliver the killer or knock-out blow to our opponents before they get enough awareness on what’s going on to prepare or do something about it.

How would you rate its ground attack and recce abilities compared to the GR4 or Typhoon? We only have Paveway IV currently, however this will expand with SPEAR 3 and other weapons in future but the single weapon option is a bit of a limitation of sorts right now, even though PWIV is an excellent weapon that’s proven itself against our enemies time and again.  There is also potential for UK to procure the GAU-22/A Gun Pod if needs be and the USMC have already employed it.  The variety of recce options on F-35 are good – from EOTS (IR) to DAS, to Radar Mapping, we have a true all-weather and, in many cases, multi-spectral recce capability.  However, F-35 isn’t a dedicated “recce” platform so you can perhaps understand why there’s no pod like the RAPTor on Tornado as an example.

Interview with a MiG-25 pilot here

Tell me something I don’t know about the F-35B. “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you”…

What is your rank and with which air arm do you serve?  Wing Commander, Royal Air Force

What is your unit? Currently VMFAT-501 (USMC F-35B Fleet Replacement Squadron or FRS).  However, this year all of my Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Instructor Pilots (IPs), Engineers and Mission Support staff will form the nucleus of 207 Squadron at RAF Marham on 1 July 2019, and we will also fly our aircraft back to the UK later that month.

Which types have you flown?  Harrier GR7/GR9; Tornado GR4 (post-SDSR10, after Harrier was retired early) and I now fly the F-35B Lightning and instruct both US Marine and UK students on VMFAT-501.

Interview with a B-52 pilot here 

Why was 207 Sqn chosen for the F-35B?  Will the RAF and RN share F-35s? The choice was intentional — and was made due to the fact that 207 originated as 7 (Naval) Squadron, RNAS, in 1916.  When the independent RAF was born on 1 April 1918 and subsumed RNAS and RFC squadrons, 7(N) re-badged to become 207 Sqn.  So the number plate was purposefully chosen to have both Naval and Air Force lineage.  We don’t ‘share’ the F-35B Lightning like one might share a car with a friend or partner.  Instead the Lightning Force – and by that I specifically mean the aircraft, its personnel, equipment and support infrastructure – is all jointly-manned by serving Royal Navy and RAF personnel, including our vital civilian and reservist staff who make up what we call the ‘Whole Force’.

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. This site is in peril as it is well below its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. A huge thank to those who have already donated — and apologies for pestering you again.

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