Top 10 Over-Rated Military Aircraft

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Oasis, The Godfather, Champagne, many things in life are over-rated. Popular opinion will hold that they’re the outstanding examples of their kind, but popular opinion is merely the collective braying of the uneducated hordes. To elevate you above the uneducated horde the following list is ten of the most over-rated military aircraft, allowing you to display a veneer of sophistication when they crop up in conversation. To be clear most of these aircraft aren’t bad, generally they’ve at least displayed some level of basic competence, but this has been over-inflated in the popular imagination to an unwarranted degree. The Bruce Springsteen of aviation if you will.

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To avoid filling the complete article with flights of fancy cancelled projects don’t count. This saves you the reader from my multi-volume rant on the TSR.2 having fewer flying hours than the X-35 did when it was selected to be the Joint Strike Fighter. It’s also pretty much all combat aircraft as it’s hard to think of any over-rated cargo haulers. Or helicopters. Or Blackburn products.

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National chauvinism frequently plays a part in aircraft, or anything else, being overrated. For this reason, the list would appear to be biased against British aircraft, because those are the ones the author has most often heard being praised while thinking, ‘steady on, they aren’t that good’. Plus let’s face it, most other countries’ aircraft are average at best.

 

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor ‘Pointless Craptor’ 

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Perfect for everything except reality

The F-22 is an impressive aircraft to be sure, fast, extremely agile, and almost invisible to radar. Slightly short on range compared to some other modern military aircraft and more expensive than even the F-35 it is none the less the fighter to beat. It’s not however without its problems. Early Raptors appeared to have been inspired by HAL from 2001, making multiple attempts on their own pilot’s lives which lead to a four-month grounding while the USAF tried to resolve the issues. These were eventually traced to a faulty g-suit inflation system and an erratic onboard oxygen generating system.

The small matter of attempted pilotcide [1] out of the way you’re still left with helicopter levels of maintenance activity, each aircraft having to undergo a three-week work package every 300 flying hours, primarily due to the stealth coating. There’s also the issue of a relatively small fleet size of around 180 aircraft due to the early programme cancellation. Now to your average European air force that sounds like excessive largesse, but if you’re trying to maintain a global presence it barely scratches the surface.

Perhaps more critically the F-22 seems wholly unsuited to the wars the USA has spent most of the century fighting. Yes, they have been employed dropping the occasional JDAM on Syria, and have apparently conducted Close Air Support which makes criticism of the F-35 conducting the role look wholly misplaced. But is a $150 million air superiority fighter really the best tool for the job or was that an attempt to justify its existence. Because at ~$60,000 per flying hour you could have employed 3 A-10s to do the same thing.

Don’t say – The ultimate manned fighter.

Do say – Overkill when you’ve decided to spend the last twenty years dropping bombs on people without an air force.

[1] If we use it enough in print the OED have to make it a word, work with me.

 

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

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Hush-Kit’s top Cold War Carrier Combat Aircraft was the F-4 Phantom, probably the first jet aircraft to succeed at being multi-role and so good the USAF swallowed its pride and brought a few. Thousand. Contrary to popular opinion, and some dialogue in Top Gun, it also achieved a respectable kill-ratio in the Vietnam War against smaller more agile opponents. It wasn’t however without its problems.

Designed as a missile armed all weather interceptor this proved to be overly ambitious when put to the test in South East Asia, the performance of the early Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles being sub-optimal. Initially this led to crews’ ripple firing missiles in an attempt to gain a hit, foreshadowing the author’s attempts to stay alive in DCS World. But with the close in fighting that developed due to the rules of engagement in force even this wasn’t guaranteed to work. Indeed, it was not uncommon for a Phantom to find itself too close to the enemy to fire even the short-ranged IR seeking missiles. This led initially to the fitting of gun pods, the accuracy of which was variable especially when fitted to aircraft subject to catapult launches. Ultimately an internal gun was fitted on the Air Force’s aircraft from the E model onwards. A solution that required the shuffling around of internal components to maintain the centre of gravity and the deletion of the ram air turbine that supplied hydraulic pressure in the event of engine failures.

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To add to the woes over Vietnam the J79 engines used by the Phantom produce copious amounts of black smoke, providing a convenient pointer towards the aircraft for any enemy fighters or anti-aircraft batteries. Still at least it only took two decades to fix that issue with the J79-10A fitted to the F-4S in 1977. Two years after the end of the war in Vietnam. Having two of the J-79s also meant the ‘Toom drank like a furloughed single man during lock-down, getting through about 5 times as much fuel as a Harrier or Corsair just to get airborne.

