Clipped wings: Superb aircraft that the US stymied 

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In the urea- and ale-scented company of British aviation enthusiasts you’re seldom far from an anti-American sentiment. Many an aircraft nerd has aggressively swung his fully extended Canon Telephoto lens around and almost ruptured his Goretex, as he aggrievedly described the Evil Empire’s various successful attempts to crush our aircraft industry; the same feelings can also be found in France, Canada and Germany (where it is literally true). Here are ten superb aircraft that may have been stymied by US interests. Address all angry emails to the writer, Harry Westhuizen. 

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10. MBB Lampyridae

Federal Nighthawk

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The MBB Lampyridae was a West German project of the early eighties to produce a low-observable missile fighter. US stealth efforts were deeply classified at the time but the German company MBB arrived at a similar solution to the F-117 independently. The design relied on a simple faceted shape to control radar returns. It is rumoured that following a trip to the MBB black projects section in 1987 by USAF officers, the US demanded that the project be cancelled.

9. Dassault Mirage 4000 

Aigle morts

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The Mirage 4000 was the big brother of the Mirage 2000, with two engines, instead of one, and three times the internal fuel capacity. The type would have been similar in role and capabilities to the F-15E, with an emphasis on long-range attack missions. The type was developed concurrently with the ‘2000 and shared many key technologies. Like the F-20, it was developed with private company money, rather than relying on a firm state order. Iran and Saudi Arabia were both interested in the type, but the former nation turned anti-West after the 1979 revolution and the latter chose the F-15E instead under intense pressure from the US.

8. IAI Lavi 

Fertummelt F-16

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The Lavi was an indigenous Israeli fighter design based on the F-16 but with a canard delta configuration. It was developed with a great deal of assistance from the US, something which drove Northrop crazy as it would be a (more advanced) rival to the F-20 Tigershark. A photo exists of the J-10 designer standing by the aircraft as part of a Chinese trade delegation fuelling rumours that the Lavi may have influenced, directly or indirectly, the J-10’s design. While some in the US actively supported the project, others saw it as creating a sales rival to the F-16 and F/A-18 and were against it. Even in Israel, many in the military were critical of the programme as it was swallowing huge chunks of the military budget. Though in all likelihood it would have been a formidable aircraft and the spearhead of an Israeli manned aircraft industry, it was cancelled in 1987 under US pressure.

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7. Northrop F-20 Tigershark

The $1.2 billion extinct Tiger

F-20_Tigershark_launching_AGM-65_Maverick

Ok, so this was a US design killed by the US, but the case still stands (and it’s always a good time to look at F-20 photos). The export embargo of the standard F-16 meant the US had no light fighter to flog to friendly dictators and allies on a budget. The desire for a ‘non-provocative’ (i.e. not too capable) had started in 1970, but without even a domestic order was left on a back-burner. Northrop stepped in with the F-20, which was essentially a hot-rod single-engined F-5E. The F-20 had superb performance; it was exceptionally fast (its climb rate was phenomenal), agile and easy to maintain. Unlike the contemporary F-16, the F-20 had a beyond visual range missile capability (in the form of the Sparrow). It was also expected, perhaps somewhat optimistically, to consume 53% less fuel, require 52% less maintenance manpower, have 63% lower operating and maintenance costs and have four times the reliability of average front-line designs of the era (now wondering if the baseline fighter considered for this comparison was the F-4). Despite endorsements from Chuck Yeager and a slick marketing campaign (that was slowed down considerably by the need to run the marketing via the State Department) the aircraft failed to achieve an actual order – its lack of even a domestic order made it unattractive to potential clients. Once the Lavi was in development and the F-16 was cleared for export, the F-20 was finished.

6. Saab 37 Viggen

Kissinger’s Thunderclap 

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The Saab 37 Viggen was an extremely capable, and lavishly well-equipped, fighter-bomber. It was also a very expensive project to remain purely in the domestic market, export customers were wanted to spread the financial burden. Its failure to achieve export success was largely down to its Swedish origin, a country with an inconvenient regard for ethics when exporting military hardware. It was not just the good principles of the Swedish government that got in its way: it was also a mite too specialised towards Swedish needs. The Viggen did in fact achieve an export order, from India in 1978. But the US didn’t like it, and refused an export licence for the licence-built Volvo RM8 engines (which were modified afterburning versions of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D). The US were worried by the potential for the Swedes to include secret US technology in the export version, despite Saab’s claim to the contrary. In a telegram about the matter, Kissinger noted:

“RECENT SWEDISH TRANSFER OF US-ORIGIN LASER RANGEFINDER EQUIPMENT TO YUGOSLAVIA, WHICH LATER REPORTEDLY TURNED UP IN EGYPT, RAISES QUESTION AS TO SWEDISH ABILITY TO CONTROL THIRD-COUNTRY TRANSFER OF US TECHNOLOGY.” The US scuppered the deal, and the Indians chose the Jaguar instead. The superb Viggen lived a life of domestic bliss, never having to drop a bomb in anger.

