MiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen Trimble

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The Super Constellation, the Carry Grant of airliners.

More often than not, the first time you hear breaking aviation news it will be via Flight Global‘s Stephen Trimble. Hush-Kit met him to talk turkey. 

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What’s your name and what do you do? 

You’re smart to start with a softball. My name is Stephen Trimble. I manage FlightGlobal’s news coverage in the Americas and I write about aviation news almost everywhere, with a particular focus on commercial aviation and propulsion.

 
What is the most underrated current aircraft programme? And why? 

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The best MC since Ghostface Killah.

The Irkut MC-21. A case could be made for the Bombardier CSeries, given its order book compared to its technology and raw potential. By that standard, however, I would argue the MC-21 on paper comes out slightly ahead. Say what you will about Russian manufacturing and product support (and you’d be correct), but the paper design of the MC-21 is very impressive and, I think, under-appreciated. If the Comac C919 represents China’s attempt to replicate the A320neo’s performance and technology, the MC-21 looks more like Russia’s attempt to slightly surpass the best from Airbus and Boeing in the narrowbody sector.

For passengers, the MC-21 is slightly wider than the Airbus A320 and the cabin is pressurized at 6,000ft, which is a cozy 2,000ft below the narrowbody standard. For pilots, it has a modern cockpit with fly-by-wire flight controls coupled to the first application of active side sticks in commercial aviation. For airlines, it offers Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan engines and highly efficient composite wings. The MC-21 wing box and panel itself is fashioned using a liquid resin that is cured into dry fiber tape in an oven rather than an autoclave. That makes the Russian process potentially, if it works, a step ahead of the more laborious autoclave-based systems used elsewhere to make composite material for primary aircraft structures.

What was the best fighter of World War II? Answer here

That’s not to suggest that I think the MC-21 design fully offsets the industrial and, let’s be honest, political challenges of buying Russian commercial aircraft. In a market segment with upwards of 25,000 deliveries forecasted over two decades, FlightGlobal expects Irkut to deliver about 700 MC-21s, which is infinitesimal compared to its rivals. However, if Airbus or Boeing had opted out of re-engining in favor of replacing the A320 and 737, I submit you’d see a clean-sheet design with at least the same cabin width and pressurisation level as the MC-21, along with state-of-the-art fly-by-wire controls laws and safety-enhancing active side sticks.

What is the most underrated historical aircraft? And why? 

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No-one ever found out what the word ‘Fishbed’ meant, but that didn’t stop the MiG-21’s global success.

Not to over-use the Russian angle, but I’ll go with the MiG-21. Sure, the ‘Fishbed’ wasn’t the best fighter of its era, but among contemporaries it wasn’t bad either. But it’s dogfighting skill is, I believe, secondary to it’s true importance. I consider the MiG-21 as the Kalashnikov of second-generation supersonic fighters. Its acquisition instantly endowed dozens of countries with respectable airpower for a relatively small price (albeit not politically). That with a few electronic upgrades the MiG-21 remains a potent modern weapon (see the Cope India exercise in 2006) suggests the Russians know how to make a hardy and adaptable weapon system. My runner-up would be it’s American contemporary, the Northrop F-5, for many of the same reasons.

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The MiG-21 Bison: vintage ballbreaker.

 

What is the most overrated current aircraft, and why? 

This is the kind of question that gets me into trouble, but I’ll answer it. I often like to immediately answer this question with “Eurofighter Typhoon”, simply because I enjoy how much that annoys a few of my favorite British friends (JL: are you reading this?). Instead, I’ll annoy everyone and award my most over-rated honor to the Airbus A320neo family. I understand, of course, the seat-mile economics that make some versions of this aircraft family more popular than, say, the current line-up of 737 Max models. I also understand the industrial and competitive logic that drove Airbus to re-engine and not replace the A320. But I am convinced a lot of structures and systems technology available today that could make air travel more comfortable and efficient gets left on the drawing table, due merely to the dynamics of Airbus-Boeing duopoly in the narrow body sector. See my response about the MC-21 for more details.

What is the most overrated historical aircraft? 

Clearly, it was initial reaction by the West to the MiG-25. It was supposedly a high-speed SR-71 killer with the dogfighting prowess of an F-15 (which, by the way, the USAF completely re-spec’d after first sighting the Foxbat on May Day in 1967). We have Viktor Belenko’s defection to thank for finally exposing the truth about the MiG-25. The Foxbat was still a grand achievement by the Soviets, but it was not the magical beast that many in the West made it out to be. It’s an example that I think aerospace journalists must always remember. It’s our job to question extravagant claims about the capabilities of new aircraft, be they ‘our’s’ or ‘their’s’, and be careful to fall into the trap of promoting agendas based on hype.

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Is it possible to write about military aircraft in a non-political way? Is there a risk of normalising them by celebrating the amazing technology they include?

This is a great follow-up to your last question. I used to work at Jane’s, where I learned the remarkable story of founder Fred T. Jane. He started Jane’s Fighting Ships around the turn of the last century after working for years as an artist in Portsmouth. A favorite subject of his sketches were the many naval warships that would call at Portsmouth to refuel. Opsec being a bit different in those days, Jane often invited himself aboard foreign warships, allowing him to see and draw the various systems, including armor, propulsion and weaponry, up close. Jane recognized that what he saw in real-life often clashed with the hype he read in certain newspapers or heard from certain politicians. With the publication of books like Jane’s Fighting Ships, the public finally had a reference to compare against that hype. If a politician said the German navy had a battleship twice as fast as the Royal Navy, the public could then consult Jane’s Fighting Ships to examine the data.

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L4, frigate! Hit but not destroyed.

If the specialty military and aviation trade press have one thing to contribute, I believe it’s to act as the public’s check on the hype generated by the proverbial military-industrial complex. Obviously, there’s a limit on what we can know without a security clearance and access to things like MASINT data, but we should do our best to know everything that it is possible to know. It’s very difficult to detect the precise line between fact and hype, but it’s our duty as journalists to try our best to get as close to the mark as possible.

Top Mach 3 fighters here

As for the risk of “normalizing” a weapon system, your point is well-taken. I usually struggle to hide a wince when I read a phrase like “the beloved A-10”, to use a recent example, in a news story. That said, it’s also clear to me that the most modern fighter aircraft today represents the pinnacle of mankind’s ability to extract the most performance from a machine, and at some level you have to appreciate that or you wouldn’t be human.

Is there any investigative journalism in aviation journalism? If so, can you give an example.

Absolutely. Military aviation, in particular, requires advanced investigation, using tools such as FOIA (the USA’s useful although limited open records law) and carefully cultivated sources. The folks over at The Drive blog — Tyler Rogoway and Joe Trevithick, in particular — have effectively weaponized FOIA against Pentagon bureaucrats and the US aerospace industry. On the commercial side, I again have to point to my old co-worker Ostrower as the master at penetrating corporate smokescreens. His former colleague at the Wall Street Journal, Andy Pazstor, has the FAA and NTSB wired, to use an increasingly popular term.

How do you balance impartiality with not offending aerospace advertisers – is this ever tricky? 

I don’t balance reporting with advertising for our magazine. If that causes advertising relationships to become tricky, it’s not something that involves me.

What was the greatest news coup of your publication?


My colleagues are doing great work every day. But my favourite “news coup” still comes from a remarkable five-year run of Boeing and 787 coverage by Jon Ostrower at FlightGlobal, which catapulted him to the Wall Street Journal in 2012 and more recently CNN. I’ve seen a lot of great aviation coverage over the years by several news organisations, but nothing else I’ve seen in my experience that compares with that stretch. It was thrilling to watch from a few feet away.

