OK, I know the word ‘hipster’ is terrible and used by your Tory uncle to describe anyone under 50, but bear with me. What I really mean is ‘snob’, for I am referring to the kind of aviation aficionado who will snort derisively at anyone who dares to say that their favourite aeroplane is the Spitfire or Concorde. For these snooty individuals you might as well have said your favourite album is the Greatest Hits of the Beatles. And yes, they judge you! Now I have planted the seed of insecurity, I will tell you the right thing to say to bluff your way into being accepted by this elitist group of fuck-nuts. Never again will you say anything as obvious or gauche as admitting love for the Vulcan or F-15 Eagle.
World War II fighter
Do say: Westland Whirlwind, Martin-Baker MB 5
Don’t say: North American P-51 Mustang, Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Messerschmitt Bf 109
A mere 116 Whirlwinds were built, which makes even the Raptor appear common. To steal a P. J. R. Moyes quote from Wikipedia, “The basic feature of the Whirlwind was its concentration of firepower: its four closely-grouped heavy cannon in the nose had a rate of fire of 600 lb./minute – which, until the introduction of the Beaufighter, placed it ahead of any fighter in the world. Hand in hand with this dense firepower went a first-rate speed and climb performance, excellent manoeuvrability, and a fighting view hitherto unsurpassed. The Whirlwind was, in its day, faster than the Spitfire down low and, with lighter lateral control, was considered to be one of the nicest “twins” ever built… From the flying viewpoint, the Whirlwind was considered magnificent.”
It also looked fantastic. OK, so it had a high landing speed and test pilot Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown thought that it was underpowered and disappointing, but down and dirty at low level it was formidable.
The best British piston-engined fighter ever flown. Well armed, very fast and easy to maintain. Flight trials proved it be truly exceptional, with a top speed of 460mph, brisk acceleration and docile handling. Its cockpit layout set a gold standard that Boscombe Down recommended should be followed by all piston-engined fighters. A multitude of access panels made it far easier to maintain than its contemporaries, and its tough structure (a more advanced version of the load-bearing tubular box type favoured by Hawker) would have given it greater survivability. The only thing the MB5 lacked was good timing, it first flew two weeks before the Allied Invasion of Normandy. Born at the birth of the jet age, with readily available Spitfires and Tempests this masterpiece of British engineering didn’t stand a chance. The fact it never entered service makes it even cooler.
Do say: Tu-134, the Russian ‘Crusty’
Don’t say: Concorde, 747
Asia is very much the vogue continent for modern fighters. Europe’s Typhoon is too plasticy, the US’ F-35 is too F-35 and Sweden’s Gripen too sensible. France’s Rafale is too beautiful and Russia’s Su-57 a cool aircraft in the making. This is why Asian fighters are undeniably on trend. Let’s start with China’s J-20, which despite being named after an over-priced fruit drink, is excellent. Think stealth Viggen or Firefox reboot (talking Eastwood films not browsers) and you almost have it. It’s big, mean and defiantly evil. The J-10B is nicely weird, like a Lavi that’s midway through digesting an X-32 — and so has to make the list.
The exquisitely rare and expensive Mitsubishi F-2 is the best looking member of the F-16 family (bar the abortive XL) with a more elegant canopy, cooler tail and a camo scheme to die for (or not to die for as modern Japan is pretty cool at not starting wars). The AIDC F-CK-1 is dorky in that it’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s mashup of US fighters but it is rare (131 aircraft in total), Taiwanese (bonus points) and is basically called the ‘Fuck’ (big bonus points). Nice pair of intakes too.
Cold War Fighter
Do say: Grumman Panther, Saab Viggen
Don’t say: F-4 Phantom II, Dassault Mirage III, English Electric Lightning
The F-4 Phantom was (and is) weird, ugly and charismatic – but familiarity breeds contempt and thus is not a hipster choice. Similarly, having a guy called Mike prattle on about the Lightning in your local pub has robbed the ‘Frightening’ of a position it deserves. The Mirage is too much a part of French national identity and therefore too ‘establishment’.
As ‘George the soundman’ pointed out in his guide to US aircraft , “It’s got a bum like a dolphin, nature’s smartest and most fuckable mammal. The colour scheme is like a shiny pair of Nikes and the livery is tastefully understated. It also looks surprisingly good sitting on the tarmac which usually knocks a good few points off a plane’s attractiveness. This is the warplane to pick up a date in.”
The Saab Viggen lived in a cave like Batman, had a camouflage scheme better than the jacket of any rapper and was Swedish so must make the list.
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Business jets are for twats. That is not a Bill Gunston quote as such, but I stand by it.
Do say: Anything other than the ones below.
Don’t say: BAC TSR.2, Avro Arrow
Do say: Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne
Don’t say: Boeing AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Blackhawk, Bell 206
Wondering how you can get a guilt-free pass to appreciate a gunship helicopter? Just choose one that never got built, like the supremely bananas Cheyenne. Oh, and the original Blackhawk, the tragic S-67.
Do say: Antonov An-22, Antonov An-225 and C-160 Transall
Don’t Say: Lockheed C-130 Hercules
The A400M Atlas is problematic – as a massive good-looking turboprop-powered transport it should score as a hit but it’s pan-European (with all the bland connotations of production sharing meetings in Toulouse), too new and too expensive. The An-22 is massive and crazy, the An-225 even more massive and can carry a space shuttle and the C-160 has the quaint left-field appeal of an old Renault 12.
Do say: none
While our cognitive dissonance can stretch as far as enjoying modern fighters, modern bombers are just too depressing. Even the Russian bombers lost their cool when they began being used in combat. This leaves only the Chinese Xian H-6 , which is a little too sensible-looking.
Do say: Any
They pick up water from lakes, fly through actual fire and save lives. They’re all brilliant. Even the BAe 146, the Coldplay of feedliners, is cool as a firebomber.