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Having just about got the F-4 sorted the world’s air forces started replacing it as newer designs were introduced that fixed its various short-comings. Or in the case of the RN fitted on their ships. Despite this the Phantom actually remains in service with a variety of air arms in 2020, 60 years after the first USN squadron formed. Nominally Iran, Japan, South Korea, Greece, and Turkey are still operating McDonnell Douglas finest. The last two presumably refusing to retire their aircraft until the other does.

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The Phantom was a good aircraft at its peak although inevitably compromised when compared to more specialist airframes such as the A-6 or F-8. But this peak was broadly the late 60s through to the early 80s. For the other two-thirds of its life it’s either been struggling through development woes or stumbling around in the early hours trying to find the toilet as bladder control starts to become an issue.

Don’t Say – Confusingly mixed messaging from the clowns at Hush Kit.

Do Say – Good for its time, but increasingly out classed during the latter four decades of its service.

More about the Phantom’s flaw’s here.

Mikoyan MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’

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For the younger reader it may be hard to imagine the degree of paranoia and secrecy that permeated the Cold War. The rivals on either side of the iron curtain were equally desperate to find out what their opposition were building while guarding their own secrets. Aircraft performance had to be estimated from looking at reconnaissance photos and figuring out what the design was supposed to achieve. If you weren’t there it was basically like Firefox and The Hunt for Red October but with better accents.

Consequently, when the first images of what was to become the MiG-25 appeared there was much scratching of heads. To Western thinking, influenced by Col John Boyd’s energy manoeuvrability theory, the large wing and monstrous engines were optimised for dogfighting. This led to significant increases in the performance requirements of what would become the F-15 which had previously assumed the MiG-23 was the aircraft to beat. [2]

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In reality the wing was sized to lift what was a very heavy aircraft, being made of stainless steel rather than aluminium alloy like pretty much everything else. Why stainless steel? Because the Foxbat was intended to intercept the, ultimately cancelled, B-70 Valkyrie bomber which would operate at Mach 3. Matching these speeds would heat the airframe to around 300°C at which point aluminium tends to lose structural integrity. Titanium presumably not being used due to a desire to have an aircraft that could be maintained by conscripts. A problem the similarly speedy SR-71 didn’t have allowing it to be built from the metal, ironically sourced from Russia. The speed requirement also drove what is a relatively thin wing profile to minimise drag, increasing take-off and landing speeds to the extent it has a 4,500’ take-off run. In contrast to RAF practice of the time the Soviets required some degree of endurance from its aircraft, consequently ~70% of the internal volume is given over to fuel. Which to limited what other equipment could be crammed in there.

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Much of this was revealed to the Capitalist Running Dogs of the West when Lieutenant Belenko used one to take a day trip from Vladivostok to Hakodate Air Base in Japan in 1976. While Belenko was whisked away to a life of luxury and questioning in the USA technicians took apart the MiG to discover its secrets. They then boxed it up and returned it to the Soviets in crates, who gave the Japanese a bill of $10 million for damage to the aircraft. The Japanese countered with $40,000 of charges for shipping costs, which makes an Amazon Prime subscription seem good value.

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By this point though the damage had been done, the F-15 was entering service designed to counter abilities that didn’t exist.

(still it is the only MiG with a teenfighter kill)

Don’t say – The fastest fighter in the world.

Do say – Made into a bogey man by the USA to justify the F-15’s performance requirements.

[2] In something of a pattern the MiG-23 was also considered by Western powers to be more impressive than it really was.

 

Heinkel He 113

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It’s fair to say the first half of 1940 hadn’t gone well for Britain and her allies, having lost the Battles of Norway and France everything relied on winning the upcoming home match to stay in the championship. Worryingly for Fighter Command who would bear the brunt of the upcoming fighting they’d only just held their own against the Luftwaffe’s current fighters the Bf109 and Bf110. It was obvious from intelligence reports that the far superior He-113 would be a completely different proposition. With a top speed of 390mph some 35mph faster than the Spitfire and a fuel injected engine allowing negative g flight the Super Jaegar would be able to run rings around the RAF’s best. Perhaps more worryingly where the British aircraft were armed with eight, or sometimes twelve, .303 calibre machine guns photos indicated the Germans had managed to incorporate three 20-mm cannon into their fighter. For those not up on the technicalities of fighter weaponry machine-guns fire inert lumps of lead, 0.303 inches in diameter in this case. Cannon on the other hand fire mini projectiles that incorporate explosives that detonate on contact, which makes much more of a mess. The Allies were working on arming their aircraft with cannon, but they wouldn’t start to see wide-spread adoption until the following year due to difficulties developing them and the performance hit due to their greater mass.