What advice would you give to those wishing to write about aviation?

If you mean writing news about aviation, let me encourage everyone who has even a little interest, but with a very important caveat. I recommend that you first learn how to write news independently from the aviation field, and then apply those skills to aviation. I’ve found it’s much easier to teach someone about aviation than about how to write a news or feature article under tight deadlines. There are many exceptions, but  there’s a reason we call them exceptional.

What is the greatest myth about the F-35? 

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A pre-JSF supersonic ‘Super Harrier’ concept.

I think people lose sight of how the F-35 program was viewed after contract award in October 2001, which I covered. If you’d have told me then what we know today about the average unit costs and the schedule for milestones like IOC and Block 3F delivery, I’d probably assume the program wouldn’t have survived the scandal. It was just supposed to be so much cheaper and easier. That it has survived is probably due to the skill of the most recent program manager, Lt

Gen Chris Bogdan. His immediate predecessor, Vide Adm David Venlet, stabilized what seemed in 2010 in some ways like a sinking ship, then Bogdan kept that ship on course without hitting another Titanic-sized iceberg, if I may mix my metaphors a bit recklessly.

See here: The F-35 will fail, until the US learns to share


What are the best- and worst-run aircraft projects? 

My vote for best-run is probably the Saab Gripen. Many have tried, but never has a country done more with fewer natural political and industrial advantages than the airpower Lilliputians of Linkoping, to mix my fictional and factual geographical references.

(HK: Bill Sweetman would concur)

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A Gripen operated by Iron Maiden’s small highly-trained air force of heavy metal singers.

I’m not sure about worst-run, but I’d say the project most under scrutiny today is the geared turbofan engine. By all accounts, it’s meeting Pratt & Whitney’s ambitious fuel efficiency targets. But it’s been dogged by teething issues in-service and its inability to meet ramp-up targets has been a burden for Bombardier and Airbus. P&W says it has to plan to fully recover on both fronts by the end of the year, and I hope they make it. There’s several programs, and, indeed, entire national industries, depending on it.

Your Tweeter feed features some fascinating material – where do you find it?

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The original ‘Gripen’, the cancelled F-20 Tigershark.

Everywhere, really. My job and travels allow me to often see very interesting things, so I share those on Twitter as much as possible. So much pops up in discussion forums like the UK’s Secret Projects, Russia’s Paralay and the Sino Defence Forum, so I like to highlight that stuff whenever I can. And I love a deep-dive down obscure aerospace history, which sometimes yield gems. I spent the last few days on vacation digging through the fabulous aerospace collections at the Huntington Library, where I found Northrop’s internal stop work order on the F-20 and an epic rant of a memo on “idiot charts” from Kelly Johnson to his Skunk Works staff in 1963. I don’t have a place to put that stuff in our news coverage, so Twitter makes a nice, easy and free outlet.

Dangerously distracting list of aviation articles here.

Do you have a favourite aircraft- and if so, why? 

My favourite aircraft is the Lockheed Model 1049 Super Constellation. I had the privilege to fly on the Breitling Connie at Farnborough in 2014, which is a career highlight. The DC-6 was probably more versatile and certainly more popular with airlines, but, with apologies to the BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde team, I still prefer the way Hall Hibbard and Kelly Johnson melded style and performance with the Connie.

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Gary Powers: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”

 

What should I have asked you? 

Anyone who knows me knows that by now I wished that you had asked me about my ride several years ago at the Paris Air Show in a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, which was lovely. And thank you for asking.

 Can you tell me about any very strange aircraft projects that I’m unlikely to have heard of? 

That YOU are unlikely to have heard about? Impossible.

If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £12. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft

USS Carl Vinson night flight operations

An aeroplane/shark hybrid about to be released into the wild.

An air force of my own #1

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Reading about some of the over-priced nonsense the military buys is maddening – but could you make better choices? In the first of a series we burdened Justin Bronk with the daunting task of re-equipping the air arms of the United Kingdom. Would his notional air force be combat effective? Good value for money? Most importantly, would it be stylish? 

You may support this blog by hitting the donate buttons on this page, if this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more. Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

Air Force Procurement

Head of procurement: Justin Bronk

Occupation: Research Fellow for Combat Airpower, RUSI

Nation to defend: United Kingdom (pre-Brexit vote)

Year: 2016

Training

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Glider trainer: DG-505 (50)

Basic trainer: PZL-130 Orlik (120)

Twin-engined prop trainer: Piaggio P.180M Avanti (30)

Jet/Turboprop/LIFT trainer: Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master (70)

Other: None

Tankers & Transport

Light tactical: Modernised Antonov An2 Colt (20)

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Medium: Airbus A400M Atlas (30)

Strategic transport: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (9)

Short range CSAT: Agusta A109E (5)

Tanker: Airbus A330-MRTT Voyager (15)

Hack: de Havilland Tiger Moth (1 per flying squadron)

VVIP transport: One of the A330-MRTT’s as currently converted

Presidential Transport: N/A

Other: None

Combat

(specify chosen munitions)

Fighter: Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4, Tranche 3B, with ASRAAM, AMRAAM C7, Meteor, Paveway IV, Brimstone II, Storm Shadow, ALARM/AARGM, SPEAR 3. (230)

Attack: Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, with SPEAR 3, AMRAAM C7, Paveway IV, GBU-24 Paveway III (80)

SEAD: F-35As as above with Typhoons carrying ALARM/AARGM and Storm Shadow in support (check out this thought-provoking article on why the F-35 will fail)

Heavy bomber: None

Fixed-wing gunship: AH-64E Apache Guardian (50) (I did say fixed-wing, but you’re the boss)

Other: None

Rotorcraft

Trainer: MD540F Advanced Little-Bird (100)

Light transport: None

Medium transport: Boeing Chinook Mk6 (60)

Heavy transport: Boeing Chinook Mk6 (60)

Attack: AH-64E Apache Guardian (50)

Search & rescue: V-22 Osprey (10)

Other: MD540F Fleet Optionally Equipped for Light Recon and Attack Duties

Intelligence & surveillance

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AWACS/AEW: Saab Erieye-ER radar and mission system on large platform, e.g. A330 (6)

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR): RC-135 variants (~8)

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR): MQ-9 Protector (12)

Battlefield surveillance: MQ-9 Protector (12)

Maritime Patrol: Kawasaki P-1 (10)

Reconnaissance: Eurofighter Typhoon with DB110 Pod (6)

Other: none

Display teams

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Fixed-wing jet: Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 (9)

Fixed-wing propeller: None

Rotorcraft: MD540F (3)

Historical flight: BBMF, obviously

Other: None

Carrier aircraft

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Source: aircraftresorcecenter.com

Fighter: Rafale M re-engined with EJ200s (40)

Attack: Rafale M re-engined with EJ200s (40)

Tanker: V-22 Osprey, noting that it can only offload 12,000lb so only for top-up overhead tanking

COD: V-22 Osprey (12)

Helicopters: MH-60S Knighthawk (25)

Other: None

Misc Aircraft category

Firefighter: None

Air ambulance: MD 902 Explorer (40)

Mountain rescue: MH-60S Knighthawk (10)

Police: MD 902 Explorer (60)

Others: None

Air force defence regiment

Camouflage: MTP

Standard weapon: H&K 416

Sidearm: Sig Sauer P226

Light support weapon: CETME Ameli

Heavy machine-gun: GMPG

Sniper rifle: Accuracy International AX338

Vehicles: Miscellaneous

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Misc equipment: C-RAM

Our verdict

Cost effectiveness & sense

The two high-risk items that stand out are the re-engining of the Rafale and the creation of a new AWACS aircraft. Leaving aside the Mustang, British aviation historians may baulk at the idea of re-engining. The additional of British Spey engines to the Phantom, though not without some benefits, resulted in the most expensive and slowest F-4 (at least at high level). Rafales would make perfect sense for a British carrier re-equipped with ‘cats and traps’, (Eurofighter themselves have acknowledged a carrier-based Typhoon is a non-starter – as soon it is beefed up sufficiently it loses its main virtue its massive thrust-to-weight ratio and its very low wing loading), and though the use of the EJ200 would be welcome news to Rolls-Royce, the effort would be slow and expensive- it would also be a huge undertaking for the marginal improvements it would offer.

