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Everything you always wanted to know about Indian air power but were afraid to ask: In conversation with Shiv Aroor

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Shiv Aroor makes himself familiar with India’s next fighter, the Dassault Rafale

 

India air power is a fascinating, and perplexing, subject. We met up with Indian defence reporter Shiv Aroor to find out more.

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What’s your name and what do you do?  

My name is Shiv Aroor. I’m a journalist based in New Delhi, India. I’m a TV anchor & consulting editor with the India Today Group, where I’ve spent ten years reporting on the military, conflict and the country’s big stories. I’m also editor of Livefist, where I do original reporting on defence and aerospace in India and the neighbourhood. I started Livefist in 2007 when I moved from a newspaper to a television station as a space to continue my writing. The blog became much more popular than I had anticipated and will be, starting April, my principal work. In ten years, Livefist has won two awards.

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What was the greatest news coup of your publication?
Livefist has scooped a number of secret or unknown military programs over the years. I think the biggest, most important coup was my 2010 scoop on India’s AURA UCAV project, a project that wasn’t publicly known to even exist. The report spawned huge interest that continues to this day. We’re proud of our ‘reveal’ list, which includes India’s supersonic Long Range Cruise Missile (LRCM), HAL’s seaplane concept and several other Indian aviation and weapon systems.

The Indian Air Force claims to have a fighter shortage, is this the case and if so, how should they solve it?  
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The Indian Air Force has a legacy ‘sanctioned strength’ of 42 full-ops fighter squadrons, and currently operates a little over 30. The reason I say ‘legacy’ is because that number, defined many decades ago, doesn’t quite take into account higher performance jets eroding the need for larger numbers. You’re inviting problems if the planning-related bean count involves both MiG-21s and Su-30MKIs in the same sweep. It’s a bit of slippery slope. The ‘no replacement for numbers’ theory has some good arguments, but many bad ones — not least inventory and cost. Many of the IAF’s logistics and planning issues probably have a road leading to that inescapable tether around its sanctioned squadron strength. I’ve suggested in the past that the indigenous LCA Tejas should be inducted in large numbers to build an eco-system around the platform and help speed up the replacement of MiG-21 squadrons.


Flying and fighting in the Mirage 2000
here.

Was Rafale the right aircraft for the IAF, and if so, why? 
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The Rafale was a fair distance more than what the IAF had been aiming at in its infamous, self-destructive M-MRCA contest. An effort to acquire large numbers of cheap, light-medium aircraft aircraft spiralled into an inherently fallible toss-up between flagrantly different aircraft, both in terms of capability and cost. It’s a bit of a joke now, but a former IAF chief actually boasted about wanting to patent the selection process the IAF used in the M-MRCA. On the face of it, the IAF loves the Rafale, and is looking forward to operating it. It also fits with the IAF’s expansive air dominance requirements on two fronts with a nuclear undertone. It will also be the first fighter the IAF operates with a smorgasbord of new technologies, including an operational new generation AESA radar. But 36 aircraft is a bit of a nothingburger for both the IAF and France. For the IAF, it’s a complex addition to inventory without numbers that speak economy of scale.


Typhoon versus Rafale: the final word here


The IAF is much beloved by aviation fans for its diversity of types, but this must be expensive and cause logistical problems. Why does it have more types than similarly sized air forces? 
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A nightmare is what it is. A ‘diversity of types’, as you put it, is possibly the nicest way you could describe it. The IAF is saddled with more types than it can handle optimally given budgetary, man-hour and other constraints. This ‘diversity of types’ is thanks to a number of historic factors: Diplomatic pressures (did you know the IAF didn’t even want the Su-30MKI?) and periodic political pivoting. Both factors seemingly justified by the unfortunate lack of a credible indigenous fighter program that could deliver on time. While some would argue that the impulse for foreign imports was spurred by the unavailability of a domestic solution, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. It’s a combination of both, garnished with some astonishing flourishes of bad planning over the years, that has left the IAF with a Christmas Tree of inventory.

What is ‘Make in India’ initiative and how do you think it should proceed? 