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Everything then indicated the He 113 was going to be a tough customer and so it would prove. The first encounter seems to have been while Hurricanes were covering the Dunkirk evacuation when they were bounced by the Super Fighters while themselves preparing to attack a group of He 111 bombers. This pattern would repeat itself throughout the subsequent rather predictably named Battle of Britain, flights of He 113 would strike from high level just as the attacking fighters were about to engage bombers. Later they would use their great speed to carry out lightning raids on ground targets, the first on 18 August when they destroyed a Hurricane and seven Spitfires at RAF Manston for no losses. Indeed, throughout the battle there were no confirmed kills of the He 113 only a handful of probables. The only relief for the Allies was that the Germans seemed to have only limited numbers of the aircraft available, it was speculated due to difficulties operating what was obviously a highly advanced aircraft from muddy fields in France.

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In reality it was because they hadn’t actually built any He 113s. The whole thing was a ruse by Nazi head of propaganda Joseph Goebbels and the Luftwaffe using repainted He 100 prototypes to convince their enemies they were far ahead of them in aircraft development. The He 100 had set a world air speed record shortly before the war so was a plausible basis for a new fighter but for a variety of reasons hadn’t been selected as such by the Luftwaffe. The 113 designation was chosen in an attempt to play up to the stereotypical image of German methodical predictability, being a logical follow on to the He 112 that had seen limited service. That the ruse worked can be demonstrated by the willingness of allied pilots to report higher flying faster aircraft as He 113, when in reality they’d just been Bf 109s using a height advantage to gain speed. More crucially as the Super Fighter’s reputation grew, they would become increasingly wary of engaging any formation they mistakenly identified as consisting of them.

To say the He 113 was over-rated is probably under-stating things, fear of its ability allegedly factoring in Dowding’s decision not to deploy Spitfires to France. When in reality it was a prototype cosplaying as an end of level baddy.

Don’t say – What?

Do Say – The kind of information warfare Alistair Campbell would be proud of.

 

Avro Vulcan ‘Hero of Operation Slack Fuck’

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Say V-Bombers and if you’re basic your first thought is the Avro Vulcan and why not, it’s a moderately attractive cranked delta with four Olympus engines. Its greatest claim to fame is of course the Black Buck raids during the Falklands Conflict which saw pretty much the entire surviving V-Force execute possibly the most complicated refuelling plan in history to hit a runway. With a bomb. Followed shortly after by the retirement of most of the Vulcan fleet at the end of the year. Which is the kind of thing someone should write a book about.

So, job done, Vulcan, greatest V-bomber, if not strategic bomber, of all time, right? Well no frankly. It was certainly in the top three V bombers beating the Short Sperrin by entering service, and the Vickers Valiant by not falling apart after ten years of pootling around the sky. Although to be fair that did have the distinction of actually dropping a nuclear bomb and beat the Vulcan to conventional bombing missions by 26 years during the Suez Crisis. They managed more than one hit on the runway as well.

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Still if you’re a Top Trumps kind of aircraft fan it could at least carry the same bomb load as the Valiant slightly faster. It fails utterly in comparison to the other V-bomber though. The Victor could carry 14 more 1000lb bombs than its sisters in the V-Force for a total of 35,0000lbs. Or half a B-52’s payload. It could also go further and in a shallow dive break the sound barrier.

The only real problem with the Victor was the manufacturer, Handley Page’s chairman being less keen on the government’s ideas for manufacturer consolidation than they were. That combined with potential issues fitting the Skybolt missile meant only a handful of Victor B2s were ordered compared to an extravagance of Vulcans. Consequently, when Skybolt was cancelled the greater numbers of Vulcans meant they were a shoe in for the bomber role while the Victors became tankers.

Not a bad aircraft overall, the Vulcan’s reputation today seems to rest on its role in Black Buck rather than its overall capability. Plus it’s in Thunderball which can’t have hurt.

Don’t say – A triumph of British design and engineering.

Do Say – The Victor could carry more further, what else do you want in a bomber?

 

Mitsubishi A6M Zero ‘

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To say that the Mitsubishi Zero came as an unpleasant surprise to the Allied forces during December 1941 would be a bit of an understatement. Nimble, fast, and long ranged it was everything you’d want in a carrier fighter. Okay slightly more armour and radio aids would be nice, but their absence didn’t stop it racking up an impressive kill rate during the sudden expansion of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere into the Indian and Pacific oceans. During raids on the only ‘civilised’ bit of Northern Australia, Darwin, they easily dealt with the Spitfire Vs that had been rushed there for its defence. This despite the defenders being flown by experienced Battle of Britain veterans.