5. British Aircraft Corporation TSR.2

To Hell with BAC

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The TSR. 2 was seemingly designed to power British aviation forums, and generates a colossal 500kW an hour of bile and venom. The TSR.2 was actually an exceptionally capable bomber that never went beyond the prototype stage. Though its staggering costs were a key contributor to its demise, there are many that point the finger at a jealous US presence that killed the project.

The book ‘CONCORDE, THE INSIDE STORY’ was written by the British Aircraft Corporation vice-chairman Geoffrey Knight. In this book he quotes Julian Amery, the Conservative Aviation Minister of the time, as saying the cancellation of the TSR.2 (and HS P.1154) was enacted by the US President in frustration at his failure to kill the Concorde project.

4. Avro CF-105 Arrow

You Canuck be serious 

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Ok, so it wasn’t just US pressure that killed the insanely ambitious Arrow, it was also the sobering budgetary requirements of this Canadian super-fighter, but don’t dare suggest that in the dark masses of Canadian aviation enthusiasts that huddle around bonfires at night burning effigies of Eisenhower. The Arrow was very much the F-22 of its time, it had exceptionally advanced avionics, and promised unparalleled performance. Its cancellation is still bitterly remembered by many in Canada.

3. Miles M.52 

Bell end supersonic dream of Winkle

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Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown is the most experienced test pilot in the world, with no other rivalling the amount of types on his log book. He almost became the first man to go supersonic in level-flight, in the Miles M.52. The type was well designed (in wind tunnels it comfortably punched through to Mach 1.38), and pioneered the ‘flying tail’ which has since become a must-have item for most tailed supersonic aircraft. The type could have become the first supersonic aircraft but official support was withdrawn for odd reasons that have never been adequately explained. The flying tail, so important for supersonic flight, was copied by Bell designers (following a visit to the UK) and the excellent M.52 became an historical footnote. See you later stabilator.

2. Saunders-Roe SR.177

Rocket to the Crypt

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Good old Lockheed, always avoiding any dodgy activity… apart from the alleged corruption in the Italian deal C-130, oh and the Japanese F-104 and L-1011 affair, and various alleged shenanigans in Saudi Arabia. The F-104 Starfighter  ‘Deal of the Century’ to various European nations was allegedly particularly squalid, with individuals involved in procurement, including Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, receiving handsome ‘sales incentives’. Before the F-104 was selected by the West Germans, they had a great deal of interest in Britain’s SR.177 hybrid jet-rocket fighter. A fighter which would have had a climb rate unsurpassed until the Typhoon and Raptor. With West Germany’s deselection, Britain lost interest in the type and it was cancelled, though advances in jet engines and ground defences were also contributing factors.

1. Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde

Droop Snoot given Boot

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That the fabulous Concorde failed to sell to any export customers is at least partly due to US interference. You can listen here to President Kennedy getting very angry about Pan Am’s 1963 Concorde order.  Many in US Government and industry were terrified that the European effort would steal the US dominance of the 1970s airline world. The consortium secured non-binding options for over 100 Concordes from the major airlines of the day, but in the end not a single aircraft was exported. Initially the threat of Concorde was used to bolster America’s own supersonic passenger programme, though when the Boeing 2707 was cancelled the tone changed in many quarters of the US aerospace industry which publicly poured scorn on the idea of supersonic air travel. The British anti-Concorde effort, led by Richard Wiggs, were noble in intentions, largely concerned as they were with environmental issues – but there is some evidence that many of the concerns in the US regarding noise concerns were stoked to ensure Concorde would not succeed. The US anti-Concorde effort combined with noise fears and regulations and rising oil prices to kill Concorde’s chances.

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You should also enjoy some more of our articles: There’s a whole feast of features, including the top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

14 comments

  1. duker

    The improved Concode, which would have been built after line number18 would done without afterburners due to engine improvements along with a variable droop wing edge and other wing changes. Might have improved the economics and noise problems but still a hard sell as the widebody era was beginning.
    The Northrop F20 wasnt a $1.2 bill program, as the F16 development for an entirely new plane was less than half. The $1.2 bill came from deferred program costs for all the T-38/F-5 program, which was allowed to accumulate under accounting rules of the time – much as the 787 has deferred program costs of $30 bill. As the F-20 was the last of the long line, shutting it down meant the writeoffs happened at that time. Small changes to engine inlet and a new rear fuselage for F404 engine certainly dont cost $1.2bill, more like $60 mill.
    The pity for this program it wasnt picked up by Italy and Brazil instead of their ineffectual AMX, might have picked up some sales in Asia and Africa as well.

