The 450+ Club: Piston-engined warplanes (and one racer) that went beyond 450 miles per hour

F8F Bearcat: An Engine With a Saddle

Whether by massive brute force, beautifully sleek aerodynamic form or a combination of both, a small number of piston-engined aircraft achieved flight speeds of over 450mph. These speeding monsters were the ultimate expression of the high-performance piston aircraft.

Hughes XF-11 (1946)

Top speed: 450mph

Mikoyan-Gurevich I-225 (1944)

Mikoyan/Gurevich I-225 - fighter

Top speed: 451mph

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk 24 (1946)

Top speed: 454 mph

Martin-Baker MB 5 (1944)

Martin-Baker MB 5 - Wikipedia

Top speed: 460 mph

Grumman F7F Tigercat (1943)

F7F Tigercat - Wikimedia Commons

Normal top speed: 460 mph

Messerchmitt Me 209 (1938)

Top speed: 469mph

Focke-Wulf Ta 152H (1944)

472 mph with nitrous oxide boost

De Havilland Hornet (1944)

472 mph

Dornier Do 335 (1943)

Top speed: 474mph

Heinkel He 100 (1938)

Normal top speed: 420 mph

Maximum achieved: 466 mph

Did it enter service? No

Republic XF-12 Rainbow (1946)

Republic's Fleeting Masterpiece: The Stunning XF-12 Rainbow

Top speed: 470 mph

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

North American XP-82 Twin Mustang (1945)

Top speed: 482 mph

Hawker Fury/Sea Fury (1944/45)

Hawker Fury I (Sabre-Powered) Fighter | Old Machine Press

Top speed: 483mph (Sabre Fury)

(Centaurus Sea Fury – in race mod, 510+ mph)

Supermarine Spiteful (1944)

Vickers Supermarine Spiteful | BAE Systems | United Kingdom

Normal top speed: 483 mph (Seafang naval variant 475 mph)

Republic XP-72 (1944)

Republic XP-72 Super Thunderbolt / Ultrabolt Fighter | Old Machine Press

Normal top speed: 490 mph

Maximum achieved: 494 mph

Republic XP-47J Superbolt (1944)

Republic XP-47J Superbolt Fighter | Old Machine Press

Top speed: 504mph

Grumman Bearcat (1944)

Normal top speed: 455 mph

Maximum achieved: (Rare Bear racer) 528.315 mph

North American P-51 Mustang (1940)

Normal top speed: 440mph

P-51H: 487mph

Maximum achieved: average speed of 554.69 mph+ for Voodoo racer derivative



Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet

465 mph – probably not tested to this speed

Kyushu J7W Shinden

470 mph often quoted (probably an unofficial estimate)

Hongdu K-8: Pilot review of China’s Kick-ass Karakorum jet trainer

File:Pakistan Air Force Sherdils Karakorum K-8.jpg

We spoke to former PAF Mirage pilot Fahad Mahsood about flying China’s superb K-8 advanced trainer with the Pakistan Air Force.

Describe the K-8 in three words…
Energetic – Powerful – Sustained
What was its role and was it successful?
It is still in used in the PAF and a few countries in the world like Pakistan Air Force, PLA Air Force, Egyptian Air Force, Myanmar Air Force. Extremely successful in the role it plays in transitional training from slow-speed trainers to high-speed fighter aircraft.
What’s the best thing about it?
Its thrust-to-weight ratio is excellent due to its turbofan engine. Engine response is also comparatively a lot better than a lot of jets due to its axial flow compressor.

…and the worst?
Its landing gear lever is too ‘light’ for military standards

What is the cockpit like?
Ergonomically sound and comfortable.

How would you rate it in the following:
A. Instantaneous turn
B. Sustained turn
10 😉
C. Climb rate
10 – Excellent!
D. Ease to fly
E. Performance
10 – Does extremely well for the purpose of advanced jet training in both air-to-air and air-to-ground capacity

Pakistan Air Force at Dubai airShow 2011 with JF-17 Thunder, K8 and Super  Mashak aicraft 1411114

What are the biggest myths about the K-8?
Relatively new aircraft, hence no myths… an open and shut case!

Tell me something I don’t know about the K-8
Its Chinese name is Hongdu JL-8 (Nanchang JL-8)

What should I have asked you?
About its tailslide manuever. Used to go vertical till 0 knots and then let the jet fall on one side, build speed and recover.

Fahad Mahsood

How well equipped is it? What avionics does it have?
For training and introductory purpose to air combat and air to ground weapon delivery, very well equipped. Two CFDs (MFDs) give a valid introduction to the student pilots as a pre-LIFT profile.

What was it like to fly the first time?
Fast! Transitioning from a T-37 to this. Mark difference in engine and platform performance.

What systems did it lack?
Airborne intercept radar. Can make a mark difference for getting student pilots hands on to what’s to come next.

Pakistan Military Review: K-8 Karakorum Fighter Jet Trainer with Rocket &  Gun Pods

Top 12 fighter aircraft of 1949

If you were unlucky enough to still be flying a piston-engined fighter in 1949 you’d better hope your enemy didn’t have jets. The piston age was over. Though the ultimate piston-engined fighters were still serving they were now well out of their depth. The jet generation was just too fast to catch… but they were also very thirsty, short-ranged and extremely dangerous to fly.

1949 is an intriguing transitory period, many of the fighters you may have expected to be included hadn’t actually entered service yet, so no Tunnan, no F-94, no Venom, no Meteor F8, no CF-100, no Sea Hawk, no Saab 21R and, notably, nothing French. While the Arab–Israeli War (1948–1949) was little different to World War II in terms of the fighters types, with Spitfires and Bf 109 derivatives, a new age of aerial warfare was about to explode. The best of 1949 would not have to wait long for a baptism of fire in the unforgiving skies of Korea.

12. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-9 ‘Unwell Fargo

Mig-9 LEM - LSM Work In Progress - Large Scale Modeller
The horrible and extremely ugly MiG-9.

The I-300 had been the first Soviet pure jet to fly, a winning coin toss deciding its place in history in favour of the Yak-15 (which flew later on that same day in 1945). It was a horrible beast to fly, during a flight in 1946 it uncontrollably pitched down, crashed into the ground and killed its test pilot, A.N. Grinchik. He was replaced by the master test pilot Mark Gallai (a kind of Soviet Winkle Brown), who encountered the same pitch-down issue, which snapped one of the tailplanes off and ruptured the main fuel tank. Instead of bailing out, he made a remarkable, and successful, deadstick unpowered landing. Despite its many flaws, the I-300 was commissioned as a fighter, and assigned the designation MiG-9. The MiG-9 was predictably awful. One of its major issues was the engine flame-outs that occurred when the guns were fired at high altitudes. This was a major problem for a fighter. Its top speed of 537mph (slower than the I-300) was not great for a jet fighter, inferior to even the Me 262 clone Avia S-92. Still, it would have been fast enough able to run away from a Sea Fury. Its armament consisted of the hugely destructive Nudelman N-37 37-mm cannon and two Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 23-mm cannon. Though several advanced versions were tested, including one fitted with an afterburner capable of 600mph, they were not pursued. As soon as the superior MiG-15 was on the scene, it soaked up almost all resources available to develop fighter aircraft, starving lesser aircraft like the MiG-9.

11. Avia S-92 TurbínaCzech your privilege’

Avia S.92 (Me-262 Czechoslovakia) - Other Nations - War Thunder - Official  Forum

On liberation, Soviet forces seized all the German tools, jigs and components for Me 262 production they found in Czechoslovakia. These extremely useful scavenged parts were gifted to the new Czechoslovakian government. Avia had enough parts to build 19 aircraft. There is some debate as to whether this small force was active in 1949 (some sources say 1950). But it is interesting to note that four years after the War, what was essentially a Me 262A was still an effective fighter. With a top speed of 560mph it could decide when to fight, even against the most potent piston-engined fighters in service such as the Sea Fury, Twin Mustang, Bearcat and Sea Hornet. The inclusion of the S-92 above the finest piston-engined is debatable, it could be said to depend on whether you want greater speed performance with shitty BMW 003s which nobody would trust to keep running for very long or better range and utterly reliable engines. In general, it is probably fair to say a pilot would have been safer in peacetime in the final piston aircraft, and safer in a dogfight in one of the early jets, with his superior speed enabling him to dictate whether to engage. It is on these grounds that the questionable S-92 and lamentable MiG-9 are chosen over the wonderful final aircraft of a dying generation.

The S-92 had the advantage of a swept wing, still a relatively novel feature for fighter aircraft of 1949. Yugoslavia expressed an interest, but with the arrival on the scene of new Soviet designs, this did not happen.

10. Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star ‘Dove from above’

Lockheed F-80C of the USAF Acrojets aerobatic display team

While the Bell P-59 was technically the US Army Air Force’s first jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the first to enter series production and see operational service.  The prototype XP-80 first flew on 8 January 1944 and within eighteen months, the type was series production.  The P-80A reached Squadron service by the end of 1945 and continued to fly alongside the newer P-80B for the next few years.  The P-80As and Bs were both developed during wartime and funded through wartime contracts, but the next evolution, the P-80C (soon to be F-80C after June 1948) was the first Air Force type to reach production that was funded postwar. 

Top fighters of 1945 here

By 1949, the F-80 had racked up an impressive history.  With the blockade of Berlin in 1948, the 61st Fighter Squadron’s F-80Bs under 56th Fighter Group commander Col. Dave Schilling departed Selfridge Air Force Base on 12 July 1948 and headed across the Atlantic in order to protect the Allied aircraft of the Berlin Airlift.  The mobilization, known as Fox Able One proved a fighter squadron could self-deploy overseas on short notice.  When the squadron’s deployment ended in early summer 1949, Schilling led Fox Able Two, taking another squadron from the 56th across the Atlantic to replace them. 

The 36th Fighter Group followed the 61st FS to Europe by 13 August 1948 and by the 20th were established at Furstenfeldbruck, Germany.  The 36th spent the next eight months protecting Berlin Airlift aircraft from potential air threats from aggressive Russian pilots.   But that was not the 36th’s only mission while at Furstenfeldbruck.  During a training flight returning from Malta in 1949, members of the Group’s 22nd Fighter Squadron began practicing precision formation flying.  Upon returning to Germany, those 22nd FS pilots began practicing standard formation aerobatics in the F-80B and the Skyblazers were born.  The Skyblazers were actually the second USAF demonstration team, preceded by the stateside Acrojets a year prior.  The Acrojets began flying F-80As but transitioned to the F-80C in 1949. 

Top fighters of 1939 here

On the other side of the globe, Japan had become the Asian bulwark against Communist aggression, just as Germany had in Europe.  The 8th, 49th and 51st Fighter Groups were all flying F-80B and C models from bases on Okinawa and the Japanese home islands.  During the relatively calm days of 1949, the majority of Japan-based F-80s were arrayed against threats from newly Communist China, flying from Naha (51st) on Okinawa and Itazuke (8th) on the Japanese home islands.  On the northern end of Honshu, the 49th flying from Misawa AB focused its attention northward, as the closest fighter unit to the Soviet Pacific Fleet homeport of Vladivostok.   

The F-80 lineage diverged in 1949 with the first flight of the YF-94 Starfire on 16 April.  The new all-weather interceptor was the first Air Force type fitted with an afterburner, giving the aircraft up to 6000lbs thrust.  It also included a sophisticated fire control suite linked to a new air intercept radar controlled by the backseater.  The weapons officer in the back seat would run the radar and direct the pilot to his target at night or in bad weather.   

The F-80 of 1949 served in another distinct role as well.  Fitted with a pair of K24 cameras in place of the machine gun armament, the FP-80 and after June 1948, the RF-80, provided critical tactical reconnaissance duties with the 363rd stateside and Japan with the 8th Reconnaissance Squadron.   But due to peacetime budget constraints, the Air Force determined that reconnaissance squadrons were not critical infrastructure, and the 363rd Recon Group was deactivated in August 1949 after only two years of operation.  One of the 363rd’s squadrons, the 161st was reassigned to the 20th Fighter Group at Shaw AFB, where it continued on as one of the only two reconnaissance squadrons in the air force. 

In  1949, the Shooting Star still had somewhat of a technological edge, although that was rapidly fading as the F-84 and F-86 entered service.  Improvements in the engine, weapons, and avionics allowed it to stay competitive as an air superiority fighter, despite the relative maturity of the design.  The F-80 was not the fastest, nor the highest climbing, but it was good at what it did, both as an early interceptor and later as a fighter bomber.  Later designs like the F-84 and F-86 built on the lessons learned by the F-80 programme even as they fought alongside the Shooting Star just a year later. 

– Jonathan Bernstein

A 1948 fly-off assessment against the supposedly superior F-84C revealed that the older P-80 was more manoeuvrable, had a better low altitude climb rate and a shorter take-off run. It also was tough enough for rough field operation. The C model had greater firepower and more thrust than the B. With a top speed of 594mph, six fifty cal machine-guns and up to sixteen 127-mm unguided rockets it was not a fighter to be trifled with. But technology was moving so fast it would soon be easy meat for the MiG-15. Around half of the F-80C’s built would be lost to operational causes, 133 of the 277 lost would be destroyed by groundfire.

USAF Lt. Walter Rew waves to the crowd after winning the Allison air-race trophy 1949
USAF Lt. Walter Rew waves to the crowd after winning the Allison air-race trophy 1949.

9. Yakovlev Yak-23 ‘Flora’

Highly manoeuvrable, with brisk acceleration and a good climb rate, the Yak-23 was a decent design doomed to obscurity by the appearance of far superior designs. It enjoyed a good thrust-to-weight ratio at normal operating weights of 0.46, superior even to that of the F-86 (0.42) thanks to its Soviet-built Rolls-Royce Derwent V engine. Its small size and great manoeuvrability were hallmarks of designer Alexander Sergeyevich Yakovlev. He had pushed for a lightweight and small design against official recommendations (the Yakovlev bureau’s larger Yak-25 fighter had been cancelled, proving markedly inferior to the rival La-15 and MiG-15, and dangerously prone to buffeting). The Yak-23 was fast, a top speed of 575mph at sea level was good for 1949, and the ‘Flora’ – with its twin 23-mm cannon – would have proved a handful for almost any opponent.

It would later snatch a world climb record.

Yakovlev Yak-23 – AviationMuseum

8. Republic F-84D Thunderjet ‘Thunderjets are gauche’

By 1949, it was clear that Republic’s F-84 Thunderjet had failed to meet initial expectations. There had been hopes that the new Thunderjet would be a worthy successor to the mighty P-47 Thunderbolt – such that a contract for 25 YP-84As for evaluation and a further 75 production P-84Bs was placed even before the first prototype made its maiden flight on February 28th, 1946. But the type’s rehabilitation as a tough, fast fighter-bomber, combat proven in Korea, lay some way in the future, and in 1949 the Thunderjet was still in the process of working through a succession of teething troubles! The F-84B became operational with 14th Fighter Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine in December 1947, but within weeks was subject to a range of restrictions and limitations due to control reversal, and wrinkling of the fuselage skin. The F-84B was grounded on May 24th, 1948 after further serious structural problems were uncovered. The F-84C was powered by the much improved J35-A-13 engine, and featured fuel, electrical and hydraulic systems refinements, but both of these early models were judged unsuitable for their assigned role – neither being considered operational nor capable of executing any aspect of their intended mission. The J35 engines of the F-84B and F-84C had a 40 hour time between overhauls, preventing their use in Korea. The Thunderjet’s reputation was saved from ignominy by the service entry of the structurally improved F-84D in 1949. The F-84D’s wings had thicker aluminium skin, and the wingtip fuel tanks gained small triangular fins to relieve their tendency to cause excessive wing twisting (leading to structural failure) during high g manoeuvres. The further improved F-84E also entered service in 1949, with further reinforcement of the wings, a 12 in extension to the fuselage in front of the wings and a 3 in plug aft of the wings. The new variant had a roomier cockpit and enlarged avionics bay, and could carry an additional pair of 230 gallon fuel tanks underwing, extending the combat radius from 850 to 1,000 miles. Serviceability remained obstinately poor, however, and it would be another two years before the definitive plank-winged ’84, the F-84G, entered service. The Thunderjet did form the basis of the much better swept-wing F-84F Thunderstreak and RF-84F Thunderflash, but that is another story altogether

– Jon Lake, author of dozens of books about military aircraft

Top fighters of 1946 here

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

The F-84B and Cs had been a huge disappointment and it was only the promised improvements of the D variant that saved the type from the axe. The D entered service in 1949 with the improved J35-A-13 engine, and with a wealth of enhancements including greatly improved fuel, hydraulic and electrical systems. The Thunderjet was now pretty hot stuff. It could carry a greater bombload than the P-80, and was faster, with better high altitude performance and a greater range. With a top speed of 587 mph at 4,000 ft it was no slouch.

7. Gloster Meteor F. Mk 4 ‘Mr Mature’

With the definitive F.Mk 8 yet to enter service, the F.Mk 4 was the hottest Meteor in 1949. It was massively more powerful thanks to its two Nene V engines each pumping out an additional 50% greater thrust than the earlier Derwent IV engines of the later F.Mk 3s. In fact, it was so powerful it needed its wings strengthened to keep up with the extra speed. A new stronger clipped wing was introduced, which increased possible roll rates by 80 degrees a second and made the carriage of 2,000Ib of munitions on the wings possible. The F.Mk 4 was a full 80mph faster than the 3. A slightly modified* version of the F.Mk IV** snatched the world speed record in 1945 at over 606mph, a huge jump from the previous official record of 1939 469mph figure by the Messerschmitt Me 209 V1 (though several aircraft had gone faster since notably the Me 163 and 262, none had been officially recorded). With a top speed of 590mph, four 20-mm cannon in the nose and a ceiling of over 44,000 feet the Meteor F.Mk 4 was a machine to be respected, only let down by a thick unswept wing that limited its top speed. Despite first flying in 1945, the F.Mk 4 was not rushed into service. Britain had lost her lead.

