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An Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers

 

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Dear Hush-Kit, 

I am generally a happy man, but there is one thing in life that leaves me confused and angry: I can’t get my head around all the different Chinese Flankers (I refuse to put that word in inverted commas). Please please could you explain the differences, without drowning me in details? 

Yours hopefully, 

Jeffrey Bainbridge, Luton 

OK Jeffrey, no problem. I will do my best. Where I fail, better informed readers will gently correct me in the comments section.

So, first of all we have the Shenyang J-11.

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The J-11 was just a Russian Su-27SK provided as a kit and assembled in China (China also got a batch of Russian-built Su-27SKs). The J-11B is a Chinese-made version with indigenous engines, avionics and a lighter composite airframe. Importantly, the J-11B can deliver smart bombs.

So pretty good then? 

Yes, probably is. It also added a glass cockpit. It has some good weapons too, the PL-12 is analogous to the AMRAAM- and the US Navy, for one, is terrified of it. The Chinese WS-10 engines were initially shit though- and the aircraft had to be refitted with Russian AL-31Fs, but they’ve since sorted the ’10 and they’ve gone back to it.

Think crap Su-35.

Wait, so early Flankers didn’t have glass cockpits?

I know, pretty lame right? The Russians lagged behind the West with glass cockpits. The original Su-27 cockpit was jokes.

Is the J-11 a ‘pirate’ copy?

It’s complicated. The Russian did give them a licence to build some on the condition that they had Russian-built engines and avionics, but the J-11B broke that agreement and is a pirate (it’s 90% Chinese so doesn’t benefit Russia much). Initially Russian aircraft manufacturers were vocally pissed off, but now (realising they can’t do anything about it) they say it’s all fine, though they do have a vested interest in selling them more stuff. Intellectual property rights have only been around in China since 1979, and the attitude of both Communism and China to the protection of ideas/things is a different one to the West (to be fair Russia is also pretty laissez-faire on this matter). The Chinese aren’t allowed to export J-11s, an agreement they have honoured.

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Good radar? 

The Chinese thought the early Su-27SK and J-11 radar (the N001) was pretty rubbish. There was a big argument about upgrading (the Russians dragged there heels) and eventually it was upgraded to N001VE (for the J-11A) standard (kinda like an early F-15 radar). The J-11B got the Chinese Type 1474 set which is far better, and is now being tested with an AESA.

J-11B prototype 524 - 06 Chinese J-11B Flanker Fighter Jet Spotted With Grey Radome modifed radardome active radar scanned, AESA In Play (5)

My head is starting to hurt. What else is in the J-11B family? 

Before we get to that you must know that they also bought a combat capable two-seater called the Su-27UBK.

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Two-seats and square-tipped fins identify this as a Su-30MK. Inserted in the wrong part of this article to confuse you.

OK, that I can deal with. So now can we go back to the other J-11 variants?

No, because we need to know about the Russian-built, Russian-equipped Su-35.

So what’s that? 

A Russian-made top of the range ‘Super Flanker’. Chinese has bought 24, probably just so they can filch the technology.

Super eh? So that’s the best Flanker of all?

In some ways. But it has a PESA radar. AESA is what everyone wants, and the Chinese already have it on their J-11Ds (more on this later). So in terms of radar technology it’s not the best. In most other respects – notably its fly-by-wire system, integrated avionics and use of composite materials- it probably is.

Can you stop teasing me about the J-11 family now? 

OK. We have:

  • J-11BS – A twin-seat version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BH – Naval (but not carrier compatible) version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BSH – Naval version of the J-11BS.

Hey, are you just stealing this bit from Wikipedia? 

I’ve got a friend coming ’round soon and I’m getting bored of your questions.

Alright, tell me quickly what the other ones are…

J-15

China’s first carrier-borne J15 fighter jets were displayed for public to see Wednesday in Xi’an of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province (2).jpg

The J-15 has canard foreplanes and naval markings.

Carrier-based version based on the J-11B, that also has some bits nicked from the Su-33 design. Mercifully easy to identify as it has canard foreplanes and lives on carriers. 

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Wait, why haven’t you mentioned the Su-30s yet? 

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The most formidable fighter-bombers in PLA service are the Su-30MKKs.

Jeez, be patient, I was going to explain. The Su-30 is a two-seat fighter-bomber. It’s heavier than an old Flanker and more versatile. It can carry a whole bunch of horribly effective air-to-ground weapons. China has the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2. They have the longest range radar of any Chinese Flankers- the Zhuk-MS. As you can expect the Chinese ripped off this design to produce a variant they called the J-16 (though some claim it is based on the J-11BS)

Did you mention a J-11D? Yes I did. This is the probably the most badass of all. It has AESA, reduced conspicuity to radar, and new electronic warfare systems, but it isn’t yet in frontline service.

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The J-11D has a funny looking nose.

You failed, my head still hurts. 

 

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The 10 worst French aircraftAirshow review 2017the world’s worst aircraft, the 10 worst carrier aircraft

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. 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. 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spitfire versus Messerschmitt Bf 109: A comparison of the Spitfire and the Bf 109 in the early years of World War II

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This is a question that often comes up in discussions on airpower in World War II: how did the two iconic fighters of the War—The British Supermarine Spitfire and the German Messerschmitt Bf 109—compare? Was either machine demonstrably better? In the following article, I evaluate the two on the basis of six rectally extracted parameters that I think are important in fighter-versus-fighter comparisons. The scope of the assessment has been limited to the period between 1939 and 1941, when these aircraft fought each other on roughly even terms. So we shall mostly stick to the variants that were in service in this timeframe: the Spitfire 1A/B and Spitfire V; the Bf 109E and F.

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KINEMATIC PERFORMANCE

“…the Me 109F has a slightly superior performance to the Spitfire V”

– Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, September 1941.

“I also thought the Bf 109F was slightly superior to the Spitfire V”,

– Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, circa 1941.

The Bf 109, in its initial avatars, was generally regarded as marginally superior to contemporaneous variants of the Spitfire. At low to medium altitudes, where much of the air combat in the early war occurred, the Bf 109 had the upper hand. However, the Spitfire was superior at higher altitudes. This was chiefly because its Rolls Royce Merlin engine had a higher critical altitude (the altitude at which the supercharger is operating at full capacity, and beyond which engine power rapidly decreases) than the Messerschmitt’s Daimler-Benz DB 601.

The Bf 109 employed several advanced technologies that gave it an edge. For instance, its DB 601 engine was equipped with an automatic variable-speed supercharger that ensured better power delivery from the engine. The Bf 109E-3’s supercharger, for instance, gave it a 200 hp advantage over the Spitfire 1A at low altitude. The engine also utilised fuel-injection technology, which allowed the aircraft to pitch forward into a dive; the Merlin’s carburettor would stall the engine if this were attempted in a Spitfire. The Spitfire therefore had to roll over and dive, which cost precious seconds in combat. Yet another example would be automatic leading-edge slats that prevented the Bf 109 from going into a stall at low speeds or in high-G turns.

The Spitfire’s advantages were its tighter turning circle and faster turn rate, which allowed it to outmanoeuvre the Bf 109 in the horizontal plane. But the Bf 109, owing to its higher climb rate, could sustain climbing turns that the Spitfire was unable to keep up with. This gave German pilots more freedom to engage and disengage from dogfights with British fighters. Two quotes illustrate this advantage rather well:

 

“When it comes to fighter vs. fighter and the struggle for the altitude gauge, we must expect for the time being to be at a disadvantage as compared with the improved Me-109 [this is the Bf 109F, being compared to the Spitfire V] we are now meeting”

– Memo to Air Marshal Sholto Douglas, AOC-in-C Fighter Command, from the Senior Staff Air Officer, April 1941.

 

“I preferred the 109F because it flew well at any altitude, was fast as most . . . had a superior rate of climb and could dive very well. Most of all, it instilled confidence in its pilot.”

– Franz Stigler, date unknown.

 Top 10 fighters of World War II here

The Bf 109F-3 and F-4 models, introduced around mid-1941, improved on the E models with the help of the more powerful DB-601E engine. The new engine gave the aircraft a 30 km/h speed advantage over the Spitfire V. They also featured improved high-altitude performance; their critical altitude was 1,000 feet higher than that of the Bf 109Es.

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RANGE

Combat ranges were comparable. Both designs were initially designed to defend airbases against enemy bombing, and that was reflected in their range figures on internal fuel—680 km for the Spitfire I A/B and about 660 km for the Bf 109E.

 

The Bf 109 was the first to be forced into an offensive role: first as a fighter that would provide top cover to an advancing German Army, and later as an escort for Luftwaffe bombers attacking Britain. The lack of range proved to be a major constraint in the second instance. It is well known by now that a Bf 109 taking off from Northern France had about 10 minutes of flying time over London, not nearly enough to battle it out with RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes. What isn’t so well known is that this was when the planes undertook independent fighter sweeps. When tasked with as bomber escorts, the need to fly at sub-optimal altitudes and speeds often increased fuel consumption to the point where the 109s were forced to return to France before the bombers had reached their objectives.

 

Spitfires tasked to carry out offensive fighter sweeps and raids over Northern France in 1941 faced the same issue. The reason Fighter Command didn’t suffer very heavy losses was that the Luftwaffe was by then fighting over Russia. The few fighters left to defend the western front seldom rose up to meet the RAF’s challenges.

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ARMAMENT

Armament-wise, neither aircraft ever had a clear advantage over the other. But it is still useful to study how the initial designs started off, and how the rapidly changing requirements of a modern air war forced changes to the weapon fit.

 

Both machines where primarily designed with aerodynamic performance in mind, with armament being a secondary consideration. They therefore made use of thin, tapering wings. These were excellent for speed and turning performance, but bad for firepower. There simply wasn’t any space to mount machine guns (leave alone cannon) in the wings.

 

The Supermarine Type-300 (an early prototype of what would become the Spitfire) was initially designed to be armed with only two machine guns. The Bf 109 wasn’t very different. The German the aviation ministry (RLM) specified two rifle-calibre (7.92 mm) machine-guns that the biplanes of the mid-30s carried. These were easy enough to concentrate in the nose. Willy Messerschmitt always wanted his fighter to be “a true application of light construction principles”. By mounting the guns in the nose and attaching the cantilever undercarriage to the fuselage rather than the wings, he could make use of a small, simple, low-drag wing that could be detached easily for maintenance and road transport.

However, this relevance on a mere two machine-guns was to change. The RAF’s requirements branch came to believe that two machine guns were inadequate to shoot down modern metal-skinned fighters, and in 1935, the RAF specified that it wanted eight machine guns on all new fighters. It was also asserted that this was an interim requirement. Follow-on designs would have to be armed with cannon. This was easy enough to accommodate in the Hurricane’s thick wings. But the Type-300’s thin, tapering wings had to be abandoned in favour of elliptical wings to house the increased armament. The Germans reached similar conclusions in combat over Spain. The Bf 109 would require cannon armament to damage metal airframes.

 

But this was easier said than done. The requirement for increased firepower led to persistent teething troubles with the armament of both aircraft well into their service lives. The Spitfire’s machine guns tended to freeze solid from the cold at high altitudes (this issue also affected Hurricanes). Initially, Fighter Command had Spitfires take off with adhesive tape covering the gunports in order to prevent the condensation from entering and icing the gun barrels. This did not always work. Later, a portion of the engine exhaust was ducted into the wing to heat the guns. This system proved to be mechanically complex and unreliable. It wasn’t until electric heating was introduced that the issue was fully resolved. Integrating 20mm cannon was also a great challenge. The belt that fed rounds to the weapon would frequently jam. The technical issues plaguing the Spitfire 1B proved so problematic that the type was withdrawn from service and replaced by the 1A.