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The evidence for the Zero’s reputation seems pretty clear-cut then, cutting a swathe before it even when opposed by the ‘greatest fighter of all time’ flown by the best of the best. Or at least the best of the RAF. Mitsubishi had obviously created some sort of uber-fighter, probably either with the direct help of the Germans, or inspired by an obscure Gloster design that never got ordered. [3] Because the alternative would be that the Zero was an average fighter with strengths and weaknesses and the Japanese were producing better pilots than the Allies. Which would be incredibly inconvenient given all the intelligence assessments and propaganda that had asserted the Japanese were producing inferior knock-offs of Western aircraft and were themselves physically inferior. Particularly inconvenient if you’d then based your defence policy on those assumptions and left a variety of obsolete aircraft to defend your key outpost in the region. Still at least the loss of Singapore put an end to any conceit of racial superiority in the British populace.

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The Zero wasn’t a bad aircraft, it was very manoeuvrable, had decent armament, and had excellent low-speed handling. It wasn’t however particularly fast, and its critical altitude, where the supercharger can no longer compensate for the depredation of altitude on engine performance, was a relatively low 16,000’. Useful for naval air combat but much lower than the Spitfire’s and other fighters optimised for the European theatre. Its main advantage was in the cockpit where the pilots sat, after undergoing what at the time was the longest training course in the world. This allowed them to make the most of their aircraft and drag allied pilots into combat on their terms. Meanwhile the Australian Spitfire pilots insisted on using tactics that wouldn’t have cut the mustard in Europe by getting into turning fights with one of the few aircraft that could out-turn them. Indeed, the score could probably have been reversed if they’d used high speed dives to make slashing attacks on the Zeros before climbing away to position for a follow up.

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As a fighter the Zero was a good aircraft, however, to compensate for the shocking performance of the Allies against what they’d been told was an inferior enemy it had to become a great one.

Don’t say – It swept a wave of terror across the Pacific.

Do say – Made into a bogey man by the Allies to cover-up their pre-war intelligence failings.

[3] The Gloster F5/34, Google it, it’s pretty similar.

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Gloster F5/34

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Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Captain mediocre’ 

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Ask the average man in the street to name a WW2 USAAF bomber and they’ll probably ask you to stand two meters away and put a face mask on. Repeat the experiment enough times however and you’ll soon realise the Flying Fortress is probably the most famous American bomber of WW2. Capable of delivering 4,500lbs of high explosives to Berlin while fighting off hordes of Fw 190s and Bf 109s with an ever-increasing battery of .50 cal machine guns the B-17 played a major contribution to attempts to flatten Germany into submission.

Impressive as that sounds it was also broadly what the Mosquito could do on half the engines, only two crew, and about 130mph faster. Meanwhile the USAAF’s other heavy the B-24 Liberator could fly further, faster, with more. It was also the most produced bomber in history, with 18,482 to the B-17s mere 12,731. [4]

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So why the love for what was at best the equal of its peers? Mostly good PR. Even before the USA was bombed into entering the war against fascism the B-17 was getting publicity for its work with the RAF. Ironically mostly with Coastal Command the early models being considered unsuitable for its primary role after initial trials over occupied Germany had achieved at best mixed results. With the late entrants to the war doing their best to play catch-up the USAAF were keen to push the message that they were taking the fight deep into Nazi Germany.

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Until mid-43 this meant lots of reports of Flying Fortresses, cementing its place in the public’s heart before the B-24 had got down to business. If this wasn’t enough just as the Liberator was deploying in May ’43 the first B-17 completed a tour of 25 missions, the following week the Memphis Belle did to a blitz of publicity including the 1944 release of a documentary broadly documenting their final mission. In a further insult to, well everyone, the 1990 film Memphis Belle fictionalised the making of the documentary, added to the profile of the B-17, and gave Harry Connick Jr an acting career.

Essentially then the Flying Fortress was an alright bomber with a great PR department. The Adam Sandler of strategic bombing. Seriously how is he still getting roles?

Don’t say – The Bomber that won the war.

Do say – The Liberator did the work the B-17 got the glory.

[4] The Ju-88 making second place with 15,183 built, fact-fans.

English Electric Lightning ‘Exciting & useless’ 

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Continuing the RAF’s love affair with short ranged aircraft the Lightning was designed to defend V-Force airfields long enough for the bombers to get airborne. This led to an aircraft with a phenomenal rate of climb, impressive top speed, and for the time, 1959, cutting edge weapons system. Contrary to claims by Lockheed-Martin about the F-22 it was also the first aircraft to be able to super-cruise. All things that bring aviation enthusiasts of a certain age to a near priapism.