Though the dimensions of the two engines are very similar (the EJ200 is marginally longer) this may be an unnecessary effort. Generally Bronk has demonstrated a fair and cost effective procurement policy.

The vast rotary-wing force may be hard to justify during peacetime, though I guess the UK’s been on a war footing of some kind since 1990.

73/100

Political considerations

Collaborating with Ukraine on a new An-2 production line sends a strong message of support to the beleaguered nation. The export of Japanese military aircraft may involve some constitutional changes. Bronk’s armed forces remain closely tied to the US, but maintain strong ties to Europe thanks to the Rafale purchase.

70/100

Aesthetic appeal 

Mr Bronk’s suggestions have been rooted in pragmatism rather than aesthetic appeal and he has not chosen the most exciting or beautiful aircraft. Still FAA Rafales would be gorgeous, Tiger Moths are elegant and the Kawasaki P-1 is pretty cute. Oh, wait 30 Avantis? That is actually pretty wonderful.

70/100

Realism

Bronk’s choice’s are a little too sensible for my taste, where is the Presidential An-225? The vast fleets of Beriev Be-200s? The MiG-31 display team?

80/100

Imagination

See above- he is no Dali, but to be fair we didn’t ask him to be.

50/100

Total score: 343/500

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here

If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft

The F-35 will fail, until the US learns to share

 

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” -as Mark Twain never said

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Why does it always rain on me? Is it because I lied when I was a F-117?

Will the F-35 revolutionise warfare, or is there a fundamental flaw in the way this aircraft and its cutting edge technologies will be deployed? Henry Cobb believes that there is something very wrong at the heart of the F-35 concept that will severely limit the world’s biggest weapons programme. 

The United States’ military doesn’t want a fair fight. “Rather, we have to maintain a joint
force that has the capability and credibility to assure our allies and partners, deter aggression and overmatch any potential adversary.” Put simply it wishes to scare its potential enemies and if need be, beat anyone.

Leaving aside the question of whether the US should try to maintain military supremacy, it’s interesting to notice a particular trend that has been going on US military thinking since its birth. During the American Civil War and World War II the United States achieved this ‘overmatch’ (an American word) largely through numerical superiority- but in both conflicts introduced new technologies that provided a temporary military advantage. The USS Monitor rendered all the wooden fleets of her day obsolete in one battle- and while the nuclear bomb has been considered the wonder weapon of the second World War, radar and computing played much bigger roles in the Allied victory.

You may support this blog by hitting the donate buttons on this page, if this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more. Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

monitor

Some kind of metal battleship, probably not the USS Monitor, but who cares? It’s only a ship and not a lovely aeroplane.

The Allied power’s advantage in radar provided a tactical advantage in air and anti-submarine combat, while their early computers broke Axis powers cryptography for strategic advantage.  Still, it was the American headstart in nuclear weapons that provided the ‘First Offset’ to the perceived Soviet battlefield numerical advantage. In this sense, the word ‘offset’ means a counter to diminish the opposing force.

As with iron-hulled warships, radar systems, and computers, potentially hostile powers noted these advantages and copied them. Though technologies are rarely the creation of one nation alone, the US has often been the first to develop technologies to the point of practicality. USS Monitor was not the first Ironclad (a ship using metal armour), the first was French – but it was the first to be used in combat.

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After french fries served in tin buckets, the worst human invention.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work defined the Pentagon’s current ‘Second Offset’ strategy as attack with precision guided weapons that have the same effect on enemy forces as the First Offset’s potential use of nuclear weapons – without crossing the nuclear threshold. He acknowledges that the Second Offset is running out of time because hostile forces have copied and applied these techniques and counters to American advantages, but he hasn’t outlined a comprehensive plan to replace it.

Dan Gouré, Vice President of the Lexington Institute, noted that “second offset strategy relied on several key technologies – stealth, precision guidance for aircraft and weapons and information networks – and a new strategy of deep attack to counter the threat from massed Soviet mechanized forces”, but has called the Third Offset a smokescreen that lacks substance.

We gave a military analyst a trillion pounds and told him to have fun, here are the results

Too much faith in the Lightning

Bob Work has said that the ‘big idea’ for his Third Offset “is human-machine collaboration and combat teaming”, central to this is the F-35. But his faith in the F-35 to be a “war winner … because it is using the machine to help the human make better decisions” is sadly misplaced.

The F-35 Lightning II has “the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history“. These sensors gather far more information than the pilot could hope to grasp and therefore the 513th Electronic Warfare Squadron of the USAF hosts the United States Reprogramming Laboratory to update the lookup tables that drive the F-35’s sensor fusion, producing a simplified view of the battlefield
that the pilot can handle.

This automatic sensor fusion is intended to provide the situational awareness that has traditionally been provided by a backseater radar /electronic warfare operator. And so long as the Reprogramming Lab geeks faithfully anticipate and properly program the lookups into the computers this system will never tire or overlook any threat they’ve been programmed to detect. Even better, the F-35 is designed to fight in flights of up to four fighters which not only automatically share information but actually perform distributed sensor fusion to use all the sensors on all of the four aircraft together to detect threats too subtle for the sensors of any one of the aircraft to find on its own.

However this distributed sensor fusion doesn’t work.

The blind men and the elephant

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Light bestial erotica

The old Indian story of ‘the blind men and the elephant’ tells of a group of blind men who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different individual part. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement – the man who has felt its tail believes it to be like a snake, the man who felt the tusk believes it to be a long sharp bony animal and so on.

The flight of F-35s suffers from the ‘blind men and an elephant’ problem. Each fighter forms its own view of the target and they fail to reconcile these distinct views together.

This is assumed to be a minor software glitch that could be rectified if only a little more programming effort is thrown at the problem. The actual error lies in the flawed development model that assumes that the Reprogramming Lab can anticipate all battlefield situations and vacuum up the fog of war with a little more software effort and a block upgrade of the computers in the entire fleet every four years.

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The late John Boyd created the Observe/Orient/Decide/Act (OODA) loop concept to explain the decision-making process. OODA theory favours those with that demonstrate agility in making decisions. Quite how impressed he would be to hear that the USAF is adopting a four-year OODA loop to handle battlefield decisions (that can change by the second) can easily be imagined.

 

ALIS in wonderland 

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

-Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass

The science fiction writer Vernor Vinge in his novel ‘Rainbows End‘ used the ‘Red Queen’s Race’  as an analogy for the struggle between encouraging technological development and protecting the world from new weapons technologies. A race where if you run fast enough, you get nowhere.

But surely the United States can at least keep ahead of hostile nations that don’t have the resources to match us in a red queen’s race? Yes, the Russian and Chinese 5th generation fighters will never catch up to the constantly improving F-35, but outside of an ‘Invasion America’ scenario they don’t have to match the Americans plane to plane. The F-35 will more likely to be called to attack an integrated air defense network than act to defend one. When operating over enemy territory American stealth aircraft will be subject to detection by lower frequency radars whose longer wavelengths require radars too large to be carried by tactical aircraft.