 

Following feedback from pilots of the Condor Legion, Messerschmitt also modified the Bf 109 prototypes with a 20 mm cannon mounted between the engine cylinder banks, firing through the propeller hub. However, the vibration from the cannon was so severe that it proved to be unworkable. This problem was resolved much later in the war. In the meantime, several alternatives were trialled. The Bf 109B utilised an engine-mounted machine gun in place of the cannon. This, too, proved to be problematic. The Bf 109C featured a redesigned wing to accommodate two 7.92 mm machine guns, with ammunition boxes stored in the fuselage. The system worked in tests, but failed under the strain of air combat. The Bf 109D carried four guns – two in the nose and two under the wings. Bf 109E-1s carried the same armament. The E-3 models, though, were equipped with a 20 mm cannon under each wing, installed in two streamlined blisters along with a 60-round ammunition drum. Finally, the issues with the engine-mounted cannon were resolved in the F-4 model, which flew with a 20mm cannon that proved to be very accurate.

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PILOT FRIENDLINESS AND HANDLING

In terms of ease of operation, there were advantages and shortcomings to both designs. The Spitfire’s bubble canopy and large mirrors offered excellent views and better situational awareness to the pilot. The Bf 109s angular canopy with its thick frame fell short. On the other hand, the Bf 109’s Revi gunsight was far ahead of the early Spitfire’s ring-and-bead type sight. It eliminated parallax errors and made deflection shots more accurate. The aircraft’s engine and propeller controls were also more automated, which reduced pilot workload.

On the flip side, the Bf 109’s small size made the cockpit very cramped. Not only was it uncomfortable, it also restricted the force that pilots could apply on the controls, with obvious effects on flight performance. Post-war testing by the RAF revealed that under certain conditions, the force that pilots could exert on the Bf 109’s control column was only 40% of what they could apply in the Spitfire. In an era when hydraulically boosted controls were not available, this was a serious deficiency. The Spitfire’s two-step rudder pedals also allowed the pilot to raise his feet high during high-G manoeuvring, delaying the onset of blackout. The Bf 109 had no such pedals.

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The Bf 109 also suffered from handling challenges, both in the air as well as on the ground. The most critical one was the issue with its undercarriage. There were two major problems with the landing gear design that caused serious losses of Bf 109s on take-off and landing. One was the tendency to ground loop. The Bf 109’s canted undercarriage often caused aircraft on landing runs to suddenly spin around and suffer serious damage if one wheel lost traction. On rough airstrips that were cobbled together in the later stages of the war, this problem was particularly acute.

Secondly, Willy Messerschmitt wanted his aircraft structures to be as light as possible. That structure lacked the strength to endure hard landings. As the Bf 109’s received more powerful engines and armament, it got heavier, which led to increased wing loading and higher landing speeds. That put additional strains on the landing gear. The result was that quite often, even experienced pilots ended up collapsing the undercarriage. In 1939 alone, the Bf 109 fleet suffered 255 landing accidents that resulted in damage to the airframe. The Spitfire, Hurricane, and Fw-190, with their “vertical” landing gear and heavier structures, fared much better.

ABILITY TO UPGRADE

The changing nature of the air war over Europe drove a slew of upgrade programmes for both aircraft. But the Spitfire—with its larger airframe, stronger structure, and superior engine—was better able to support the installation of advanced engines, armour, and heavier armament.

The Spitfire IX, often seen as the ultimate evolution of the type, was able to outclass the Bf 109G as well as the newer Focke-Wulf Fw 190A in combat. Its superlative Merlin 61 engine (powered by 100-octane fuel of US origin) gave it a 110 hp advantage over the DB 605-powered Bf 109G at sea level. But it truly came into its own at high altitude: At 30,000 feet, its two-stage supercharger gave it a whopping 300 hp advantage over its German counterpart. Further, its armament of two 20mm cannon and four 0.303 inch machine guns packed a formidable punch against not just aircraft, but also ground targets.

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The Bf 109’s simplicity and light weight, however, proved to be its Achilles heel. Accommodating a more powerful engine, increased armament, new radios, and armour plate within the Bf-109G’s tiny airframe was a major challenge. The aircraft’s small cowling was inadequate for heat dissipation, which made the DB 605 engine prone to overheating and catching fire. Its firepower was only about half of what the Spitfire IX carried: two nose-mounted 7.92mm machine guns in the G-1 variant (upgraded to 13mm guns in the G-5) and one 20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub.

With the steady increase in weight, the Bf-109G’s handling qualities suffered. As the wing loading increased, so did the demands on brute muscle power to actuate the controls. Capt. Eric Brown, a Royal Navy test pilot who evaluated a captured Bf-109G, commented that “in a dive at 400 mph, the controls felt as though they had seized!” The addition of a water-methanol tank—whose contents were injected into the engine to provide a short burst of additional power—adversely affected the centre-of-gravity and made handing unpredictable in some portions of the flight envelope. The uparmed BF-109G-6, often equipped with 20mm or 30mm underwing cannon to attack Allied bombers, proved so sluggish in combat, that its pilots nicknamed it the Kanonenboot (Gunboat).

The larger, structurally stronger Spitfire IX suffered no such problems. Indeed, the powerful Merlin 61 and four-bladed propeller allowed it to outrun, out-turn, and out-climb the Bf-109G. The ‘quantum leap’ in performance that the Spitfire IX achieved over the Bf-109G was never reversed.

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Ease of manufacture

This is one area where the Bf 109 comes out the clear winner. The Spitfire’s complex design, coupled with Supermarine’s utter lack of experience with modern production line techniques made Spitfire production problematic. Its elliptical wing proved to be difficult to fabricate. Delays in transferring knowledge and drawings to various subcontractors slowed down production. And the fine tolerances demanded by the design team—not something that British industry was used to—led to quality issues. The company faced major schedule slippages in delivering the initial batch of 310 fighters, and the RAF at one point considered cancelling the order outright. The Bf 109’s transition to production, on the other hand, was very smooth. The RLM was able to have it mass-manufactured without much of a hassle.

This disparity is clearly visible when you look at the numbers. In January 1940, it took 15,000 man-hours to build a Spitfire 1A and 9,000 to build a Bf 109E. By 1942, that gap had only widened. The Bf 109F needed only 4,000 man-hours to build whereas the Spitfire Mk V required 13,000.

 

In a Wehrmacht that had increasingly begun to equip itself with poorly conceived, overly-complicated weapons whose paper performance was never quite realised in the field (*cough* Me-262 *cough*), the Bf 109 stood out as a rare example of German engineering that was cheap, reliable, maintainable, and easy to manufacture—all while delivering superb performance on the battlefield. There’s a reason that more than 34,000 were built despite the Germans’ severe mismanagement of production resources at the strategic level. It remains to this day the third most produced aircraft in the world.

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VERDICT

In the final analysis, it is difficult to declare an overall victor without going into the details of each variant. For the most part, the Bf 109 and Spitfire were both well-matched, with own unique strengths and shortcomings. In the early part of the war, it could be argued that the Bf 109 (E and F variants) held the upper hand over the Spitfire Mk 1A/B and Mk V. But as the war wore on, the Spitfire’s inherently more advanced design, as well as the infusion of US technology (100-octane fuel, Browning machine guns, TR.5043 VHF radios, and so on) gave it a clear advantage over the simpler and lighter Bf 109 that persisted right up to the end.

Mihir Shah is a mechanical engineer and military aviation geek. He has written on Indian military aviation for LiveFist Defence, NewsLaundry, Swarajya Magazine, and others

 

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Ask the pilot: RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4

 

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(All images in article Copyright Eurofighter)

Which aircraft do you fly and with which unit, how many do you hours do you have on type? I fly the Eurofighter Typhoon as the Executive Officer on II(AC) Sqn and have 860 hours on type.

What were you first impressions of flying the Typhoon? The thrust that the Typhoon has is ferocious, something that I don’t personally think you ever get used to though the G Force is brutal. The fact that you can ‘back stick’ the controls and know that the aircraft will limit the G means that you can pull straight to 9 G and trust me – that hurts every single time!

 Which three words best describe the Typhoon? Agile, Powerful, Lethal

Do the canards obscure the view down? Only slightly, but if you need to see beneath them then you can just roll upside down!

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Copyright Eurofighter

 

How useful is the helmet and how often is it used? What is it used for? The Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) is exceptional and very useful for all sorts of war fighting. It can be used to see any target or friendly aircraft by using the same symbology that is in the HUD. It is effectively an extension of the HUD which means that you have all the information required wherever you are looking. For Air to Ground missions you have the ability to simply look outside at where a target is then cue the weapon system to look there with the Litening Designator Pod. Due to this capability it means that after identifying a target, you can drop a Paveway IV, 500-lb precision weapon on it in seconds.

What was your most notable mission and why? Please see diary entry 

Which new piece of equipment would you most like to see integrated on Typhoon? Soon we will have the Brimstone missile integrated onto the Typhoon which will provide a precision targeting capability with reduced collateral effects. Storm Shadow and Meteor are also just around the corner.

What are the best and worst things about the Typhoon? The best thing about the Typhoon is it’s Specific Excess Power (SEP) and the worst would be how quickly you burn fuel when you are in reheat!

Tell me something I don’t know about the aircraft?  Ha ha, no can’t do because that would most likely be classified!

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I have been told that nothing can out-climb the Typhoon, would you agree? Absolutely, the SEP of the Typhoon is unmatched.

What’s the best way to defeat an F-16 in within visual range fight? How difficult is it as an opponent? The Typhoon is a superior fighter within visual range though we must always remember that we are not fighting the aircraft but the pilot.

Which aircraft have you trained against, which was the hardest opponent and why? I fought a Top Gun instructor out of Nellis Air Force base and he was in an F-16. I was not very experienced at the time though managed to defeat him – he did, however, make it very difficult!

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What’s your favourite piece of equipment on the Typhoon and why? The HMSS because it really makes you feel part of the aircraft. It is awesome when everything is working in harmony.

It has been said that Typhoon is less proficient at High Alpha fighting than the Hornet and Flanker/Fulcrum series, is this true and, if so, is it an issue in the close-in fight? A consequence of high Alpha is low speed. Any fighter pilot worth their salt knows that speed is life in close combat. Typhoon’s excess power coupled with +9G ‘carefree handling’ gives us the advantage. On exercise, Typhoon has repeatedly demonstrated that it can exploit this advantage against the Hornet, ‘Fulcrum’ and ‘Flanker’.

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What is the greatest myth about the aircraft? Not sure of any myths to be honest …..

What should I have asked you? What is it like to fly a Performance Departure where you go straight up on take off? It is a bizarre feeling every time we carry out this departure from the airfield, though it always reminds me of the raw power of the aircraft.

 How good is the Typhoon at super-cruising and how often does this occur? The Typhoon is very effective at super-cruising and it does often occur as the tactical situation dictates.

Does Typhoon offer anything not provided by the teen series? In my opinion, we all have different things that we can bring to the fight and that is why we all work together as a team!

Has the RAF enough Typhoons? (personal opinion) Our resources are very stretched due to commitments to Operations and engagements all over the world so, yes, I certainly think that we could do with more Typhoons to match these broad commitments.