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The Lightning was very impressive in its niche, and if it had stuck at being a short-range point interceptor it would have been great. But awkwardly that role didn’t last for long the nuclear deterrent role going to the navy’s Polaris submarines in 1968 removing the strategic requirement to defend the V Force airfields. Meanwhile the air defence requirement changed to intercepting aircraft over the North Sea and GIUK gap. [5] More awkwardly thanks to the Sandys’ review passing off savage cuts as strategic long-term planning, there were no successors to the Lightning in the offing, manned aircraft being considered obsolete.

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This left the Lightning by default as the RAF’s best choice of aircraft for the role, the alternative being the Javelin possibly the only all-weather fighter with a restriction on flying in cloud. However even with an increased fuel load in a gradually expanding pot belly the Lightning would be heavily reliant on tanker support. The ultimate F.6 model only had a combat range of around 135nm for a supersonic intercept. Perhaps less usefully there doesn’t seem to have been anything in the way of an effort to increase the Lightning’s armament, the F.1 entering service with two heat seeking missiles and two internal 30mm cannon, and the F.6 leaving service with two heat-seeking missiles and two 30-mm cannon. This wasn’t necessarily an issue when the aircraft was intended for a last-ditch defence of the UK’s airfields to allow the deterrent to get away. Operating over the North Sea to hold off the advancing Soviet hordes it would seem to be more of an issue. Hence 43 Squadron forming on surplus Royal Navy Phantom FG.1s in 1970 to take on some of the air defence burden solving the range and payload problems simultaneously. Although to be fair that was a far more advanced aircraft having first entered service 12 months after the Lightning.

As an air show performer and rocket emulator the Lightning was fantastic, but that’s not what its actual role was.

Don’t say – A triumph of British design and engineering.

Do say – Woefully under-armed, unless the Soviets were planning on invading one at a time.

[5] For the younger reader the GIUK gap is the area between Greenland, Iceland, and the UK through which the Soviet Navy would make their way to the North Atlantic.

 

Harrier ‘Vectored trust’ 

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The 1960s were a time of great experimentation as the world’s aircraft manufacturers attempted to produce viable VSTOL aircraft. British aviation enthusiasts take a considerable degree of pride in the emergence of the Harrier as the only successful aircraft from this period of sometimes crazed tinkering. No, the Yak-38 Forger doesn’t count as successful. This pride is enhanced by its ability to inflict wide area tinnitus via air show performances.

You do though have to question whether it was all worth it. The genius of the Harrier was doing away with a separate lift engine by using the front stage of a turbofan to provide thrust forward of the centre of gravity. The hot stage does the same aft of it, a bit of shuffling around with the aircraft’s mass and voila you can hover. It does mean you need a turbofan with a reasonable bypass ratio though which is the sort of thing you normally see on a business jet. It also makes engine maintenance something of a challenge, the wing having to come off if you want to change it. Plus, the usual problem of any powered lift aircraft using full thrust for a vertical landing increasing the fatigue and vibration load, decreasing airframe life.

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The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it’s notable that the Royal Air Force was the only land-based operator of the Harrier. All the other Harrier variants were sold to people who wanted to fly from ships, the USMC, the Spanish Navy, the Royal Navy, the Italian Navy, etc. Indeed, the major operation the RAF’s second-generation Harriers were involved with was Afghanistan. Where their VSTOL capability was well used operating from a runway only otherwise suitable for, checks notes, Tornadoes.

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Another area of misplaced pride in the Harrier is the assumption it’s somehow better than the F-35 because it doesn’t have a lift fan and the UK ‘should have just made a better Harrier rather than wasting money on the F-35’. Which overlooks the fact the Harrier’s lift fan is essentially the first stage of the Pegasus, is always engaged, and creates an increasing amount of intake drag as you approach Mach 1. Never mind that for a turbofan producing a similar level of thrust to the F-35’s engine you’d be looking at something that’s usually hung off an A320. Good luck building a fighter around that. The Pegasus configuration anyway makes for some awkward packaging decisions when designing your aircraft, look at the P. 1214 to see some of the work rounds needed to use it on an Advanced STOVL project.

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The Harrier then, a really successful technology demonstrator that probably degraded the UK’s overall defence capability. Still handy if you’re going to cheap out on your aircraft carrier.

Don’t say – A triumph of British design and engineering.

Do say – Pardon? I can’t hear you over the sound of the Harrier.