Well, the Make In India campaign is a very ambitious, but in my mind necessary, effort towards putting India very seriously on a large-scale manufacturing map. For far too long, India has remained unplugged from global supply chains in sectors where it has enormous potential. Defence happens to be one of them. There’s a long way ahead, and an ocean of inter-warring bureaucracies that come in the way of an efficient roll-out, but it’s trying to make a start. They key is India’s long ignored private sector for complex systems-related defence production. If that doesn’t happen, and soon, this is brochure in the wind.

Is it possible to write about military aircraft in a non-political way? Is there a risk of normalising them by celebrating the amazing technology they include? b9b274ffb08a71a37a2bc6e7730b4cd5

I like to think I write about military aircraft in a non-political way. A lot of terrific aviation writers, (including you Joe) do that, and really well. Appreciating aircraft for what they are is a liberating exercise. And I think you ask a really good question because it really is tremendously difficult to look at aircraft shorn of the politics that come with them. Yes, celebrating the technology they include definitely normalises them, but again, I like to think that for all the political/controversial stuff that goes into aircraft programmes, there’s a lot of space to appreciate the machines they are.
Why does the Indian Government seem to take so long to make military aircraft procurement decisions? 
Easy. Fast decisions in India are generally looked upon with suspicion. This stems from a legacy of slow decisions. And after the Bofors scandal in the 1980s, defence procurement sits is nice and snug at the bottom of the pile. Couple that with a traditionally long-winded bureaucracy and a system that doesn’t place national security spending above party politics, and you have files that don’t move.

 The top ten dogfighting aircraft here

 Does India spend too much or too little or defence?

 Terrific question. India definitely spends enough, but it certainly doesn’t spend it smartly. We still don’t have lean forces, and like other countries with large armed services, spend a colossal amount on salaries and pensions. Budgets for modernisation and acquisition of weapons are frequently returned to the treasury unspent. There are grave overlaps and double-efforts across agencies, a lack of synergy that has a huge attendant cost too.

In terms of training time/flight time/tactics how good are IAF crews?

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 They compare very favourably, in many cases better than a lot of air forces. The IAF cadet navigates a training regimen that’s buffeted by obsolete aircraft and changing doctrine. The IAF also has a pretty substantial shortage of pilots. In terms of tactics, a combination of type diversity and a very long wait outside of real fourth generation tech gives IAF pilots a frequent edge in that adage that applies to all militaries, but especially to India’s — they’ll fight with what they have.

 

Is the Pakistan Air Force still viewed as the primary notional threat, and if so how do the air forces compare?

No longer. An air war with Pakistan isn’t the aggravating prospect it was in the sixties and seventies. The PAF is very well trained and professional force, but a full-scale air power confrontation of the kinds that took place between India and Pakistan and 1965 and 1971 would be likely end quite badly for Pakistan.

How does the IAF match up against the Chinese air force?

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Like most countries, the Indian military regards their Chinese counterparts with one enduring question: ‘what’s their long term gameplan?’ In terms of a straight bean count, China outclasses the IAF in size and structure. In terms of how things are matched in terms of logistics, deployment and how stretched the PLAAF is in its areas of responsibility near India, the game is a measure more equal. Chinese air power, in my mind, is less of a pressing concern to India than its naval strength.

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated?

Which fighter type should the Indian Navy procure? 

 I’m actually in the process of doing a comparison of the aircraft eligible for an Indian Navy deal, so I haven’t really made my mind up yet.

Tejas has a very bad reputation, is it deserved?

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Not all of it, but some, sure. There’s a great deal of propaganda both against and for the Tejas in India — emotive, extreme opinions on the program, ranging from cruel ridicule to flag-wrapped patriotism in favour of an Indian jet. There’s very little sensible, cool-headed assessments of the program. I’ve tracked the Tejas for 13 years. I have to say I’ve swung sharply on the project too. But I’ve maintained right through that the Tejas needs to see squadron service early, with concurrent development. Get it out of development and into flying units. I strongly believe it is a better aircraft than it is reputed to be.

Sukhoi/HAL FGFA – will it happen? Do you think it’s a good idea? 

