The Rafale and Peter Collins


Image: Dassault

I was sad to hear that Peter Collins passed away this Summer. Collins flew Harrier GR3s with the RAF, Sea Harriers in the Falklands on exchange with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, and the VAAC Harrier (which was instrumental in developing the flight control laws for the F-35B). He also flew with the Red Arrows. Flying both the exceptionally demanding Harrier and as a member of one of the world’s best aerobatic teams show him to have been an exceptionally gifted pilot.

Peter later became Flight International’s test pilot. His glowing review of the Rafale was particularly interesting. With his great experience and knowledge of flying fighter aircraft, I was keen to ask his opinion on modern fighters. I  also asked him about the perennial Rafale versus Typhoon question. As he has flown Rafale and the Typhoon simulator (programmed to represent the latest variant) he was one of the most qualified to discuss this subject. It was last December that I had the chance to bombard him with my schoolboy questions. 

In regards to within-visual range combat he noted:

“This is always difficult to call. The Typhoon helmet mounted display, especially in the yet to be ordered Striker 2 version, is superb. I think the Rafale would eat Typhoon below 10,000ft. The Bug (legacy Hornet) is also superb”

Peter was a staunch supporter of the Rafale, and believed many underestimate it.

“My 2009 article for Flight international stands. If I was buying a multi-role aircraft  I would buy Rafale but an awful lot of politics, economics, offset deals, military preference and bias comes in the way…I’m not paid by Dassault or Eurofighter. Remember that the Rafale is designed to replace seven French types: Jaguar, Marine F-8 Crusader, Marine Super Etendard, Mirage F1, Mirage F1R, M2000C and the M2000N – which is probably why it is optimised for lower levels. It is recce-, nuclear (ASMP)- , carrier-capable (something Typhoon will never be), it has AESA, is getting Meteor, drops SCALP, Hammer and LGB. It has better low-observable shaping, and will stick with Typhoon below 20,000 feet. It has very good electronic countermeasures in SPECTRA, and has better flight control system characteristics (I’ve flown it). It also has GPS based, and therefore silent, auto terrain following. It also has forward optics for visual identification. It is the best fighter aircraft I have ever flown.”

He was also mindful of the pitfalls of writing about military aircraft “Careful you don’t put your name to something and be seen as a ‘useful idiot’ by an aircraft manufacturer.” Indeed, much of aviation ‘journalism’ is the uncritical copy and pasting of press statements, and this is an important thing to remember.

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