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Please tell me about your book 

My mother committed suicide in April 2010 and ever since then I’ve made it my life’s mission to combat the stigma attached to mental health. People should always feel confident to speak to anyone about their own mental health and realise that their mental health should be regarded in exactly the same way as their physical health. I joined forces with a friend of mine, sports psychologist Don MacNaughton who I met after I broke my leg in a ski race and decided to write our book, “Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind” to help raise awareness of mental health by writing about our own experiences. I’ve included photos of the front and back cover of the book which includes a better description of the book. You can either buy the book from Amazon in a Kindle / electronic version at or if anybody would like a paperback then you can follow us on Facebook where you can message me and I will personally send you a copy.

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A fighter pilot’s account of the F-86 Sabre – Part 2: Punch! Pull! Eject! Ejection rejection in a rattling Sabre

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Wing Commander Irfan Masum (Rtd) flew the Sabre in the Pakistan Air Force. In his second interview he shares his dramatic experiences of a low-level Sabre mission that went catastrophically wrong, and his rebellious response to an order to eject.

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“The time I brought a badly damaged F-86F back to base happened during my fighter conversion course, but the details come rushing back, just as if it happened today. It was perhaps the most bizarre experience of my life. A three-ship formation with Flying Officer Tariq Awan in the lead for a low-level mission; No 2 on his wing was my instructor, Flt Lt Farooq Zaman, and I was detailed as No 3 to fly low-level battle formation with the lead. An uneventful take-off was accomplished with a righthand turn out of the traffic area. After 150 degrees, the course was set for the first leg, gradually descending to 250 feet AGL (distance from the ground). At the time of setting course, the instructor had already joined the lead in the wingman position on his right side (somewhat closer than 600 feet). Was I in the correct battle formation (element lead) position at the time? Of course not, I was lagging behind a little. Not wanting my instructor to fire a volley of verbal shots at me, I accelerated to 420 knots to catch up and get in to position. Our low level speed for the mission was 360 knots, so I was a good 60 knots faster to make up the lag.  Approaching the correct position I retarded the throttles to match my speed with the other formation members. Just as soon as I retarded the throttle there was a loud noise and shaking of the aircraft. The Sabre was rattling so badly that I could not read any instrument when I looked inside the cockpit to ascertain what had gone wrong. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew instantly that I had to get out of the aircraft.

 

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Reflex memory reminded me – ‘punch, pull and eject’ — the actions drilled into us every morning in the pre-flight Emergency Session. ‘Punch’ meant jettisoning the drop tanks – and the extra weight of their fuel. ‘Pull’ required pulling up to gain as much height as possible. And ‘Eject’ meant carrying out the ejection sequence.

The Sabre ejection sequence was far from ideal. The seat could not be fired through the canopy, as was the case with Martin Baker seats. Therefore, you had to fire the canopy first. This meant keeping your head down as the canopy would slide backwards to depart the airframe. After this, you had to sit straight with the head against the head rest and feet pulled back and then squeeze the trigger which would fire the rocket in the seat to throw the pilot up cleanly away from the aircraft.

Hence, I started my reflex actions of punch, pull and eject. I punched (ejected) the drop tanks, pulled the nose up to gain height and lowered my head and got hold of the canopy firing trigger – for which I had to leave the stick for that moment. But as soon as left the stick, the Sabre rolled rather rapidly to the left. Within no time I was past the 90 degrees bank and still rolling. This forced me to leave the trigger and grab the stick again. I had to fight the Sabre hard to bring it up-right again. Once upright and somewhat in control, I realized that the Sabre was not going to fall out of the sky as I had thought it would. Gosh!! I must get help from my instructor. So I radioed him, “Papa Leader, Papa 3”, there was no modulation in my transmitter as no voice came out from me. That pretty much summarises my condition, – completely chocked throat, scared to death and trembling. I tried again and this time a squeak came out which I am sure no one could have deciphered it. Taking a deep breath, I yelled into the mike – or almost. Leader heard me but could not locate me as I was already much higher than him. I told him that something is wrong the plane. He advised me to keep flying straight and level and stay calm – and that he will locate me and join up.

Next he asked me to survey the outside structure of my wings etc to see if there is any damage from a bird hit. I looked right and left and did not see any abnormality and told him so.

He joined up on my right wing and told me that everything was fine on that side  After moving to the left, his first call was a far less reassuring, ‘Oh shit!’. That scared me even more and I most hesitantly looked left. I was completely horrified to see that the left wing was cut in half from the wing-root all the way to the tip!”

He joined up on my right wing and told me that everything was fine on that side. After moving to the left, his first call was a far less reassuring, “Oh shit!”. That scared me even more and I most hesitantly looked left. I was completely horrified to see that the left wing was cut in half from the wing-root all the way to the tip! There was no leading edge  and no slats. The drop tank, which I thought I had successfully ‘punched’, was still hanging under the wing with fuel gushing out of it. How could such extensive damage have taken place? Now was not the time to answer this question. I was having difficulty keeping my wings level. I had deflected the stick fully to the right and shoved in the right rudder too to fly straight and level. My instructor made me climb to 18,000 feet to do a controllability check to test the minimum controllable speed. That speed would determine a return and a landing was possible.  

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Computer generated graphics: DCS

As we reduced the speed to 195 knots, the Sabre rolled out of control to the left. Recovering from that roll was extremely hard. Even with full right deflection of the stick and the rudder, it was slow to straighten out, and lost altitude rapidly during the recovery. If I remember correctly our flare out speeds was some 125 knots and so, my instructor decided that we could not land and must carry out a planned ejection.  F/L Farooq started explaining the planned ejection sequence to me, and it went something like this:

  1. Irfan, on my command you will lower your head and fire the canopy.
  2. You will then assume correct posture i.e. sit straight, head against the head rest and withdraw your feet and pull the ejection trigger. Never mind if the plane rolls to the left, we have plenty of height.
  3. Since we are below 14,000 feet, rest of the sequence will be automatic till you will find yourself hanging by the parachute. Make sure you steer to clear area for touching down and make the fall correctly, falling off to your side (if ejection was done above 14,000 feet the seat would free fall till 14,000 feet and then the automatic sequence would start).

I was fine till this stage. But what was explained to me next completely discomposed me. Here is what my instructor explained:

Irfan, if you find yourself tumbling in the seat be sure that the automatic system of the ejection has not functioned. In that case you will have to do the following manually:

  1. While you are tumbling you will have to open the seatbelt yourself.
  2. Then kick the seat away with your feet to separate from it.
  3. Find the ‘D’ ring of the parachute on your chest-strap and pull it.
  4. You will have to pull it to its full extent or else it will not release the small chute, which will then pull the main shoot and deploy it.

While the instructor was briefing me the manual ejection procedure, I was mentally visualising it as a live event – you know, like a slow-motion video. I saw myself tumbling in the seat. I saw myself struggling to find the seat-belt buckle – while still tumbling and my arms and hands flying all over. I saw myself kicking free of the seat while my whole body is fluttering with the gushing air pressure all around me. I saw myself, desperately, getting hold of the ‘D’ ring and trying to pull it with all my might. I saw myself still tumbling and waiting for the chute to open and stabilise my fall. That this slow motion sequence of events was going to take place scared me no end. “Am I not safer inside the cockpit, than throwing myself into the empty space so far above the earth?” I asked myself.  The answer I got was a firm, ‘yes’. So, I decided, in my mind, that I would not eject and attempt to land instead. But I could not convey this decision to my instructor.

Papa 3, eject

The episode, till this point in time, was taking place while we were on the manual frequency allocated to my instructor. Now was the time to let the Base and ATC know of our intentions. So, I was asked to switch to Channel 1 — the radio frequency station of the Air Traffic Controller.  F/L Farooq calmly narrated, briefly, what damage had taken place to the ATC, and advised the controller that we were going to execute a planned ejection in such and such area. He did not fail to mention that he had gone over the ejection procedure with me and that I was ready to undertake the ejection. He also asked for the rescue helicopter to get airborne and head towards the area where the ejection was going to take place to recover me.

So, we are now on the ATC channel, which is recorded. The most dreaded call of my life came crackling through the radio: “Papa 3, Eject”. I was snuggly numb, seated in the cockpit, and did not respond. Second call came through, “Papa 3 start the ejection procedure”. My silence must have been eerie. The third call was stern to say the least, “Papa 3 go manual and check!”. I quickly changed to the manual frequency beyond the reach of the listening ATC.

 

Ejection rejection 

“What seems to be the problem?” was a hard question to answer, but I plucked up the courage to explain that I did not want to eject. “You know the aircraft and you can not stay in the air for the rest of your life” was the funny response from my instructor.  I was scared of the ejection – but I could not bring myself to say that. Instead, I shared my plan. It was a simple one. I will go for landing maintain speed of 210 knots – some 15 knots above the speed where the Sabre would get out of control. I will flare really close to the runway surface still at 210 knots, then retard the throttle to idle. When the speed will drop to 195 knots the left wing will fall and the left gear will immediately touch the runway, followed by the right gear. Later, if I can not stop the aircraft, I will engage the barrier. I thought it was good plan. However, it was shredded to pieces by F/L Farooq Zaman: gear lowering at that speed had never been tested and there is no knowing what how the change of the airflow with gears down will affect controllability; Flaps might get twisted if you try and lower them at that speed or might not extend at all; Both main tyres will burst on touch down because of excess speed on touch down. Thirdly, you will burn the brakes while trying to stop on the runway with that kind of touch down speed and cause a fire. Besides, he could not allow me to take a chance, especially on the approach, if the speed drops to 195 knots. I would have neither the time or the altitude to eject. Hence, you have to eject. I stood firm in carrying out my plan and conveyed to him that I am ready to take the chances, but I will not eject.

Back on the ATC frequency, F/L Farooq Zaman conveyed our plan to the ATC and was very specific in stating that Papa 3 does not want to eject in spite of having been explained the perils that lie in attempting to land.

A frightening approach 

As we started our descent for the approach I realised I was trembling. I was tired from holding the full deflection of the stick and the rudder to the rightside required to keep wings level. Also, I was mindful of the fact that I had very little margin available to turn right, so I must not allow myself to drift off the centreline on the approach and not have enough control input to correct it. My total focus was on the speed. I recall that I kept reminding myself aloud to keep speed 210 knots — 210 knots  — 210 knots. Time to lower the gears – speed 210 kts. My instructor, who was in close formation on my right wing during the chase down, confirmed that all three gears seemed down — and locked; I confirmed the same with three green indication lights. Phew, that went alright. My instructor was talking me down every step of the way. Papa 3 don’t lower flaps – can’t afford to disrupt the airflow or cause further damage.  That was fine with me.

Still 210 knots, good. Entering the threshold area, I got another reminder not to retard the throttles till I was instructed by him. Completing the flare, the call to retard throttles came after what seemed like an eternity after the flare. I really can’t recall when the touch down took place. All I knew was that I was on the runway and belting down towards the barrier. Breaking hard didn’t seem to be slowing me enough. The Sabre did not have a drag chute to slow the plane as other fighters did. With trembling legs and feet I did not let go of the brakes and managed to stop before engaging the barrier. Tyres did not burst. Brakes did not catch fire. I did not engage the barrier. Once the ATC spotted me stationary on the runway, it asked me to taxi forward and clear the runway at the end. No way I was going to do that. Didn’t have the energy. With a short call of ‘negative’ I switched off the engine. By this time all the crash tenders had surrounded me and the fire marshal was climbing up to the cockpit with an axe in hand.  Silly of me to think that he had fatal intensions with that axe. He actually had to rescue me in case the canopy wouldn’t open  Fortunately, he didn’t have to use it. While this ordeal left me completely sapped of energy to even get out of the cockpit on my own strength, what I feared most was disciplinary action against me with the thought of getting suspended from fighter flying was bothering me the most.