Anyone looking at the FGFA (it’s called the PMF in India) as a joint programme is kidding themselves. There hiccups right now are probably only an appetizer. Without going to deep into problems with the T-50 itself, HAL will have next to no input on the platform. Any suggestion that it is a partnership is ludicrous. HAL’s license-built Su-30MKIs, the ‘joint’ India-Russian aviation program that comes to mind most obviously, are almost entirely from knocked-down kits. Worse, Indian-built Su-30s are more expensive than units that could have been imported. Net-net, more expensive jets with zero spin-off benefits for HAL’s capabilities, and commitments to operate an enormous fleet that’s hugely expensive to maintain. These are solid aircraft, but that’s one tough deal.

Do you have a favourite aircraft- and if so, why?

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The F-15E Strike Eagle, without a doubt. I played an F-15 game by a company called Microprose on one of those big black floppy disks as a teenager in the early nineties and fell completely in love with the aircraft. Anything I say about why I love the F-15 would come up short. It’s an aircraft that has many associations for me, and as I grew up, was enormously happy to learn that its capabilities and aeronautical elegance fully justified my very unempirical love. I got my first chance to see one in 2005. Let’s just say I’d trade all of the five fighter sorties I’ve done so far for one in an F-15E. I hope Boeing or an operating air force is reading this interview.

What did you think about the cancellation of the recent Russo-Indian transport aircraft? 

Inevitable. And won’t really mean much. There are a plenitude of transport aircraft programs in country. The Make-in-India C295 program between Airbus and Tata to replace the IAF’s Avro HS748s is one. There are other concept aircraft on the drawing board too.
 

What are your thoughts on the HAL AMCA?

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The AMCA is actually a DRDO/ADA concept. HAL will only build it. It’s necessarily ambitious, has a large list of seriously cutting edge target technologies and will be India’s first real crack at a stealth aircraft. Apart from a good centrepiece for meaningful foreign collaborations, I think the AMCA is worth India’s time and money. It’s a good way off, but there’s reason to believe that lessons learnt from the Tejas program will be built into the AMCA, both technologically and in terms of fording pitfalls.

The Su-30 has reputation for poor reliability and maintainability in IAF service- why is this?1373993526321448549

The Su-30 fleet has suffered availability and maintainability problems, forcing the Indian Air Force into a looming upgrade programme. What started off as a deal that didn’t fully lock in Russian support and guarantees is now having to follow up with more contracts to spruce up the fleet. And this is even before all 272 aircraft have been delivered.

I’ve heard wildly differing accounts of the RAF/IAF exercises where Typhoons flew against Su-30s, what is your understanding of this?

The 2015 Indradhanush exercises? The IAF did in fact brief journalists about how they hit that one out of the park in close combat/WVR engagements. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the truth, but I wouldn’t discount either side entirely. Revealing the ‘score’ after an exercise meant to build a joint working ethic as much as bonhomie is a bit of gaffe, so I’m not surprised the RAF reacted the way it did.

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What should I have asked you? 
Which aircraft do I hate the most? The F-111. Only joking…
It would be the P-75 Eagle. It will always be unbelievable to me that the F-15’s namesake predecessor could be such have been such an audacious dud.

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A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters

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 Keith Shiban flew the B-52 in the nuclear deterrent role, and in combat missions over Iraq. We asked for his assessment of a bomber pilot’s nightmare, the latest generation of fighter aircraft. His conclusion? He’s glad he’s retired! Over to Keith: 

“As an old bomber guy, I write about fighter planes the same way I would about grizzly bears, biker gangs, and mafia hit-men. I’m no expert on any of them. I just know I wouldn’t want one coming after me. So here is one aviation geek’s look at what’s out there today and what’s coming in the near future.”

Fifth Generation

“What sets these apart is that they all use some degree of “low observable” technology to enhance survivability. Other features include advanced engines with vectored thrust, the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without afterburner, advanced radars that are hard to detect and advanced sensors and electronics to improve the pilot’s situational awareness. By this criteria, the only operational 5th Generation fighter is the F-22 Raptor.”

F-22 Raptor

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“This thing’s been in service for 11 years now? Damn, I’m getting old.