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ALIS

Hiding in lightning

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Can’t you feel it McCloud? It’s the quickening!


But at least the F-35 will alert its pilot when it is being tracked by a lower frequency radar so he can take evasive action? Perhaps not. As an example: consider the radio frequency signature of natural lightning, or sferics. 
The F-35 sensors surely include a lightning detector function, but the programmers must consider this as a weather, not weapon or hostile sensor, warning. Therefore, to counter the F-35-  build a bi-static  radar that uses fake sferic radar pulses. (A bistatic radar’s two transmitters are stationary relative to each other, so two radars in different aircraft flying steadily can be used to form a bistatic set).

The F-35 will robotically filter out every pulse and never bother to track down the transmitter. These low-frequency signals deliver target tracks insufficient for weapons targeting (but can put fighters in the right general part of the sky to use more accurate passive sensors using infra-red), but stealth aircraft are much less stealthy against lower frequencies.

These fake sferics will have encrypted codes as frequency and time band gaps in their signals to distinguish them (for the hostile forces at least) from natural events and to act as a data channel to guide silent running defending stealth fighters near enough to track the F-35s by infra-red.

(As as interesting aside, the very first practical application of radar goes back to 1895, when Alexander Popov, a physics instructor from a Imperial Russian Navy school, developed an apparatus using a coherer tube for detecting distant lightning. Britain’s 1920s radar effort also started with lightning detection)

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Can’t think of anything funny about missiles.

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Once such a system is fielded the Reprogramming Lab geeks will work feverishly to distinguish the artificiality of these signals from the natural phenomena and will eventually produce a working patch that will be ready just as the hostile forces ready their next trick. This innate weakness of the F-35 comes from it being trapped in a Second
Offset development model (a model upgrades happen slowly). 

AIM-9P-FAS

Ditto.

How did the United States go from fielding the only IR air to air missile to merely being about tied with the best? The Europeans, Russians and Chinese have copied from the Sidewinder. This is why the Second Offset is no longer delivering an enduring offsetting advantage. And if the F-35 remains on the existing Second Offset path the United States will actually fall behind hostile forces.
Well, consider the Sidewinder missile. It started with a brilliant idea for how to construct an inexpensive and reliable infra-red seeker and tie this into a basic guidance system. While the initial version had major restrictions on its tactical deployment, the latest AIM-9X is one of the best infra-red air to air missiles in the world. The latest Sidewinder is so good that our top fighters like the F-22 haven’t caught up with capabilities such as high off-boresight  (the ability to launch  missiles at extreme angles to the side, or in some case even backwards) launches by US Navy Super Hornets or European fighters with their IRIS-T and ASRAAM.

The problem is the Second Offset Development model, which is:

* Designers have a concept for the hardware and software for a weapon system.
* Prototype hardware and software is produced and tested in laboratory conditions.
* Equipment is mass produced and fielded.
* Operational real world experience is sent back to the designers to create the next block upgrade.

This is why the Second Offset is no longer delivering an enduring advantage. And if the F-35 remains on the existing Second Offset path the United States will actually fall behind (potentially) hostile forces.

Won’t Work’s “human-machine collaboration and combat teaming” save the
F-35? Not if it continues to be used as a purely tactical collaboration. The labs develop the hardware and software, the sensors on the fighter detect (or not) hostile forces and the pilot responds. What the pilot learns in her sorties is then shared slowly through the unit and service levels before eventually making its way back to the Reprogramming Labs for the next block upgrade years later. This is really no different than the F-22, F-117, F-15, F-4, etc. We haven’t improved our procedures and so the rest of the world has had a chance to catch up.

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Low observable paint scheme.

The US hasn’t improved its model for fielding improvements and so the rest of the world has had a chance to catch up, by copying from our systems and on occasion downloading US specifications.

This one way flow of information in the Second Offset development model is a lot like the waterfall software development model, and is years too slow for this Third Offset world.

The F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) already provides for a back channel to return operational information from the field back to the fleet, but this is currently only used for hardware maintenance.

The F-35 could switch from the last fighter of the Second Offset to the first fighter of the Third Offset by using ALIS to share what human and machine learn on each mission.

 

Applying this to the problem (mentioned above) of sensor fusion: the F-35 will apply its own best guess at what each sensor blob actually is. The pilot will then look as deeply as she likes into the data, calling for a rescan if she’s still unsure. Her own F-35 will then remember her selection for the remainder of the current flight and then share this update to its data model through ALIS. The sensor fusion puzzle is taken out of the hands of a few Reprogramming Lab geeks and crowd-sourced to every American and allied F-35 pilot. Each pilot then adds both her own contribution to the fight and a small exponential improvement for the entire fleet, which will then get better every day. When hostile forces tap into this network and download the latest data model they will find that it is finely tuned to the latest American sensor hardware and it will take them time to adapt this to their own equipment or use the insights to redesign their own gear to evade detection. And every minute while they are doing this the American network is learning and improving.

Non-democratic adversaries would be loathe to share data model building tasks with their own pilots, much less other countries. This distributed human-machine learning then becomes an enduring Third Offset advantage, because it is constantly adapting. The F-35 Lightning II will strike freely only after it escapes the waterfall.

 

Henry Cobb is a corporate Director of Special Projects,  You can reach him on Twitter
@henrycobb

-Henry Cobb 

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft

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“Just tell everyone it did really well”

 

 

McDonnell 220 Business Jet Promo Film – 1963

What’s not to like about the McDonnell 220? It even had a cabin pressure equivalent to the air in Mexico City. Unfortunately no one liked it and it never went into production.

To keep this blog going – we need donations. We’re trying to do something different with Hush-Kit: give aviation fans something that is both entertaining, surprising and well-informed. Please do help us and click on the donate button above – you can really make a difference (suggested donation £12). You will keep us impartial and without advertisers – and allow us to carry on being naughty. The donate buttons are on this page. Many thanks. 

 

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit
Go on- donate and keep us in fancy clogs and cashew nuts. The donate buttons can be found on this page. Thank you. 

You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airlinersTen incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

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As well as being a razor, mach 3 is a speed. It’s very fast. Flying at mach 3 produces oven-like skin temperatures and requires aircraft with exotic propulsion systems, and structures wrought from unusual metals that refuse to behave as well as aluminium. Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, several mach 3 fighters have been considered. Some have even flown.

 

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8. Mikoyan ‘MiG-41’

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The Russian MiG bureau has barely kept its head above water over the last 25 years, but according to some reports it is quietly working on a mach 4+ interceptor to replace the MiG-31, dubbed the ‘MiG-41’. You never know what to believe when it comes to Russian military aircraft, though it seems doubtful that Russia could afford such a programme if it couldn’t even fund the PAK FA by itself (it required reluctant Indian investment). If it is ever made, it will require a revolutionary form of propulsion – perhaps a modern variable-cycle interpretation of the J58 that powered the SR-71?

7. Dassault Mirage  (cancelled)

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For thirty years the French solution to anything was the Mirage. VTOL fighter? Try a Mirage. Swing-wing fighter? Try a Mirage. Nuclear medium bomber? Same again. So it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that several mach 3 Mirage concepts were studied. Butch intakes, new transparencies and huge engines would have given the MD 750 a formidable appearance. Generally the French air force prefers lighter fighters, and like many heavyweight Dassault concepts this failed to get funding.