*VHF mast and armament removed, high-speed finish applied to both aircraft. Painted yellow for the benefit of speed cameras **the RAF abandoned its rather pretentious and inconvenient use of Roman numbers for aircraft marks in June 1948)

6. McDonnell F2H Banshee ‘The Screaming Reborn Phantom’

During its first test flight, the nascent Banshee famously demonstrated a climb rate twice that of the F8F Bearcat, then the US Navy’s hottest interceptor. In August 1949 it set a US Navy jet fighter altitude record of 52,000 ft (16,000 m). Carrier jets were in their infancy; the first US example FH-1 Phantom had only made its first carrier landing three years earlier. The Banshee was a vastly improved and far larger fighter based on the Phantom. The Phantom had been the first jet aircraft concieved from the outset for shipboard operation, and was a case of an over zealous embrace of an immature technology – or to be kinder, a vital stepping stone. For a minute advantage in top speed over the best piston-engined rivals (it was a piffling 4mp faster than the British Hornet) it offered far greater peril and worse handling. Though it would mature into capable machine, in 1949 the Banshee was still suffering teething problems. In Wings of the Navy, the greatest British test pilot Eric Brown rated the Banshee F2H-2 as inferior to the Meteor IV. The large Banshee rectified most of the Phantom’s shortcomings and at 580mph had decent top speed, but in 1949 it was not the capable machine it would later become.

5. de Havilland Vampire FB.5 ‘Bantamweight bloodsucker’

Image: BAE Systems.  DH100 Vampire FB.5 (VV217) air-to-air on 8th March 1949

Shortly after World War 2, the RAF decided to embrace the Meteor as its standard day fighter. This left de Havilland at something of a loose end until they decided to promote the Vampire’s potential as a ground attack aircraft. Having convinced the authorities this would be a good idea a few changes had to be made to accommodate the change in operating altitude. The wings were strengthened with extra stringers and thicker skins. They also had wiring for rocket rails and bomb racks fitted to augment the four 20-mm cannon. Perhaps more drastically a foot was cut from each tip which improved low-altitude manoeuvrability and made the ride smoother. This arguably also made probably the world’s cutest jet fighter even cuter. As a nod to the ground attack role some armour was added around the engine, which was hopefully some comfort to the pilots given it was found to be impossible to fit an ejector seat in the snug cockpit. At least not if he wanted to keep his arms. In 1947 the new model was designated the Vampire FB5, which gives an average of a Mark every 9 months since the Vampire’s first flight. Which is less time than it can take to get a warning label moved these days. By December of the following year No. 16 Squadron started to receive aircraft to become the first operational squadron. The FB5 of 1949 was a punchy ground attack aircraft that was still able to take on enemy fighters after delivering its payload. That could be up to two 500lb or 1000lb bombs and eight rockets, which compares well with what the Harrier was delivering during the Falklands Conflict. Although in the latter case the rockets were probably more accurate than the WW2 era 60lb models the Vampire used which, if the pilot was lucky, went in the general direction they were pointed without damaging the aircraft. With an endurance of around two hours or 1,000 nautical miles it didn’t suffer the small bladder issue of other early jets even if the pilots might. Its relative simplicity and ruggedness also made it capable of rapidly redeploying to a new base if required. Indeed, by late ’49 No. 6 Squadron were based at Deversoir in the Canal Zone while deploying to remote airfields around the Middle East. Although not quite as fast or exciting as some of the jets in service in 1949, and still featuring a wooden fuselage, the Vampire benefited from several years of development making it a more complete aircraft than any of its competitors.

Plus, did I mention how cute they were? Though tasked as fighter-bomber, the Vampire could eat the Meteor in a dogfight. Vampire pilots enjoyed excellent visibility out from the bubble canopy (except in rain), and were enamoured of the tiny fighter’s benign handling characteristics. With lighter ailerons than the Vampire F.3, the FB.5 had a sparkling roll rate at higher altitudes, probably better than any other aircraft on this list. Its rate of turn was also superb, as was its turn radius: the FB5 could turn in three-eighths of a mile (the Meteor needed a whole mile) at 5,000 feet altitude, which increased to one mile at 35,000 feet (again smashing the Meteor, which required 1.7 miles). In 1948 a Vampire reached the astonishing altitude of 59,430 ft, setting a world record. Not bad for a fighter type first flown in 1943. The FB.5 Vampire had a top speed of 548mph, outrageous agility and powerful armament in the form of four 20-mm short barrel Hispano cannon.

– Bing Chandler/Joe Coles 

4. Grumman F9F-2 Panther ‘Panther Burns’


F9F Panther in flight

Like the Army Air Force, the Navy’s experience with jet aircraft started during World War II.  Due to Naval Aviation’s unique requirements, the Navy experimented with a few different types including composite airplanes like the Ryan FR-1 Fireball, which used both jet and piston engines.  The McDonnell FH-1 Phantom became the Navy’s first pure jet powered airplane, first taking to the air in June 1945.  But just two years later, it was deemed obsolete and relegated to a training role. That same year, the Grumman XF9F-1 took to the air for the first time.  Grumman had provided the bulk of the Navy’s fighters during World War II and was eager to continue the tradition. 

The new XF9F Panther had some initial teething problems but entered series production as the F9F-2 in 1948, with the first production models reaching the fleet in the Spring of 1949.  VF-51 stood up in May and by summer the squadron was headed to the USS Boxer (CV-21) for carrier qualification.  The squadron completed carrier quals by September and was declared operational. 


The Panther was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J42 (manufacturer designation JT-6B), a license-built version of the British Rolls Royce Nene, that produced 5000lbs of non-afterburning thrust.  The J42 gave the straight-wing Panther a top speed of 575mph, which was significantly slower than the Russian MiG-15 which was powered by roughly the same engine; a reverse engineered Nene designated the VK-1. 

Unlike the Air Force’s F-80, which was originally designed as an interceptor and then evolved into an interceptor, the Panther had been built as a fighter bomber.  It was armed with four AN/M3 20mm cannon with 190 rounds per gun and was capable of carrying 3,000lbs of bombs and rockets for close support and interdiction work.  This capability was critical for the next squadron qualified in the type; the Marines’ VMF-115, who along with VMF-311 would take the type into combat alongside Navy squadrons the following year.  F9F-2B BuNo 123526, on exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps would lead the first Marine Corps jet combat mission in Korea on 10 December 1950. 

While 1949 was a significant year for the Panther’s introduction to squadron service and the first mass production of a Navy jet fighter, another significant development that would improve the design also occurred that year.  The F9F-5 first took to the air in December 1949 and offered significantly better low-speed handling characteristics, which greatly improved landing approaches.  The newer model was lengthened by sixteen inches and housed the more powerful J48 engine, producing nearly 2000lbs more thrust than the J42.  The F9F-5 would be the ultimate version of the straight-wing Panther, reaching squadron service by the end of 1950 and entering combat just over a year later. The Panther would go on to score the first jet-versus-jet kill.

Jonathan Bernstein is an aviation author, historian, former attack helicopter pilot and Arms & Armor Curator at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. You can buy his book on P-47s here


The Panther was developed following the entirely unsatifactory study of a four-engined Grumman two-seat night fighter. The new design was small, tough and agile. Like the MiG-15 and some Vampire variants, the Panther was powered the British-designed Nene turbojet, licence produced in the US as the Pratt & Whitney J42. The F9F-4 model was delivered from late 1949 but did not enter operational service that year, it included the fuselage extension of the -5 without the powerplant upgrade. The -5 also made its first  flight in ’49 but was in not service. It featured an Allison powerplant, the J33-A-16, which featured water injection to boost take-off thrust. In this time the Panther was more mature than the Banshee, and offered very similar capabilities (including the same armament) in a smaller airframe. Armed with four-cannon and ‘built like a Grumman’, it was tough sound design featuring the on-trend tip mounted fuel tanks (‘tiptanks’). 

3. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15

MIG-15 | – military experts. unites the best!

In 1949 every preening fighter pilot* in the Soviet Union wanted to fly the MiG-15. A wonder in polished aluminium with a bright red star on the tail it could achieve the almost unbelievable speed of 669 mph at Sea Level thanks to secret German research from the mid-40s that led to it having a wing swept to 35 degrees. Compared to the straight-winged MiG-9 or the piston-powered Yak-9 this was clearly the future. While the West were still getting to grips with putting the Nene engine into the comparatively conservative Sea Hawk and the positively pedestrian Attacker the Soviet Union was forging ahead by putting their ‘equivalent’ RD-45 into the MiG. It’s almost as if letting Rolls-Royce sell the Soviet Union 25 Nene for ‘civil use only’ was a mistake. In fact, the Sea Hawk was still four years from entering service while the Soviet honchos were enjoying the benefits of ejection seats, the decadence of air conditioning, and a maximum speed of Mach 0.92 to the Sea Hawk’s 0.84.

All was not totally rosy in the final year of the ‘40s however. At this stage in its career the MiG was only to be flown on fine days, while aerobatics or combat manoeuvring were out of the question. There were also a few teething problems, for instance, if you went too fast the lack of quality control on the production line would lead to uncontrollable rolling which initially had to be fixed with manual trim tabs added to the ailerons. This probably wasn’t helped by the lack of hydraulic assistance on the early MiG-15’s flying controls. Still at least the air brakes were hydraulic. Even if they caused the aircraft to pitch up when they were deployed and didn’t really slow the aircraft down enough.

Assuming the pilot managed to overcome these issues with a combination of luck and skill there were also slight issues with the armament. Although the choice of two 23-mm and one 37mm-cannon provided plenty of punch, the differing ballistics of the two rounds could make aiming tricky with one set of rounds going above the target and the other below.

The good comrades at MiG were aware of these shortcomings and even as the first aircraft were being delivered to the VVS they were preparing to produce the MiG-15bis which would feature stiffer wings, servos for the controls and effective airbrakes along with a host of other minor modifications. This however wouldn’t enter service until 1950. In 1949 the MiG-15 looked like the future while being a terrifying thrill ride that could appear barely under the pilot’s control.

The MiG-15 could out-turn, out-accelerate and out-climb the early Sabre. It was an utterly formidable machine. Early variants of the F-86 could not outturn, but they could outdive the MiG-15. The early MiG-15 was superior to the early F-86 models in ceiling, acceleration, rate of climb, and zoom. It had better high-altitude performance than the Panther or the P-80, and was faster by a hundred miles per hour.

* Is there any other sort?

Bing Chandler

2. Lavochkin La-15 ‘The unlucky Fantail’


The Lavochkin La-15 had superior manoeuvrability to the MiG-15, and with a top speed of 626 mph (some sources say 638 mph) was almost as fast. It had excellent handling chracteristics and was superbly reliable. It entered service in the VVS Autumn of 1949. It was smaller and lighter than the MiG-15 and did enjoy the stellar climb rate, though still climbed very well for the time. 

Lavochkin La-15 - Wikipedia

It was powered by the RD-500, essentially a Soviet-built British Derwent, and armed with two 23-mm NS-23 cannon. It was rather harder to produce than the MiG-15, relying on many milled parts, and this was a major factor in the Lavochkin’s relative lack of success – only 235 aircraft were produced. It remained in service until 1954. It was the beginning of the end for the Lavochkin design bureau fighter line that had been so vital to the Soviet Union’s war effort. Lavochkin La-200 flew in 1949 but failed to secure orders, as did the later La-250. Lavochkin was reborn as a creator of surface-to-air-missiles and spacecraft. Today, the company is working on the appallingly named Mars-Grunt space robot.

  1. North American F-86A Sabre ‘Jet spitfire’

An astonishing top speed of 679 mph at Sea Level and excellence in every category a fighter needs, North American Aviation did the almost impossible and built an aircraft even more outstanding for its generation than its P-51 Mustang, which first flew a mere seven years before the F-86.

The Sabre started life as a straight wing jet based on the even more staid FJ-1 Fury of the US Navy. By making it lighter North American Aviation managed to, just about, match the performance of the other aircraft submitted to the USAAF (which would become the USAF three weeks before the sound barrier was broken in 1947). Realising radical steps needed to be taken to come up with a winning design, they took the only logical step and like the Soviets used secret German research from the mid-40s. This led to the incorporation of a thinner wing swept to 35 degrees giving the resultant design the ability to go supersonic in a dive. So successful were these changes that if you’re the kind of person who likes winding people up and invoking the wraith of the Yeager crowd up you can argue the XP-86A and George Welch were first to break the sound barrier.

Interview with Sabre pilot here

The F-86A entered frontline service in February of 1949 with the 94th Fighter Squadron who also seem to have been instrumental in giving it the name ‘Sabre’. Despite barely being out of trials the Sabre was already a delight to fly. Unlike the MiG-15 it had hydraulic boost for the flying controls, was well enough put together to remain controllable as it approached and passed the sound barrier, and air brakes that were effective. Leading-edge slats also made it much safer to fly at low speeds. Together with the all-round visibility provided by the Sabre’s bubble canopy these factors would give it the edge against the MiG in combat even allowing for the latter’s better thrust-to-weight ratio.

The F-86A wasn’t quite perfect, unlike the E model introduced in 1951 it lacked a ‘flying tail’ arrangement where the entire tail surface acts as the elevator. Instead, it had conventional elevators while the tailplane’s incidence could be adjusted via the trim system. As aircraft approach the speed of sound air over the wing surfaces accelerates to above Mach one, this causes shock waves to form at the hinge lines of control surfaces. These shock waves blank the control causing it to be less effective. In the A model Sabre above Mach 0.97 this meant pitch control was almost entirely reliant on the trim. Indeed, if the elevator alone was used to pull out of a supersonic dive there were generally less rivets in it on landing. Still, this was a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent aircraft.

If the MiG-15 was a diamond in the rough in 1949, the Sabre was the finished product noted test pilot Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown even going as far as praising the ground handling and nose wheel steering system. – Bing Chandler

If you enjoyed this free article support The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes Vol 2 by pre-ordering your copy here. (link goes to volume 2 but you can find volume 1 on the same site)

The impossibility of choosing a favourite World War II aircraft

There are millions of World War IIs, and some are more fun than others. The one your grand – or great grandparent –fought or endured was probably the least fun, though a period of (say) six years always holds countless contradictions. The most enjoyable ‘version’ of World War II was the retelling that was born as propaganda and became cemented to the public psyche through model kits, Commando comics, 1960s cinema and other appealingly celebratory channels. With its moral certainty, sexy machines and thrilling destruction it was utterly appealing to children, and those children became adults.

Wherever a favourite or loved aeroplane is mentioned a person’s character is being judged – and along with it what they stand for. This is a terrifying situation so let us consider the matter. Here are some considerations when one attempts to answer the hardest question of all: ‘what is your favourite aeroplane of World War II?’

The Spitfire

Loving the Spitfire is like loving The Beatles. It is like loving coffee or beer, it is ubiquitous to the point of pointlessness. It seems to say little about who you are to love the Spitfire, especially if you are British. On the other hand, the Spitfire is utterly wonderful. Despite what contrarians so tiresomely insist, the Beatles wrote great songs and the Spitfire is stunningly beautiful. And it was a miracle of engineering. And it did have a part in saving many countries in World War II. But then again…

Military history, as an account looking at ‘things’ more than ‘people’, will always have a right-wing, left-brained bent, something not to everyone’s taste. The Spitfire, as known in Britain, is warm ale, clacking cricket bats and Conservative. This is at odds with the actual Spitfire pilots who spanned the entire political spectrum. 

What about the Hurricane?

You can spend about ten seconds on Twitter talking about Spitfires before someone will tell you the Hurricane was more important in the Battle of Britain. Vital yet underrated, the Hurricane is the Ringo Starr to the Spitfire’s John Lennon (to further confuse our Beatles’ analogy).

Oh wait, so which aircraft is Paul McCartney and George Harrison? Answers in the comments section, please. And do I have to stick to the Battle of Britain in this game? 

What now?

Then it gets even more complicated as you wonder if celebrating the aeroplane of a particular culture means consciously or unconsciously espousing something of that culture’s beliefs. It certainly makes things a little less comfortable when you spot a load of Wunderwaffe titles on someone’s bookshelf (though these have entered the mainstream recently). But that judgement is probably silly in some ways. Which War World II is this imagined lover of German WW2 aircraft living in anyway? Perhaps they are baddies in a sixties film in this person’s head. 


Veterans dug up a WWII bomber—in hopes of finding peace

The phenomenon of the ever-popular Lancaster Christmas cards shows the bizarre degree to which bombers have become cosy. As engineering, a Lancaster is amazing, a B-29 even more so. If one can look at them with a child’s eye we can enjoy the gun turrets, the quartet of roaring engines and the fraternal teamwork of the unlucky crews. Still, if fighters can be likened to flying knights, bombers seem more akin to flying human abattoirs. (note to self: may pitch flying abattoirs on Dragon’s Den). 

Radial or inline?

Single-engine World War Two fighters either looked like barrels or dogs. The inline fighters had lovely noble snouts like hunting hounds, whereas the radial fighters looked like barrels. More than that the radials looked like butch brawlers. Essentially, the inlines were flamboyant cavaliers and the radials hard-drinking rough and ready roundheads. There are exceptions to this rule, the inline Hawker Typhoon, for example, was an absolute fucking bruiser. This brings us neatly to the next quandary. 

Big or small?

Most of the Soviet fighters (and I make no apologies for being fighter-centric) were tiny, whereas many of the US types, especially later ones, were huge. A P-47 (see early wind tunnel model above) was more than twice the weight of a Yak-9: at around 17,000Ib all-up compared to a mere 7,500Ib for the Soviet machine. Do you support the plucky underdog or the muscleman? And what does that say about you?

Wilfully obscure 

What Is Witch House? | Beat

Any self-respecting muso appreciates the cachet of a working knowledge of Hungarian Witch House or West African Trumpetcore – knowing stuff others don’t can be an enjoyable (if unstable) source of self-esteem. This elitism happily fits into av-geekery: ‘what do you mean you’ve never heard of the Bichel-Zagnetova BZ-104?’. The problem with choosing these rare types is often there is a reason they are rare, and you are missing out on appreciating something magnificently capable and beautiful just because it is common. 

Update on the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes 

We’re now at the final design stages! I’ll share some pages with you at the first opportunity. CAN’T WAIT for the book to come out this year, all thanks to you. I want the production of the 2nd volume to be far swifter, which will be dependent on it reaching full funding in a decent timeframe (it’s currently at 31%). If you’re cautiously awaiting volume 1 before committing to the second I’d encourage you to take the plunge to ensure the fast arrival of the sequel. If you wish to support this and make it happen you can do it here. 

Happy New Year and a huge thank you for your support Xx

image source:

I took the Typhoon to war: Interview with RAF Wing Commander Mike Sutton

Fourship ingress to attack an IED factory

The Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 is the workhorse of the Royal Air Force’s air combat fleet, excelling in both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Starting life in 2003 as a dedicated interceptor, the fighter has matured into a well-equipped multi-role combat aircraft. We spoke to Wing Commander Mike Sutton about the Typhoon and his experiences of taking the aircraft to war.

What is the best and the worst thing about the Typhoon? 