I’ll admit I was at first a bit skeptical of the F-22. Having talked to people that worked on the programme as well as people who have actually flown it has brought me around. Apparently it really is as good as they say it is.

I am told that four F-22s, if they are fully data-linked, can take on as many F-15s as you care to throw at them until they simply run out of missiles and go home. Yeah, it’s that good. It will see you long before you see it and your first indication that it’s in the neighborhood might be an AMRAAM missile in your face. Nasty.

F-22 tactics seem to involve flying at high speed at high altitude, which adds a lot of extra oomph to its missiles when they’re launched. The technical term is “kinematic advantage”. Think of it as giving the missile a big head-start on its way to the target. For example, the AMRAAM missile gets about a 40% range bonus when launched in this manner.

Ironically, this is how we thought air combat would be back in the 50s and 60s with supersonic jets firing radar-guided missiles from beyond visual range. It just took technology a while to catch up. Mind you the F-22 can still dogfight, but I would venture that if a Raptor finds itself in a visual dogfight something has gone very wrong.”

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It is only today that fighters can reliably carry out the kind of beyond-visual range missile combat that has been promised since the 1950s- this is the Douglas F6D Missileer, a ’50s concept for a missile fighter . Though fighters have been described as supersonic since the late ’50s it is only the latest generation of fighters that are capable of any kind of sustained supersonic flight.

 

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“The only drawbacks that I know of are that the F-22 is expensive to operate and it is limited by how many missiles it can carry internally. To correct the second issue, there is talk of having other platforms carry missiles that the F-22 could target and launch remotely. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Today everything is data linked together and newer missiles can be fired first and then locked on to a target.”

Other weaknesses of the Raptor include: a poor range for its weight, absence of a helmet-cueing system and the use of rare and obsolete electronic components. Though cutting edge at the time, the man-machine is inferior to the F-35 and the Gripen E/F.

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One of the F-22’s few Achilles’ heels is that despite a huge amount of internal fuel it has a relatively short range in ‘fighter configuration’. External tanks are problematic for stealth aircraft. (source of graph: John Stillion- Trends in air-to-air combat)

Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA

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Gone are the days when Russia cranked out relatively cheap fighters like the MiG-21 in huge numbers. Today the T-50 is every  bit as complex and expensive as its Western counterparts.

So expensive, in fact, that Russia is jointly developing it with India to defray some of the costs. This is similar to how Western fighters like the Typhoon have been developed.

The T-50 has some cool features. The engines will have vectored nozzles, similar to the F-22, but which can move in both axis. This will let them use vectored thrust for yaw and roll, unlike the on the F-22 which can only affect pitch axis.

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On paper the T-50/PAK FA looks impressive but it’s still not an F-22. It has a radar cross section several orders of magnitude larger than the F-22. It’s stealthier than a 4th Generation fighter, but calling it a true 5th Generation fighter might be a stretch.

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The engines, always a problem in fighter development, are apparently giving them some difficulty. The T-50 will initially fly with a variation of the Su-35’s engine, which is itself a derivative of the Su-27’s engine that has been around for a long time.

The Russian economy being what it is these days, they now plan on only building an even dozen of these between now and 2020. That’s way down from the initial plan of 52.

In summary, it’s a very expensive aircraft that may not live up to expectations. Where have I heard that before? Still, the fact that they’re even building something like this shows just how far they’ve come.

Chengdu J-20

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“Gone are the days when China could only build copies of Soviet designs. They’re now building some pretty cutting-edge stuff of their own. The J-20 is one of them and could be operational around 2018.

The J-20 “Black Eagle” is a bit of an enigma. We’re not exactly sure what its intended role is. Or if we do we’re not saying. China certainly isn’t.

It’s big, stealthy and appears to have been built with range and payload in mind. That leads some to think that it’s primarily a long-range strike aircraft. However, it also appears to be built for maneuverability due to the canards and vectored nozzles. So perhaps it’s more of a heavy air-superiority fighter.  Or maybe it’s both.

The big question seems to be, will the Chinese be able to develop a suitable engine for it? Currently it is powered by the WS-10 engine, derived from the commercial CFM-56. The production model is supposed to get the much more powerful WS-15 engine, assuming they get it working. In order to compete as an air-superiority fighter it will need the more powerful engine.