6. North American XF-108 Rapier (cancelled)

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Of the slew of unflown mach 3 interceptor designs considered by the USAF in the 1950s, the North American XF-108 Rapier got the closest to being fully developed. If it had entered service it would have been exceptionally advanced: it was intended to carry the Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar, the first pulse-Doppler fighter radar set with a look-down/shoot-down capability (something that didn’t become common until the 1980s). It was also to be equipped with an infra-red search and tracking (IRST) system, and Hughes GAR-9 (missiles capable of destroying bombers over 100 miles away). Powered by two of the same engines as the equally ambitious XB-70 Valkyrie (and equipped with the same escape system), the F-108 would have been impressive but insanely expensive – in 1959 dollars the project would have cost four billion! The project was scrapped, which though a sane act, did deprive the world of what would have been the epitome of a kick-ass fighter. Its unfortunate name was temporarily carried by the F-22. 

5. General Dynamics/MD RF-4X Phantom II (cancelled)

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In the 1970s, the Israeli air force wanted a reconnaissance aircraft capable of carrying the extremely impressive HIAC-1 camera. The F-4 was considered, but the G-139 pod that contained the sensor was over 22 feet long and weighed over 4000 pounds – and the Phantom did not have the power to carry such a bulky store and remain fast and agile enough to survive in hostile airspace. One solution was to increase the power of the engines with water injection, something that had been done for various succesful F-4 record attempts. This combined with new inlets, a new canopy and huge bolt-on water tanks promised a mouth-watering 150% increase in power. This would have allowed a startling top speed of mach 3.2 and a cruising speed of mach 2.7. This level of performance would have made the F-4X almost impossible to shoot-down with the technology then in service. The F-4X would also have been a formidable interceptor – something that threatened the F-15 development effort, causing the State Department to revoke an export licence for the RF-4X. Even with the increase in power, the Israeli air force was still worried about the huge amount of drag, but a solution came in the form of a slimmed-down camera installation in a specially elongated nose. This meant the interceptor radar had to be removed, which assuaged the State Department’s fears and the project was allowed to continue. However worries from the F-15 project community returned (as did worries about how safe the F-4X would have been to fly) and the US pulled out. Israel tried to go it alone but didn’t have enough money, so the mach 3 Phantom never flew. rf-4x_4

4. Republic XF-103 (cancelled)

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In 1949, the USAF issued the Weapon System WS-201A request for an advanced supersonic interceptor, which became better known as the ‘1954 interceptor’. The brief was demanding — perhaps too demanding. It called for an extremely fast all-weather interceptor with a sophisticated radar and air-to-air missile armament. A mach 3 top speed was sought, which would be over three times faster than the fastest contemporary fighter. One of the main stumbling blocks to achieving mach 3 was the fact that jet engines of the time simply weren’t up to the task. Enter Alexander Kartveli. Born Alexander Kartvelishvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, he was a hugely important designer, who worked on the potent P-47 Thunderbolt, the beautiful and impressive Republic XF-12 Rainbow, and the slightly shabby Gloster Javelin. To solve the propulsion problem he proposed using a Wright J67 turbojet (essentially a Bristol Olympus) supplemented by a RJ55-W-1 ramjet. Though the project was eventually cancelled in 1957 without ever flying, the design did inform the Republic RF-84F Thunderstreak and later F-105 Thunderchief (notably in the intake configuration)

3. Mikoyan MiG-25 (1964)

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Yes, yes – I can hear all you dorks shouting ‘the MiG-25 is limited to mach 2.83, and as low as 2.5 operationally’. But it can go mach 3. Famously an Egyptian one (admittedly the recce version) legged it across Israeli airspace at a whopping 3.2, ruining the engines according to legend. The MiG-25 was the only mach 3 capable fighter (yes, yes—fighter interceptor if you’re going to be a dick about it) to enter service. At speeds above mach 2.5 aluminium is not much good so an alternative was needed. Mikoyan adopted a radically different solution to Lockheed’s: instead of using titanium as the primary material (which was difficult to work with, expensive and mostly being shipped to the US) the MiG-25 used 80% nickel-steel alloy, 11% aluminium, and only 9% titanium. I seem to remember it also contains 5kg of gold. The British had experimented with steel for their utterly crap Bristol 188.

Despite its limitations (terrible agility, range and avionics), the MiG-25 has proved surprisingly capable in air-to-air combat, downing a brace of Iranian F-4s (and an F-5s). The most successful Iraqi MiG-25 pilot was Colonel Mohammed Rayyan, who was credited with 10 kills. In Desert Storm the type shot down a US F/A-18 Hornet, and even put up a spirited dogfight against the then invincible F-15.

2. Mikoyan MiG-31 (1975)

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The MiG-31 is the Volkswagen New Beetle to the MiG-25’s Volkswagen Beetle. Beefier and far technologically superior, the MiG-31 remains in service with the Russian air and space force today.

In 1986 six MiG-31s intercepted an SR-71 over the Barents Sea by performing a coordinated interception. It is rumoured that after this interception, no SR-71 flew a reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union.

Structurally, it’s a little different to the MiG-25, being 49% arc-welded nickel steel, 33% light metal alloy, 16% titanium and 2% composites. It is also an absolute beast, with a maximum take-off weight the same as a Boeing 737 airliner — or more than five MiG-21s! Armed with the longest range air-to-air weapon outside of Sweden and comfortably able to outdrag a Raptor, the MiG-31 remains in a league of its own.

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1. Lockheed YF-12 (1963)

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Not only did the YF-12 actually fly, it could also comfortably exceed mach 3. It was the largest and fastest fighter that ever flew, and smashed a load of speed and altitude world records. When the F-108 was cancelled in 1959, it seemed a waste to junk the advanced radar and missiles so someone had the bright idea to stick them on a top secret spyplane airframe then in development: the A-12 (which later evolved into the famous SR-71 Blackbird). Ironically, it was designed to shootdown Soviet bombers, yet was made from Russia-sourced titanium (it had been procured with an innocent-sounding cover story).President Johnson announced the existence of the YF-12 in 1964, allowing it to be used as a cover story for any observed test flights of the still-secret A-12/SR-71. Stealthy, supercruising and capable of flying at extremely high altitude, the YF-12 was in many ways the grandfather of the F-22 Raptor.

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Go on- donate and keep us in fancy clogs and cashew nuts. The donate buttons can be found on this page. Thank you. 

You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airlinersTen incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

The untold story of the Heinkel He 546 Nazi superbomber

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The Heinkel He 546 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried & Roy at Heinkel Flugzeugwerke in 1941. It is believed by many historians that the design of the aircraft was an act of sabotage by two designers unsympathetic to the Nazi regime. It is likely that Siegfried & Roy deliberately set out to produce a dangerously flawed aircraft, the development of which would suck up vast resources, and deprive the Luftwaffe of the fast medium bomber they sought.

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The first He 546 flew on 27 February 1942, piloted by chief test pilot Gerhard Nitschke, who was ordered not to wear anything ‘too flashy’ so as not to upstage the rather ungainly looking aeroplane (Nitschke said he would wear a simple Adidas hoody and Bermuda shorts for the test flight). But he ignored these orders and wore an exceptionally racy zoot suit in peacock green. Nitschke said that the He 546 performed well, except when it was in flight. Nitschke also praised its “sardonic flight and landing characteristics” and “whimsical performance, which is close to that of a diesel milk-float”. During the second test flight Nitschke revealed there was insufficient longitudinal stability during climb while eating a cheese sandwich.