The Typhoon has very few vices. I was a tactics instructor on the Jaguar previously, and even though everyone loved flying it, if you weren’t careful it had a very nasty bite. Of the two hundred Jags the RAF procured, sixty-nine were lost in accidents. The Typhoon is a generational leap. The thrust alone is insane. At 500 knots at low level it will accelerate while sustaining 9g. It’s a genuine multi-role platform. I’ve done the most challenging air-to-air sorties during RED FLAG, operational close air support, live quick reaction alert scrambles and air combat against modern fighters. It excels across the board. The four-nation programme is a blessing and a curse. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the jet is the time it takes to get agreement from all the nations for development. But when everyone is on the same page, the combined expertise, industrial resource and multi-nation investment make it a powerful combination.

What was your role in developing new tactics and operating procedures for multi-role aircraft? What have you learnt about this? 

I was lucky enough to be a weapons instructor on the first multi-role Typhoon Squadron as it formed. It was a hugely exciting time. There were experienced pilots from the Tornado F3, GR4, Harrier, Jags, Mirage 2000, F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 on the brand-new Force who all had extensive tactical experience. I needed an open mind as much as diplomacy and a thick skin, as a small team of us took the best ideas from everyone around and tried to forge a new way of operating. Out with the old and in with the new. Starting afresh also enabled us to throw away outdated ways of working and attitudes that had become entrenched over the years. We looked at it holistically – from how to brief and debrief, use of the simulators, best ways to teach and record tactical lessons, as well as how to fight the aircraft. It was an evolving process and as the months and years progressed we refined the tactics. New pilots had fresh ideas. You never stand still on a fighter squadron. As soon as you stop progressing, and you get complacent, you are in for a shock.

Royal Air Force Typhoon

Is Typhoon’s mechanically scanning radar an issue when compared with more modern radars? 

The CAPTOR has done a decent job, but the new AESA <due in service in the mid-20s> will be far better. Taking Beyond Visual Range missile shots is about far more than being able to see targets at long range on the radar. It’s about combat identification using all of the aircraft sensors – and fusing that data – as well as electronic warfare, datalinks, integration with other fighters, jamming, secure radios and missile performance. So it’s a system where all the components need to be operating seamlessly. The AESA will also bring enhanced capabilities with electronic attack and SAR, coordinate generation and surface target combat ID.

Is the voice control still used – and if so – is it useful? 

I didn’t use the pilot voice control that much. I can generally only do one thing at a time and found it easier to just use the HOTAS. But other pilots used it quite a lot for controlling the radar modes, and like everything on the Typhoon the integration improves with software upgrades. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was used extensively in the years ahead.

Is a non-stealthy aircraft still survivable in your opinion?

A country can’t just build a modern fighter and then relax for thirty years under the umbrella of its protection. It’s a constant process of threat evolution, countermeasure development, and counter-counter measure. The very idea of stealth itself is probably a misnomer too. Low observable jets are undoubtedly harder to target, but still vulnerable to passive detection, low-band radars and heat-seeking sensors. They are also much more costly to build and maintain, and often may make design compromises as they are honed for a particular role, and are limited to internal stores when exploiting their stealth. To use a car analogy, low observable is a little like a Formula One car. Very fast around a racetrack, but a rally car is better off-road. 

If you look at the USAF, USN carriers, Israeli and Australian Air Forces and the RAF, they all have a blend of low-observable and conventional platforms. The USAF is about to procure the F15EX. With a mix of conventional and low-observable you can generate mass and saturation, to enhance the low-observable platforms ability to get through to their targets. 

How does the Typhoon perform in BFM/DACT exercises against the F-22? Is one superior in WVR combat in your opinion – and why?

The F-22 is the best air dominance fighter in the world (but it doesn’t have much of a strike capability). At slow speed in a turning fight, its thrust vectoring provides exceptional manoeuvrability, which means it can outperform any other fighter on the planet, including the Typhoon. During the initial merge, if both aircraft were fast, then they would turn fairly equally. If the fight was fleeting, the Typhoon would benefit from the Helmet Mounted Sight, which surprisingly the F-22 does not have in its inventory. But perhaps the key point here is that the RAF will never have to fight in anger against a USAF F-22. Their time together is much better spent integrating and developing joint tactics where you learn to exploit the combined firepower of both platforms to lethal effect. We practised this routinely during exercises. 

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

Combat pilots are far more interested in the capabilities of potential adversaries, so the real question is how does Typhoon perform against modern fighter threats? It is too early to make a judgement about the Su-57 as it is barely out of development. Regarding Flanker, that is precisely what the new AESA, the existing Defensive Aids System and PIRATE IR sensor are for. International training exercises against Indian or Malaysian Flankers were extremely useful, and fully tested the skills of the pilots using the helmet-mounted sight and ASRAAM heat-seeking missile.

Flanker versus Typhoon?

(MoD crown image)

The jets are both very capable. I would say that, flown well, the Typhoon has an edge, but when you have two fighters that are similar in capability the outcome of air combat is more nuanced. 

In reality, a simple top-trumps answer doesn’t cut it. It depends on so many different factors, such as radar tenacity, performance of the jet at different speeds (E-M diagrams), sensor integration with the helmet, the sensitivity of the missile seekers, the IR background, pilot training and currency, aircraft fit, environmentals, merge altitude, radar clutter, aircraft jammers, IR countermeasures, disposition pre-merge. There are probably more! That’s why the role of the Qualified Weapons Instructors is so crucial in shaping the tactical advice to their Squadrons, and it’s so important that pilots get to practise their core skills with live flying. 

A Rafale pilot I interviewed said ‘Typhoon was a joke’ – what is your response to his view? 

Typhoon versus Rafale: The final word | Hush-Kit

There’s nothing like the confidence of a French fighter pilot! The Rafale and Typhoon are from a similar era, but backed by four nations and with five export customers the Typhoon has better growth potential. As the Boss of 1 Squadron we always had a French Rafale pilot on exchange, so I had a real insight into both platforms. For the air-to-air missions, an AESA equipped Typhoon with METEOR, AMRAAM-D and ASRAAM packs a powerful punch with the Helmet Mounted Sight and IRST (called PIRATE).

The Typhoon Force has also received upgraded Paveway 4 (penetrating warhead and moving target capability), which is a great weapon for Close Air Support in combination with Brimstone, which can also be used against fast inshore attack craft. For longer-range strikes, Storm Shadow and SPEAR 3 (the small, long-range, cruise missile) offer significant stand-off, precision, low collateral damage and electronic warfare capabilities. The Litening 5 targeting pods will offer high-definition imagery and a reconnaissance capability. And of course, there is the 27-mm cannon that I have fired in anger. With that weapon load-out you can take on any mission set. So my response to the French pilot, is that given the choice I would take the Typhoon every time.

SPEAR 3 is due to become operational in 2025.

Would you rather have ASRAAM, IRIS-T or AIM-9X under your wing – and why? 

The ASRAAM heatseeking missile. IMAGE: MBDA

The ASRAAM is a far more capable missile. It is extremely fast off the rail and has a much longer range. It also has a huge off-boresight capability and can lock-on after launch, as well as having advanced counter-counter measures. When paired with the helmet mounted sight in a close fight it is very effective, and at longer range it offers a great crossover with AMRAAM. You can get an ASRAAM to its target before the other aircraft can even launch their IR missile back at you.

An RAF Typhoon recently had its first a2a ‘kill’ – what are your thoughts on this?  (I understand RSAF Typhoons have been doing this for a while)

Finding a small drone in a fighter and shooting it down using a heat-seeking missile is pretty impressive. It shows how the jet can roll quickly from supporting the troops one minute to engaging a tricky air-to-air target moments later. More broadly, the use of explosive drones is becoming more prevalent so from a control of the air point of view,  I think more thought needs to go into countering these en-masse from western air forces.

How good is Meteor, and why? 

I’ve personally never flown with Meteor, but talking to colleagues on the frontline they are very impressed. The layered capability with AMRAAM-D and ASRAAM offer lots of very robust all-weather targeting options and it is a great mixed load to carry. 

Tell me something I don’t know about Typhoon

When you are landing the aircraft without engineering support there are often no staging or steps available to climb out of the cockpit. There is a puny little ladder that you can deploy which pops out from under the cockpit. So you can climb down. But there is no retract function, which is a pain in the ass when you want to get back in and take off again.


What was the hardest aspect psychologically? 

Keeping a clear head when dealing with constant, changing pressures. In the book I’ve placed the reader in the cockpit so they are immersed in the action and experience the adrenalin. At one point was I was locked-up by a Russian SAM. A couple of weeks later in the dead of night, I almost had a mid-air collision over a city held by enemy troops. There was also the constant threat of hand-held surface to air missiles. I felt the most pressure when friendly troops called in urgent support from fast jets because their lives were in danger. We needed to act swiftly and accurately, and avoid any risk to civilians. Sometimes we would roll from one task to the next, heading to the air-to-air refuelling tanker, and striking targets until we had dropped all eight weapons. On one occasion during a particularly vicious firefight I had to conduct a strafe attack too.

Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes Vol 2 here.

How well suited is Typhoon to taskings in the Middle East? What improvements would you like to see? 

Within forty-eight hours of leaving our base in the UK we were conducting around-the-clock close air support missions. The jets held up superbly, and over the five months we conducted well over three hundred strikes. All were direct hits and there were no civilian casualties. I was immensely proud of the team performance. We focus a lot on the aircraft, but it is the people on the Squadron that make it happen. Everyone has a key role to play. Often the most junior, newest members of the squadron have the best ideas. Creating an environment where the engineers, pilots, intelligence, operations and support staff could all communicate effectively and work in harmony was extremely important. At the time we had the Litening 3 targeting pod, which was good, but there were other systems available that could provide clearer imagery. The Force is about to get the Litening 5 pod, which will be a fantastic upgrade and provide much better optics.

Typhoon and Litening, very very frightening.

What advice would you give to pilots coming to the Close Air Support mission? 

One of the most challenging aspects was not knowing what the mission would involve until you were immersed in it. Often I would sit at the end of the runway on a moonless night, with the jet being rocked from side to side by the gusty wind from nearby thunderstorms and the red strobe light flashing against the glistening runway, pondering what the night ahead had in store. Reconnaissance in Syria? Rushing to a troops-in-contact near Mosul? Looking for snipers in Ramadi? Could I remember the Escape & Evasion plan? Would the tanker be in the right place? What if I was low on fuel and the refuelling probe failed? For all fast jet operations, much like sport, the foundations for success lay in the preparations. Striving for tactical excellence and holding yourselves to account during training. Communicating as a team and encouraging a culture of ruthless self-awareness. Always looking for the marginal gains. And creating a bond and strength as a unit so you can carry yourselves through the tough situations.

How do you feel about the current state of the nations you have been to war in? 

Afghanistan is a very difficult situation, and my thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones or seen family members suffer life-changing physical or psychological injuries. In Iraq, my thoughts are a little more positive. Towards the end of the operation, after months of fighting, I saw families return to their homes. Houses that had been abandoned breathed a new life, and this was incredibly heart-warming. It’s important to remember that we live in a liberal democracy, and it’s the politicians, not the pilots, that make the decisions about when to deploy and withdraw from conflicts. In the book I’ve explained what it is like to enact those decisions. To prepare to a level of high readiness, and then to receive the call to respond during a global crisis. 

Human aspect 

Something I found very interesting in your book was the reference to pilots liking certainty: care to expand on that? 

Click on image or here to order

Unpredictability as a pilot is not a great characteristic. A bold, flamboyant approach to flying is not encouraged as it is such a demanding and dangerous occupation. Much like brain surgery I suppose, you need dedication and discipline to learn the procedures. There is room for innovation and novelty – in fact it is essential to developing tactics – but in a controlled way. Finding the balance between the two mindsets isn’t always easy. Defining the best qualities for a fighter pilot is tricky. You need an almost obsessive drive and determination in the first place, the ability to learn fast, have good situational awareness, and to remain calm in the most dynamic situations where your life could be literally on the line. But there is an almost indefinable quality in the best pilots too. A quiet confidence, that learns from criticism and doesn’t take things personally, but strives to be the best; for yourself and your fellow pilots.

How well-supported are RAF veterans dealing with mental health issues in your opinion? 

This is a question for Defence, not just the RAF. Things have improved since Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003, where the support was initially woeful. Charities like Help for Heroes and Combat Stress filled a void. Prince Harry once said leaving the military is like being on a bus with all of your mates, which pulls up at a deserted stop. You step off, the doors close and it drives away. You’re on your own. It’s a neat analogy. When you leave the military, you are thrown into the NHS system with support from your GP, who may know very little about operational stress. Particularly for veterans with limited social support and structures, I think significantly more could be done to support those suffering mental health challenges.

You had some very interesting points on the emotional impact of warfare on remote operators of unmanned aircraft, care to share your thoughts on this with our readers? 

UAV pilots don’t live in conflict zones and the acute pressures of their work can therefore be overlooked. They could be conducting strikes for months or years on end, with the effect of their actions being played out on high-definition screens right before their eyes. The physical risk is much diminished, but perhaps less so the psychological impact. As the nature and methods of conducting warfare continue to evolve, we need fresh approaches to understanding where the mental pressure points may emerge.

What personality types struggle the most in war in your opinion? 

I’m not a psychologist so will probably answer this imperfectly! I found that the trivia of military life was most irritating when it clashed with the pressures of high tempo operations. After landing from an eight-hour flight I often had to face what I considered to be fairly unimportant paperwork, such as overly complicated documents for squadron hire cars, or an overflowing inbox full of banal tasks that were fairly inconsequential yet demanded immediate attention. If the RAF could better prioritise the important from the irrelevant during operations that would be very welcome.

Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes Vol 1 here

What should I have asked you – and what do you get asked the most? 

When you come back from an operation people often ask ‘what was it like?’ My book is an insight into that hidden world. Not just what happened, but what goes through your mind before a strike and just after. A pilot’s concerns, fears and priorities. The conversations that happened on the ground as we were preparing to walk to an aircraft. The complexity of developing tactics and briefing hugely demanding sorties. The struggles to relate easily to domestic life at home with families and friends. And hopefully some analysis along the way!

– Mike Sutton is the author of Typhoon

Top 12 Swedish aircraft

Pergelator: Three Swedish Jets

Swedish aircraft are a breath of fresh air. Idiosyncratic, clever and unorthodox, they have often been the result of a different way of thinking and peculiarly Swedish needs. That such a small nation makes its own combat aircraft is a quirk of history. Sweden’s non-aligned neutrality policy, which lasted until 2009, had its roots in the calamities suffered during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. The disastrous results included a loss of over a third of Sweden’s territory, most notably Finland, were not soon to be forgotten. A policy of avoiding military intervention and international allegiances wherever possible began in the early 19th century. In the 1930s, fearing a second world war, Sweden massively increased its defence spending. The War showed that neutrality was not always easy or carried out to the letter. In World War II, Sweden made itself very unpopular with the allies by supplying large amounts of vital iron ore to Nazi Germany, though Sweden was also exporting significant quantities of ball bearings to the Allies. There were trade agreements between Sweden and the Allies for these purposes, and during the latter parts of the War this included limiting Swedish exports to Germany (once Germany was too weak to pose a significant threat to Sweden anymore). Such is the delicate complicated position of non-alignment. This policy of ‘armed neutrality’ required indigenous armaments to avoid dependence or allegiance to a foreign power. From the mid-1940s Sweden’s Försvarets forskningsanstalt (FOA) intended to develop it own nuclear deterrent, an ambition it chose to give up when it joined the non-proliferation treaty in 1968.

Saab 1300-71D Vindtunnelmodell.jpg
Sweden’s nuclear deterrent would have been carried by the Saab A 36, a medium range tactical bomber comparable with the US B-58 Hustler. Powered by two Olympus engines, this potentiually extremely expensive project was cancelled in 1957.

It was the smallest nation, in terms of both population and economy, to design and build its own advanced military aircraft. But there are shades of ‘indigenous’ as no country other than the US and Russia (and lately China) has access to the full spectrum of technologies required to make a modern fighter. The Gripen, for example, uses a British ejection seat, an (essentially) American engine, pan-European air-to-air missiles and a German gun. The reliance on US tech has enabled the US to block export licences in order to scupper several potential Saab exports that threatened US sales, most notably Indian interest in the Viggen in the 1980s.
Thulin FA

Let’s head North to the icy beauty of Sweden to choose twelve incredible Swedish aeroplanes.
The master engineer Erik Brattled oversaw the creation of the Draken and Viggen and did much to define Sweden’s Cold War airpower.

12. Saab 21 (1943)

There are reasons that propellers are at the front, and most of them relate to that being the way engines are designed to turn them. The perils of the pusher are such that the US Army banned pusher designs in 1914. Shame though, as a pusher means you can have your guns very easily placed on the centreline, a shorter fuselage and a greatly improved view for the pilot.

The Saab 21 did not have a spectacular performance; 400 mph may have been insanely fast in 1940, but by 1945 when the J 21 entered service it was decidedly mediocre. To avoid a diced pilot, an ejection seat was required, the J 21 being the first non-German aircraft to carry an ejection seat as standard. The aircraft was well-armed, with one 20-mm cannon and two 13.2mm heavy machine guns in the nose and two more heavy machine-guns in the wings.

Powered by the Daimler-Benz DB 605 that had powered the cream of axis inline fighters, the J 21 was hampered by the war ending and the 605 line ending. Intriguingly, there were plans for a more advanced version with a Rolls-Royce Griffon and a Mustang-style bubble canopy, these never happened as the jet age had arrived. The J 21 become part of one of the very rarest aircraft breeds, those that went from piston to jet propulsion as the J 21R.

11. Saab B 17

No, not that one. The B 17 was Saab’s first aircraft and Sweden’s first indigenous ‘modern’ stressed-skin monoplane. Unusually conventional by Saab standards, the aircraft had already been designed by ASJA, the catchily named AB Svenska Järnvägsverkstädernas Aeroplanavdelning (Swedish Railway Workshops’ Aeroplane Department) thus joining the likes of the Henschel 129 and the English Electric Lightning in the surprisingly crowded pantheon of aircraft built by railway locomotive manufacturers. The B 17 was a workmanlike design that compared well with contemporary single-engine light bombing aircraft. And if you think it looks particularly similar to US designs of the era, the fact that between 40 and 50 American engineers were employed by ASJA on its development might not come as a total surprise. Intended for the dive-bombing role, the B 17’s wing wasn’t up to the strain of this form of attack and required strengthening. Although subsequently cleared for diving attacks, the B 17 was limited to a shallow angle of dive for the rest of its career. Speed in the dive was limited by the large undercarriage doors which functioned as dive brakes when the B 17 made its attack and on the subject of undercarriage, the wheels of the undercarriage could be switched for retractable skis for winter operation. To add even more variety 38 examples of a reconnaissance floatplane version was also built.