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I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the “Black Eagle” (cool name) probably won’t be a match for the F-22, but would definitely be a threat to US and allied fourth generation fighters in the Pacific Rim.

Its combination of range, speed and stealth would also make it a major threat to high value assets like tankers and AWACS. Without tankers, short-ranged fighters like the F-22 and F-35 would have a tough time operating over the vast distances of the Pacific.

Lockheed F-35 Lightning II

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The F-35, depending on who you ask, is either the latest and greatest in fighter technology or an overweight, over cost, poorly performing testament to a bloated defence industry. If you’re looking for the definitive answer I’m afraid I don’t have it. One thing that everyone can agree on is that it’s expensive, behind schedule and very controversial.

I can safely say that it’s trying to do an awful lot with one aircraft. The F-35 will be built in three flavours to replace the Air Force F-16 and A-10, the Navy’s F/A-18 and the Marine’s AV-8B Harrier. That’s a pretty tall order.

Why are we doing this? The main reason is that air defences are getting to be really good. So good, that anything without stealth may be tactically obsolete in a few years, at least in a high-intensity conflict.

I would say that the most important feature of the F-35 is the electronics. Sensor integration on the F-35 is said to be even more advanced than the F-22.

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The F-35: are all new guys doubted?

F-35 detractors say it’s too expensive, too slow and can’t beat a ‘legacy’ fighter in a visual dogfight. An F-35 proponent would say that if an F-35 ever finds itself in a dogfight something has gone horribly wrong.

Keep in mind that the F-35 is not meant to be an air superiority fighter. It’s a multi-role aircraft. Perhaps a better description would be a strike aircraft that can protect itself if need be.

I can remember being told back in the 1980s that the F-15 and F-16 ‘wouldn’t work’ because they were too expensive and too complicated. That obviously hasn’t been the case. I think the same may someday be said of the F-35, but only time will tell.”

 Generation 4.5

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Fourth Generation fighters like the teen series are now giving way to the 4.5 Generation, non-stealthy aircraft that took their first flights after 1988 .

“Sometimes these are described as Generation 4.5 or ‘Fourth Generation Plus’ aircraft. That means they have most of the cool features of the Fifth Generation aircraft minus the stealth.

Depending on your point of view, that makes these either a more cost effective choice than the expensive stealth aircraft or they’ll just have really great situational awareness of the thing that kills them.

Dassault Rafale

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“I admit I’m a bit of a Francophile, so that’s reason enough for me to like the Rafale. Plus it’s also a good looking jet and that’s got to count for something.

The Rafale came to be when the French pulled out of the Eurofighter programme and decided to go their own way. That sounds very French.

The Rafale frequently gets compared to the Eurofighter Typhoon, especially since both are heavily competing for export sales. Which one is better? I guess that’s kind of like asking which is the best car. It depends on what you want it to do.

From what I can gather, the Rafale is better than the Typhoon at the air-to-ground mission. It reportedly has a very good ECM package that lets it operate in places that might otherwise require stealth or a SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) package.

Conversely the Typhoon is reportedly better in the air-to-air role due to its superior radar (editor notes: probably not true of AESA-equipped Rafales) and data-link capabilities. The Typhoon currently has better air-to-air missiles, but the French will soon equip the Rafale with the same missile (MBDA Meteor). For now the Rafale has to get by with the relatively short-ranged MICA.”

Eurofighter Typhoon

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Not as pretty as a Rafale but not too shabby. (copyright Eurofighter)

“The Typhoon is a joint venture between the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. This shows just how expensive modern jet fighters are. It would have been prohibitively expensive for any one European country to develop this aircraft on their own.

I don’t think the Typhoon is a pretty as the Rafale but it has a very futuristic look to it. Something about those squared off intakes and the downward canted canards.

I’m surprised that Germany bought off on the name ‘Typhoon’, since that was a British WWII fighter.(Ed: They haven’t really for just that reason, in Luftwaffe service it’s known as the Eurofighter). 

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The only German Typhoon: the Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun.