Off the hook? 

I was taken in the ambulance by the Flight Surgeon to the hospital, where they took my blood for testing.  While I was still there, my instructor arrived and took me in the crew van straight back to my room in the Officer’s Mess.

He told me to go to sleep and not to open the door for anyone or answer any phone calls. I knew there was trouble in store for me in the days to come.  However, the next day when I reported to the Squadron, all seemed well, though a technical investigation had been ordered. I wasn’t asked to give any statement. My instructor had already done that being the Formation Leader and Instructor. I saw my name on the flying schedule, which meant that I was off the hook. How F/L Farooq Zaman managed to shield me from any negative fall-out remains a mystery to this day.

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An Idiot’s Guide to air force roundels

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At the start of World War I, the Royal Flying Corps commander Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson was considering how he could mark his aircraft to avoid friendly forces shooting them down. On attending a concert by the rock band ‘The Who’ he was impressed by the ‘roundel’ design worn by the band and some of its Mod fans. The next day he decreed that all RFC should carry the design for identification purposes.

Of course, that is not true. However, the roundel – a circular design derived from medieval heraldry –  is the standard way of telling your friends and enemies the nationality of your military aircraft. Though strictly speaking, the word ‘roundel’ describes a round symbol, today it is popularly used to describe an air arm’s main insignia, whatever the shape.

The ubiquitous aeroplane roundel has been a sure-fire way of identifying who a military aircraft belongs to for over a century now – in fact, it’s the law, though how you’re meant to catch anyone not using them has never really been explained. Pretty much every country has its own form of roundel or other, usually based on the country’s national flag or colours, (because otherwise, what’s the point really?) although some get a bit more abstract and experimental at times. There have been some interesting designs over the years; some that have become iconic, some gaudy and camp, and some that really stretch the meaning of the word “roundel” (looking at you, Hungary). This totally non-exhaustive and utterly subjective lists picks out some of the roundels of the world, and rates them using completely arbitrary methods based pretty much on how good I think it looks and not much else.

Note that this doesn’t take into account the “low viz” form that many roundels take these days – which are still better than the monochromatic F-35 symbols which are forcing airshow spectators into habitual Ayahuasca use.

France

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It makes sense to start with the grandaddy of them all, the French cockade, iconic symbol of the French Revolution, which first appeared on French Army aircraft in the First World War as a way of making sure they weren’t confused with the hated Germans or worse, the British. I suppose they didn’t really have much to work with, given that no one else was doing it at the time, but you’d think that the French of all people would come up with something a little more creative. It does the job, but doesn’t carry the flair one would expect of such a stylish country. Shame, France.

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Props to the French Navy for their version, though. It’s got a pretty dope anchor on it, what’s not to like?

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I’m rating the looks a little down too as I don’t think the dominant red is quite as nice. Invert the colours and you’d have a pretty nice roundel, I reckon.

 

Identifiability: 8/10 Originality: 10/10 (first ever) Looks: 6/10
Iconicity: 5/10

UK

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What did I say? Much nicer, much more balanced. The British military’s roundel has definitely become one of the most iconic the world over, brought to the world’s attention by the epic imagery of the Battle of Britain but made truly famous by the Mod movement of the 1960s (and ’90s revival).

Famously, and sadly, the red circle in the middle was too close to the Japanese roundel in the Second World War and many confused American pilots struggled to tell the difference, so it was changed in that theatre to a fairly ugly two-tone blue. Not a fan. The origins of the British roundel are based on a similar desire to avoid confusion; British aircraft originally carried the Union Flag, which at a distance could be confused with Germany’s cross design.

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I have to mark this one down for originality though. I mean, it’s literally just the French one inside out. “Mind if I copy your homework” “Sure, but just change it up a bit so it’s not obvious”.

Identifiability: 8/10 Originality: 2/10 Looks: 8/10 Iconicity: 9/10

Click here for the top ten aircraft camo schemes of 2017.

Ethiopia

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This is a pretty nice roundel. It certainly matches the colours of the country’s flag, and is simple enough to go on a wing pretty quickly. I reckon if you saw this, you’d know it was Ethiopia. Interestingly, though, there’s already a pretty dope symbol in the middle of Ethiopia’s flag, so I’m not sure why they didn’t use that? It’s definitely cooler plus looks a little bit occult so might spook superstitious enemies, giving you a crucial advantage in a tight battle. Seemingly, there’s an unwritten rule that African roundels must contain green, red, yellow or black (nobody told Somalia). 

Identifiability: 6/10 Originality: 6/10 Looks: 6/10 Iconicity: 3/10

Ireland

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This is definitely what you’d call an interesting take on the roundel design, but it scores very highly on the identifiability scale for it. I’d love to know where the inspiration for the swirl design come from, unless the designer was just a very big fan of ice cream (pistachio and orange sherbet have topped Ireland’s favourite flavours for over 120 years). Ireland is a neutral country but does have combat capable PC-9s, which proudly wear the roundel on the side rather largely so there’s still some call for them to serve their intended purpose.

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Honestly, I really like this one, it works really well, it represents the country as much as it needs to, and it stands out among the concentric rings brigade. It gains minor points in iconicity for being on Fouga Magisters, which are indisputably some of the prettiest aircraft ever.

Identifiability: 8/10 Originality: 8/10 Looks: 8/10 Iconicity: 5/10

Denmark

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I like the simplicity of the Danish roundel. Matches the national flag colours spot on, nothing extraneous, not trying to be something other than what it is – a sign that says “This plane is Danish, you better respect it.” It’s sometimes brave for a military to go with a minimalist design, but this looks good on pretty much any aircraft – special mention must go to the now-retired blue Lynx Mk 90s (R.I.P.).

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Sadly I’ve got to take points off the originality rank here – compared with the sister Scandinavian countries, there was surely room for a bit more Danish identity in here? Maybe a Lego block or something. Actually, that’s a great idea for my fantasy air force.

Identifiability: 7/10 Originality: 3/10 Looks: 6/10 Iconicity: 5/10

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Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard fast-ropes down onto Jean-Paul Sartre’s boat to extoll the virtues of existentialism. 

Colombia

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Wow. Gosh, there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there? This almost modern-art style roundel really goes all in in the “show your national colours” role here – it doubles down on the flag, in fact (honestly not sure where the little star comes from though. Nice little personal touch, I guess). It’s a little known fact that the Colombian Air Force, struggling to come up with an original design, actually took this straight off the TV colour test card in a fit of frustration, and to this very day it makes monitors flicker in confusion. Astonishingly there is a low-viz version of this one. 

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I’m going to give this one quite a low looks score – I mean, yeesh – but you might be surprised to see it receive a fairly high iconicity because in my mind this roundel is synonymous with the fantastic images of Colombian Kfirs that do the rounds fairly regularly, and does it get much better than Kfirs?

No.

Identifiability: 7/10 Originality: 4/10 Looks: 3/10 Iconicity: 7/10

Australia

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Well, it was never going to be original, what with the Queen and colonialism and all that stuff, but it’s got a kangaroo (easily one of the top ten animals) in the middle and that’s freaking awesome, so I’m rating it pretty highly. The only air force insignia to feature an animal with three vaginas. 

Identifiability: 9/10 (hello, where do kangaroos come from?) Originality: 1/10 Looks: 8/10 Iconicity: 7/10

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Turkmenistan

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Turkmenistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. If you didn’t already know then before you spotted one of their military aircraft, then you sure did afterwards. There’s quite a lot going on in this one and if you’re not picking up on the religious overtones then I don’t know what to say. This is the first of our non-round roundels and it’s a strong entry into this category – the colours are decent, it does a pretty good job of showing which country it is and, actually when compared with the country’s flag it’s pretty restrained. That said, when you see it on the side of jets, you definitely think it’s probably better framed and on someone’s wall than on ten-odd tonnes of war machine, so marks down on iconicity.

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Identifiability: 6/10 Originality: 5/10 Looks: 6/10 Iconicity: 3/10

Belarus

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If you tell Belarus that the USSR broke up nearly twenty years ago, it firmly sticks its fingers in its ears and shouts “La la la, I can’t hear you” until your five-day visa expires. It just doesn’t want to know (I mean, it still has an organisation called the KGB…) and, well, isn’t that just reflected here. Russia at least threw a bit of new twist on its star with some sick flag styling, but Belarus just sticking resolutely with that good old Soviet symbol like it’s 1989 and Moscow’s still calling the shots. Well, more than it still is, I mean. Pretty low scores overall here (similar for their ranking for human rights), extremely low effort and I don’t like to see countries stuck with their heads in the past.

Get with the times, Belarus.

Identifiability: 0/10 Originality: 0/10
Looks: 6/10 (classic design) Iconicity: 2/10

Kazakhstan

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Hey, way to make Belarus look bad, Kazakhstan. Taking a classic design with a fresh new look, Kazakhstan matches the gold and red of communism that we’ve all come to know and love with a definite home-grown look that marks it out as an aeroplane of the Steppe. I’m loving the stylised eagle at the bottom especially – there are quite a lot of roundels with birds on but this one is the nicest in my opinion.

Identifiability: 7/10 Originality: 5/10 Looks: 7/10 Iconicity: 4/10

Uganda

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FORGET WHAT I JUST SAID. Woah! Check out that guy in the middle, he’s amazing! Honestly, why would Uganda even have fighter jets, just send that guy in, game over, war won. Google tells me he’s a grey crowned crane and is the national bird of Uganda, and they seriously made the right choice in putting him in their roundel because if I saw him coming my way I’d surrender on the spot. That said, details like this aren’t obvious from particularly far away and the full effect won’t be immediately obvious, so some points got docked for that. Purely because I want this guy to be the first thing you notice about any Ugandan aircraft. Plus I’m getting a pretty good “West London chicken shop logo” vibe which is definitely working for me right now.

Identifiability: 6.5/10 Originality: 8/10 Looks: 10/10 Iconicity: 4/10

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Can’t see that great punk bird on this Ugandan ‘Flanker’. 

Philippines

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Choosing to take their military’s roundel straight out of Gundam (ED: I’m hyperlinking that as I’ve never heard it) or something, this might just be the most futuristic one out there. My assumption here is that the Philippines (god, that’s hard to spell right first time) is banking on being a pretty big player in the eventual space wars that mankind will fight over the solar system’s precious resources, because they’re investing early in the ‘future-chic’ game. Honestly, big fan of this one but mostly because I’m a bit of a sci-fi nerd.

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Mitchell Brother War escalates. 

Identifiability: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Looks: 10/10
Iconicity: 8/10 (awarded from the future)

Iraq

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Well. There’s no mistaking who owns this plane, huh? Most people just write it on the side of the plane but I guess the Iraqis took the “identifying marks and insignia” line pretty literally. Not sure the significance of the Trump hair with a green stripe and a cock’s comb on it though. The bird of prey looks seriously pissed off, perhaps because being in the Iraqi Air Force has long been a pretty terrifying gig. 

Good on them, I guess.
Seriously, it actually says it on the roundel.