Entering service in 1942 over 300 were built, most of the B 17 bomber version, with just over 20 of the S 17 reconnaissance aircraft also constructed. The Saabs remained in frontline service until 1950 though continued in second line roles for a further time, latterly as a target tug into the early 1960s. A potentially exciting aside occurred during the war when 15 B 17s were loaned to exiled Danish forces in Sweden to support a Danish invasion intended to liberate that nation from German occupation, known as Danforce. Thankfully the war ended before Danforce were committed to retaking Denmark, the Danish markings on the Saabs were painted out and the aircraft returned to Swedish control. Around the time that the aircraft was being withdrawn from Swedish service, 47 were bought for use by the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force. Ethiopian Saab 17s would be the only examples to fire their guns in anger, at least once, when several were used to attack a group of Somali criminals who had derailed and robbed a train. The Saab 17 was operated by Ethiopia until 1968 and thus the last frontline examples of this Scandinavian aircraft saw out their careers under the African sky. Of five survivors, one example remains airworthy at the Swedish Air Force Museum at Linköping.

10. Saab JAS 39 Gripen (1988)

On 29 March 2011, the Swedish Air Force sent combat aircraft to war for the first time since 1963. Eight Saab Gripens supported by a Saab 340 AEW&C and a C-130 Hercules tanker were deployed in support of the No-Fly Zone over Libya. The small fighter-bomber performed well. Initially, it was tasked purely with counter-air, but NATO planners noticed the Gripen had a very capable reconnaissance pod (the SPK 39) and its responsibilities were accordingly widened.

A rather boutique operation, the Saab Gripen has seen a small factory create around 280 aircraft since the type first flew in 1988. It has served in unobtrusive numbers around the world for sensible air forces on a budget. It is considered by many to have the lowest cost per flight hour for a modern fighter, and is relatively easy to maintain. I spoke to a Gripen maintainer a few years ago and he complained of not having enough to do, he had come from a MiG background. It is comparable with a top of the range small car, coming with a wealth of high-end accessories which include one of the world’s best helmet display and cueing systems, the formidable IRIS-T infra-red missile and the well trusted ‘404 engine. Perhaps the most impressive ‘accessory’ is the long-range Meteor air-to-air missile, giving a bantamweight the reach of the heaviest heavyweight. Much of the Gripen’s magic comes from a wealth of invisible capabilities: its electronic warfare suite is extremely well-respected by pilots who have ‘fought’ against the Gripen in international exercises. The basic philosophy of the Gripen was to create the smallest possible aircraft that wouldn’t be laughed out of a war with the Soviet Union. According to Tony Inesson, “Swedish defense planning also more or less assumed a NATO intervention. The Soviets never really considered Sweden a truly neutral power, but rather as being aligned with the West.” Building an air force that could take the USSR on its own terms was impossible, but one that could slow an invasion down until NATO leapt into the fray was possible. In the 1970s when what became the Gripen was first being considered Sweden’s defence planners had a big think. The cost of new, ever more complex, combat aircraft was generally spiralling out of control, one exception to this was the US F-16 which was smaller and lighter than the aircraft it replaced. Saab studied the F-16 with interest, and wondered whether something even smaller might be able to replace its Viggens. Advances in materials and electronics, as well as engine technology, aerodynamics and flight control systems, enabled the Gripen to emerge as a bantamweight fighter with a hell of a punch. The new fighter, which first flew in 1988, was 6,000-Ib lighter than the Viggen and in aerodynamic form showed the future path of European combat aircraft. It was the first of a new class of canard-deltas, and has since been joined by the European Rafale and Typhoon, and the Chinese J-10 and J-20.

The next-generation Gripen will be the E (and two-seat F.) These are larger heavier aircraft powered by the F414, they are set to enter service soon.

(Some have argued that the Gripen’s use in Libya was largely a PR exercise to promote the Gripen for export, but Fredrik Doeser has argued that this view does not hold water as it could have been deployed to Afghanistan and the aircraft was already favourably viewed, something that could have been changed by any teething issues in its first combat deployment)

9. Saab 340

Had the Habsburgs stuck around long enough to get into the aircraft-making business, their offering would’ve been something like the Saab 340. It’s reliable and innovative, sturdy, loved for its handling and cost-effectiveness, loathed for its noisiness and its less-than-luxurious accommodations, lacking space for all its baggage (in the overhead bins, anyway), pretty to look at until you start adding military bits and bobs to it, and managing to stick around long after conventional wisdom deems it out of fashion. Sometimes it hears its name mentioned in a not-so-friendly way (though not due to any fault of the aircraft itself), but, at the end of the day, as regional airliners go, you could do a hell of a lot worse. After all, you don’t enjoy a nigh four-decade lifespan, hear your number called for hauling passengers and freight on three-hour hops to remote Alaskan airstrips, and get adapted for the maritime surveillance role (Japan Coast Guard) and airborne command and control (Swedish and Royal Thai Air Forces) if you’re not doing something right. The Erieye Airborne Early Warning and Control System fitted to the 340 AEW (among other airframes) has an AESA radar as its primary sensor and is widely considered world-class.


The 340 has gotten a lot of undue flak on the Internet, mostly from travel bloggers who seem to have severe allergic reactions to anything vaguely resembling a propeller, which is unfortunate, as it’s proven to be an excellent aircraft throughout its career, replete with forward-thinking technology like diffusion welding instead of rivets and, with the Saab 340B Plus variant, a noise and vibration reduction system (which, alas, came too late to help the poor 340’s reputation for being loud). It’s carried presidents and popes, and plenty of happy passengers.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes Vol II will be fantastic sequel to The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes Vol 1. As soon as it teaches 100% funding, work will begin and what an incredible book we have planned. Click on the image below to pre-order.

Saab receives order for maintenance of airborne radar system Erieye for  Sweden - Saab

The extended version, the fifty-seat Saab 2000, had the misfortune of coming on scene just as airlines were transitioning over to regional jets, and only sixty-three were built. As for the 340, production capped at 459 airframes, and, while there’s a trend among the major air carriers moving away from aircraft in the 340’s capacity category (generally 34 to 37 seats), and the 340 is getting up there in years, the type can still be found with about forty airlines and air arms. Regional turboprops might lack the sex appeal of fast jets like Drakens or Viggens or Gripens—though I should reiterate that, military variants notwithstanding, the 340 is quite a cute little fellow—but the 340 has certainly done more than enough to earn a place on any list of Sweden’s finest flying machines.

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

8. Saab 37 Viggen


It is said that Sweden could either afford the Viggen or the bomb, but not both. Sweden chose the Viggen and gave up its nuclear ambitions.  Clint Eastwood asked for the Viggen to star alongside himself in his wild 1982 Cold War espionage thriller Firefox. The aircraft would have played the futuristic MiG-31 ‘Firefox’. On looks alone, can you blame Eastwood? The Viggen looked like the future, and in many ways it was.

The first thing you notice is the configuration. Aside the kidney-shaped air intakes, ahead of the main wings are a small set of ‘wings’ known as canards. Canards had been fitted on the American XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, the Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-8 and a few other experimental types, but the Viggen was the first modern canard-equipped aircraft to enter service. Unlike later canard-deltas, these were not all-moving, but they were fixed with a moving trailing edge flap. Not only do they render the Viggen, arguably, a Mach 2-capable biplane but they do other, more tangible, things. The Viggen also has an unusual wing shape. Having two angles of leading-edge sweep-back (the ‘kink’ or ‘dog leg’) allows for greater amounts of more stable lift from a wing of less relative area.  This happens because the change in leading-edge angle keeps lift-generating air vortices from originating at the wing root. The earlier Draken and (later mark) Vulcan also featured rather different kinky deltas.  India’s Tejas fighter has opted for a similar wing design solution to the Viggen.

Short-take off and landing was a key requirement for the type. To stop the aircraft without the fuss and hazards of a brake chute, an impressive thrust reverser mechanism – unique on a combat aircraft at the time, was added. Consisting of three triangular steel plates, it was closed up to redirect engine thrust forward through the side slit below the tail.  The pilot could actually reverse his machine on the ground without the aid of a ground vehicle.  Most famously, and a Swedish air show perennial, the Viggen could do a fast touch-and-go manoeuvre in which it would come in hot, arrest itself on landing with reverse thrust and then via a so-called Y-turn change the direction it was facing and rip right back into the sky on afterburner.  All in a few seconds! Try that in a General Dynamics F-111. The Viggen was expected to operate from 500 to 800 metre lengths of motorway or damaged bases and be readily looked after by reservists and conscript groundcrew.  It had fairly tall tandem main landing gear with anti-lock brakes.  The Viggen almost seemed to handle like a sports car on the ground.    

That was far from the only innovation in the Viggen: at the heart of the Viggen’s system was the CK 37 central computer (Central Kalkylator 37), the world’s first airborne computer to use integrated circuits. Many nearly boutique-level design touches were incorporated all across this aircraft’s systems. The earlier Saab 35 Draken was intended for the same ground-controlled, high altitude missile interceptions of the Convair F-102/106 or the Sukhoi Su-15; the JA 37 fighter variant of the Viggen embodied a dark recognition that future armed conflict might be a little more dirty and tactical – and require greater intelligence. 

The Viggen came in five flavours: the AJ37 attack version, SK37 two-seat trainer, SH- and SF37 reconnaissance variants and the final version, the JA37 fighter-interceptor.

The Viggen had an impressive early example of a centralized computer to support the pilot by integrating and partly automating tasks such as navigation and fire control. The Central Kalkylator 37 was connected to a head-up-display and an X-band radar set. This gear meant the Viggen could meet a requirement for single-pilot operation. Performance metrics would also have been impaired thanks to the weight and space requirements of accommodating a second crew member so the dependence on technology was vital.  The Viggen is most often celebrated for its out-of-the-box structural engineering but its avionics package ultimately is what made it the right investment for the Flygvapnet into the 2000s.

The Viggen was so clever in so many ways. 

Its vertical fin could be folded down with dispersal to hardened bunkers or caves in mind? The outdoorsy Swedish jet made some of its Soviet and Western contemporaries look like precious hangar queens dependent on massive budgets and large, vulnerable air bases. In the Viggen, Sweden was able to extend the achievements of the Draken program and impress the world.   A high-intensity R&D programme – fully funded and supported by the Swedish government – and a national flair for industrial design, combined with the employment of U.S.-licensed engine brought forth a winner.

Stephen Caulfield

7. Saab B 18

Saab 18 | Plane-Encyclopedia

With its funky pusher propeller fighters, crazy double deltas and early adoption of the canard for jet fighters, it is difficult to accuse Saab of being a slave to convention. Thus at first glance, their only twin piston-engine bomber, the B 18, looks disappointingly ordinary, sort of halfway between a Ju 88 and a Hampden. But this elegant twin rewards a closer look as its arguably humdrum appearance was somewhat deceptive. First off, the cockpit is offset to the left, and as anyone who has ever glanced at a Sea Vixen or a Canberra PR.9 knows, offset cockpits are cool. Secondly, despite looking rather outdated considering it entered service in 1944, its performance was distinctly impressive with a top speed only 20 km/h slower than the vaunted de Havilland Mosquito FB.VI despite carrying three Swedes rather than the mere two of the Mosquito, one of whom got to wield a defensive machine gun. The Mosquito similarities didn’t end there: limited numbers of both (18 Mosquitoes and 52 Saabs) were equipped with a large calibre gun for the anti-shipping role. Weirdly both aircraft went for a 57-mm weapon.

And both aircraft were effective multi-role platforms before multi-role was really a ‘thing’ and could carry a vast array of different weaponry. The Saab however was never developed into a night fighter, for that role the Swedish used the J 30: which was their designation for the Mosquito! Most surprising of all perhaps is the fact that this fairly normal-looking WWII medium bomber was fitted with ejection seats. Sadly this was due to the Saab 18 garnering something of a reputation for crashing by the late 1940s. Ah well, the dangerous planes are always the most exciting right? For a Swedish aircraft the Saab 18 also pushed the envelope when it came to Sweden’s famed neutrality. In the reconnaissance role, B 18s were utilised during 1945 and 46 to overfly Baltic ports and photograph all Soviet shipping they found. In the course of these missions the Saabs were routinely subject to interception attempts by Soviet fighters but their speed rendered them essentially invulnerable, notably unlike other aircraft operating as spyplanes – Sweden lost an ELINT C-47 to Soviet fighters in 1952, then the search and rescue Catalina they sent out to try and find the missing aircraft was shot down too three days later sparking a major diplomatic incident. The B 18 remained in service until the late ‘fifties with the reconnaissance variants the last to be retired in 1959, replaced by another cool-looking Saab product (of course), the Lansen. 

Saab 18 - Wikipedia

6. Saab 29 Tunnan (1948)

SAAB 29 TUNNAN - Flight Manuals

Aren’t Tunnans Brilliant. It’s 1948 and Europe’s aircraft manufacturers are busily reading captured German documents to learn about swept wings. But while Hawker and Supermarine are messing around with attaching them to a couple of spare airframes for research purposes, SAAB are test flying Europe’s first non-fascist swept wing production fighter. By 1951 the J29 Tunnan is in squadron service while the RAF are enduring the more pedestrian looking de Havilland Venom. To add insult to injury the shiny Swede used the same Ghost engine as the Venom to go faster, claiming two FAI speed records for the 500km and 1000km closed circuits. It could also carry 700kg more, which makes you wonder what de Havilland were doing. By 1954 the J29 had even gained an afterburner, one of the first aircraft to do so. But beating the low hanging fruit of de Havilland’s difficult second jet fighter isn’t all the Tunnan has going for it. SAAB’s most produced aircraft with 662 built, it served until 1967 as a front-line fighter and was still in use as a target tug until 1976. It was also the only SAAB to date to see combat helping with peacekeeping efforts in the Congo under the control of the United Nations. This saw 9 J29Bs and two S29C photoreconnaissance aircraft adorned with UN markings, literally just a big U and N painted on the fuselage, and operated by F22 Wing of the Swedish Air Force. Despite taking ground fire on numerous occasions while carrying out strikes on secessionists and mercenaries no Tunnans were lost in combat. Ironically after surviving the civil war all but four were then destroyed at their base in 1963 as it wasn’t considered cost-effective taking them back to Sweden. Objectively good looking and a technological trail blazer*the Tunnan is a brilliantly packaged little fighter, just look at how the landing lights drop down from the nose and the main gear tucks into the fuselage. The J29 also fitted an ejector seat before they became de rigeur.

5. FFVS J 22 (1942)

FFVS J 22A at an airshow circa 1990

By 1940, the fighter component of the Flygvapnet consisted mostly of the Gloster Gladiator (designated J 8 in Swedish service) which were looking increasingly old hat when compared to the latest monoplane fighters busily shooting each other down all over Europe. In an attempt to maintain a credible defensive force Sweden ordered large numbers of the Seversky P-35 and Vultee P-66 Vanguard from the US only for the Americans to slap an embargo on the export of all arms to any country except the UK after only 60 P-35s had been delivered. To be fair this may have been a blessing in disguise as the P-35 (J 9 in Sweden) was a pretty woeful fighter. Sweden looked around for a replacement and intriguingly considered the Mitsubishi A6M Zero amongst others (concern about the practicality of delivery put paid to that idea). Orders were ultimately placed for the outdated Fiat CR.42 (J 11) and Reggiane Re.2000 (J 20) but neither was considered entirely satisfactory and the decision was taken to manufacture a fighter domestically instead. Sweden’s only major aircraft company, Saab, had their hands full manufacturing the B 17 (not that one) and B 18 so, impressively the Swedish government created a firm and factory from scratch specifically to design and build a new fighter: the Kungliga Flygförvaltningens Flygverkstad i Stockholm (“Royal Air Administration Aircraft Factory in Stockholm”) shortened to FFVS. From the start the aircraft was intended to be relatively light and simple and to utilise the reliable Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp which was also the engine of the Seversky P-35/J 9. Unfortunately Sweden had no means to procure any more R-1830 engines from the US due to the embargo and no spare engines had been delivered with the batch of Seversky fighters that had been delivered. Therefore the Swedes elected to copy the engine and start production domestically, no small undertaking in the absence of any plans or drawings. The unlicensed Twin Wasp copy, designated the STWC-3, eventually powered most of the J 22s but the engine programme ran slightly behind schedule and to make up the numbers 100 R-1830s managed to be procured from the Vichy french regime. The purposeful looking FFVS J 22 was conventional in layout, apart from the undercarriage which was unusually narrow for its height and retracted into the fuselage in a unique arrangement. The construction method used was novel with plywood sheets cladding a steel-tube frame, the plywood skin being partially load bearing.  The J 22 flew for the first time in September 1942 and considering this was the first fighter aircraft designed in Sweden since the Svenska Aero Jaktfalkenof 1929 and that the engine was of significantly lower power than was considered necessary for a fighter by other nations in 1942, it turned out to be a remarkably good aircraft. Intended to roughly match the performance of contemporary Spitfire and Bf 109 models when the design was finalised, designer Bo Lundberg had admirably stretched what was possible with the limited power of the R-1830 to achieve just that. With barely more than 1000 hp available from the STWC-3, the J 22 possessed decent performance and its handling was highly praised by pilots.

Data Sheet] FFVS J-22 - Fighters - War Thunder - Official Forum

Looking somewhat like an unholy union between an Fw 190 and an F8F Bearcat, the J 22 was touted as being the fastest aircraft in the world ‘relative to engine power’. Though this was not true (the Mark I Spitfire was faster still with an engine of roughly the same rated power output), the J 22 was no slouch, though it must be admitted that by the time the first of the 198 production J 22s entered service in October 1943 its performance was not quite level with the world’s best. Nonetheless, when tested in mock combat against the P-51D Mustang (J 26) after the war the J 22 could reportedly hold its own at low and medium altitude. The power of the Twin Wasp copy fell off abruptly over 15,000 feet and this was probably the type’s most serious flaw. Its armament was also underwhelming, initially two 13.2mm (0.52in) Akan M/39A and two 8mm machine guns, later aircraft had four 13.2mm guns which was better (but still somewhat lacking).

Military Aircraft #78: FFVS J-22. Svenska Flygvapnet. - 9GAG

The J 22 makes for an intriguing comparison with two other aircraft produced by nations with limited fighter experience, Australia’s Commonwealth Boomerang and Finland’s VL Myrsky. All three were designed and built to make up for an uncertain supply of foreign designs, were intended to be simple to build and maintain, all used the R-1830 Twin Wasp and all three were surprisingly effective. The J 22 was the fastest of the lot and proved popular and reliable, had it been produced in a different time by a nation not categorically wedded to the idea of neutrality, it may well have proved a successful export, being quite fast, simple, and reliable. As it was the J 22s served Sweden until 1952 and arguably more importantly gave the Swedish Aircraft Industry invaluable experience that it would put to good use in the years to come. Three are known to survive, one in taxiable condition, and another is being restored to fly. 