Obviously I haven’t flown one of these, however if anyone wants to give me a ride in one I’m available. I’ll try not to throw up in it, honest.

The Typhoon’s list of features reads like an F-22 minus the stealth. Supercruise capability, extremely maneuverable, advanced radar (it is effective even though it is mechanically scanning) and sensors, advanced data-link. It even has voice recognition, like my phone, except I don’t use it because I’m old. Other than being expensive (and what isn’t these days) it sounds very impressive.

Certainly a number of countries have decided to purchase these. If you’re into the whole Anglo-French rivalry that’s been going on since the beginning of time, the Typhoon is outselling the Rafale by a sizeable margin.

Sukhoi Su-35 

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“It used to be that Russia built cheap, relatively unsophisticated fighters in large numbers. ‘Quantity has its own quality’ as the saying goes.

Today they are building very advanced (and expensive) aircraft that are close in capability to their Western counterparts.

The Su-35 is the latest variation on the tried and proven Su-27 Flanker. When the Russians build something that works they like to stick with it. Performance wise it stacks up very well against aircraft like the Typhoon and Rafale. Its avionics, while an improvement over older Russian aircraft, probably aren’t a match for the latest Western systems.

“The Su-35 makes me makes me glad I retired.”

While it boasts exceptional maneuverability, especially at low speeds, what really impresses me about the Su-35 is the number of missiles it carries. With a load of up to 12 (count ‘em) air to air missiles of various types, it can present a serious threat.

One probable Su-35 tactic would be to send a salvo of missiles at you with different seeker heads. Light your afterburners to manoeuvre against the radar-guided missile? Guess what, there’s a heat-seeker right there with it. Turn on a jammer? Here comes the anti-radiation missile to home in your signal. Makes me glad I retired.

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The other drawback to the Su-35 is that Russian aircraft really aren’t as reliable as you think they are. That at least has been the experience of the Indian Air Force, which operates both Russian and Western aircraft.”

Saab JAS-39 Gripen

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“Sweden may be officially neutral, but don’t confuse that with weakness. It’s more the ‘poke your nose in here and we’ll bite it off’ kind of neutrality. As such they’ve always maintained a very capable air force.

Saab has built some impressive fighters over the years and the Gripen is certainly impressive. Think of it as the “poor man’s Typhoon”. It can do most of what the Typhoon or Rafale can do for about half the cost. It’s cheaper to operate than even the ‘low-cost’ F-16.

It also has the advantage of being able to operate from roads and austere airfields.

In a ‘bang for the buck’ competition the Gripen seems to be the clear winner. Would you rather have three Gripens or a single Typhoon or Rafale?”

Chengdu J-10

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The ‘Vigorous Dragon’ (sounds like a superhero) is China’s first home-grown fourth generation fighter.

Just how home-grown it is depends on who you ask. Some claim it has its roots in the Israeli Lavi and US F-16. The Chinese claim it grew out of their own cancelled J-9 project. Who knows? It does look a bit like the Lavi, but different countries often reach the same conclusion on their own. It’s not like we’re the only smart people in the world.

It’s hard to guess just how capable the J-10 is since the Chinese are pretty secretive about their systems. On paper it seems to be in roughly the same class as an F-16C.”

The Legacy Fighters

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“The F-15/16/18 and A-10 have been around a long time, yet continuous upgrades have kept them relevant. It’s amazing just how good the F-15 has been for such a long time. We’re talking about a plane that first flew in 1972!

The question is, can these aircraft be kept relevant against the threats we’re likely to face? It all comes down to what you think we’ll be doing in the next ten years or so.

The stated case for the F-22 and F-35 is that something like an F-16, as good as it is, just won’t be able to operate in a future high-intensity conflict. Even if it was fully upgraded with the latest electronics, the argument goes, the lack of stealth would still render it vulnerable to modern air defences.

The opposing case would be: we’re not fighting a high-intensity conflict today, we’re bombing terrorists in the Middle East. An F-16 or an A-10 is almost overkill for that scenario.

Even in a future conflict the legacy fighters might be able to operate behind a “wall” of Fifth Generation aircraft. Once the defenses are neutralized an F-16 or F/A-18 is still a perfectly good strike aircraft.”