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Osirak One calling base, please can I have a different callsign?”

Identifiability: 10/10
Originality: 4/10
Looks: 3/10 (I’m sorry but just writing your name on it is pretty rubbish)
Iconicity: 5/10

Sam Wise found a job since the last time he wrote for Hush-Kit! When not working, and quite often when he’s supposed to be as well, he can be found retweeting other people’s opinions at @SamWise24 

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Top 10 Attack Helicopters

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Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer (think Weapon Systems Officer) who has since spent far too much time arguing about helicopters while working at Joint Helicopter Command, and the Army Air Corps Centre at Middle Wallop. We asked Bing to choose the ten best attack helicopters in service today. 

“Attack helicopters, because if you thought normal ones were as ugly as an aircraft could get, the world’s defence contractors conspired to prove you wrong.  To get on the list, the aircraft has to be in service and armed with an integrated gun and missiles.  Disappointingly. this meant I had to exclude the Alouette III, one of which managed to shoot down an Islander with a 20-mm door gun — providing a service to aviation enthusiasts everywhere.

 

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

10. Eurocopter/Airbus Helicopters Tiger ‘Tyger Tyger, burning crap’ 

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The Tiger is essentially only on this list because it appeared in the film Goldeneye and I’d ruled out the Harbin Z-19 and Kawasaki OH-1 for not having guns. Although admittedly some Tigers don’t have guns either because it’s that bad an attack helicopter.  As an example of European cooperation it’s up there with the Seven Years War, except that didn’t take as long to reach a conclusion.  A joint Franco-German requirement was issued in 1984, and the maiden flight of a Tiger took place in 1991.  Fast forward 11 years and they finally start rolling off the production line, reaching full operational capability at the end of 2008, the JSF programme office are probably the only people in the world to view that as rapid development.  Meanwhile even when delivered the aircraft were found to be faulty, Germany at one point suspending deliveries due to serious defects, while in 2012 Australian pilots refused to fly their aircraft due to the number of cockpit fume incidents.  In fact so enamoured of the Tiger are the Australians that despite only reaching full operating capability in 2011 they’re already planning on replacing it from the mid 2020s. Meanwhile investigators still haven’t determined why a German aircraft operating in Mali flew into the ground from 1800’, guidance limiting max speed and autopilot use hardly being reassuring.  Still that scene in Goldeneye when they eject out of it is totally worth the €14.5Bn development cost.

9. HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ‘Backseat Dhruver’

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The Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Light Combat Helicopter was developed from that companies Dhruv utility helicopter, which itself looks suspiciously like an MBB Bo 105. Well not that suspiciously, MBB helped develop it.  The LCH takes what you’ll soon discover reading this list is a tediously formulaic approach to producing an attack helicopter, i.e. give it a narrow fuselage, seat the crew in tandem, tail dragger undercarriage, gun and sensors somewhere near the front and stub wings for rockets and missiles.  The usual features of helmet mounted sights, laser and radar warning receivers, missile approach warning receivers, data links etc. are all present, however at the moment only a limited number have been produced, with full rate production only starting last year, making it too early to establish its actual capabilities.

8. Denel Rooivalk Tshwane’s World’ 

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Eventually, even Britain and France were banned from selling the South African apartheid regime with weapon systems, leading the pariah state to create its own. With a fast moving border war and the threat of Soviet armour, the South African army looked with envy to the gunship helicopters by the US and the USSR. The Rooivalk, or Red Kestrel, was developed from the mid-1980s by Denel building on earlier work that had made a proof-of-concept gunship out of an Alouette III.  To simplify the task while operating under a UN embargo the dynamics were taken from the Atlas Oryx, a licence built Puma, while it also used the Turbomeca Makila engines of the Super Puma.  This allowed for a reasonably large helicopter, the Rooivalk being noticeably bigger than the similar looking Mangusta, with an empty weight of 5739kg —more than the Mangusta’s maximum takeoff weight! The embargo that had led to the creation of their attack helicopter also forestalled a range of weapons being integrated on to it. The solution to this was the development of indigenous systems, such as the ZT6 Mokopa anti-tank missile. This seriously limited the export potential as most countries include Hellfire integration as a key user requirement. Attempts were made to market the aircraft to the UK, Malaysia, and Turkey however all selected alternatives or suffered an economic crash that led to the cancellation of any planned procurement.  Consequently the Rooivalk is most notable for having the smallest production run of any aircraft on this list with only 12 rolling out of the factory for use by the SAAF’s 16 squadron.

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7. Agusta/Agusta Westland/Leonardo Helicopters Mangusta ‘Alpine Mongoose’

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The Mangusta was developed in the late 70s and early 80s by Agusta to fulfil an Italian Army requirement for a light observation and anti-tank helicopter.  This was intended to guard against a potential Warsaw Pact armoured thrust against Italy’s border with Yugoslavia, the only effective direction of attack thanks to the Alps. Coming to the same conclusions as the design teams for the Cobra and Apache, the Mangusta followed the emerging trend for attack helicopter design that would soon become drearily monotonous.  Operations in Somalia in the early ‘90s revealed several shortcomings, leading to the requirement for a gun, full NVG capability, and an improved navigation system.  Agusta incorporated all of these features on the A129 International variant as well as replacing the original licence built Gem gas turbines with LHTEC T800s (developed for the cancelled RAH-66 Comanche) for improved performance, the A129 having had to operate at the edge of its ability in the scorching heat of Somalia.  The Italian Army meanwhile had the improvements retrospectively applied to its aircraft (apart from the engine upgrade).  The TAI/Leonardo T129 ATAK is essentially the A129 International with modifications to meet Turkish requirements, and presumably to update components that had become obsolete in the 20 years between the International being proposed and someone actually buying it.  In 2015 the Italian Army announced they were planning on upgrading their Mangusta to improve endurance, speed, and situational awareness, the alternative of developing a new attack helicopter from the AW149 being considered too risky.

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6. Chinese Aircraft Industries Group (CAIC) Z-10 ‘The Changhe Comanche’ 

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In a shock move, the Chinese Z-10 attack helicopter features a crew of two in an armoured tandem cockpit, stub wings for weapons carriage, and a 20mm cannon in a nose turret.  Okay, so essentially it’s the same as the Tiger, Mangusta, Rooivalk or any other modern attack helicopter, and dear reader I’m not convinced I’d identify it correctly in a recce test never mind in flight.  The Z-10 Fiery Thunderbolt is however probably the only aircraft to be named after a knock off MacBook accessory.  The Z-10 is, inadvertently, a true multi-national effort, in the mid-90’s Kamov were contracted to provide an initial design which the Chinese would develop and refine.  Eurocopter and Augusta provided assistance the later being paid $30 million for work related to the transmission system.  Meanwhile to prove they were team players in 2012 the US Government successfully prosecuted United Technologies for breaking ITAR regulations in relation to software exports for the Z-10 programme.  The prototypes originally flew with P&W PT6 turbines but production aircraft have a domestically produced engine along with upturned exhausts to reduce the IR signature.  Combined with at least a modest attempt at RADAR Cross Section reduction through careful matching of external angles the Z-10 has the potential to be an effective light attack helicopter.

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5. Kamov Ka-50/52 (NATO codename ‘Hokum’) ‘See you much later, Alligator’ 

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It was tempting to put Kamov’s entrant higher up the list just because it looks different, however this leads to some disadvantages compared to its contemporaries.  Produced in response to the same requirement that led to the Mi-28 the Hokum features a coaxial twin rotor, and side by side seating.  Chosen to fulfil the requirement the original Ka-50 was a single pilot aircraft, it being thought automation would reduce the workload to an acceptable level.  However as the programme progressed an improved variant with more sensors led to a second crew member and the side by side seating arrangement.  With broadly similar armament to the Havoc the Hokum is disadvantaged by the side by side seating configuration, which restricts each crew members field of view compared to the traditional tandem layout.  Meanwhile although the coaxial rotor system has benefits in terms of yaw inertia and hover performance it has shortcomings in overall manoeuvrability in order to avoid the risk of blades colliding.  Observers have noted that during displays it only makes sharp turns in a climb, and then only to the left as a turn to the right would risk blade collision.  Indeed a 1998 crash of a Ka-50 was put down to hard manoeuvring leading to the blades hitting each other.  Consequently although heavily armed the Hokum is too limited by its design to move higher up this list, it’s almost as if the clone like similarity of attack helicopters is for a good reason.

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4. Mil Mi-24/25/35 (NATO codename ‘Hind’) ‘Krokodilbert’

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The first Soviet attack helicopter was conceived as a flying Infantry Fighting Vehicle, thus as well as a selection of anti-tank missiles and a turret mounted .50 cal machine gun it can also carry 8 combat troops*.  After trialling the idea with the Mi-24A which for some reason grafted a conservatory to the front of the aircraft for the pilot and weapon system operator to sit in, the Russians perfected it with the D variant giving the crew a tandem cockpit to sit under, and the similar E which swapped the .50 cal for a fixed twin barrelled 30mm cannon.  This cockpit was then armour-plated and along with the cabin pressurised to prevent chemical or biological agents getting in.  At least until the troops want to get out.  As well as being heavily armed the ‘Hind’ is also fast and uses this speed to make up for a lack of manoeuvrability if it has to engage with other attack helicopters as happened during the Iran-Iraq war.  During the Soviet War in Afghanistan to ensure aircraft availability in the harsh operating conditions time expired engines were kept on the aircraft until they’d accumulated a further 50 hours of ‘life after death’. Other parts would deliberately only be replaced when they finally failed, which is possibly taking conditional maintenance a step too far but does demonstrate the ruggedness of the design.  The ‘Hind’ has taken part in a bewildering array of conflicts and insurgencies starting in Ethiopia in 1978 and continuing to the present day.  Tough, well armed, and uniquely for an attack helicopter able to deploy a section of troops, the Hind continues to live up to its Mujahideen nickname of the Devil’s Chariot.

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*Re ED. Could the Hind carry troops and substantial weapon loads at the same time? Bing:  It’s a bit of a grey area, looking at some numbers I think the Hind could carry troops and external weapons although probably not the max possible.  They seem to demonstrate the capability in the video of this exercise http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/12267/watch-this-russian-mi-35-hind-do-what-no-other-attack-helicopter-can although the rocket tubes are notably empty at one point that may be a training limitation or they may have fired them already.

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3. Mil Mi-28N ‘Havoc’ ‘Everybody vertalyots sometimes’

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Looking like a Soviet Apache the ‘Havoc’ has suffered a development history about as protracted as the Tiger, except in this case due to a lack of interest from the Russian Defence Ministry rather than German indecisiveness.  Learning from the experience of operating the Mi-24, a requirement was drawn up in the late ‘70s for a new helicopter that would be a dedicated gunship lacking the ability to carry armed troops.  However, a small compartment to carry three personnel remains allowing rescued aircrew to travel in slightly more comfort than sat on the chin pods as they do with the Apache.  First flight was in 1982, but by the end of ’84 the Ka-50 had been chosen as the new anti-tank helicopter.  This is where things should have ended, however Mil continued development, improving the aircrafts capabilities so that by 1995 the Mi-28N emerged with better navigation equipment to allow night and all weather operation.  Showing that perseverance sometimes pays off deliveries of the Mi-28N to the Russian Army started in 2006, over two decades after the first flight.  Russia currently has around 60 Havocs with total orders indicating a final buy of around 130 which sounds a lot until you consider the US Army placed an order with Boeing to remanufacture 224 Apaches to the latest standard.