4. Saab 32 Lansen (1951)

Hermann Behrbohm was a German mathematician who had worked for the Messerschmitt aircraft company from 1937. He contributed to high-speed trials of the Bf 109 fighter, and the development of the Me 163 and Me 262. His colleagues included the great Alexander Lippisch, father of the modern delta wing. Behrbohm’s most influential work was on the P.1101 fighter series, conceived as part of the Jägernotprogramm emergency fighter programme of 1944. This unflown remarkable jet fighter design, with its nose-mounted air intake and swept wings would inform the post-war F-86, MiG-15 and the Swedish Lansen. Following the war, Behrbohm was much sought after by nations wishing to harvest his remarkable know-how. He chose to move and work in Sweden. His influence on the Saab 32 Lansen, an attack aircraft built to replace the B 18, saw the aircraft adopt an exceptionally clean aerodynamic form. It is said to be the first aircraft created with a fully detailed mathematical model of its outer-mold line. The aircraft was capable of supersonic flight in a shallow dive. Behrbohm would also work on the Draken and Viggen, notably on the latter’s canard-delta form.

3. Svenska Aero Jaktfalken (1929)

After landing the Jaktfalken, Swedish Air Force test pilot Nils Söderberg declared“this is the best aircraft that I have flown so far”. The influence of Germans in Swedish aircraft is a recurrent theme, the Jaktfalken is no exception, as it was designed by the German Carl Clemens Bücker (famous for his Jungmann and Jungmeister). It was a world-class fighter but was never ordered in numbers, it won a single export order from Norway, and by single we mean one aeroplane.

2. SAAB 90 Scandia (1946)

No photo description available.
The Latin name for the southern part of Sweden is Scandia, from which the name ‘Scandinavia’ is derived.

Many nations’ aircraft industries grew fat and strong from the glut of wartime orders, and aeroplane production reached an all-time high. Sweden was no exception. In fact, being neutral and mostly spared from heavy strategic bombing (apart from that one time the Soviets had a go at Stockholm) its industry needn’t worry about such trifling matters as production lines being reduced to dust and cinder. When the war ended, SAAB’s future became uncertain. What would they do without the threat of an imminent invasion motivating combat aircraft production on a massive scale? What would they do with all their employees in the factories and design rooms? The good folks at SAAB, decided the only sensible thing to do was to branch out into the civilian sector and create the other SAAB (Svenska Automobil Aktiebolaget) as well as putting the original SAAB (Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget) to work building the most modern, comfortable airliner in the world: the SAAB 90 Scandia.

SAAB 90 Scandia interior | Scandia, Saab, Photo sharing

Carrying thirty passengers up to 650 miles at a 211 mph cruise speed and up to 279mph in a hurry, the Scandia featured novelties such as a tricycle landing gear, and an airfoil designed using NACA profiles. Its two 1820hp Pratt & Whitney R-2180-E twin wasp radial engines provided ample power, allowing a loaded Scania to take off on just one engine. This of course drastically improved safety, especially in the take-off and landing phases, safety was further enhanced by the superior pilot view provided by the tricycle gear. The Scandia improved upon all the best qualities of the 1930s era DC-3 which was the airliner at the time. Entering production in 1946, SAAB had a real winner on its hands.

SAAB 90 SCANDIA - Flight Manuals

Except there was one little thing the execs at SAAB had overlooked. Or rather, there were 10,781 things that they had overlooked. That’s how many DC-3s and C-47s were built in total and now that the war was over, they were being sold for practically nothing. There was simply no way for SAAB to compete with those kinds of numbers and it looked like the future was again dark for the Swedish aeroplane manufacturer. Luckily for them, the start of the cold war meant SAAB soon received an order for 661 J-29 fighter jets. The Scandia was put aside after a meagre 18 were built and fell into obscurity.

SWEDEN - CIRCA 1984: Stamp Printed By Sweden, Shows Airplane SAAB-90 Scandia,  Circa 1984 Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 25694182.

The SAAB 90 did fly for Aktiebolaget Aerotransport (ABA) from Sweden, but spent most of its career in the warmer climate of the jungles of Brazil, in the service Viação Aérea São Paulo S/A (São Paulo Airways) until 1969.

–– Sebastian Craenen

1. Saab 35 Draken (1955)

Dragon Knights! – Aces Flying High

That the Draken was a decent candidate for the best fighter in operational service in 1960 is a huge accolade for Sweden, and the result of the nation’s extremely smart defence policy of the 1950s. The Royal Swedish Air Force realised that any chance of survival against a Soviet invasion depended on departing air fields at the first whiff of war and hiding in the sticks. It was apparent that large fixed airbases were easy to locate and attack, so the Swedish Air Force went ‘off-base’. The Draken was intended to employ an indigenous jet engine design, the STAL Dovern, which was tested on a Lancaster. But the British Rolls-Royce Avon, which would also power the Lightning, was deemed a superior choice.

The policy of domestic aircraft creation has always been extremely costly and vulnerable to cancellation by politicians seeking to save money. Whereas the US could afford cost overruns, Swedish aircraft projects were under a lot more scrutiny (this continues to the present day).

Though initially excellent, the J 29s introduced in 1951 would struggle to effectively counter the fast Soviet Tu-16 bombers coming into service in 1954. With excellent foresight, work on a faster replacement for the J 29 had begun before the Tunnen had even entered service. The next fighter was to feature a radical new wing design, a world-leading datalink and would be easy to maintain and operate from reinforced sections of motorway. It would also be extremely swift, at mach 2, around twice as fast as the J 29. This remarkable project seemed to be going extremely well –– and then along came Wennerström.

During the 1950s, Swedish air force Colonel Stig Erik ‘The Eagle’ Constans Wennerström leaked Swedish air defence plans, including a wealth of information about Saab Draken fighter jet project, to the Soviet Union. Security forces suspected him and employed his maid as an agent who discovered rolls of films hidden in his house. Despite Wennerström’s treachery the Draken emerged as a remarkably effective machine. The wing was an absolute masterpiece of aerodynamics, an avant-courier of the LERX of the later F-16, MiG-29 and Hornet which gave the aircraft performance far exceeding the expectations of international observers. On half the installed the thrust of a Lightning, the Draken offered similar performance, three times the air-to-air missile weapon load and a far longer range. Not only that, it managed to achieve this remarkable performance with fixed air intakes, a fact that is often overlooked.

Then there’s the ability to ‘cobra’ by turning off the flight control limiters, known to the Swedish pilots who discovered this as “kort parad”, or “short parry“. And there’s the infra-red sensor – and the datalink. All of which added up to a remarkable whole. The Draken was a masterpiece of strategic thinking, aeronautical design and engineering.

Pin on aviones

(Special thanks to Tony Ingesson)

Flying & Fighting in the Nimrod: Interview with RAF Nimrod pilot

Hunting a Russian submarine, Britain calls on France to patrol Scotland |  New Europe

The world’s first jet airliner, the Comet, was converted to fight submarines. The result was the Nimrod. We spoke to Squadron Leader Stuart ‘Roxy‘ Roxburgh about flying the famous Nimrod for the Royal Air Force.

Describe the Nimrod in three words…

The Mighty Hunter

What is the hardest thing about the Nimrod maritime role?

Lots of relative quiet, followed by frenzied activity on the detection of a submarine 

What were its primary duties and well suited was it for these missions?

Anti Submarine Warfare; Anti Surface Unit Warfare; Search and Rescue

The Nimrod was quite well suited for its task – particularly during its time in Service.  Although it was the development of an airliner (the Comet) it had a good sensor suite (radar, acoustics, electronic surveillance and communications) especially at the end of its life.  It had a massive bomb bay (9 x Stingray torpedos or 2 x Harpoon Anti Ship Missiles) or Search and Rescue equipment, reasonable speed and, particularly with air-to-air refuelling, great range.  Finally, the crews were fantastic!

What's the role of Nimrod aircraft? - Quora

How good was the MR2 and how did it compare to rival aircraft?

Great!  I can’t really compare it to our competitors; however, we regularly held our own in routine competitions and exercises with our Allies. 

How do you catch a submarine and is it easy?

Not particularly easy: the oceans are vast. How we look for, and hopefully find them depends on what type and task they have; however, we used a range of above the water sensors – radar and electronic surveillance measures – and below the water sensors – active and passive sonobuoys.

MRA4, what was it?

The Nimrod MRA4 was the last development of the Nimrod MPA.  It had updated sensor suite, more modern engines and could carry more fuel and weaponry. 

BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 - Wikipedia

Why was it cancelled and should it have been?

The government of the day wanted to save money.  The project was late and over budget (not that unusual, to be fair) and it was cancelled. It’s probably too early to tell if that decision was correct.

What were your impressions of the MRA4?

I was only part of the programme for a short time.  It had teething trouble – what new project doesn’t? However, the sensor suite was good and I’m sure that we would have made the best of it. 

ENJOYING THIS? THEN YOU’LL LOVE THE HUSH-KIT BOOK OF WARPLANES Vol 2! Pre-order your copy here of this beautiful coffee-table book made from the choicest cuts of Hush-Kit with a generous slab of new unpublished material, magnificent unseen illustrations and other wonders from the thrilling world of military aviation.

Tell me something I don’t know about the Nimrod?

The procedure for opening the bomb doors was based on the Second World War Sunderland long range maritime patrol aircraft.

What was your most notable mission?

I’ve had a fair few notable missions – not all I can talk about! I flew the last Nimrod MR2 sortie when XV229 left RAF Kinloss for Manston in Kent on 26 May 2010; that was quite an emotional sortie.  I flew a SAR sortie in support of the MV Christinaki which sank with all hands on 3 Feb 1994 in a Force 10 gale; we remained on task for as long as possible – dropping all our dinghies to what we thought may be survivors in the water.  We didn’t have enough fuel to get home, so we landed in Eire. They’re not used to British military personnel there and things were a little tense until they discovered our mission – we were on the BBC News. We were well looked after following that. I’ve also had some good ASW sorties: it’s good when you have tracked an adversary (or an ally) for a whole sortie and handed the contact to your relief. 

Nimrod inside | MilitaryImages.Net

What were the best and worst things about the Nimrod?

Best – the crews.

Worst – crewing in at 2000 on a Friday on a Bank Holiday weekend!

Do you miss flying it? How did you feel about its retirement?

A little; but I’m now flying its replacement!  It served the country well for over 40 years!

What equipment did it lack?

Not much for its time; however, the more modern MPA have access to better comms and much more computing power. 

What should I have asked you?

Marmalade - Wikipedia

Why do they call orange jam marmalade?

How does the Nimrod compare with the Poseidon?

Support from the sky – how will the UK replace Nimrod?

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

Flying & Fighting in the Mirage III/V: interview with Mirage pilot

Pakistan Air Force Dassault Mirage ROSE V | Aviones

Conceived as a Cold War interceptor for France, the Mirage has fought with the Pakistan Air Force for half a century. We spoke to former PAF Mirage pilot Fahad Mahsood about flying and fighting in what is now one of the oldest fighter-bombers in frontline service.

Describe the Mirage in three words...

Gorgeous, Lethal, Challenging

What was its role, and was it successful?


In the Pakistan Air Force, it has had a diversified role from Mach 2.0 air-to-air intercept fighter to air-to-ground bombing. It has shown its prowess in all roles, the event of note being its role in Operation Swift Retort of 27th February 2019 when it successfully delivered a H-4 SOW (Stand-off Weapon) against Pakistan’s eastern neighbour.

What’s the best thing about it?

Tactically, its innate ability to fly steady at extremely low altitude, at high speeds even with ground-based thermal currents in hot summers. In the long term, with correct maintenance practices, its airframe has unlimited life. So, it can fly ’till one wants it to fly. The PAF recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in service since 1967.

...and the worst?

Lacks slow-speed manoeuvring capability, dog-fighting, vis-à-vis contemporary fighter aircraft. Well, it was never made to be in a turning battle anyways. ‘Energy Maneuverability’ is its forte’ in air-to-air engagements and its good at what it does. Come in fast, point & shoot with high instantaneous turn rate capability, if no joy/unable, extend maintaining speed, gain separation/distance from the adversary, pitch back in oblique, re-enter the fight!

What was its biggest achievement?

The Mirage III/V, being a design of the 50s has stood the test of time. Not to mention the excellence poured in by engineers and technicians in keeping this beast alive and kicking. It has been the backbone of PAF for more than half a century. From strategic to tactical operations, you name it, it has done it for the Force… and done it well!

How would you rate it in the following

A. Instantaneous turn

Best in 30 to 40 degrees turn from linear flight path due high wing loading.

B. Sustained turn

Same reason as above, ‘high wing loading’ meaning increased induced drag generation with even small control surface deflection as well as relatively low thrust-to-weight ratio does not enable to it be a good dog-fighter in a turning battle.

C. Climb rate

Depends on the load carried. In the air-to-air configuration, it is ‘decent’ but cannot match present-day fighter jets.

D. Ride at low-level

This is where it beats everyone, IMHO!… The jet just doesn’t pay heed to any updrafts nor downdrafts… smooth as silk over land… and over water, even better! 😉

E. Crew comfort 

Mirage is an ‘old-skool’ jet. Crew-comfort in dreary humid monsoon months did not mean a lot to designers in France in the 1950s. So air-conditioning is negligible on the tarmac during the summer, but in winters it is as cosy as sitting by a fire in a log cabin. I’ve performed ADA (Air Defense Alert) when the weather and the geopolitical situation were as hot it gets.

What are the biggest myths about the aircraft? 

PAF Falcons on Twitter: "On 26th April 1974, #PakistanAirForce fighter  pilot Flight Lieutenant Sattar Alvi shot down the Israeli Air Force  #MirageIIICJ flown by Captain M. Lutz." / Twitter

Until the end of the 1973 Arab-Israel War, the gleaming ‘David-Star’ Mirage-IIICJ had been considered unbeatable’ by middle-eastern Islamic countries. In came Flight Lieutenant Sattar Alvi (Retired Air Commodore) – a PAF member who flew for the Syrian Air Force with callsign Golan-8 on his MiG-21 – and shot Captain M Lutz of the Israeli Air Force out of the sky. The myth of the invincibility of Israeli Mirages was broken then and there. It only goes going to prove the old adage, ‘the gun matters, but the man behind the gun matters more!’

Tell me something I don’t know about the Mirage

A smart, sleek and slender technician is always kept in the maintenance team by engineering officers to physically enter shock-cone laden, side-intakes of the Mirage to witness and identify the condition of the first few compressor blade stages for any cracks, bird hits or IOD (Internal Object Damage). I could not believe it till I saw it with my own eyes! 😊

What should I have asked you? 

Until when is the PAF going to fly this ‘hunk of junk’? Honestly! I cannot say because it is playing some vital roles in the National Security matrix. That being said, the up-and-coming JF-17 Thunder is rather quickly taking over those duties with the correct amount of en vogue (and necessary) risk management. So, maybe another few decades, give or take a few! 😉

Advice to potential Mirage pilots?

  • Completely comprehend slow-speed handling characteristics of the weapon system.
  • Never-ever leave things to chance. Prepare missions well by reasoning through information on the jet ‘dog-houses’. Synthesize whole sortie into a mental model.
  • Never go below the ‘magic number’ of 300 knots in combat. Backside of the power curve is a no-no.
  • When in doubt, DECIDE and ABORT!

Which other types have you flown?

Short diversification. MFI-17 Mushak, MFI-395 Super Mushak, T-37 Tweety Bird, K-8 Karakoram-8, T-38C Talon (with USAF), Cessna 150, Cessna 172 to mention a few.

Is the Mirage still a viable warplane today?

It is very much a ‘player’ in the doctrine of the PAF as it was demonstrated on Swift Retort ops of 27th February 2019 skirmish with India. In air-to-ground role… YES! In air-to-air role… NO!

ENJOYING THIS? THEN YOU’LL LOVE THE HUSH-KIT BOOK OF WARPLANES Vol 2! Pre-order your copy here of this beautiful coffee-table book made from the choicest cuts of Hush-Kit with a generous slab of new unpublished material, magnificent unseen illustrations and other wonders from the thrilling world of military aviation.

What was your most notable mission?

That’s a very good question! Next question?!… ‘I-can-tell-you-but-then-I-would-have-to-kill-you!’ sort of a query… Let’s just say I have had my fair share of ‘exhilarations’ & ‘experiences’ that any Mirage operator can dream of doing.


What enemy aircraft types would it likely face in war and how would it fare against them?

My threat perception is based on the deep study of regional geo-politics & air power milieu. I would say stand-off weapon capability is the Mirage’s ‘go-to’ role for PAF, maybe it will be for tactical or strategic effect. Hence, the Force will not be willing to enter the hornet’s nest with this trusty ol’ steed and expose it to HIMAD (HIgh to Medium Air Defense), SHORAD (Short Range Air Defense) nor THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense).

16. What systems or weapons did it lack?

Contemporarily, ‘avionics’ is the biggest difference amongst various generations of fighter jets. Mirage is rather rudimentary a machine that does not hold too much gadgetry under its hood. This has its plus side, no EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) bomb nor emanator can disrupt its operations. But it does make it a more challenging fighter to fly for the pilot in the hot seat.

Arsenal-wise, the obvious choice of weapon is first-shot capability BVRAAM (Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile). With it, the ‘first-see’ competency is a pre-requisite. Hence, a pulse doppler, PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) or better yet an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar would be nice! I know it’s going a bit overboard, but for the glory of the Mirage… ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! 😉

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

Describe life on ADA
We were doing ADA (Air Defense Alert) duties from a Main Operating Base in central Pakistan in 2008 after the infamous Mumbai attacks. Some Indians had proclaimed that Pakistan was involved. It was the month of October and dense fog had settled over the whole area. There was near-zero visibility. We were always keeping an alternate base for recovery because our then base commander (now a retired three-star) had said, ‘I won’t stop you from taking-off but do not come back to land due to the bad visibility conditions. So, we were always keeping another base in the north as an alternate for recovery. The plan was simple, whoever gets to the runway first liaises with ATC, lines-up single ship and take-off. The others will follow. There were many cockpit standby’s, even start-ups but alas! No scrambles. There were eight jets doing ADA. Good Times!

How do you rate the cockpit?