 

Supermarine Spitfire

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If you’re British and aren’t particularly interested in aircraft the Spitfire is your favourite. It’s probably also what you call every camouflaged aeroplane with a propeller that you see. This helps the aviation connoisseur avoid you.

Not that the Spitfire was a bad aircraft, as a short-range interceptor it was exactly the sort of thing you’d want if say you were planning on defending an island against an aerial onslaught. Once that unpleasantness is out of the way however you really need something with more range. Despite Photo-Reconnaissance Units and the USAAF proving you could usefully cram more fuel into the Spitfire, almost equalling the range of the Mustang, the RAF proved resistant to the idea. This made it difficult providing an escort to any missions going further than say the beaches of Pas-de-Calais.

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Nor did this limited range gain the Spitfire much in the way of performance, with broadly similar Merlin installations the P-51C was 7% faster than the Spitfire MkIX with 10% better fuel consumption, thanks to a more aerodynamic form. This despite the Mustang being 20% heavier. The Spitfire was faster climbing, which did at least let it spend its limited time airborne at a decent altitude.

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Long range escort not being an option attempts were also made at dive-bombing, where the Spitfire would build up speed too quickly. This would have been less of a problem if it couldn’t lead to the ailerons detaching if unchecked by the pilot. The light build of the aircraft also left it able to only carry half the bomb load of its contemporaries, 1000lbs to the P-51 and P-47’s 2000lbs.

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But at least it was unrivalled in air-to-air combat. Apart from say against the Zero, or when operated by the Soviets who relegated it to the rear with the PVO’s air defence forces, favouring the Bell Airacobra for the VVS busy engaging the Luftwaffe over the battlefield. That’s right they preferred the Airacobra, something virtually no one has heard of, to the Spitfire.

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The less said of the attempts to make the Spitfire seaworthy the better, suffice to say the undercarriage was never really up to the job even with multiple upgrades. By the time it got to the Korean War the Seafire was so stretching the original design that the fuselage was wrinkling from conducting deck landings. Which is a bit of a design flaw in a carrier aircraft.

The Battle of Britain gave the Spitfire great PR, this has overshadowed its later perfectly average performance.

Don’t say – A triumph of British design and engineering.

Do say – The sort of dead horse flogging that saw the original Mini in production for 40 years.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

Don’t say – Deliberately contentious waffle, a Pound Land Clarkson.

Do say – Thought provoking and insightful, the thinking woman’s Brad Pitt.

 

 

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15 comments

  1. Mark Tickner

    What an absolute nonsensical mass or words.
    The ‘author’ obviously has no idea on aeronautical advancements made from any designed airframe.
    This webpage is a typical example of today’s writers, absolutely no true knowledge of the subject, but as long as it makes up pages and pages of space, it must be good. 2/10 for accuracy, 4/10 for truth but at least 8/10 for effort (I think).

      • Duker

        Not the errors so much as the context. The Spifire was available for the battle of Britain, the long range Mustang many years later. Same as the B-17, the RAF only had a small number for its trials of high altitude bombing in 1940, the USAAF not making more available. It was then flying at over 30,000 ft which was a revelation at the time and because of Boeings airliner background the cockpit was pilot friendly with heating that worked and with the propeller discs well ahead the pilot the noise was more tolerable. Later versions had higher power engines and could carry more bombs but not at the altitudes of the early models, but still more than just below 20,000ft of the early 4 engine RAF planes like the Handley Page Halifax. The late war B-17G having a bomb load of around 5.5 tonnes. This later version with a lighter load but much increased range was the RAF Coastal Command version.
        Much the same context could be raised about the F-4 Phantom, yes the early F-4B for the USN was a fast carrier interceptor , but later versions for both UK and USAF had changes to wing and tailplane leading edges to make it more maneuverable, the Brits getting the better low bypass Spey turbofan engine as well with its better range, acceleration and takeoff thrust. The only disadvantage , if you could call it that for a fighter with its primary method of offense being high speed missiles, was the turbine entry temperature limit which meant the top speed was a bit lower at ‘only’ mach 2 ( this was a function of the civil designed Spey, UK preferring not to spend extra money on engine development). The USAF was offered this engine for its nuclear delivery fighter bomber version and should have taken it, however Pratt was able to fend of any engine change . The Spey showing its stuff in the USN/USAF Vought A-7

      • skippybing

        Replying to Duker, if it’s not obvious.