Despite a concerted development the aircraft failed to prove effective and was dropped by the Luftwaffe. It said goodbye to the world of military aviation and was re-launched into the heady theatre scene of 1940s London.

The Heinkel He 546  is best known for performing a flight demo version of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), a landmark air demonstration in which the episodes of Homer‘s Odyssey are paralleled in a series of barrel rolls and Cuban Eights. The ‘546 also produced its own writings include three books of poetry, a play, occasional journalism and a battle rap about destroying Spitfires. The work was described as ‘unhinged but readable’ in a review by The Aeroplane in 1944.

The He 546 continued to perform during most of the Second World War, appearing at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre in 1943 in The Reluctant Bomber and on tour with Amy Brandon Thomas‘s company in ‘The Coventry Air Waltz’. In 1945, it appeared in Death from the air, a comedy produced by Hawtrey. The 546 recalled in its memoirs, “My part was reasonably large and I was really quite good in it, owing to the kindness and care of Hawtrey’s direction, and the lack of coordinated ack-ack fire.” 

On 23 April 1976, the He 546 collapsed from catastrophic structural failure in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act on the London Weekend Television variety show Luftwaffe Lovelies, transmitted live from Her Majesty’s Theatre. It was buried next to the cafe at IWM Duxford where it remains to this day.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 36 (pilot, navigator/bombardier/nose gunner, ventral gunner, dorsal gunner/radio operator, side gunner, choirmaster, choir, Sous chef, hot yoga instructor)
  • Length: variable
  • Wingspan: disappointing
  • Height: of fashion
  • Wing area: smoking
  • Empty weight of pilot: 14 stone 7 pounds
  • Loaded weight: 14 stone 10 pounds
  • Max. takeoff weight: No comment you cheeky mare
  • Powerplant: 2 × Jumo 711F-1 or 211F-2 martini-cooled double binary inverted V-12, 5,300 hp  each

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 34 km/h (downhill)
  • Range: Good at playing villains, can cry on request
  • Ceiling: Sistine Chapel pastiche, some dry rot
  • Rate of climb: One step at a time
  • Wing loading: sassy
  • Power/mass: One squat thrust to one liturgy

The He 546 was created by Francis Bennett

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Go on- donate and keep us in fancy clogs and cashew nuts. The donate buttons can be found on this page. Thank you. 

You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airlinersTen incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

horten_ho_xiii_a_in_flight

Could Europe survive a war against the US?

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The unpredictability of President Elect Donald Trump is making a great deal of people around the world extremely nervous. He has previously expressed both his approval for ‘mad dog’ posturing on the international stage and reviewing traditional alliances. With this in mind, if the worst were to happen and the US and Europe were to go to war, would the armed forces of the old continent stand a chance? We spoke to Justin Bronk, a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal to find out more. 

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_______
For this thought experiment we imagined a war following a deteriorating relationship over a five year period.  As those who know Betteridge’s law of headlines will have anticipated, the answer was bleak for European readers.

“To be honest there would be absolutely no contest – the US, even with a five year warning period – could take on all of Europe twice over without breaking much of a sweat in the military arena…” 

Despite politically-motivated complaints to the contrary, the US military remains supremely well funded and well equipped.

“Even without the nuclear option, Europe has no ability outside the UK (and at a pinch Germany) to deploy division scale ground forces – far less command them and support them, nor to move heavy equipment fast at scale. The US can deploy multiple divisions with heavy armour support and full combat enablers (e.g. dynamic targeting support, SATCOMs etc). Without the US, we in Europe have almost no access to SATCOM, GPS targeting, strategic mobility etc etc.”

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Non-US NATO forces are also essentially ancillary parts of the US war machine, dependent on US support to fight large wars and tied to US-made and supported equipment to function.

“In air force terms, the US have a large advantage in relevant frontline types, whilst European fighter forces are chronically dependent on US tanker, AWACS, ELINT and EW support. What’s more, even the few top-tier European air forces have no answers to the F-22, B-2 or the high-end jamming that the US deploys with the Growler, B-52 etc.”

If the air offers Europe a chance, the sea does not. “In naval forces…. It’s around 15 nuclear attack submarines, mostly British and French capability, with a smattering of littoral-based but capable electric boats from Sweden and Germany vs 57 nuclear attack boats from the US. The surface combatant ratios are even worse and doesn’t even contain the 10 CVN’s with associated air wings.”

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Even the US’ Navy’s army is the match for two of the most powerful European nations: “Then there’s the USMC which alone can field almost as much combat power as Britain or Germany…”

In summary, Bronk declares it- “No contest”

We must all hope that this subject remains firmly in the armchair.

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We need you to keep Hush-Kit going! This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Every donation helps us- thank you. Donations buttons can be spotted by the eagle-eyed on this page.

 

You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airlinersTen incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

 

The 10 coolest cancelled airliners

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Every now and again, I get a pang of guilt for celebrating military aircraft and ignoring the world of commercial aviation. But as soon as I start reading about modern airliners I start remembering important tasks that need doing, like buying biros or cleaning my shoes. However, not all airliners are dull – the following would have been extremely beautiful, brutish or decadent- or in some cases all three.

 Unfortunately they were all destined to be discarded in the overhead locker of history.

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Choosing number 10 was particularly hard: one of the proposed Northrop flying-wings as seen in the picture above? Barnes Wallis’ supersonic swing-wing Swallow? The Ye-155 business jet variant based on the MiG-25? The Horten 70-ton transport? All would have been deserving aircraft but we could only have ten. I hope you enjoy our selection. 

10. Norman Bel Geddes Air Liner 4 (1929) ‘Steam-punk dream-liner’

BelGeddes_AirlinerPlan2.jpgDrawing inspiration from the Dornier X, the ‘4 would have been a flying ocean liner- complete with a crew of 155 to serve the 451 passengers. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes and Otto Kröller, this swept flying-wing design would have offered lucky passengers viewing verandas, baths, private suites and a stylish bar. Sadly nobody was crazy, or forward-looking, enough to build this wonderful machine and it remained firmly on the drawing board.

9. Tupolev Tu-244 ‘The lost Red hope’

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Rarely discussed is the fact that from 1979-1993 Tupolev were working on a ‘super Concordski’, faster than Concorde and capable of carrying an additional 200 passengers. Building on experience with the Tu-144 and Tu-160, the Tu-244 would have been a remarkable aircraft to showcase the Soviet Union’s aeronautical prowess. Unfortunately for the project, the Soviet Union ceased to be from 1991, and Russia’s situation in the 1990s made the completion of the aircraft impossible. It was reported that it would have been powered by a hydrogen-powered variant of the engine that powered the Tu-160 and ‘144LL but this seems unlikely.

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8. Fairey Rotodyne (1957) ‘The screaming commuter’

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Streaking from city centre to city centre with a top speed twice that of helicopters of the time, the Rotodyne, could have been a major transport innovation. As the world’s first vertical take-off airliner it could have revolutionised air travel, removing the need for remote airports for everything but long haul journeys. 

The concept was extremely innovative: for takeoff and landing, the rotor was driven by tip-mounted jet engines. These engines did not have intakes or compressors, but were fed from compressed air piped from the main turboprop engines. The turboprop-powered propellers on the wings provided thrust for horizontal flight while the rotor autorotated (‘autorotation’ is when rotors turn around while unpowered, but in flight). Thanks to its tip-mounted jets, the Rotodyne was exceptionally noisy, an undesirable trait in a city centre airliner, and was cancelled. Debate still rages about the degree to which the Rotodyne’s noise levels could have been reduced.