For a conventional cockpit, ergonomics was never the strong point. But all ‘information’ was within reach and dials well-placed. The ‘kidney-pad’ was always a relief and needed to be settled well while strapping up especially for the ‘long’ sortie.


What were the weapons and what was it like firing each? Were they effective?

It is safe to say, they were not ‘Smart’. So, it was a lot of pilot ability at play, rather rudimentary firing cues enable a little to use gadgetry on-board to engage the bull’s-eye.

General-purpose bombs, Durandals, CBU’s etc. But the best of the lot was the H-4. It was accurate yet the man behind the gun was literally flying the stand-off weapon to the target.

Should the Mirage be retired?

With the JF-17 Thunder taking-over responsibilities and over-taking the Mirage technologically, it is inevitable but a specific timeline cannot be given. In my personal opinion, it has paid for its money’s worth.

What do the F-16 pilots think of the Mirage community?

Both have their specific roles to play in their own arena. That does not mean there is no rivalry amongst the Viper and Mirage clan. It is always a ‘healthy’ competition between the two when in Dissimilar Air Combat Training. But on the ground, we are all on the same team.

Did the aircraft have a nickname?

No… Mirage is a Mirage!… The oldest one was nicknamed ‘Baba’ (Tail Number 101)

How reliable are the aircraft?

The reliability rate varies with Mirage’s version-to-version but engineers and technicians from the maintenance team have done a bang-up job keeping these birds airworthy even in this day and age.

What should I have asked you?

What is the FCF (Functional Check Flight) profile for the Mirage?

Highest of altitudes at highest of speeds to slowest of speeds to mid-air engine switch-off and relights in the air… One of the most demanding yet enthralling missions in the long list of profiles it conducts.


Which Allied Fighter scored the most victories in World War Two? I believe I know the answer
One of these fighter aircraft scored more air-to-air victories than any other Allied aircraft. Photo: Ronnie MacDonald/wiki

There is a popular idea that the P-51 or Hellcat scored the most victories of all the Allied fighter aircraft. What is the truth? Edward Rippeth believes he knows the answer to what many would consider an impossible question to answer.

By Edward Rippeth

For whatever reason, there is no published Spitfire count of victories – or at least not one I could find. It is in this apparent absence of this vital information, people have laid claim that the better documented Mustang (attributed 5599 kills) and the Hellcat (a very precise 5173 kills) are the top-scoring aircraft. However, it is my view that there is enough evidence to prove that the Spitfire achieved the edge in terms of total victories in World War II. And please note, this article is based on confirmed claims, not admitted losses by the Axis. Perhaps the real figures are lower, maybe by 25- to 30%, but that applies to both US air forces as well as the RAF. But my base assumption is that neither the RAF nor US Air Forces were more or less prone to over-claiming.

So the case for the Spitfire rests on four key elements.

1. The diminution of the Battle of Britain

8 Facts About Battle Of Britain You Should Know | Imperial War Museums

Firstly, the Battle of Britain effect serves to negate the Spitfire’s overall contribution. The combination of the Spitfire’s apparently low and second-place tally (behind the Hawker Hurricane), combining with the unique importance of the Battle has overshadowed the Spitfire’s incredible overall contribution to the war. No air battle has been studied so intensely, and at no other point have victory claims been so thoroughly dissected. They were even the subject of UK Parliamentary debate in 1947, with full ‘official’ figures matched to German records published in the permanent Parliamentary record Hansard. This has inevitably brought the number down – with 2600+ claims whittled down to 1733, even though Luftwaffe records also record over 600 damaged aircraft. This means that the Battle history is based on documented Luftwaffe losses – and not confirmed pilot claims, unlike the big scores of the Mustang and the Hellcat. In addition, the more numerous Hurricane scored more kills in the Battle (with over 50% of kills to the Spitfire’s 42%), putting a question mark next to how effective the Spitfire could be. And finally, most tallies use an arbitrary cut-off at the end of the battle which reduces the number of kills significantly.

One measure counts the battle as the intensive period between 8 August and 30 September – during which time the Spitfire scored 529 kills confirmed against Luftwaffe losses, i.e. not a huge number. In fact, for the pilots involved, German raids over Britain started over the Channel convoys immediately following the fall of France towards the end of June, and continued to the end of the year (interestingly, the 1947 Hansard record shows that in the preliminary period and after the start of October, RAF claims were significantly less than Luftwaffe losses). Therefore, in terms of confirmed pilot claims, the Spitfire in fact should be credited with about 1,400 victories for this campaign. This, though, is only the start of the Spitfire’s stellar career, and indeed the major role that RAF and Commonwealth fighters played in the war. Just 23% of RAF fighter victories occurred during the Battle of Britain.

2. The Spitfire fought the whole war

It is a rarely acknowledged fact that uniquely, the Spitfire both started and finished the war as a front-line fighter; only its great rival the Messerschmitt Bf 109 comes close. While the only aircraft the Spit shot down in the first month of the war were Hurricanes in the unfortunate Battle of Barking Creek, it was off the mark within six weeks of World War II starting, with its final kill in its naval Seafire guise out in the Pacific on VJ-Day – six years in which it was, if not always the most numerous, always the pre-eminent fighter plane of the Royal Air Force. In that time the Spitfire fought at Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, had two years of battling over France before providing escort to the early USAAF raids; it also fought and won in North Africa, Malta, Italy, the reconquest of Burma, not to mention continuing to fight in western Europe until VE-Day. Spitfires had likely claimed over 3,000 victories before the Mustang or Hellcat even opened their accounts.

It’s probably fair to say wherever it turned up, the Spitfire won; it is perhaps no coincidence that Spitfires were not present during defeats like France, Greece, Crete, Singapore and the retreat from Burma. It couldn’t have served as the RAF’s number one fighter for so long, without knocking down lots of aircraft – and did so to decisive effect most notably in Malta and North Africa, where the course of the entire war changed dramatically. The pity is that the Spitfire hadn’t been deployed here sooner, which leads us to the one blemish on the record. The Spitfire’s bone-headed deployment in Sholto Douglas / Leigh Mallory’s Circus and Rhubarb raids of 1941 and 1942 with an unflattering loss ratio, due to using this brilliant short-range interceptor in large-formation fighter sweeps and strafing missions.

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you. 

By contrast, the Hellcat and the Merlin-engined Mustang both served for less than two years and joined the war when in both Eastern and Western theatres, the early offensive onslaught of the Japanese and the Luftwaffe had been blunted, defeated and put on the defensive – thanks to aircraft such as the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the P40 and the Wildcat. In both cases, these two aircraft were not the only widespread and high-scoring US fighters – the Mustang was sharing its kills with the Thunderbolt and Lightning during the Defence of the Reich, while the Hellcat was sharing with the Wildcat, Corsair and Lightning in the Pacific. Nonetheless, it needs stating – both Hellcat and Mustang ran up massive totals very quickly and achieved a level of dominance over enemy fighters which the Spitfire seldom managed. The Spitfire of course shared its early glories with the Hawker Hurricane, but by April 1942 onwards was replacing it and for the last three years of the war, the Hurricane was very rarely used other than as a fighter-bomber. Thereafter the Spitfire was the key RAF day fighter in all theatres except the open oceans and after nightfall.

A lazy assumption I expected to see proven was that from the end of 1943, all the shooting down was being done over Germany by P51s and some by P47s, with Spitfires scarcely getting a look in. Undoubtedly the carnage inflicted by the US fighters was the major factor in the defeat of the Luftwaffe – but it doesn’t cover the whole story. It is clear from the scores of major aces (i.e. those with 12 or more kills) the Spitfire was a significant contributor, with 26% of the aerial kills in this group (the Mustang scores 39%). This was in the main due to the major role Spitfires played in clearing the skies of the Luftwaffe above the battlefields of western Europe post-D-Day. On the 29th June, 1944, the Canadian Fighter Wing led by Johnny Johnson destroyed 26 of the 34 aircraft shot down over the Normandy battle area that day. Further evidence is provided by the impressive number of Spitfire aces in the Northern European theatre between 1943 and 1945 – with Johnny Johnson himself claiming more kills than any other allied pilot (30 of his 38 total) in this campaign, with a pack of others including Canadians Don Laubman and William Kersley, Frenchman Pierre Clostermann, Englishman Stephen Daniel and Kiwi Johnny Checketts all achieving dozens of kills in Spitfires.

Defence of the Reich’ aces

Johnny Johnson (Eng, Spitfire) 30

Francis Gabreski (US P47) 28

Robert S.Johnson (US P47) 27

George Preddy (US P51) 26.83

John C.Meyer (US P51 / P47) 25

Pierre Clostermann (Spitfire / Tempest) 23.5

3. Statistics and more statistics – the scores of aces

Vue de l'avion.

While there isn’t a definitive ‘score’ for the Spitfire, the available statistical evidence points to the Spitfire shooting down more planes than its rivals. There are several ways to look at this. One available source is the scores of significant aces. While the top positions are broadly shared, significantly more RAF and Commonwealth aces than US aces have achieved more than 12 or more kills – 164 to just 125; a breakdown of totals for each of the aircraft types among these aces sees the Spitfire strikingly far ahead in terms of victories with the Hurricane in second. The Hellcat scores notably less on this measure, and is in fifth place behind the Mustang and Thunderbolt. Why the advantage to the RAF planes here? This is probably due to RAF aces being more likely to return to the fray than US aces and doing two or more tours over the course of a longer war. A lot of US pilots had only a short period of a few months to get their scoring in; this is reflected in the mission counts – for example, Robert S.Johnson flew 89 missions for his 27 kills – compared to Johnny Johnson’s 515 for 38 kills.

Total scores for 12-plus aces by aircraft type

Supermarine Spitfire1272.7
Hawker Hurricane919
North American P51 Mustang651.5
Republic P47 Thunderbolt375.2
Grumman F6F Hellcat328
Lockheed P38 Lightning293

Overall, the combined RAF total of aces is behind the US total (918 against 1,234). This is using the strictest criteria for RAF aces – i.e. at least five confirmed kills, with shared kills aggregated. However, the split by different aircraft types shows the Spitfire is top of the pile by number of aces, with the Hellcat ahead of the Mustang on this measure, the Hurricane and the Thunderbolt a little way behind. Another very telling split is that of the US aces, just 476 aced in the west; against 891 for the RAF. The Pacific was a much bigger theatre for US fighter aces.

Fighters listed by number of aces and their total kills

AircraftAcesAce Kills
Supermarine Spitfire3412967
Grumman Hellcat3052185
Hawker Hurricane2612230.5

If the victory totals of all aces are counted up, the Spitfire’s lead holds, but it’s closer. Thanks to the detailed breakdowns of individual ace scores in Shore / Williams Aces High, it is possible to very precise about the RAF ace scores and which aircraft the aces scored in which plane. This makes it very clear that one popular claim, that the Hurricane outscored the Spitfire, is incorrect. I’ve also added ace totals for the Mustang and the Hellcat, and this shows the Spitfire remains very clearly out in front on this measure – because more pilots became aces in the Spitfire, and of these aces, many more were high scorers. As you’d expect given the US has more aces, the combined total score of all RAF and Commonwealth aces is 7,983, significantly less than the US total – 9,341.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk - Wikipedia

What the research also shows is that RAF pilots tended to switch their aircraft type more often than US pilots. A lot of Hurricane pilots from the Battle of Britain converted to Spitfires, or in the Mediterranean campaign, moved from Gladiators to Hurricanes and / or Tomahawks, and in plenty of cases moved from day fighter squadrons to night fighter squadrons where they ended up in twin-engine Beaufighters and Mosquitos. So aces in other planes may also have scored in Spitfires. The Williams and Shore record doesn’t stop with aces, they also include ‘near’ aces or pilots with some kind of claim on five aircraft, including probables and shared victories. Counting the scores of aces in other planes and ‘near’ aces, the Spitfire’s score moves up to 3,593, with the Hurricane on 2,730. And that’s the limit for logged confirmed RAF claims in the public domain for these two aircraft without having to dig through gazillions of archives.

4. The missing statistic – the non-ace scores

Polish Pilots and the Battle of Britain
Hurricane pilots of the Battle of Britain

The ‘known known’ is the aces’ scores and for the Spitfire, the near aces’ scores; the unknown is a number for those under the waterline – all those hundreds, possibly thousands of pilots who shot down aircraft but not enough to achieve ace status. During the Battle of Britain, 2,937 pilots flew at least one sortie during the battle. Of these 178 were aces in the battle, and over 400 of these would become aces at some stage of World War 2, compiling over 3,500 kills. What of the other 2,500 pilots? What we do know is that 2,741 claims were registered up to October 31st, with about 400 more up to the end of the year. The Battle’s 178 aces scored 1,386 of these, and by my count, Shore and Williams logged 1,967 kills by WW2 aces and near aces. Therefore about 1,170 kills were claimed by non-WW2 aces – or 37% of the total. Is this ratio typical? Possibly not – very different circumstances may lead to a different ratio; pilots in a theatre like China-Burma-India with relatively little air combat (it saw just 20 RAF and C’wealth aces) are likely to see a proportionately much higher contribution by non-aces. But by getting to the non-ace percentage across the whole war, we can make an accurate estimate of all kills by the RAF and Commonwealth, including by plane type – and get to our Spitfire total.

ENJOYING THIS? THEN YOU’LL LOVE THE HUSH-KIT BOOK OF WARPLANES Vol 2! Pre-order your copy here of this beautiful coffee-table book made from the choicest cuts of Hush-Kit with a generous slab of new unpublished material, magnificent unseen illustrations and other wonders from the thrilling world of military aviation.

To do this, there is one further set of data. Squadron total claims, which are also available for many but not all RAF, RCAF, RAAF and SAAF squadrons. For example, the RAF’s second-highest scoring squadron, 92 Squadron, has 317.5 claimed scores, of which 204 are listed as by aces or near aces, i.e. 36% are ‘unknown’, i.e. very close to the Battle of Britain. However, some squadrons, like the South African 1 Squadron which fought primarily in North Africa, have over 50% unknown. A sample of ten squadrons shows well over 40% of kills are unlisted. Assuming this proportion is not affected by fighter type (and only two of the sampled squadrons did not use Spitfires at some time), this means that we can produce a final total for the Spitfire and Hurricane.

The victory totals of the US fighters accords with non-ace data for the USAAF Fighter groups and USN and USMC fighter squadrons. These show that non-aces for each squadron amount to about 62% of total kills – so the Mustang’s ace total of 2117 becomes 5570 – almost identical to the published number of kills for the Mustang (5599). So the squadron information effectively confirms the published numbers for US aircraft: the large gap between ace kills and total kills for the Mustang and the Hellcat has an explanation. The information on US aces doesn’t consistently include breakdown by aircraft type, and there’s no handy list of ‘near aces’, but I’ve put together a table including examples of US squadrons and fighter groups and RAF squadrons – including just the squadron ace totals, so it compares like with like. What it shows is that USAAF Fighter Groups tend to have higher non-ace scoring proportions than the RAF, which nonetheless tend to be greater than 50% of a squadron’s kills. What is also very clear is that high-scoring squadrons in all the air forces have a much lower percentage of kills by non-aces – notably David McCampbell’s high-scoring VF-15 US Navy squadron where they rack up just 31% of kills, even lower than the RAF’s 92 Squadron.

SquadronTotalAces totalNon-aces totalNon-aces %Notes
1 SAAF165.560.8310463.3%Fought mainly North Africa, top ace Kenneth Driver
92 ‘East India’ RAF317.5154163.551.5%17 aces headed by Kingaby, Duke, Tuck and Bartley
112 RAF2068811857.3%Shark’s teeth motif. 12 aces headed by Billy Drake.
264 RAF13875.3362.6645.4%First Defiant squadron; nightfighters from 1941.10 aces headed by Thorn, Cook and Young
331 RAF (Norway)114654942.7%All-Norwegian; 9 aces headed by Svein Heglund
23 Fighter Group62122040164.6%Top Asia-Pacific fighter group. Formed from Flying Tigers, China-Burma-India. 30 aces including Herbst, McComas, Older and ‘Tex’ Hill.
325 Fighter Group52018533564.4%North African and Mediterranean fighter group, headed by Herschel ‘Herky’ Green.
354 Fighter Group70132038154.4%Top European fighter group. 40 aces headed by Eagleston and Beerbower.
US Navy VF-14146519565.1%8 aces headed by William Knight (7.5k)
US Navy VF-15310214.595.530.8%Top-scoring US Navy squadron, headed by McCampbell (34), Chamberlain (13.5)
US Marines VMF-1212081149445.2%US Navy squadron, 22 aces

So how many victories did the Spitfire get? By adding the uncounted scores, the RAF and Commonwealth Spitfires scored 5,988 kills. This puts the aircraft just ahead of the Mustang on 5599.

However, there is one further set of scores that I could factor in, which is scores of the fighter types with other air forces. The Spitfire was flown by the USAAF, the Mustang by the RAF (as was the P47), and the Hellcat by the Royal Navy. Hurricanes were flown quite extensively by the Russians. Figures given for the USAAF Spitfire is 350, and the Royal Navy Hellcat 50. The Mustang has 110 kills listed for eight RAF aces and near aces (mainly Polish pilots but headed by the Greek pilot Bassilios Vassiliados with 5.83 kills), which translates into 185 kills using the 40% for unlisted kills. One last note – the Red Air Force flew Hurricanes in combat, although they weren’t popular. They had 17 aces, which suggests about 300 kills, not enough to close the gap (Red Air Force figures are very sketchy indeed, hence I’ve not included in this analysis). So the final listing is as follows – the Spitfire heading the Mustang and Hellcat. Hence my declaration that the Supermarine Spitfire is the highest-scoring Allied fighter type of World War II.

Aircraft typeKills
Supermarine Spitfire6,338
North American P51 Mustang5,784
Grumman F6F Hellcat5,223
Hawker Hurricane4,850
Republic P47 Thunderbolt3,786

Sources: Aces High Christopher Shore / Clive Williams (Grub Street); American Fighter Aces Association website; Stephen Sherman’s; Aces of; Wikipedia; Most Dangerous Enemy Stephen Bungay.

Edward Rippeth

Head of Primary Publishing, International schools
Cambridge University Press

The extraordinary beautiful Hush-Kit Book of Volume 2 will begin when funding reaches 100%. To support it simply pre-order your copy here. Save the Hush-Kit blog. Our site is absolutely free and we want to keep it that way. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. Your donations keep this going. Treat yourself to something from our shop here. Thank you.
One of these fighter aircraft scored more air-to-air victories than any other Allied aircraft. Photo: Ronnie MacDonald/wiki

The Top Ten US Navy Aircraft of World War II

Obviously it’s in there but is it number one?