        I acknowledge the Spitfire was available for the BoB, in fact that it was the ideal aircraft for that conflict. But it continued in use throughout the war during which there were more suitable aircraft available. Given the shear number of variants produced the RAF’s failure to try and extend the range, when it could demonstrably be done, seems perverse. Hence my conclusion that it was over-rated, not that it wasn’t good, just not as good as popular imagination thinks.
        Re the B-17, Coastal Command initially had Fortress Mk1s, equivalent to the B-17C, operating with 220 Squadron in early 1942. Again I’m not saying the B-17 was bad, but given there were other bombers carrying more further it doesn’t deserve its reputation that almost wipes out the contribution of other American heavies. Not to mention the Lancaster which could carry significantly more.
        Similarly for the Phantom, you’ve basically reiterated my initial argument, it was good for its time but this doesn’t quite justify its overall reputation. Also as you say, it’s primary method of offence was high speed missiles, but these were horribly unreliable for much of the time it was actually engaged in combat. Yes it got better missiles but by that time they were also being hung off the Eagle and Hornet.
        Incidentally the changes to the Phantom’s tailplane, adding a leading edge slot, were done in partnership with Hawker Siddley engineers. The Spey Phantoms top end performance was as much constrained by the drag from the 20% larger intakes as it was the TIT limit.

    • Keith Shiban

      Actually we could out turn an F-4 at high altitude in the B-52 with that massive wing designed for flying at 50,000′

      The F-4 would set up on a “perch” and try to roll across our wings for a gun pass, at which point we’d bank up 90 degrees into him, causing him to break off the attack. Having something the size of an apartment building coming at you will tend to do that. He didn’t want to get anywhere behind our wing-line because our guns on the G-model could reach that far out to the side.

      Didn’t work against anything newer than an F-4. Any double-digit fighter would be all over you even up at FL390.

      Our best defense was to get down in the weeds and hopefully not get found in the first place.

  2. Neil

    Please tell me the photo of the Harrier in the river is an early VTOL demonstration about to begin and there are subsequent frames of the monster rising from the deep. I know it isn’t but please tell me it is.

    Enjoyed the article. The Liberator being a revelation, I didn’t really know about it. 45mins on Wikipedia and 93 U-boats later I’m a fan. I wonder how much of the B17’s popularity is based around looks?

  3. Duker

    Some planes design dates from before the war but further development allowed them to flower. The Vought Corsair was to meet a Feb 1938 USN requirement. The advantage then it was huge even for an US plane and was sized for the new Double Wasp radial engine. This plane didnt come into its own till late in the war as it was able to be developed to meet changing requirements. The Spitfire was one of these planes as well. It was only 2 years before the Corsair but its basis of the thin elliptical wing and Merlin engine enabled it to be useful well after the Battle of Britain. The real advance was the Merlin’s much increased capability which allowed higher altitude operations and it was able to closely match the new FW 190. It was this which meant the Spitfire stayed in production. Not all the versions were equally as good , the Seafire mentioned showed. What not mentioned was the RN had no choice as it was the only plane to fit the low hangar height of the amoured carriers Implacable and Indefatigable. On escort carriers there seems to have been issues with the deck landings which just required proper techniques for the pilots and the hook and arrestor wires just right.
    Theres a good summary here
    https://www.armouredcarriers.com/seafire-variants
    “All marks retained the Spitfire’s outstanding rate of climb and exhilarating flight characteristics. Pilots knew they could extricate themselves from virtually any trouble by pulling the nose up and letting the Merlin haul the light fighter away.”

    • skippybing

      Oddly the Spitfire that was introduced to match the FW190 was the MkIX, this was basically a Mk Vc with a Merlin 60 series which added a second supercharger lengthening the fuselage by ~4″. This was equivalent to the Packard built engine in the P-51C which as I detailed in the article was faster and went further, despite being heavier. As to how useful the Spitfire was later in the war, it was still an excellent short range interceptor, but that’s less useful when you want to conduct offensive operations over occupied Europe.
      Armoured Carriers is an excellent site and partly influenced my decision to do a Masters in Naval History. It’s worth noting though that Commander Mike Crosley RN who wrote ‘They Gave Me A Seafire’ includes a 17 page appendix titled ‘Seafire – Some of the Problems’ these included the centre of gravity being too far aft despite 28lbs of lead being added to the engine bearers. This lead to the aircraft being unstable in pitch, Supermarine adding a 3lb weight to the front of the control column to pull it forwards as g was applied preventing the pilot from over stressing the aircraft. Despite this at least four aircraft seem to have lost their wings when pilots pulled out of near vertical dives when the effect of the weight would have been non-existent as they were in near zero-g.
      The deck landing incident rate for the Seafire was ~7 times worse than for other fighters, even on the Escort Carriers where the Hellcat was far better despite being considerably larger. It’s easy enough to say deck landings ‘just required proper techniques for the pilots’ but much harder to achieve after two or three days of intensive flying such as at Salerno. It only got better towards the end of the war when the squadrons on Implacable and Indefatigable, who were by that stage highly experienced, had losses broadly equivalent to the other units in TF57. That the Seafire was the only fighter that would fit on those carriers isn’t really a massive tick in its favour. It wasn’t particularly effective in the role either, achieving 37 kills (including 15 Zeros), compared to 52 for the Hellcat, 52.5 for the Corsair, 67 for the Wildcat, and 116 for the Fulmar in RN service.