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2. Bell AH-1Z Viper ‘Huey Lewis gun’

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Born of a need to provide dedicated fire support for US troops in Vietnam, the Huey Cobra was selected as the winner of a competition to provide an interim measure while the AH-56 Cheyenne was developed.  Bell’s model 209 entered service with only a few alterations from the competition entrant, devastatingly for those with an eye to aesthetics the retractable skid undercarriage was one of those alterations.  So many variants of the Huey and Cobra have now been produced that the designation system is in danger of running out of letters, the AH-1W and AH-1Z being in use with the USMC.  The Cobra still shares a transmission, engines, tail etc. with the Huey the UH-1Y having been developed at the same time as the AH-1Z this allowing for a claimed 85% commonality in maintenance significant items.  The most obvious external difference to the legacy Cobras is a new four-bladed main rotor which should reduce the vibration levels at slow speed from ‘shocking’ to ‘really it’s fine the instruments are almost readable’ while also improving overall performance and all up mass.  The stub wing is also increased in span and gains a missile pylon at the tip, the main advantage of the increase in span however is a repositioning of the inner pylon which previously had to be tilted to ensure jettisoned weapons wouldn’t hit the skids limiting what could be carried there.  As an interim measure the Cobra family has now been in service for over 50 years and doesn’t appear to be retiring anytime soon. 

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  1. Hughes/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing AH-64D/E Apache/Guardian ‘Carter’s Unstoppable Death Machine’

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The Apache was developed by Hughes Helicopters for the programme to replace the US Army’s AH-1 Cobra, first flying in 1975.  The first A models entered service in 1986 and three years later were deployed to Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, the following year almost half the US Apache fleet was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  In 1997 the AH-64D was introduced featuring a glass cockpit, the Longbow fire control radar, a data modem to share targeting information and up-rated engines.  The US Army acquired new build D models along with converting their existing A model aircraft, making it the de-facto standard, due to the costs for other users of maintaining the earlier models without the purchasing power of the US driving down the price of parts.  The D itself is now being phased out by the AH-64E Guardian which features improved communications and data processing, more powerful T700 engines, and the ability to control UAVs.  Initially the Es are being paired with RQ-7 Shadow drones, presumably as a prelude to Judgement Day when the drones take over completely and subjugate mankind as their slave work force.  Foreign operators of the Apache include the Netherlands, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UK which selected a modified locally produced variant the WAH-64D.  Apart from folding blades to ease operation from the Royal Navy’s carriers the main difference was a change of engine to the RTM322 giving a useful extra 400SHP.  This did however alter the centre of gravity and lost some of the advantages of having commonality with the 90% of D models that weren’t made in Somerset.  Consequently the UK will from 2020 replace its Apaches with E models from the Boeing production line, reusing high value components where possible.  Current production is expected to run until 2026, 50 years after the first example flew and thanks to continual development it remains the standard to beat.”

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Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer (think Weapon Systems Officer) who has since spent far too much time arguing about helicopters while working at Joint Helicopter Command, and the Army Air Corps Centre at Middle Wallop.

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Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes 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. 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. 

Fighter design contest evaluation and winners revealed

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To celebrate the launch of our 2018 calendar we asked you to design a fighter aircraft. I was overwhelmed by the quality, ingenuity and imagination that went into the submissions. It was hard to narrow the entrants down, but we eventually decided on the following aircraft. 

The brief was extremely demanding and had to be solved using only technology available in 1960. The aircraft must have a range of at least 400 nautical miles. It must have a maximum speed over Mach 1.6. It should have a short take-off and landing performance. It should carry at least one cannon and four air-to-air missiles. The type should have a good dogfighting performance.

 

To judge the winner we put together an elite team of judges, they are: 

Jim Smith

Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. He was also Britain’s technical liaison to the British Embassy in Washington, covering several projects including the Advanced Tactical Fighter contest. His latest book is available here.

Tim Robinson

Editor in Chief of Aerospace – the flagship magazine of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Years of reporting from air shows, hoovering aviation news and digging into the deepest recesses of aeronautical history have left Tim with an aerofoil where his brain once was.

Thomas Newdick

Aviation writer and Editor of Air Forces Monthly. Author of many aviation titles including Aircraft of the Cold War 1945-1991. Thomas has a particular interest in Russian aviation and allegedly has a collection of Su-11 parts at a secret location in Suffolk.

Stephen Mosley

Artist and aeronautical engineer. 

How the scoring system works

Each judge awards a gold, silver and bronze medal worth 3,2 and 1 point respectively. (On making his final decision Jim Smith has also rated the aircraft numerically on aesthetics and effectiveness.)

 

 


 

Yotsubishi Heavy Industries F-2 Simple Supersonic Fighter (SSF) by Hiroki Honda

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JS: “The concept attempts to deliver a low-cost, low tech super-sonic fighter. Some aspects of the concept are really interesting, such as the re-use of an engine … but there are serious flaws everywhere.

(Regarding the use of 50s technology –an F-100, first flight 1953, would meet all of the airframe requirements comfortably, particularly if fitted with Rocket Assisted Take-Off or RATO)

Here are some issues:

  • Use of second-hand bomber engine – engines at the time had shorter lives than today. A better choice would be a J79 or an Avon.
  • Small size – there is no way you could get the fuel required into the airframe
  • Tailwheel configuration – the engine appears to have an afterburner, which, if used for take-off would destroy the runway and the tailwheel
  • Armament – Missile installation would have very high transonic and supersonic drag
  • Armament – I don’t believe you could fit 4 30mm cannon in the space provided
  • Tailplane – The essentially unswept design is likely to experience significant shock waves, increasing drag, and impairing high-speed stability and control.

Effectiveness: 1

Best feature: RATO

Worst feature – see list above.

Aesthetics: 1″

SM: “Yotsubishi F2 – interesting but neither slender nor following the area rule and with a large proportion of parasitic drag, also another where I suspect the fuel tankage would be marginal.””YOTSUBISHI F-2” for HUSH-KIT Competition (4) (3).jpg

Novotny LiN8 by Lukas Novotny

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SM:“So nearly a top 3 aircraft for me but the canopy is a little too bulbous and overall it seems to lack a little pizzazz (there is an aesthetics element to the competition after all). Perhaps a victim of looking altogether believable as a product of the era?”

JS: “This concept is a very conventional design solution to the requirements.

My reaction at first sight was that the concept looks more like a strike aircraft than a M 1.6 fighter. Thinking about why this is, I would point to the rather low set cockpit, and the very rounded radome design, which does look unsuited to high speed flight.

Another aspect which gives some concern is the mid-mounted wimg. Structurally, this looks implausible, attached as it is on the outside of the intakes with no real evidence of a strong carry-through structure to sustain the loads. I suggest that a high wing position, like a cross between a Mirage F1 and an Alpha Jet would allow a carry through structure across the top of the fuselage.

The intakes in the top view don’t appear to have the shock cones of the side view (which may not be needed), and I am unclear why they are forward swept in plan. There is also no real evidence of leading edge devices – as drawn, the gun and pylons would prevent use of a leading-edge slat or flap. That said, the wing area appears generous.

The aircraft looks large enough to meet the range requirement, but it might also be more costly than single-engine solutions.

Effectiveness: 6

Best features: Largely low risk design. Big enough, carrying the required weapons load.

Worst features: Wing position makes a credible structural solution difficult; a high wing would be better. Radome too rounded; while good for the radar, this would cause too much supersonic drag. Tailplane might need a few degrees more sweep. Looks more like a strike aircraft than a fighter.

Aesthetics: 5.”

Soko J-100 Zmaj ‘Dragon’ (2 points) by Nick Gully

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TN: J-100 Zmaj. Because the only thing better than a missile-with-a-man-in-it is a Yugoslavian missile-with-a-man-in-it. And it would have come out of a cave

Thomas Newdick nomination for silver (2 points)

SM: The Soko J-100 is one that I found it difficult to reject because of the amusing “back story” and its unashamed batshit craziness. However all that lift at the back with so little at the front finally persuaded me.

JS: “I’m sorry to say the Soko Zmaj is just horrible.

A highly directionally and pitch unstable design is just what you want in a missile. Particularly a modern missile with active guidance and control system allowing you to pull perhaps 40g at the target.

It is not credible to fly a manned aircraft with this configuration in 1960.

The downward pointing canards would require a very tall and heavy main gear. There appear to be no high-lift devices, which makes the STO requirement hard to meet. The external gun pod would have a large drag penalty, especially at supersonic speeds. With no attention paid to area ruling, wave drag is likely to be significant. Engine installation and radome are likely to be OK, being typical of some contemporary design practice.

Effectiveness: 1

Best  points: Intake/Radome

Worst points: Lateral/directional instability; gun pod drag; wave drag, undercarriage, STO performance.

Aesthetics: 2″

SM: “The Soko J-100 is one that I found it difficult to reject because of the amusing “back story” and its unashamed batshit craziness. However all that lift at the back with so little at the front finally persuaded me.”

Horzel F Mk 1 by Jonas Stallmeister

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JS: “This looks like the Folland Midge version of the specified fighter. My concern is that the design appears to be simply too small to meet the payload range requirements. In addition, I do not believe the relatively close coupled butterfly tail arrangement could provide the directional stability required. This might be made worse by the ‘lots of wing anhedral’, which will reduce lateral/directional stability, and places the wing tips very close to the ground. I suspect a cross-wing landing might quickly become challenging. I like the innovative approach, and the use of the variable incidence wing.”

Effectiveness: 3

Best points: Variable incidence wing.

Worst points: Too small. Lateral/directional stability. Both low speed handling and high speed directional stability likely to be inadequate.

Aesthetics: 4″

SM: “Jonas Horzel’s F Mk1 looks like a robust little aircraft and has the right “feel” with a hint of Baroudeur SE5000 but seems more focussed on rapid response from unmade runways rather than 400 nm and Mach 1.6. Where would they put the fuel?”

_____

Mosely Supersonic Biplane (2 points) by Stephen Mosely 

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TR: “Looking perhaps like what might happen if the Kingston design team at Hawker Siddeley had taken LSD, a supersonic biplane fighter is definitely innovative. The two-crew cockpit, ventral gun pack and overwing AAMs (as seen on the BAC Lightning) and intakes scream a 1960s design and give it some credibility. For the actual idea of a staggered-wing supersonic biplane, the aerodynamic jury is still out. It has been proposed (along with hypersonic concepts) with the idea that the dual wings might cancel out supersonic shockwaves. However, if it was that a high speed biplane was found to be viable, a bigger challenge in my mind might be the tailless design and lack of vertical surfaces. Add to that the claimed agility from the biplane configuration, and it may be that a complex FBW system would be needed to control this beast. There is also the issue of weight – doubling those already large wings would make for a very heavy fighter.”

Tim Robinson nomination for silver (2 points)

JS: “This appears to have a number of problems. The biplane arrangement, which may well enable a light, stiff, structure comes at the penalty of seriously compromise aerodynamics. The close spacing of the wings means that they cannot operate efficiently. At low speed the interference effects will reduce lift curve slope, requiring a higher incidence or higher speed approach. In the manoeuvring case the vortices shed by the lower wing will reduce the lift available from the upper. At high speed, the wave drag looks likely to be huge. I’d be astonished if this configuration could meet the Mach requirement – I’d be quite surprised if it was supersonic. The configuration results in very little fin area, and would be very likely to be directionally unstable. Adding a WSO is likely to add capability, but comes at the cost of a larger and more expensive aircraft.