It is striking both how few different types the US Navy operated during World War II, particularly from carriers, and how nearly all of them were either totally brilliant or just awful. Inconveniently, for lists such as these, the war ended just as some very impressive types were happening along: the excellent F8F Bearcat and AD-1 Skyraider were both flying by VJ day but neither had entered service, likewise the FD-1 Phantom, the first jet designed from scratch for carrier use. Most frustrating of all was the spectacular F7F Tigercat, it became operational the day before Japan surrendered so its contribution to the war effort was, understandably, limited. It is virtually impossible to make any left-field choices for USN aircraft during the war because, frankly, there weren’t any. 

So let’s take a look at the ones that did make it – hopefully one or two of them are slightly surprising and at least four made it into Steven Spielberg films, here are the top ten WWII USN aircraft:

10. Martin PBM Mariner

Mariner PBM-3S viewed through the distinctive tail of a sister aircraft. The PBM-3S was a dedicated anti-submarine variant that ditched gun turrets and armour for increased range. Note the huge radar housing above the cockpit.

Better than the Catalina in every regard (except, initially at least, reliability) the Mariner is nonetheless fairly obscure today. Despite being the second most numerous flying boat ever built (with 1366 produced, just one more example was built than the next most numerous – the Beriev MBR-2), it never fully escaped from the PBY’s slow-moving shadow but the PBM deserves more recognition for it was an excellent flying boat that enjoyed lengthy service from before America’s entry into the war until the 1950s. One of several large aircraft to be tested by a piloted scale model (powered by two Chevrolet car engines, it was christened the ‘Tadpole Clipper’ and survives in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum), the first PBM flew with a flat tail but aerodynamic concerns led to the tail being given the same dihedral as the inner wing and resulted in the aircraft’s distinctive inward canted tailfins.

Early war PBM-3 shows off its potent defensive armament with twin fifty cals in nose, tail and dorsal turrets.

Entering service with VP-55 in September 1940 the Mariner, whilst generally successful, was considered somewhat underpowered and control in the event of an engine failure was marginal at best. A later switch to the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 solved that particular issue but the change came about relatively late in the war and the Wright R-2600s fitted to earlier aircraft were neither powerful nor reliable enough for a maritime patrol aircraft. Nonetheless, PBMs sank at least ten (some sources say 12) U-boats and were widely used in the Pacific, including in the nocturnal interdiction role. For operations at night, the Mariners were painted all over black and known as ‘Nightmares’ but never gained the same sort of notoriety as the PBY ‘Black Cats’ that undertook the same role.

Yes but can the Catalina do this? (it could). PBM shows off its spectacular JATO capability in October 1944.

Later PBMs carried an impressive array of electronic equipment, for example the PBM-5S2 carried the AN/APS-15 radar, the AN/ARR-31 sonar buoy signal receiver, an L-11 searchlight, and an AN/ASQ magnetic anomaly detector. The Mariner was an extremely well-armed flying boat, with nose, tail and dorsal turrets mounting two .50-cal machine guns apiece and a single hand-held weapon in each beam position. Later examples could carry 8000lb of bombs or depth charges, double that of the PBY.

ENJOYING THIS? THEN YOU’LL LOVE THE HUSH-KIT BOOK OF WARPLANES Vol 2! Pre-order your copy here of this beautiful coffee-table book made from the choicest cuts of Hush-Kit with a generous slab of new unpublished material, magnificent unseen illustrations and other wonders from the thrilling world of military aviation.

The PBM remained in frontline service during the Korean war and undertook patrols and ASR duties. One example was attacked by Chinese MiG-15s whilst on radar monitoring duties during July 1952 but managed to escape. The last examples served with the Coast Guard until 1958. The Mariner was also the direct basis for the Martin Marlin, the last and best flying boat produced in the US.

9. Lockheed PV-1 Ventura

Early PV-1 being bombed up in the Aleutians mid 1943. The Ventura served everywhere the US Navy maintained a presence. Note that the white bars and red surround to the national markings have simply been painted over the nose glazing.

Due to the fact that the US Navy quite famously fought the Japanese and Germans in World War II it is easy to forget now that their real enemy was always the US Army. Much as with their Japanese foes, interservice rivalry was (and remains) rife in the American armed forces, how else can one explain the existence of the Navy’s Army’s Air Force (or the Marine Air Corps Aviation as it is sometimes known) when the US possesses a perfectly good Army and Air Force already? Before (and indeed during) the Second World War the USAAF attempted to stymie the effectiveness of Naval aviation by demanding a monopoly on land-based heavy bombers and patrol aircraft and then, just to rub salt in the wound, using their spiffy new B-17s to intercept USN ships at sea (tee hee). As a result an affronted USN successfully demanded the War Department prevent any Army Air Force aircraft patrolling further than 100 miles from shore. All this went out the window when German U-boats started exacting a heavy toll on transatlantic shipping. The Navy, logically, saw the use of aircraft against maritime targets as their domain but were compelled to use flying boats and floatplanes but really wanted to use long-range, land-based patrol and reconnaissance aircraft with a large bomb load.

Luckily for the Navy, the USAAF wanted their Renton plant to build B-29s and they cunningly wangled permission to operate land-based bombers as a condition of the agreement. Not only that but they also managed to bag for their exclusive use a reliable but slightly obscure land-based medium bomber then in production, the B-34 Lexington, which would become the PV-1 and adopt the British name Ventura in Naval hands. RAF Venturas had not been particularly successful in the crowded skies of mainland Europe and were being discarded in favour of the Mosquito by the time the PV-1 was making its debut but over the ocean things were somewhat less demanding in terms of aerial opposition and the disappointing bomber became, through politics, chance, and interservice bickering rather than by design, an excellent patrol aircraft.

ASW Ventura, somewhere over the Atlantic.

Like the visually similar Lockheed Hudson that preceded it, which had proved highly successful as a maritime patrol aircraft in British service, the Ventura was a derivative of an airliner, in this case the Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar. Although it didn’t have the range capability of the PB4Y Liberator, the PV-1 was well-armed, fairly manoeuvrable and quite fast. As such it was able to attack enemy shipping and submarines in a more aggressive fashion than the somewhat ponderous Liberator or the terrifically slow Catalina. Being essentially a medium bomber, the Ventura was able to carry depth charges, mines, a torpedo or regular bombs and could attack shore installations and land targets just as effectively as enemy shipping. It was also one of the first US aircraft to regularly carry radar and Venturas often acted as ‘lead-ships’ for non-radar equipped Liberator units, as well as conducting its own strikes. The most surprising usage it was put to was as a night fighter. The Marine corps, always at the bottom of the chain when it came to aircraft procurement, were casting around for a suitable radar-equipped night fighter, hoping for something along the lines of the Army’s P-70 Havoc or P-61 Black Widow, or the British Beaufighter or Mosquito (both of which had been procured for USAAF use). The only remotely suitable aircraft available was the PV-1 and sure enough it went into action as the Marines’ first radar equipped aircraft. Despite being a naval offshoot of a bomber with relatively limited performance, the Ventura did surprisingly well, claiming its first kill, a Mitsubishi G4M bomber, in the early hours of 13 November 1943. Subsequently, an improved variant with longer range, the PV-2 Harpoon, was developed towards the end of the war but a problem with its wing required a major redesign and this, the best version of this highly versatile aircraft saw only brief service before VJ day. 

‘Chloe’ was one of the Marine Corps’ PV-1 night fighters and featured extra forward firing machine guns. The arrowhead antenna of the British Mk IV (SCR-540) radar is just visible poking out of the extreme nose

The political machinations that gave rise to use of the PV-1 as a maritime patrol craft are long gone but the Navy still uses many long range land-based patrol aircraft in the form of the Orion and Poseidon as a direct result of those machinations, and the Ventura was the granddaddy of them all.

8. Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

Was the Helldiver as evil as this photograph would have us believe? Some would argue yes.

Aviation history is littered with examples of potentially world-beating aircraft that through bad luck or bad timing failed to achieve anything much, the Helldiver is an example of that much rarer breed: an aircraft that was unpopular, unpleasant and (initially at least) dangerous, yet delivered an outstanding service record. Widely criticised for its problematic development and unfortunate flying characteristics, as a case in point the Helldiver was rejected for British service due to ‘appalling handling’, the SB2C was nonetheless a spectacularly successful anti-shipping aircraft and (allegedly) accounted for a greater tonnage of enemy shipping sunk than any other US aircraft, of which more later. First flown in 1940, the SB2C was supposed to replace Douglas’s SBD Dauntless, which had always been regarded as something of a stop-gap, in the dive bomber role. Problems arose from the very beginning: the prototype exhibited structural weaknesses, poor handling, directional instability, and stall characteristics, pretty much all of which were derived from its limited dimensions, particularly its abbreviated fuselage length – dictated by the size of Essex class carrier deck lifts. The aircraft was simply too small for its weight. There were also problems with its Wright R-2600 Twin-Cyclone engine. Although this engine matured into a reliable power unit it is notable that around this time Grumman dropped it for the Hellcat and went with the R-2800 Twin Wasp instead.

The prototype XSB2C aloft on a snowy 18 December 1940. Note the woefully small tail. This aircraft was lost a little over a year later when the wing failed during diving tests.

Added to all this the Navy demanded nearly 900 changes to the design which seriously delayed the start of production and added greatly to the weight of the aircraft, exacerbating its handling woes. The aircraft was extremely difficult to control below 100mph yet the approach to the carrier was supposed to be flown at 98mph so deck landing was problematic at best. Arguably worst of all, the SB2C wasn’t even particularly good at dive-bombing, the controls became heavy in the dive and the dive brakes caused severe tail buffeting, both of which reduced accuracy. Throughout its career, though particularly at the start, the SB2C would be compared unfavourably against the Dauntless, an aircraft that was easy to fly, a supremely accurate dive bomber, and possessed greater range. The Helldiver’s reputation improved as its career progressed but it would never entirely escape the shadow of its illustrious predecessor. 

Oft reproduced but excellent photo of an SB2C-3 Helldiver banking over USS Hornet before landing. The aircraft was returning from strikes in the China sea January 1945. Note pitot tube of camera aircraft in foreground.

Initial SB2C-1s were regarded as basically unfit for combat and nearly all were retained in the US for training (with the exception of those of a single Marine Corps unit operating from Enewetak Atoll). The SB2C-1C was the first model to serve aboard a carrier, going into action for the first time with an attack on Rabaul on 11 November 1943. The new aircraft was thoroughly disliked by crews who joked that SB2C stood for Son of a Bitch 2nd Class and nicknamed it ‘The Beast’. Later models massively improved handling and dive accuracy, especially after the introduction of the SB2C-3 which featured a more powerful Twin-Cyclone engine. During the last two years of the war Helldivers sunk over 300 Japanese ships (including, in concert with torpedo bombers, the magnificent battleships Yamato and Musashi) and attacked countless targets on shore. Helldivers officially accounted for 44 Japanese fighters shot down (almost certainly an inflated figure) and only 19 were ever lost to enemy aircraft though this says more about the parlous state of Japanese naval aviation than any particular quality of the aircraft itself, had it not appeared two years late that number would be much greater. Having said that it cannot be denied the Helldiver was tough (though early examples displayed suspect build quality): an abrupt pull out in a dive-bombing attack could lead to a 13G load on the airframe which the SB2C could, and did, absorb. Later models also engendered considerable affection from their crews: Helldiver pilot Bob Barnes for example stated that it was “a great dive bomber”.

The Helldiver’s reputation around a carrier deck was less than inspiring but had improved somewhat by the time this example was photographed aboard an unidentified Casablanca class escort carrier. By 1945 the Helldiver’s greatest flaw was its poor reputation.

By 1945 it was clear that single seat fighters could carry the same amount of ordnance as the Helldiver and weapon improvements meant that dive-bombing was no longer the sole means to achieve acceptable accuracy. Furthermore a fighter was far less vulnerable to enemy aircraft than a big heavy two-seater. As such the SB2C was the last purpose-built dive bomber in USN service, withdrawn from the active inventory during 1948. Surprisingly, given its less than stellar reputation, the SB2C found ready acceptance in foreign navies, seeing combat both during the Greek Civil war in the late 1940s and with France in French Indochina (Vietnam) as late as 1954. 

Curtiss produced a training film in an attempt to dispel the bad vibes attendant on the Helldiver in which a ‘pilot’ rather unconvincingly claims “I think it’s a darn good plane myself” near the end. You can watch it here and see if you believe him.

7. Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer 

Best long-range land based maritime aircraft of the war?

The USN used many B-24 Liberators with great success for long-range patrol and anti-submarine warfare, designating them the PB4Y. The PB4Y-2 Privateer represented the ultimate Naval Liberator model: stretched, improved and optimised for maritime requirements. The finest land-based long-range maritime aircraft of the war, the Privateer was instantly distinguishable from its Liberator ancestors by its truly enormous single tailfin in place of the much more modest twin tails of the earlier aircraft. A slightly more detailed inspection would reveal that the forward fuselage was significantly lengthened and the oval-shaped engine nacelles were switched for circular units. The Liberator’s slightly awkward front turret arrangement had been cleaned up, a process made easier by the adoption of a spherical Emerson 128 turret for the nose position whereas on the rear fuselage, two large and distinctive teardrop blisters contained the positions for the waist gunners. The huge tail transformed the capricious handling of the B-24 and was to have become a standard fit on the standard Liberator bomber (as the B-24N) but only seven were produced before all outstanding Liberator contracts were cancelled at the end of the war, though there is some evidence that Consolidated themselves connived to have the B-24N contract quashed, the new variant had been designed by Ford and management at Consolidated were allegedly furious that a car factory might have developed a superior aircraft than they could manage.

This Privateer was photographed over Miami in 1949. The PB4Y-2 enjoyed an extremely long postwar career. Note massive tail and distinctive ‘blister’ turrets on rear fuselage.

Meanwhile, the Privateer had begun to show off its spectacular capabilities on operations. The first units became operational during late 1944 and arrived in theatre only during early 1945 so the Privateer’s WWII service life was relatively brief though quite intense. By this stage of the war advances in electronics meant that the Privateer possessed a versatile electronic suite (by 1940s standards anyway) that could be tailored to suit a variety of given missions. Thus Privateers acted as anti-shipping search and destroy units, airborne communication platforms, radar and radio-station hunter-killers, weather reconnaissance planes, or search and rescue aircraft to find downed airmen with their radio direction finders. They could even act as their own standoff anti-radar jamming unit. Privateers also managed to make history by becoming the first aircraft to take a fully automated guided missile into action in the form of the ASM-N-2 ‘Bat’ radar-guided glide bomb. Several ships were sunk by Privateers with this revolutionary weapon and several others put out of action, most notably the coastal defence ship Akugi. 

The world’s first ‘smart’ bomb. Somewhat careworn PB4Y-2 with two ASM-N-2 Bat glide bombs under the wings.

After the war, its roomy fuselage and great endurance rendered the Privateer ideal for further usage as an ELINT platform and spy plane as the Cold war became more serious: a PB4Y-2 was shot down over the Baltic by Soviet La-11 fighters in April 1950 and several more operated by Taiwan were destroyed by Chinese fighters. Mothballed Privateers were reactivated for use in Korea where their air to ground radar was used to detect coastal incursions by North Korean vessels. By 1954 all had been replaced in USN service by the P2V Neptune, several Privateers enjoyed a second career with the Coast Guard whilst others served as highly effective firefighting aircraft until 2002. The Privateer was an aircraft ahead of its time that paved the way for a whole swathe of very long-range patrol aircraft packed with ever more sophisticated and powerful electronics.

6. Grumman F6F Hellcat  

Early Hellcat on a training carrier. The red surround to the national insignia on US aircraft was only applied for a two month period in the summer of 1943.

A profoundly sensible update to the Wildcat, the Hellcat took the same basic formula of a nice handling, easy to fly airframe of immense strength and mated it to an engine producing nearly double the horsepower of the Wildcat’s Twin Wasp. The result was arguably the most competent carrier fighter of the war, equal or superior to virtually every enemy it faced and possessing none of the handling foibles of its great rival, the Corsair. On the other hand, although powered by the same engine, the Hellcat could never match the outright speed of the Vought aircraft. However, in action against the Japanese, absolute speed, though desirable, was not the most important quality a fighter could possess and the Hellcat enjoyed a healthy performance advantage over its primary opponent, the A6M Zero. 

The Hellcat was a decidedly large aircraft and no one would call it pretty but it shot down more enemy aircraft than any other naval aircraft in history.

Developed in record time, the F6F was initially perceived as little more than a low risk back-up should F4U development go awry. Grumman only received a contract to build the prototype (as an ‘improved F4F’) on 30 June 1941. This was over two years after the first flight of the Corsair, this was a lifetime in aviation development terms at the end of the 1930s, yet the first production Hellcat rolled off the line only four months after the first production Corsair, and despite the head start of the Vought team, the F6F would make up the primary equipment of the USN fighter squadrons throughout 1944 and 45. By the time the Hellcat entered combat in August 1943, it was clear that US forces were on the ascendant in the Pacific and the relative quality of Japan’s aviators and equipment was definitely, in the main, diminishing. Nonetheless, the F6F’s claimed victory to loss ratio of 19 to 1 (5156 kills against 270 losses), whilst definitely (and innocently) inflated, is undeniably impressive.

ENJOYING THIS? THEN YOU’LL LOVE THE HUSH-KIT BOOK OF WARPLANES Vol 2! Pre-order your copy here of this beautiful coffee-table book made from the choicest cuts of Hush-Kit with a generous slab of new unpublished material, magnificent unseen illustrations and other wonders from the thrilling world of military aviation.

Condensation whips off the propeller of this F6F as it waits its turn to take off from USS Yorktown on an operational mission in November 1943. The Hellcat was an excellent deck handling aircraft.

The Hellcats’ greatest moment was probably the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, the largest carrier battle in history, when US carrier aircraft destroyed around 750 Japanese aircraft for the loss of less than two dozen Hellcats. The F6F was the sole US fighter type involved in this action, which destroyed 90% of the aircraft available to Japanese carrier air groups in just two days and effectively destroyed the Japanese Navy’s ability to operate aircraft at sea. A truly superb fighter aircraft, the Hellcat was available in numbers exactly when it was needed and remains inextricably linked with the next aircraft on this list:

5. Chance Vought F4U Corsair

Very early ‘birdcage’ Corsair, so named for the heavily framed cockpit canopy.