      • Duker

        The RAF had no need, in general, for an escort fighter for its bombers to reach far into Germany for the obvious reason and replacing the production plants with a US type would have caused production bottlenecks.
        The range for the P51 was really about the bigger fuel tanks including the droppable ‘paper mache’ ones, the North American airframe with the RR engine was a big help too. Having the engine made the biggest difference as the higher you could fly the thinner the air and longer the range. Executive jets use the same principle to get to 40,000ft quickly
        However the FR Spitfire was able to reach Poland with their extra fuel tanks

      • Bing Chandler

        It’s not true to say the RAF had no need for an escort fighter, post the Battle of Britain they were literally using Spitfires in that role. The ability of the Spitfire to get ~60 miles into Northern France was obviously something of a disadvantage in these cases. See here for some detail https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-did-fighter-command-do-after-the-battle-of-britain They were also employed on various forms of ineffective fighter sweep, again the lack of range meaning they only really affected a small area of North France.
        At the same time this wasn’t the only theatre the RAF was involved in and greater range would have been useful in the Western Desert, and later in South East Asia. Instead you had Spitfire MkIX trying to conduct operations in the vastness of Burma from ’44 on wards.
        Incidentally the P-51 was more aerodynamic than the Spitfire so even on the same fuel load it would go further ~6.18 air mile per gallon vs 5.6 for the Spitfire. The drop tanks were also only a minor part the P-51C carrying 224 Imp Gals of internal fuel to the Spitfire IX’s 85. Yes the PR Spitfire could go further, but the extra fuel capacity only slowly made its way to the fighter variants, mainly to counter increasingly thirsty engines. The ultimate fighters marks having a range within about 10nm of the MkI, in some cases in the MkI’s favour! But it would have been possible to give the MkIX a significantly greater range than it had as detailed in the piece I link to in the article.

    • Bing Chandler

      The Spitfire variant that was introduced to match the FW190 was the MkIX which basically added a second super charger stage lengthening the nose by ~4 inches. This was the same Mk I compare to the P-51C in the article, which was faster despite being heavier and using the Packard version of the engine.
      The Seafire’s landing technique was overly sensitive for a combat aircraft whose pilots would often be tired and fatigued, in comparison the Hellcat which was bigger and heavier suffered ~7 times less landing accidents even when operating from the smaller Escort Carriers. It also scored relatively few kills compared to other FAA types ~35, compared to ~50 for the Hellcat and Corsair and ~110 for the Fulmar, so the fragility on the deck doesn’t appear to have paid off in combat.
      It’s also worth noting that Mike Crosley who ended up commanding a Seafire squadron in the Pacific has a 17 page annex in his book ‘They Gave Me a Seafire’ that deals with its handling problems.

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  5. Ed Ward

    I love this article. However, the B-17 bit is slightly too generous to the B-17 as the first 8th AF bomber to complete 25 missions was not a B-17 at all but the 3rd Bombardment Group, 330th Bombardment Squadron’s B-24 Liberator ‘Hot Stuff’ which completed its 25th mission on February 7 1943, some three months before the B-17 ‘Hell’s Angels’ completed its 25th mission (of 48 ultimately flown) on May 13. Hot Stuff and crew flew another 5 missions before flying into the side of a mountain in Iceland on its way back to the USA for a War Bonds tour. All but the tail gunner perished in the accident which was simultaneously tragic and somewhat lessened the propaganda appeal of the aircraft.
    In a further twist, and adding to US reasons to generally keep quiet about ‘Hot Stuff’s achievement and subsequent demise, the aircraft had been carrying Lt General Frank Andrews who, at the Casablanca conference a month earlier, had been appointed Supreme Commander US Forces Europe, replacing one Dwight D Eisenhower (whoever he was). Had he not been killed aboard Hot Stuff it is quite likely Andrews would have become Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower would be history’s footnote rather than the luckless Andrews, and the Liberator would be the most famous US bomber of the war, the B-17 becoming ‘the other one’.

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