7. Bristol Brabazon ‘The Filton Stilton’

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On 4 November 1909, John-Moore Brabazon put a small pig in a bin tied to a wing-strut of his aeroplane, to prove that pigs could fly. He later headed the wartime Brabazon Committee, an effort to ensure Britain had a strong start in the postwar airliner industry. Though well-meaning, not all of the predictions of the committee would prove accurate. It imagined that transatlantic flights would largely be for exceptionally wealthy people requiring a (very) comfortable journey. The Brabazon would have made today’s A380-business class passengers green with envy: each passenger in luxury class would have had 270 ft³ (8 m³) of room, and access to a sleeping berth, a dining room, a 37-seat cinema, a promenade and a bar. This titan was to have a wingspan greater than that of the biggest 747 and was ten metres longer than a B-1B bomber. One demolished village later (levelled to make room for the runway) the vast Brabazon flew in 1949. It was a brilliant piece of engineering, with superb handling and an exceptionally smooth ride- however, an aircraft of this size would have to wait for the arrival of the high bypass turbofan engine (rather than eight radial engines driving four sets of contra-rotating propellers) to make economical sense. 

6. Tupolev Tu-344 ‘Twisted Backfire-starter’ 

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I’m not sure a biz-jet counts as an airliner, but there’s no way I’m ignoring this one.

If you want to make an impression, travel to business meetings in a supersonic swing-wing converted soviet bomber – and make the owners of Gulfstreams look like a bunch of total arseholes. Hard to think of a way to burn more fuel for only 8-12 passengers, but this isn’t about being sensible. c0jyis9xcaafilh

Based as it was on the Tu-22M, it’s hard to imagine that the ‘334 would have offered similar ride quality and cabin noise levels to a Dassault Falcon, but who gives a shit- this aircraft would have been incredible. 

5. Saunders-Roe Princess ‘Maritime people’s Princess’

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Imagine an airline that put the magic realist writer Italo Calvino in charge of procurement and you can be sure they would have had a large fleet of Princesses. The aircraft was vast, gorgeous and could land on water. Sadly by 1952 (when it first flew) the days of flying boats were over. With innovative rocket fighters, jet-powered seaplane fighters and giant flying boats, Saunder-Roe’s remarkable designs were out of step with the rest of the world. The Princess was the last true aircraft they built, though they did make some hovercraft.

4. Republic RC-2 ‘Sequel to the Arsey One’

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In many ways, the XF-12 Rainbow was the most advanced piston-engined aircraft ever built, and it was also one the most beautiful. Disobeying comedians’ rule of threes- the Rainbow  ‘flew on all fours’: four engines, 400 mph cruise, 4,000 mile range, at 40,000 feet. It was the only four-engined piston-engined aircraft to achieve 450mph. Intended to serve in the high altitude reconnaissance role, Republic also envisioned an airliner variant. The RC-2, as it became known, would have been five feet longer than the spyplane and would have carried 46 passengers in style and comfort. But the radial-engined Rainbow first flew in ’46, in a world about to turn to turboprops and jet engines for high performance aircraft. USAF refused to buy the Rainbow, deciding instead to use the plentiful B-29s and ‘50s until the new generation jet B-47 entered service. Without military backing, the project died.

3. Tupolev Tu-404 ‘Aeroflot flapjack’

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As the Soviet Union chaotically disintegrated in 1991, designers at Tupolev escaped into happy fantasies of incredibly advanced concepts. The Tu-404 studies for an ultra-large long-range airliner included a flying-wing powered by six giant turboprops capable of carrying 1214 passengers over 13,000 kms. Tupolev remains interested in unconventional designs lacking a traditional tubular fuselage, as can be seen by the illustrations of the proposed PAK DA bomber, which may or may not enter service in the 2020s.

2. Avro Atlantic ‘Are you a Vul-can or Vul-can’t?’

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There’s nothing that warms the cockles of a British aviation enthusiast more than the Avro Vulcan. Sure, it was designed to indiscriminately vaporise millions of Soviet civilians, but what a great noise! Exceptionally advanced for its time, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that an airliner variant was proposed.

The 1952 Avro Atlantic would have taken around 100 passengers over the Atlantic at Mach 0.9 (a smidgeon faster than modern airliners).The airliner lost out to a rival bid from Vickers, the V-1000. Delta wings for subsonic airliners would prove a non-starter. 

  1. Convair 58-9 SST ‘Hustler’s Unconvention’

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The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational bomber capable of Mach 2, so why not create an enlarged version (hypothetically) suitable for taking 52 brave passengers on holiday at Mach 2.4? General Dynamics promised they would be able to get a prototype into the air within three years of an order being placed- because everyone wants such an ambitious project to be rushed. An even more alarming idea can be seen below, this is a five person external pod- an ‘intermediate’ step toward the final supersonic airliner, and presumably toward five heart attacks.

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You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airliners, Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

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The 70-ton Horten just missed inclusion on this list.

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We had to share this biz-jet MiG-25 variant.

Bomber pilot selects the Top Ten Cold War Bombers

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We’ve avoided a top 10 of bombers until now as it seemed too ghoulish. Two things made it palatable: setting it in the past, and finding an actual bomber pilot to create it. Keith Shiban  flew the B-52 in the nuclear deterrent role, and in combat missions over Iraq. Over to Keith: 

“To be included in this list the aircraft had to be first of all a bomber and it had to be operational between the years 1947 and 1991. That ruled out experimental aircraft and prototypes like the XB-70. That also ruled out fighter-bombers like the F-111 and Buccaneer. Even so a few of these blur the lines between bomber and fighter-bomber.

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What makes a good bomber?

Range is important. The primary job of a bomber is to go into enemy territory and “hit ‘em where it hurts”.

If it’s going to fly all that way it should be able to actually do something when it gets there, so weapons load is important.

It needs to be able to survive enemy defences at least long enough to do its mission. This can be through speed, stealth, countermeasures, defensive armament, or simply staying out of range (standoff capability). Most bombers use a combination of these.

Versatility is nice. It costs a lot of money to design a bomber so it’s useful if it can be adapted to more than one mission. For the same reason longevity is a good thing. After spending all that money it’s nice to get more than a few years use out of these planes.

Finally, because this is Hush Kit, I’ll throw in the “cool factor”.

Admittedly my list is biased. Your mileage may vary. Depending on how much weight you give each factor you can easily change the winners.

I had a tough time with number ten. There were  many contenders but none of them exemplary.

B-36: Expensive, dismally slow, prone to fires, only around for ten years.

Victor: Short career as a bomber, spent most of its life as a tanker.

Valiant: Short career as a bomber.

B-58: Killed a lot of people (all of them on our side), high-maintenance.

B-47: Dangerous, relatively short career.

FB-111: High-maintenance. Never did much. Technically a fighter-bomber.

Myasishchev M-4: Never had enough range to do its primary mission.

Tu-22: Deadly – to everyone that flew on it.

B-66: Too small to be a true bomber.

Vatour: Same issue as the B-66.

After much indecision I decided to go with the B-47.

10. Boeing B-47 Stratojet

6c2cd84132a4b7c953a0191889c79a93.jpgI went with the B-47 because it was such a ground-breaking aircraft when first introduced and it laid the groundwork for the B-52. While definitely flawed, it was the plane we needed in the early days of the Cold War.

The type proved fairly versatile, the reconnaissance and electronic warfare versions served well past its days as a bomber.