An aesthetically striking aircraft, the Corsair managed to weather a painful introduction to carrier operations to emerge not only as one of the finest aircraft of the conflict and but also as one of the most successful combat aircraft of all time. The first American single-engine fighter to exceed 400mph ended up becoming the last piston engine fighter to score an air to air victory (in 1969) but had it not been for the exigencies of war it is likely that the F4U would never have served from a carrier deck at all. The prototype first flew in November 1940 and, although possessed of excellent performance, the Navy wanted changes. Top of their list (due to information being gleaned from air combat in Europe)  was an increase in armament from the two .30 cals in the nose and two .50 cals in the wings to a more viable six .50 cals in the wings. This modification required the deletion of the wing fuel tanks and for the aircraft to maintain any kind of range ability an alternative placement for the fuel had to be found. Centre of gravity issues meant the fuel had to be stored either in or directly above the wing and that’s where it went, a large fuel tank was inserted into the fuselage, over the wing. This in turn necessitated moving the cockpit backwards to allow room for the fuel and this was the origin of the F4U’s most problematic feature for deck landing – the pilot was unable to see over the nose. This issue was compounded by unfortunately stiff shock absorbers in the undercarriage which resulted in the aircraft bouncing back up after the wheels touched the carrier deck, leading potentially to the hook missing all the arrestor wires and an inevitable crash.

The early F4U passed its carrier qualification trials but was tacitly admitted to be a handful. This aircraft is from VF-17, the second USN Corsair squadron which would be credited with 152 aerial victories over the Solomons.

It is often stated that the Corsair failed its carrier qualification tests and that it took the British Fleet Air Arm to develop landing techniques for it but this is a myth. Three USN units had carrier-qualified before the FAA even started to receive Corsairs. Nonetheless, the fact that the F4U was acknowledged to be a difficult aircraft to deck land, particularly when compared to the docile Hellcat, undoubtedly contributed to the decision, taken to simplify logistics of spare parts supply, to equip land-based Marine-corps units with Corsairs and operate Hellcats from carriers. The Navy’s loss was the Marine Corps gain, accustomed to receiving the Navy’s cast-offs the Marines found themselves in possession of arguably the finest naval fighter in the world (though most Hellcat pilots would likely disagree) and proceeded to utilise it to great effect. It is notable that the highest-scoring Corsair ace of the war was a Marine Corps pilot: Robert M Hanson with 25 victories. With improvements to the airframe and handling techniques worked out, the F4U returned to US carrier decks permanently in December 1944.

A USMC F4U unleashes rockets during a strike against targets on Okinawa in 1945. The Corsair’s success as a ground attack aircraft would see heftier two-seaters such as the SB2C and TBF sidelined to make way for more versatile single-seat fighter bombers.

The Corsair’s official tally is 2140 aircraft shot down against 189 combat losses, a ratio of 11.3 to 1. This number (like that of the Hellcat) was undoubtedly an overestimate but its record in air combat was astoundingly good. Although the Hellcat shot down more aircraft during World War II and was described by many pilots as a superior dogfighter, the Corsair rates a higher spot due to the fact that it was replacing Hellcats in carrier units by 1945, its greater ultimate development potential, and its astounding longevity: the Corsair flew on in combat service through Korea (scoring 12 kills) and beyond, the Hellcat didn’t. And the Corsair scored the last piston engine air to air kill in history, 17 years after the last Hellcats were expended as radio-controlled bombs. 

Also it looks more exciting. Unlike:

4. Grumman TBF Avenger

December 1944 and a TBF lands on USS Lexington somewhere in the Pacific.

When the Avenger first went into action, five of the six aircraft committed to combat were destroyed. Hardly an auspicious start but the Avenger would ultimately reverse its reputation from this bloody baptism.

A popular myth surrounds the name ‘Avenger’ in which the name is said to have been chosen because the TBF was going to avenge Pearl Harbor. In reality the name had already been picked two months before the attack but the TBF was the first new American aircraft to enter service after the US entry into the war so it’s easy to see how that story gained credibility. Despite looking about as sleek as a washing machine and being the heaviest single-engine aircraft of the entire war, and being saddled with the nickname ‘Turkey’, the chunky TBF was surprisingly sprightly in the air (though could never be described as agile) and proved extremely effective. It also had some star quality – Paul Newman was an Avenger gunner (he wanted to be a pilot but was ruled out due to colour blindness) and George HW Bush, the youngest Naval aviator of the war, piloted a TBF in combat (and was shot down for his trouble). 

Not a great picture but this depicts the sole survivor from the Avenger’s ill-fated combat debut after the damaged aircraft had crash landed back on Midway Island.

Unlike its dive bombing partner, the SB2C, the torpedo bomber Avenger enjoyed a remarkably trouble free introduction to service, being a simple aircraft to fly and deck land, the worst criticism levelled at being that it was a little underpowered and difficult to get out of in an emergency. Like all Grumman products it was possessed of amazing strength and could be operated even from small escort carriers with relative ease. Its combat record speaks for itself, kicking off with the destruction of the battleship Hiei in November 1942 and following it up with numerous other vessels culminating in the shared destruction, in concert with the Helldiver, of the super-battleships Yamato and Musashi.

Showing off what it was designed to do: a TBF lets loose a Mark XIII torpedo in October 1942. The torpedo is fitted with a plywood tail shroud to improve its airborne performance

Over the course of the war the primary function of the TBF switched from anti-shipping missions to ever more commonplace attacks on land targets and the Navy’s premier torpedo aircraft saw much more action as a conventional bomber.But arguably the most important contribution the TBF made to the war was as an anti-submarine aircraft, second only to the Liberator for the number of submarines it sunk. The Avenger was able to make use of the new technology of sonobuoys and the Mark 24 ‘mine’ (or Fido) which was actually an acoustic homing torpedo. Its most impressive victim with this weapon was the Japanese cargo submarine I-52, which was carrying, amongst other things, over two tons of gold and three tons of opium(!) to Germany and intending to return with various high-value items such as bombsights, aircraft components, and, worryingly, 800kg of uranium oxide. I-52 was sunk, gold, opium and all, by a pair of ASW Avengers from escort carrier USS Bogue in June 1944 before it ever made it to Europe.

Why have they done this to me? Postwar Goodyear-built TBM-3W Avenger, showing off the aesthetic ‘improvement’ afforded by a massive ventral radar pod, additional tailfins and the strangely hunchbacked fuselage providing dark accomodation for the lucky radar operators. Actually, the extra tailfins look pretty cool.

Postwar the Avenger served on as an ASW and AEW asset for many years before enjoying a lengthy civilian career as a firefighting aircraft, a role to which its sturdy construction, a hallmark of its naval heritage, made it well suited. The last operational firefighting Avenger was retired as late as 2012. During its busy career, as well as spoiling that prime opium, the TBF managed to shoot down a V-1 ‘doodlebug’ and was the surprising victor in a dogfight with a Nakajima Ki-44 at low level. Most famously perhaps the Avenger is inextricably woven into the legend of the Bermuda Triangle following the infamous disappearance of ‘Flight 19’, five TBFs on a training exercise which vanished in December 1945. An event which led to this scene in Spielberg’s mashed potato sculpting classic ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (which also features a sneaky Hellcat getting in on the action).

3. Grumman F4F Wildcat

Photographed in early 1942, this brand new Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat still sports the prewar insignia that would soon be dropped over fears the red dot might be confused for the Japanese hinomaru marking.

Despite losing out to the Brewster F2A Buffalo to be the US Navy’s first carrier borne monoplane fighter, the pugnacious Wildcat became the finest carrier fighter of its generation and essentially won the air war over the Pacific whereas the poor old Buffalo was consigned to obscurity and inclusion in many ‘world’s worst aircraft’ books and articles (notwithstanding insane levels of success in Finland). Originally designed as a biplane (the unbuilt F4F-1) the Wildcat was hastily altered into a monoplane (F4F-2) when it became clear that the biplane was yesterday’s news, even in an operating environment that required good low-speed controllability and a strong structure – such as a carrier deck – all of which played to the biplane’s strengths. Never particularly fast, the F4F was manoeuvrable (though not in the same league as the A6M Zero, its primary opponent), well-armed, immensely strong and a profoundly good deck landing aircraft and this, as it turned out, was what the Allies desperately required. The Wildcat first saw service with the Royal Navy, becoming the first US aircraft in British service ever to claim a victory in combat when two shot down a Ju 88 on Christmas Day 1940 – oddly the final RN ‘kill’ of a Luftwaffe aircraft was also achieved by Wildcat on 26 March 1945 when four(!) Bf 109Gs were shot down over Norway.

Despite possessing the world’s most comically ineffective looking undercarriage, the Wildcat was noted for its good deck handling.

Meanwhile, in USN service, after the Brewster F2A was withdrawn from carrier operations in late December 1941, the F4F became the only operational fighter on US carriers until the first Hellcats entered the fray in September 1943. As such it was the F4F that provided a fighter presence throughout all the Navy actions for the first year and a half of the conflict and it was during this period that the truly decisive battles of the Pacific war (Midway, Guadalcanal, Santa cruz etc)  were fought when the Imperial Japanese Navy was at the peak of its power and that the ultimate outcome of the conflict was less certain. By the time the Hellcat and Corsair appeared in any numbers the war in the Pacific was effectively won. Against the Zero the Wildcat was at a distinct disadvantage, on paper at least, being slower, less manoeuvrable and (sort of) outgunned by the Japanese aircraft. It more than made up for these deficiencies with the superior tactics employed by the US aviators, aided massively by their reliable radio equipment (by contrast the Zero’s radio was described as “useless” by ace Saburo Sakai), and its incredible toughness. Sakai described the Wildcat’s remarkable sturdiness as follows: “For some strange reason, even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. I thought this very odd—it had never happened before” Meanwhile in the Atlantic the F4F, operating from tiny escort carriers helped to end the threat posed by the Focke Wulf Condor: the ‘Scourge of the Atlantic’ which attacked merchant shipping and passed on convoy details to U-boats. Both RN and USN F4Fs supported the landings of Operation Torch, shooting down several Vichy French aircraft in the process, which is somewhat ironic as France was the first overseas customer for the Wildcat (the F4Fs they ordered were not delivered by the fall of France so the order was taken on by the UK instead). 

The last Wildcats were the FM-2s, built by Goodyear. They are easily distinguishable by their taller tail fin and made up more than half of total Wildcat production. This example is seen just leaving the catapult of USS Core in the Atlantic during the spring of 1944.

Even after being supplanted on the decks of the fleet carriers, Wildcats remained an important presence on escort carriers, too small for the Corsair or Hellcat, until the end of the war in both the Atlantic and Pacific, production (latterly by General Motors) only ceasing in August of 1945. The Wildcat proved that reliability, toughness and ease of use were qualities that should not be underestimated, especially at sea. The US Navy fielded two better fighters but due to the battles it fought and when it fought them but the Wildcat was the most important US naval fighter of the war. 

Here’s a new thing! An exclusive Hush-Kit newsletter delivered straight to your inbox. Hot aviation gossip, opinion, warplane technology updates, madcap history and other insights from the world of aviation by @Hush_Kit Sign up here:

2. Consolidated PBY Catalina

A PBY-5A amphibian on patrol over the snow covered Aleutians in early 1943. Amphibian variants were in production from October 1941.

Memorably namechecked, along with the Ventura, by Quint in Spielberg’s 1977 angling classic ‘Jaws’, the ‘big fat PBY’ was a sight that meant the difference between life and death for thousands of downed aircrew and shipwrecked sailors. It is therefore one of very few combat aircraft that may have directly saved more people during the war than it killed, though it’s impossible to know for sure. And that’s even before you take into account its many years of firefighting service postwar. It was, by virtually any standard you care to apply (apart from maximum speed), the most successful flying boat of the Second World War and arguably in all aviation history. 

Flying boat ground crew have to get wet. A PBY taxiing towards their life raft was the most welcome sight imaginable for countless shipwrecked sailors, soldiers and airmen.

Despite being jokingly referred to as the slowest combat aircraft of the war, the Catalina achieved an amazing amount in US Navy service. As well as being the foremost Allied air-sea rescue aircraft of the conflict (in which role it was invariably referred to as ‘Dumbo’). It was second only to the Liberator (coincidentally designed by the same man: Isaac M Laddon), and tied with the Avenger, as a submarine-destroying aircraft and thus demonstrably helped keep the critical merchant convoys sailing to the UK. Its exceptional endurance made it an outstanding maritime patrol platform, convoy escort and long-range reconnaissance asset. It performed spectacular and highly effective low-level nocturnal interdiction, resulting in the sinking of thousands of tons of Japanese shipping. Yet the PBY could also be utilised as a straightforward cargo transport.

Still in its pre-war markings, a PBY-5 makes its lonely way across the ocean (apart from the aircraft from which the photo was taken I guess). Note the antennae for the early ASV radar poking out from the hull.

The ‘Cat’ also made history by (surprisingly) being the first USN aircraft to score a confirmed air to air victory in World War Two. On 10 December 1941, a PBY flying off the Philippines was intercepted by three A6M2 Zeroes and the bow gunner succeeded in shooting down one of the attacking fighters. Later a Catalina crew famously spotted the Japanese task force on its way to Midway Island, thus beginning the decisive Battle of Midway which represented the turning point of the Pacific war. It was the first operational USN aircraft to carry radar and the first to utilise MAD gear in combat.

When is a Catalina not a Catalina? When it’s a Nomad! The PBN-1 Nomad was a longer range variant with an improved hull (note the pointed bow in the image above) built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. Most were supplied to the Soviet Union.

One of the most important aircraft of the war, the Catalina was built in greater numbers than any other flying boat in history and served with the armed forces of an astounding 31(!) nations, the last being retired in 1982 by Brazil. The earliest surviving airworthy Catalina, of around 20 currently flying worldwide, is a 1941-built PBY-5A now operated by the American Heritage Museum. This aircraft is significant as it is the single most successful anti-submarine airframe in history, having accounted for 3.5 U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic. 

1. Douglas SBD Dauntless

SBDs were worked hard, note the sun-bleached paint and dents in the cowling of the closest aircraft. Cruising over the pristine waters of the South Pacific, these Dauntlesses were operating with shore-based Marines Corps unit VMSB-241 on Midway and photographed for LIFE magazine in the summer of 1942.

A good contender for the single most genuinely decisive combat aircraft in history, the Dauntless delivered the killer blow at the Battle of Midway, a blow from which the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered and which marked the turning point of the Pacific War. Noted aviation author Bill Gunston wrote “It is remarkable that the SBD, so similar to Britain’s disastrous Battle, should have turned the whole tide of war in the Pacific” which is kind of true in that their performance and offensive armament were eerily similar but of course the SBD was a dive bomber and as such an order of magnitude more accurate than the Battle could ever be.

Down we pop: unarmed SBD makes a practice dive attack for the benefit of the camera.

Designed by the brilliant Ed Heinemann, the SBD was originally a Northrop aircraft, being an improved version of Northrop’s BT-1, by the time an improved version appeared Northrop had become the El-Segundo division of Douglas so the BT became the SBD, standing for Scout Bomber Douglas, though crews would joke it stood for Slow But Deadly. This nickname aptly illustrates the affection in which the Dauntless was held by its crews for as well as being a terrifically accurate dive bomber, the SBD was an easy aircraft to fly and deck land, which counts for a very great deal amongst carrier aircrews, and the SBD was always the standard by which its problematic replacement the SB2C was judged – and found wanting.

Dauntless in trouble: leaking oil has coated the entire upper fuselage and cockpit glazing of this SBD from USS Enterprise after it was hit by anti-aircraft fire on 30 March 1944. After discarding the bombload the aircraft was successfully ditched and the crew recovered. The SBD had the lowest loss rate of any US Navy combat aircraft in the Pacific.

But the fact remains that the slow and cumbersome SBD should have been terrifically vulnerable when it wasn’t committed to its dive bombing attack. The Royal Navy rejected it: RN test pilot Eric Brown wrote that it was “a decidedly pre-war aeroplane of obsolescent design and certainly overdue for replacement” (which is a bit rich coming from an air arm still happily operating the open cockpit biplane Fairey Swordfish) yet the Dauntless destroyed more Japanese shipping than any other Allied aircraft… possibly – the same claim is made for the SB2C. Significantly however, the Dauntless sank capital ships in the early war period, when the Japanese navy still possessed a formidable aviation component, making such a feat extremely difficult and dangerous to achieve.

Bombed-up SBD-5s fly over Eniwetok Atoll, on 18 February 1944. By the end of the year the SBD was no longer to be found on US carrier decks.

Six carriers were lost to Dauntlesses, three of them in the space of six minutes at Midway. It seems that the SBD was also a bizarrely lucky aircraft – the carrier Akagi was sunk by a mere three aircraft, each armed with just one 1000lb bomb, and it was also difficult to shoot down: for reasons that remain slightly unclear the SBD suffered the lowest loss rate of any US Navy aircraft in the Pacific War. Which is odd as the Army version, the A-24 Banshee, received such a severe mauling by Japanese fighters over New Guinea that it was relegated to non-combat duties during 1942. Unbelievably SBD crews were also officially credited with 138 aircraft shot down, 106 of these victories being over Zero fighters, and in this case it really is unbelievable because this was an overclaim of staggering proportions. The highest scoring SBD ‘ace’ crew was pilot John Leppla and gunner John Liska who were gained seven kills during the Battle of the Coral Sea. In reality no Zeros were lost to SBDs during this action. 

November 1942 and an SBD on USS Ranger is fitted with a 1000lb bomb for a mission in support of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. Compared to its successor, the Dauntless was a remarkably small aircraft.

The SBD sank the first of many vessels when Dauntlesses from USS Enterprise sent Japanese submarine I-70 to the bottom on 10 December 1941, a mere three days after the Pearl Harbor attack. The SBD then proceeded to see more action than any other US type during 1942, winning the Battle of Midway in the process, before following it up with some impressive anti-shipping work at Guadalcanal and elsewhere throughout 1943. Just to prove its effectiveness was not limited to the Pacific, the Dauntless also saw action in Operation Torch and sank five German ships in Bodø harbour, Norway, during Operation Leader in October 1943. They remained in service on carriers until mid 1944, the final major engagement in which carrier SBDs saw action being the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June of that year where three Japanese carriers were lost. Meanwhile, in Marine Corps service the Dauntless served on until the end of the war.

Ultimately, though others helped (a lot in some cases), this was the weapon that won the Pacific war at sea.

Perforated dive brakes extended and bomb gone. An SBD-3 demonstrates a dive-bombing attack in 1942.

Hush-Kit needs your donations to carry on! This site is absolutely free, to remain so it needs your donations. If you can afford it and wish to, hit the donations buttons on this page. Our supporters are everything! Thank you.