Summary

“These comparisons tend to leave out one very important factor. It’s not just a battle between Fighter A and Fighter B, it’s a fight between two forces. You might read that Fighter A once beat Fighter B in some exercise but that doesn’t tell the whole tale.

Who has the better training? Who has the better tactics? How many hours a month do their pilots get to train? Who has the better Command-Control and Intelligence? What about AWACS and tanker support? Who has the better logistics? The best jet in the world won’t do much without spare parts to keep it flying. None of that is as sexy as dogfighting but it’s very important.”

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You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy 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 of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

10 Incredible Soviet Fighter Aircraft that never entered service

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Faced with such a mouth-watering menu of Soviet fighter projects that never entered service, it was almost painful to select a mere ten. I won’t promise anything, but when the Hush-Kit writers are next sufficiently sober we may create a part two.

To keep this blog going- allowing us to create new articles- we need donations. We’re trying to do something different with Hush-Kit: give aviation fans something that is both entertaining, surprising and well-informed. Please do help us and click on the donate button above – you can really make a difference (suggested donation £10). You will keep us impartial and without advertisers – and allow us to carry on being naughty. Once you’ve done that we hope you enjoy 10 Incredible Soviet fighter Aircraft that never entered service. A big thank you to all of our readers.

10. Mikoyan MiG-33/35 “F-16ski”
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In the 1980s, the Mikoyan design bureau tinkered with a simple, single-engine warplane similar in concept to the original version of Lockheed’s F-16 lightweight fighter. That is, the new Soviet plane would be simple, manoeuvrable and inexpensive.
The Project 33 design, sometimes — and perhaps erroneously — referred to as the MiG-33 or MiG-35, featured a single Klimov RD-33/93 afterburning turbofan, two of which power the larger and more complex MiG-29. According to a 1988 report in Jane’s Defense Weekly, Project 33 was “seen as a complementary combat aircraft to the powerful MiG-29.” Where the MiG-29 boasts some multirole and beyond-visual-range capability, the Project 33 was a short-range, point-defence fighter. Here was a MiG-21 for the 1980s – an ideal fighter for friendly states on a budget.
Mikoyan didn’t get very far with Project 33, as Soviet leadership apparently preferred to devote the USSR’s resources to more sophisticated aircraft. But Project 33’s DNA might survive to some extent in the Chinese-made FC-1 export fighter.
Mikoyan reportedly sold the Project 33 design to China after it became clear there would be no Soviet market for the plane. China folded elements of Project 33 into the FC-1, which itself evolved from the joint U.S.-Chinese Super 7 light fighter, work on which collapsed following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. In a weird sort of aerospace-design convergence, the Super 7 had also drawn inspiration from the F-16.
Powered by a single RD-33/39-powered FC-1, the FC-1 (also known as the JF-17) today is one of Pakistan’s most important fighters, serving alongside — you guessed it — F-16s.
– David Axe  War is Boring
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 See the 11 worst soviet aircraft here

 

9. Nikitin-Shevchenko IS-4 (1941)
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Picture the scene: it’s the late thirties, you are aircraft designer Vasili Nikitin and you are puzzling out the future of the fighter aircraft whilst living in the terrifying day-to-day world of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Yakovlev came up with a nice little fighter and was given a car. Yet Polikarpov showed a bit too much cockiness and was thrown in jail. And right now everything is awkward: The speed of the monoplane seems to be pointing the way to the future yet the biplane still has superior manoeuvrability, short field performance and climb-rate. What the hell are you supposed to do? Suddenly up pops seemingly crazed test-pilot Vladimir Shevchenko who explains over a couple of cups of kvass how you could achieve both in the same airframe with a hare-brained scheme he dubs the ‘folding fighter’. Against all better judgement the entire lower biplane wing hinges and retracts into the fuselage side and upper wing, transforming the handy but slow biplane into a sleek monoplane at the flick of a switch. You wonder if the idea is insane – but after due consideration you decide it may well be the next big thing in aerospace technology

 