One thing I find odd is that the B-47 is one of the few USAF aircraft never to have a nickname, at least not one that I know of.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium-low (altitude, manoeuvrability, guns)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: Medium

Cool factor: JATO takeoffs

9. English Electric Canberra

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The Canberra might seem like an odd pick but it’s one of the more successful designs to come out of the Cold War. First introduced in 1951: it served 55 years with the RAF, was exported to several countries and was even produced in the US as the Martin B-57. While not particularly fast, it had an impressive service ceiling, exceeded only by the U-2.

Like the Tu-16, it’s just an honest, rugged design that proved highly adaptable.

Obviously these would be hopelessly obsolete today, but I give it a high rating for its day.

There are still three modified Canberras flying with NASA as high altitude research aircraft.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium-low

Survivability: Medium-low (altitude, manoeuvrability)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Prehistoric

Cool factor: Engines in the wing.

8. Tupolev Tu-22M ‘Backfire’

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I realise there are four Tupolevs on this list, but that’s just how it shook out.

First introduced in 1972 to replace the woefully inadequate Tu-22, the Tu-22M is almost a completely different aircraft from its predecessor.

It’s an odd sized aircraft: smaller than a B-1 but a good bit larger than an FB-111. It makes sense when you realise it was primarily intended for use in the European Theater and as a naval weapon.

In a hypothetical US/Soviet conflict these would have gone against our carrier battle groups in an attempt to saturate the defences with missiles.

With roughly 150 still in service, it’s a mainstay of the Russian bomber force and has seen service in every conflict since Afghanistan.

They lost one of these, probably to an SA-11, in the recent Russia/Georgia conflict. If they’re anything like us, their countermeasures are probably not optimized to go against their own systems.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium (speed, countermeasures, standoff capability, guns)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: High

Cool factor: Variable Geometry

7. Mirage IV

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Only four countries actually fielded a jet bomber during the Cold War, which is why the French Mirage IV makes the list. Plus I just like the looks of it.

With a top speed of Mach 2.2 the Mirage IV is part of the very exclusive supersonic bomber club. With upgrades it managed an impressive 42 year run as a strategic bomber. The recce version lived on for another decade.

Relatively small for a bomber, the Mirage IV suffered from short range. Had it been required to perform its Cold War mission, it likely would have been a one-way trip. But then, I think it would have been a one-way trip for most of us.

Range: Medium-low

Payload: Low

Survivability: Medium (speed, countermeasures, stand-off capability in later versions)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: High

Cool factor: Delta wing. JATO takeoffs. It’s French.

6. Tupolev Tu-16/ Xian H-6 ‘Badger’

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Here’s another Soviet blast from the past. The ‘Badger’ spent four decades in Russian service and the license-built H-6 is still the mainstay of the Chinese bomber force in 2016.

I think what’s special about the Tu-16/H-6 is that there’s nothing special about it. It’s just a solid, generic design that has been adapted to many roles over the years. Strategic bomber, missile carrier, naval aviation, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, there’s probably been a Tu-16 model for the job.

While the H-6 is nothing special it can carry a mix of twelve anti-ship missiles and land attack cruise missiles with a range of several hundred miles. This makes it a potential long-range threat to US naval forces in the region. Even an old bomber can still hurt you if it’s carrying good missiles.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium (standoff capability, countermeasures, guns)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Jurassic Era

Cool factor: Engines mounted in the wing roots. They don’t build ‘em that way any more (for good reason).

5. Avro Vulcan

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If I was going by looks alone, the iconic Vulcan would be my #1 or #2 pick. It’s one of those all-time great designs that manages to look both retro and futuristic at the same time.

The Vulcan has a great mix of speed, manoeuvrability plus a relatively small radar signature for its day. It didn’t have the range or payload of a B-52, but it didn’t have nearly as far to go to reach targets in Russia from its bases in England.

Plus we all cheered when they used these in the Falklands.

Seriously though, who’s bright idea was it to only give ejection seats to the pilots?

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium (speed, low observable, manoeuvrability)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: High

Cool factor: Just look at it!

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4. Tupolev Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’/’Beliy Lebed’

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The Tu-160 looks a lot like a B-1, but it was designed to primarily be a missile carrier rather than a low-level penetrator. It beats the B-1 on speed and range but the B-1 has the edge on payload. The Tu-160 carries a relatively small load-out of 12 long-range cruise missiles or 24 short-range missiles.

I don’t know how capable the electronic countermeasures are on this aircraft. I have to assume they’re at least as good as other Russian ECM systems and therefore pretty good.

Before you start having nightmares about this thing, keep in mind that they only have 16 of them in service.

Range: High

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium-High (speed, low observable, standoff capability)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: Medium

Cool factor: Variable Geometry

3. Rockwell B-1B Lancer

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It’s a tough call between the B-1 and the Tu-160. I give the B-1 the edge mostly because I’m more familiar with it. While controversial when introduced, the B-1 has proven its worth in recent conflicts.

Every USAF aircraft has an official name that nobody ever uses and then the name that everybody actually calls it. I have never heard a B-1 referred to as a ‘Lancer’. It’s either just a ‘B-1’ or ‘the Bone’ (B-One).

I’m told it’s a great flying aircraft with impressive speed at low altitude and fighter-like handling. Not only is it fast, it carries enough gas to go fast for a long time.

What makes the B-1 great is that it can carry a massive amount of ordnance, loiter for a very long time, and then dash to where it’s needed in a hurry. In our recent conflicts we like to have these on call for that reason.

The only drawback is that it’s a complicated aircraft with the associated high maintenance costs.

Range: High

Payload: High

Survivability: Medium-High (speed, low observable, maneuverability, countermeasures)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Medium

Cool factor: Variable Geometry

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2. Tupolev Tu-95 ‘Bear’

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When the Russians build something that gets the job done, they stick with it. The TU-95 has been around almost as long as the B-52. Sure it’s propeller driven and so noisy that submarines can hear it, but the damn thing works. Continuous upgrades have kept the Bear relevant even today.

While turboprops may seem primitive, they’re very efficient engines. This pays off with impressive range and endurance without sacrificing that much in the way of speed.

The Tu-95 (or the B-52 for that matter) probably wouldn’t do well against modern air defences. That’s not the point of this aircraft, however. The Bear isn’t really the threat, it’s his skinny wingmen you need to worry about.

The Tu-95MS version can carry up to 16 advanced Kh-55 cruise missiles, meaning he can hit you from 1,300 miles away! He’s not really worried about your air defences because he doesn’t plan on getting that close.

Range: High

Payload: High

Survivability: Medium (standoff capability, countermeasures, guns)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Ancient

Cool factor: Contra-rotating props.

1. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

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Seriously folks, how could the B-52 not be my #1 pick? It’s tough to argue with 61 years of continuous operational service. These things were old when I flew them and that was 25 years ago!

I think what has kept the B-52 relevant is that it’s such a generic design. This has allowed it to adapt to new missions while more specialised aircraft have come and gone. High-level bomber, low-level penetrator, cruise-missile carrier, anti-shipping, close air support (yes really) the old BUFF just keeps on going.

Is the B-1 better? I say we won’t know until the year 2047.

The B-52 brings an impressive mix of range, payload and endurance to the fight. It will carry 50,000 pounds of whatever bombs or missiles you care to hang off it halfway around the world.

I wouldn’t expect it to go up against modern air defences, but that’s not how we’re using them these days.

Range: High

Payload: High

Survivability: Medium (countermeasures, standoff capability, guns prior to 1992)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Just shy of the Big Bang

Cool factor: Eight engines ” 

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit
This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Every donation helps us- thank you. Donations buttons can be spotted by the eagle-eyed on this page.

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft,and 10 worst British aircraft

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

b52-arc-light1573cd03a568c35200b370d86e840a347.jpg