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  3. Ari

    1- TSR.2 This is one of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories ever devised..This aircraft was an engineering disaster second to none in the history of British aviation is nothing but a compassion babble.
    The alleged superiority of the TSR-2 over the F-111 has never been proven F-111 is combat proven bomber served 40 years in two different air forces .its latest version massively outperformed TSR.2 in every flight condition, it flew faster, farther and delivered 40% more payload than this fantasy plane..I am at a loss trying to figure out what might have made TSR.2 superior to F-111 ? TRS-2 was a paper plane. Only 4 prototypes were built and none of them achieved full operational capability as they had been experiencing serious technical problems ! Everything about TSR-2 was on the paper. Another British myth
    A lot of stuff is still claimed about ‘US interference and pressure’ and a wanton desire to sabotage the industry by the Wilson government illustrated by the breaking up of not only the TSR-2’s save for two, in building, but also the scrapping of the production equipment to stop a future government re-starting the project.
    Both are untrue
    The whole TSR-2 story is highly exaggerated nonsense and has little to do with reality .F-111 had better performance overall..

    But this is a typical British fantasy, Brits have invented the wonderous medication to make them feel comfortable, everytime they screw up in anything , blame the Yanks !!!

    2- M52 Another conspiracy theory that is even funnier than the above one, here is the real lowdown.
    The M.52 program was overreaching and doomed to failure from the very beginning… The UK lacked both the high speed aerodynamic research and the jet engine technology. The Governments very poor decision of selecting of the Miles company and Whittles PowerJets Ltd. sealed the fate of the M.52. NACA engineers saw little value in data from plane that never flew or had any chance of reaching the sound barrier. The Bell engineers predicted the possiblity, and left the option in the design of the aircraft AOA elevator trim adjustment. US Airforce test team confirmed the need… The actual stabilator design was developed by the Air Force test team.. not Bell. The Miles M.52 could never reach the sound barrier without a viable engine design, Frank Whittles failure to produce the required engine left the program with no option other than cancellation.
    The M52 was far from being able to demonstrate anything viable when the project was cancelled and some documents were handed over to Americans which were of little value.

    Chief Aerodynamicist Dennis Bancroft stated that the Bell Aircraft company was given access to the drawings and research on the M.52 in 1944 BEFORE design work was completed on the Bell X-1 but unfortunately his remarks do not prove accurate nor is there any evidence that the already completed X-1 design was influenced at all by the Miles .M52 data as it empennage bares no similarities whatsoever… stories that the stabilator was added after the X-1 design was completed is also false as the pivot assembly for a stabilator was already build into the X-1 original design as far back as early 44′ this confirmed by the development team that installed an electric trim actuator without any knowledge of the M.52s tail design. One only has to look at the two aircraft to see there see no similarities in their control surfaces or design. The brits are very fond of quoting that “they” invented the flying tail as part of the development of the M.52….. the truth is the stabilator was in mass production on French and German aircraft as early as 1915… and 2 American designs the Curtiss XP-42, XP-55, it was already a 30 year old design when the brits claimed to have invented it.
    3- Concorde: Its fate was sealed after the first oil shock before it became operational in 1976 the second oil shock in 1979 put the last nail into the coffin ..Americans have nothing to do with it. Concorde was banned from flying Mach2 from European airspace as well ..London- NY was the only possible route left ,which had its reasons, you couldn’t find more passengers who could afford to pay 13.000 dollars for a return flight anywhere else in the world except in London-New York route .Americans killed Concorde??? Americans saved Concorde, because there wouldn’t be a Concorde without New York Kennedy ..

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  6. ari

    Avro Arow had exceptionally advanced avionics, and promised unparalleled performance ??? and the US destroyed it ???
    Avionics was made in the US as well as the weapon systems and the engine and the US is still jealous and wants to destroy it !!!!! This is the funniest conspiracy theory ever devised …

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  10. Stewart

    I was a contract employee on the “Peace Sun Program” in Taif, KSA at the time and nobody in the Kingdom had considered the Mirage at all! It was not close in any performance parameter and no one can name any metric by which one could say the two planes were even remotely comparable.
    Then there is the TSR-2 Vs F-111 controversy. The TSR-2 was a single mission plane with very limited capabilities. ( A single relatively small bomb to a relatively short range, but at high sub-sonic speed and very low altitude. On the other hand, the F-111 and variants could tote ten B-83s over a combined Hi-Lo-Hi mission profile four times the TSR-2’s radius that would include a extremely low altitude and very high speed dash over a similar low level range as the TSR-2, or two B-83’s internally and four Srams on the inner pylons and four 600 gallon drop tanks of the outer fixed hard points with a supersonic dash to about twice the radius as the TSR-2 at low level and the high part of the flight plan that would require a dedicated tanker for the TSR-2 to match.
    Then there is the FB-111H? which can tote 50 iron bombs totaling ~31,900 Lbs. Do a Google search for pics of same.
    Then the CF-105? Arrow, a truly great plane that the Canucs cancelled all on their own when the Liberal government won the election and was looking for every military program that could be cut. They told the lie that the Bomarc missile could replace the plane, but it was all lies, none of which were told by the Americans! It was all Canadian politicians from start to finish! We were thinking of buying it, for Christ’s sake!
    The SAAB and Lavi were two plane built solely to support local aircraft industry and they knew from the start they were nothing more than protectionist programs from the start.

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