Effectiveness: 2

Best features: Fuselage packaging and intake design both look OK. Wing design likely to be structurally efficient.

Worst features: Configuration is ill-conceived. The aerodynamic aim of STO from the biplane configuration may not be achieved; Wave drag; directional stability and control; and handling in high and low-speed manoeuvring are all areas of concern.

Aesthetics: 4″

SM: “Mosley Supersonic Biplane – clearly the best but it is for my fellow judges to come to this inescapable conclusion on their own.” (Note: Stephen designed this aircraft and was not allowed to nominate it)

2nd place (joint) STOL canard fighter (4 points) by Vikram Puttanna 

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JS: “An interesting design, which looks to have made a good stab at many of the requirements. The basic layout should be OK to meet the Mach requirement, and the combination of thrust reverser plus hook, extending nose undercarriage, flaps and slats should allow STO requirements to be met.

I’m a bit concerned about whether the range requirements can be met, bearing in mind that the under-fuselage fuel tank would probably need to be dropped to gain Mach number for combat effectiveness.

I also think the fin should be further aft, and possibly reduced in height, taking advantage of the longer arm gained by moving it aft. This would reduce fin weight. I am a bit sceptical about managing the flight control issues of a 3-surface design in the 1960 timeframe.

Finally, given the intent to arm with the beam-riding AIM-7 missile, I think a larger radar would be required. The weapon needs to be supported all the way into the target, and the bigger radar would need a longer fuselage nose, and possibly some raising of the cockpit so that the radar could be accommodated with the under-fuselage intake. I do not see what benefit is given by the intake design, and I suggest that an F-16-like solution would be better.

Effectiveness: 6

Best features: Approach to STO requirement.

Worst features: Is it big enough? Weapons installation looks draggy. Sgould the fin be further aft and a bit smaller? Needs a bigger radar to support AIM-7. Id the 1960 fcs technology up for a 3-surface design?

Aesthetics: 6

Both Aesthetics and effectiveness figures could be improved with suggested changes.”

JS awards bronze medal (1 point)

SM :”Vikram Puttanna’s STOL concept doesn’t, for me, sit comfortably with the central request for a 60s fighter. True there is nothing to point at as not being available to the 60s designer but the overall aesthetic belongs more to a “stillborn of the 90’s” competition.”

TN: “Vikram’s STOL canard fighter. Because the Ye-8 was a great ‘what if?’ that deserved to do much better. It suffered problems with its powerplant and its radar-armament would have been limited in original form. This concept addresses those shortcoming and throws in STOL for good measure.” Thomas Newdick nomination for 1st place (3 points)

 2nd place (joint) LTV F8U1 Super Cutlass (4 points) by Rik H 

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An F8U1 is here pictured circa 1961 over Eureka, CA, on a training flight from Naval Air Station Alameda.

The aerodynamically radical F7U Cutlass‘ time in service to the USN was short but disastrous. By the early 50s the execs in the Chance Vought boardroom, smarting at the cost of tooling up for Cutlass production contracts that never materialized, turned their attention to the Navy’s new requirement for a supersonic air superiority fighter. Their engineers had already begun wind tunnel tests on a design of more conventional layout, whose only eccentricity was an unusual variable-incidence wing, when the whole company was unexpectedly snapped up by eccentric Texan entrepreneur James Ling in early 1954.
Woldemar Voigt, the German aircraft designer who had contributed to the Cutlass‘ design, saw an opportunity. He’d ironed the kinks out of the tailless concept, he thought, and with a new wing shape and J79 engines on tap, he was sure he could build a Mach 2 Cutlass for the fast-dawning Space Age. Cannily, he sought out Ling’s approval directly, bypassing the LTV managerial structure entirely. He was surprised to find Ling even more receptive than he’d hoped for. The Texan immediately agreed to move forward with Voigt’s proposal, but he insisted that a canard be added to Voigt’s blueprints for the “Super Cutlass“. Voigt later speculated that Ling had somehow caught a glimpse of some highly classified WS-110A drawings.
Meanwhile, under the resentful eyes of the LTV managers, the German busied himself and his team with the development of the Cutlass mark 2, a much larger and more modern fighter than its ancestor, with radar, afterburning engines, and static, trapezoidal canards dutifully bolted on. Voigt eventually realized that an all-moving canard would significantly improve the new aircraft’s manoeuvrability, but unfortunately, LTV’s C-suite took bureaucratic revenge by quashing his request for another revision of the design.

The “Cutlass 2″ flight test program showed that the new plane shared none of the Cutlass‘ woes. The new fighter had somewhat staid handling, but it was easy to fly, far more forgiving than its predecessor, and fast – topping out at Mach 1.8, clean, in full afterburner. With the new Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, and a 20mm revolver cannon in each wing root, the type was a formidable machine by late 50s standards.

Voigt’s pet project won the Navy’s contract – perhaps less on its merits than thanks to Ling’s tireless wining and dining of certain Bureau of Naval Weapons officials – and was designated the F8U1 Crusader, but carrier crews instantly saw the family resemblance and the aircraft was universally known as the “Super Cutty”. Maintenance crews groused about its mediocre maintainability, with relatively minor procedures sometimes requiring that an engine be pulled, but unlike James Ling, none of them had the ear of BuWeps.

Redesignated the F-8 in 1962, the Super Cutty was in front-line service when the USN was deployed to coastal waters off the unfortunate nation of Vietnam. The crude guidance systems and general unreliability of guided missiles at the time often forced USAF and USN aircrews into close-range dogfights with VPAF Mig-17s and 21s, where the slow-turning F-8 would often come out the worse for wear.  Angry pilots complained to their commanders and the US Navy and Ling-Temco-Vought finally decided to add control surfaces to the canards in 1966, finally adding the all-moving canard in 1971.

JS: “This a great looking design – but will it work? The original Cutlass was a bit of a disappointment. Based on WWII Arado research, it had a short service live, and was replaced by the Crusader. The thick wing and low power meant its maximum speed was just over 600 kt, despite having afterburning. It also had significant handling issues and a poor safety record.

With thinner wings and bigger engines, this concept should meet the Mach requirement. My concerns are around the canard, the engine intakes, landing performance and radar. I also think that this large aircraft would be expensive.

The thin wing will need a decent high lift system – the drawing shows slats, but these are a very small chord, reducing their effectiveness. There are inboard flaps, which will help, but the pitching moment from these will need to be balanced out by the canard. Positioned where it is, this is likely to adversely affect the flow into the intakes – a go around in this design could prove really challenging. There may also be adverse effects from the canard in manoeuvre.

The intakes themselves look too large in area, possibly causing intake spill drag, and unnecessarily complex. The shock-cone intake is more suited to M ~2.0 designs like the Starfighter and Mirage, and a reduced size pitot intake would do.

I think the radome looks a bid small in diameter and rather slender. The radar performance will strongly depend on the radar aperture; too small and the radar range will be limited. A finely tapered radome looks good, but would increase losses; a less slender design, e.g F-4-like, is likely to be better.

I am also a bit concerned about the maturity of the canard approach at this time.

Other than these concerns the design looks attractive and at least plausible.

Effectiveness: 6

Best points: Efforts have been made to address the specification I would expect the aircraft to meet or exceed payload range, speed and armament requirements.

Worst points: Too big and expensive; intakes too big, too complex and subject to interference from the canard. Approach and landing performance might be an issue. Possibly immature technology.

Aesthetics: 9″

JS awards silver (2 points)

TR: “For the 1960s timeframe chosen, the idea of a ‘Super Cutlass’ to transform a horrendously bad fighter into a decent one fits nicely into historical precedent. Super Sabre, Crusader, Phantom, Tomcat (and even up until the Super Hornet), the idea of an radical upgrade and ‘one bigger’ of a known fighter makes sense. The Super Cutlass, here with more powerful (and reliable) engines, radar-guided AAMs and canards would seem to fit that bill. Making it bigger, however might introduce new challenges for deck ops, as the wing folds will have to be outboard of the vertical fins. The canards/foreplanes while aiding manoeuvrability, also introduce a possible drawback for carrier ops – that of downward view. While a Super Cutlass is certainly plausible, one must also ask whether with the original aircraft being so terrible that the US Navy would have immediately thrown anyone suggesting a Mark II version of this aerial disaster out of the office, pronto.”  Tim Robinson nomination for Bronze (1 point)

SM: “Supercutlass – this was immediately a favourite with its good looks and well balanced proportions. I also liked the idea of taking an early design that managed to avoid attaining any semblance of proficiency and extrapolating it out to a notional improved second generation. By taking this approach it also avoids awkwardly trying to make sure that the aircraft doesn’t look unlike anything about at the time, because it clearly does!

The centre of lift looks to be about in the right place with enough size in the engines to make M1.6 believable and enough structure to carry the fuel to feed them. Down sides, and the reason for third place only, are due to the canard. For a start the canard was an unusual arrangement back in the day and aircraft that had them were usually looked on as “freak” designs. The Viggen was a trail blazer in the 70’s, existing only as artist impressions in my reference book, and this configuration really came to the fore (if you will forgive) in the 80’s. Also, I wonder if the shock waves it would set up at transonic speeds and above would disrupt the airflow into the intakes? A high angle of incidence may also cause problems with this. A good try but I think a little too flawed.” Stephen Mosley nomination for Bronze (1 point)

1st place (joint) Fourt Hirondellen 60 (6 points) by Olivier Fourt

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SM “I was expecting my favourite to “jump out at me” but the opposite ended up being true. It was only through the process of eliminating the other finalists that this one ended up as the “last man standing.” Perhaps the wings are set a little too far forward but overall the layout works visually with everything in credible proportion. The design has a late 60s feel and the “overslung” engine fairing sets it apart from existing aircraft – the closest I can think of is the Douglas Skyhawk but aesthetically that’s still notably different. With everything having a dramatic sweep it looks good too, for some reason I can imagine it with a polished skin and Armee de l’air roundel on its flank.  In my opinion it ticks the most boxes from a head and heart point of view and is therefore my winner.”

SM Gold nomination (3 points) 

JS: “Comparatively credible conventional design. Slats and flaps fitted as a nod to the STO requirement. Intakes look unnecessarily complex for M=1.6, but shoulder position on the fuselage could mean they need the large boundary layer ramps provided. From a fuselage packing point of view, I suspect a bit more space between radome and cockpit would be useful for avionics provision. Suggest a lower aspect ratio broader and shorter fin would be preferable, saving a bit of weight. Weapons carriage looks conventional; there is space for a centre-line external fuel tank should one be required. No real show stoppers.

Effectiveness: 7

Best features: Credible conventional design, likely to meet requirements if wing loading not too high.

Worst features: Possibly need more space in forward fuselage. Arguably might get away with simpler intakes.  Might benefit from a lower aspect ratio, shorter tail fin.

Aesthetics: 5″

JS: Gold nomination (3 points)

———

1st place (joint) Harpia FAB-60 (6 points) by Bernardo Senna 

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Thomas Newdick: “Harpia FAB-60. While it looks a little conservative compared to some of the other designs, a Latin American Marut would have been a boon to the Brazilian Air Force in the 1960s, and would have been an excellent basis for further combat aircraft development.”

Newdick Bronze medal (1 point)

JS: “Basic configuration looks OK.

Main issue for me is the intakes. Positioned where they are, it’s hard to see how sufficient space in the cockpit could be provided. The nose should be a bit longer, and the intakes further aft. The intakes also look small for a twin-engine solution and perhaps overly complex for the Mach number required. The missiles all appear to be IR guided – I would be doubtful of a radar sitting behind the big pitot probe. Installation of missiles above, tanks below, and more missiles on fuselage side looks draggy.

Effectiveness: 6

Best features: Reasonably credible configuration.  Fin looks large enough, unlike several others.

Worst features: Intake position and packaging in that area; high aspect ratio wing might be heavy; stores and fuel tank drag (?); need to reposition pitot probe.

Aesthetics: 5

Both Aesthetics and effectiveness figures could be improved with suggested changes.”

TR: “With design cues from other aircraft of the era, the FAB-60 somehow feels exactly like the kind of aircraft you’d suddenly spot in a rare photo archive and begin frantically googling to know more. Scalloped intakes and MiG-19 engine exhausts give it a pleasing distinctive look, while the overwing AAM pylons might also function as wing fences – a staple of 1960s designs. I like the idea of a Tank/Focke lineage married with UK engines and avionics. Overall, this seems an extremely believable design. The only drawback I can possibly see is that the fighter, designed for Brazil’s defence needs at austere front-line airfields, sits quite high off the ground and has a narrow track undercarriage. Heavy handed taxiing by students may claim a few airframes, despite the ‘reinforced wingtips’.”

Tim Robinson awards Gold medal (3 points)

SM: “Harpia  FAB-60 – this really stood out as, for me, being by far the best realised illustration.  Again the proportions all sit easily and believably on the page. Everything about it speaks of an early 60s generation fighter from the elongated bubble canopy, to the high set swept wing (conveniently avoiding running the spars through the engines) and finished off by a conventional tail layout. This was such a strong contender I was even able to overlook the colonial spelling of “defence.” However it seems a little too much of a combination of existing designs, a (quite possibly unconscious) amalgam of aircraft that could actually be seen in the skies. The forward set scalloped intakes of a Saab Lansen perhaps coupled to what is possibly the canopy of a Supermarine Scimitar? Then again the intakes and anhedral of the wing might owe something to the Harrier with a touch of Yak-25 to the wing plan and a tailpipe treatment not totally dissimilar to the Hal Marut? A worthy finalist but lacking the standout individuality that would make it the winner for me.”

SM awards silver medal (2 points) 

Harpia FAB-60. While it looks a little conservative compared to some of the other designs, a Latin American Marut would have been a boon to the Brazilian Air Force in the 1960s, and would have been an excellent basis for further combat aircraft development.

 Prizes

As all these entrants were so talented I will be sending a Hush-Kit 2018 calendar top each of you! Well done.

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Jim Smith scoring system in detail 

Summary outcomes

Name

Effectiveness

Aesthetics

Comments and issues

Rank

Harpia FAB-60

6

5

Intakes, Packaging

4=

Hirondellen 60

7

5

No real show stoppers

1

Supersonic biplane

2

4

Not a practical solution

Horzel F Mk 1

3

4

Too small

STOL canard

6

7

Technical feasibility, packaging

2

Super Cutlass

6

9

Canard/intake interaction. Cost?

2

Soko Zmaj

1

2

Not a practical solution

Yotsubishi F-2

1

1

Not a practical solution

Novotny LiN 8

6

6

Wing carry-through

4=

The answer depends on what you are looking for, and, of course, on what the other judges think. In the assessment above, I leant towards effectiveness, with a nod to aesthetics in lifting the Super Cutlass to a higher position.

If I were using Effectiveness, then Risk, then other factors (cost, aesthetics), my order would have been:

1: Hirondellen

2: Harpia

3: Novotny

4: Super Cutlass

5: STOL canard

Hirondellen could have used the graphic skills of the Super Cutlass designer.

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The unloved giant: The Douglas XB-19 ‘Flying Behemoth’

Douglas XB-19Nicknamed the ‘Douglas Flying Behemoth’, the little-known XB-19 was an experimental wartime bomber with a wingspan equal to that of a Boeing 747! Unloved and unlucky, it performed vital work that directly contributed to the exceptional B-29 Superfortress. 

From 1941, until the B-36 Peacemaker took its first flight in 1946, the largest American aircraft was the Douglas XB-19. This US Army Air Corps project started in 1935 with the aim of producing an experimental aircraft to explore the future of long-range bomber technology. The schedule called for detailed designs to be finished by 31 January 1936, and the first aircraft to be completed by 31 March 1938. Sikorsky and the Douglas Aircraft Company created mock-ups for evaluation, and the latter was declared the winner.

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Work on the aircraft, now dubbed XBLR-2 (Experimental Bomber Long Range) did not run smoothly. Whereas US experimental aircraft would enjoy almost unlimited funding during the later Cold War, there was relatively little money available for R&D from 1935-1937. Douglas were receiving fitful government funding, and the programme was sucking up design personal that could have been working on types that had a chance of entering series production. In 1938, Douglas grew exasperated and tried kill the project, noting that the delays had made the it obsolete. Materiel Division would have none of it however, and insisted work go on.  

3-18.jpgThe XB-19 was completed in May 1941 and was an extremely impressive machine. Perched on a vast tricycle undercarriage with mainwheels an astonishing 8 ft (2.44 m) tall, the machine was in a class of its own. Its wing span of 212 ft (64.62 metres) was well over twice that of the B-17 Flying Fortress; its maximum weight of 162,000 lb (73482kg) was two and half times that of the USAAC’s standard heavy bomber. Its first flight on 27 June, 1941, was uneventful and was followed by a congratulatory cable from President Roosevelt.

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The aircraft, with its impressive 7,710 mile (12,408 km) range, was a veritable gunship of defensive armament: it was fitted with five .50 cal M2 Brownings, six .30 cal Brownings and two massive 37-mm autocannon. These guns would be loaded during the later test stages as America was now at war with Japan, as another precautionary measure the aircraft was painted in a camouflage scheme. The maximum bombload was a hefty 37,100 lb (16828 kg), around eight times the B-17’s standard load for long range missions. In 1942 the aircraft was accepted, but it was clearly too slow — with a pitiful cruise speed of 135 mph and maximum of 224 — to be developed into an operational bomber, and the far faster and more sophisticated B-29 was only a year away from its first flight.

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Total cost to the US Government was $1,400,064, a fraction of the four million it cost the manufacturer. Over less than two years, the aircraft and its 2,000-hp R-3350-5 radial engines were tested exhaustively. The data from these tests did much to make the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and Convair B-36 Peacemaker the successful aircraft they were. Once the XB-19’s job as flying laboratory was over, it become a lone cargo aircraft – before dying in Davis-Monthan Field.

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Interview with The Aviation Historian’s Nick Stroud

Convair XB-58 Hustler

Since we first reviewed The Aviation Historian, way back in the dark days of 2013, the publication has gone from strength to strength. Covering a fascinating selection of obscure and exciting stories from aviation’s past, it’s become a must-have item for discerning readers of aeronautical history. We cornered Editor Nick Stroud, pushed him against a Soho wall and refused to give him his Vespa back until he answered some questions about aeroplanes. We write this is in the hope of receiving another free copy of this handsome journal. 

What is your favourite aircraft, and why? 

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“Always a difficult one this, as the minute you’ve plumped for something, you inevitably think twice and change your mind. Maybe if only for the sheer hubris of the machine and its 1970s soft-porn connotations, the Convair B-58 Hustler has to be up there among my favourites.  Wildly uneconomical, extremely hard to fly well and made obsolete by the introduction of SAMs, it nevertheless looked fantastic and set the tone for the steely projection of American airpower in the 1960s. Having said that, I also unreservedly love the D.H.60 Moth, the direct inverse of the Hustler. Small, economical, easy to fly and designed specifically to promote airmindedness for the masses, its “everyman” qualities represent the benign influence of aviation on humans. Hurrah to that!”

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What is the greatest aviation myth?

“Having just completed our 60th anniversary coverage of the UK’s 1957 Defence White Paper, the notorious defence review which has traditionally seen Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys cast as a panto villain sweeping onstage in a black cape to hisses and boos from the audience, I feel well-placed to say that there is a great deal more to the story than is often presented. We ran a series of three in-depth articles in TAH18–21 on varying aspects of the White Paper and its impact on Britain’s aviation industry, with contributions from Prof Keith Hayward on the document’s political ramifications; Greg Baughen’s thought-provoking history of the RAF’s longstanding relationship with “cruise missiles” and Cold War specialist Chris Gibson’s look at the immediate aftermath of the White Paper and the procurement choices available to the RAF as a result. Sandys is routinely pilloried as a missile-obsessed fool who single-handedly destroyed the British aircraft industry; it’s so much more complicated — and fascinating — than that!”

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Duncan Sandys (right) 

What should I have asked you?

“I think you should definitely have asked how to find out more about TAH and how to get your hands on it! We’re not available in newsagents or shops — except a few specialist non-traditional outlets (museums etc) — but you can find out all about us, see previews of articles, follow our Twitter and Facebook feeds, download our free PDF index (updated with the publication of each issue) and buy a subscription, back issues or single issues from our website at www.theaviationhistorian.com. Alternatively you can give us a ring on +44 (0) 7572 237737 or write to us at TAH, PO Box 962, Horsham, RH12 9PP, UK. We’re the world’s fastest-growing aviation periodical — try it and find out why!”

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So how good is Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter? Analysis from RUSI think-tank’s Justin Bronk

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Created in China, perhaps based on an Russian idea, the JF-17 is solely in service with the Pakistan Air Force. Comparable in thrust and weight levels to the Swedish Gripen, the JF-17 is an intriguing design, but how effective is it? We asked Justin Bronk, from the Royal United Services Institute for his opinion. 

“The JF-17 as an airframe is certainly competitive with the F-16, being slightly aerodynamically cleaner, with a lower wing loading but a less efficient engine than the F-16s latest F110-GE-129/132 engine options. In terms of pilot interface, sensor suite and weapon flexibility, the JF-17 is roughly at a par with 1990s-vintage F-16 Block 40/42 and could be close to the USAF-standard Block 50/52, although without the conformal fuel tanks, JHMCS helmet sighting system and radar upgrades which distinguish the later Block 50/52+ and AESA which equips the UAE’s Block 60/61s.”

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How would you rate the JF-17 in terms of within-visual range (WVR) and beyond-visual range (BVR) fighter capabilities? 

“WVR, equipped with the MAA-1 Piranha missile, the small and agile JF-17 will be a dangerous but not exactly world-beating opponent for existing fourth generation fighters. It is limited to +8/-3g and the current block 1 and 2 fighters do not yet have a helmet mounted sight system as standard (this is promised for block 3). The JF-17 also doesn’t have a greater than 1:1 thrust to weight ratio so would be at a significant disadvantage in terms of energy management against opponents such as the F-15C, Typhoon or Su-35. BVR, the KLJ-7 radar is significantly out-ranged by the F-16’s AN/APG-68 and completely outclassed by the Rafale’s AESA array, Typhoon’s CAPTOR-M and the Su-35’s monstrously powerful Irbis-E. The JF-17s small wing area and lightweight also limit its missile-carrying capacity which further disadvantages it in BVR engagements. However, it is worth remembering that the JF-17 is not really intended to take on Typhoons, Rafales, F-15s or Su-35s. It is meant to be a cheap and cheerful light multirole fighter and configured accordingly.”

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For the full article go here

 

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