Somehow the approval of the Chief Directorate of the Aviation Industry was obtained, and a folding fighter was built: the IS-1. Amazingly for such a seemingly radical machine it performed excellently. A productionised version dubbed the IS-2 was quickly developed but its monoplane abilities were insufficiently competitive and Nikitin devised the considerably more formidable IS-4. The design of the wing(s) remained basically unchanged but this is where the similarity ended as the IS-4 was to be fitted with a bubble canopy, tricycle undercarriage and the M-120: a 16-cylinder X-configuration engine delivering 1650 hp. With the M-120 engine a top speed of 447 mph was forecast in monoplane configuration, heady stuff indeed for 1941, yet transformed into a biplane a landing speed of merely 66 mph was projected. An aircraft offering this astonishing breadth of performance would have been invaluable for the Soviet air force, especially early in the war when their fighters were required to operate from rough fields where the docility and inherent STOL capability of a biplane would have been greatly appreciated. It is also worth pondering what might have been had the design been known to the contemporary outside world, the folding fighter concept has obvious potential for carrier based aircraft for example. Likewise the inherent liabilities of the type were never to be operationally evaluated, what would happen if the lower wing deployed asymmetrically for example? Nikitin had designed a lock to prevent this from occurring yet who knows what would happen in combat. Similarly the undercarriage could not be lowered in monoplane configuration. Were the wing and wheels to stick ‘up’ for any reason the resulting forced landing would be highly dangerous and almost definitely result in the loss of the aircraft.

 

But this was all to remain academic as fate intervened (as for so many other hopeful Soviet armament projects) in the form of a massive German invasion curtailing work on promising new aircraft to concentrate on existing types. To be fair, things had already begun to unravel somewhat for the IS-4 when the M-120 engine was cancelled and the lower-powered Mikulin AM-37 (as fitted to the less than spectacular MiG-3) had to be substituted as the only alternative inline power unit available. Nonetheless the IS-4 was apparently flown in the summer of 1941 but records of what flight testing was done were lost when the design bureau and workshop were evacuated ahead of the advancing German forces.

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An engine, yesterday.

Despite the recorded completion and flight of the IS-4, I have searched online for nearly five whole minutes and not been able to find a single photograph of the complete aircraft. There’s three-views and an oft-reproduced drawing of the aircraft in its M-120 engined form hurtling skyward in dramatic fashion but that’s about it. Given that every other obscure fighter I can think of has at least turned up in at least one photograph (even the long lost PZL.50 Jastrząb) it does seem to cast doubt on the flight claims of this amazing aircraft. Or maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. However the cancellation of the IS-4, whether or not it actually flew, brought to an end the development of the world’s first serious attempt at a variable-geometry fighter, closing the door on a conceptually unique aircraft that appeared to have a great deal of potential.

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The less than stellar MiG-3.

 

8 ‘Article 468’

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No-one but the Soviet Union could name things as well without naming them. Just take the satellite planned to be the first manmade device in space that was given the mundane and yet somehow awesome moniker ‘Object D’. Another example of this minimalist naming policy was a rocket-powered interceptor developed by the research institution OKB-2 in the late 1940s, ‘izdeliya (article) 468’. The 468 was somewhat ambitious for the late 1940s, an era when the major military nations expected fleets of supersonic bombers penetrating their airspace at high altitude would be the main threat in the immediate future. The Soviet Union had been working on rocket-powered research aircraft since the early 1930s, and work on a rocket interceptor, the B1, began in earnest in 1940. In many ways, the 468 was the culmination of this effort – a slender dart with surprisingly small delta wings and a surprisingly huge tail fin, aided by large fins under the wings that also housed the landing skids.

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It is not known if stolen Soviet plans aided the design of Roger Ramjet’s aircraft.

 The Soviet space programme proved there was nothing wrong with its rocket technology. In truly Dan Dare fashion, the 468 would take off using a rocket-powered dolly, before using its multi-chamber, four-nozzle liquid rocket motor to climb 72,000 feet in two and a half minutes, guided to its target at up to Mach 2 by radar in the nose. The design was expected to be impressively stable in flight but would have been interesting to land, given that its wing loading was more than double that of standard contemporary fighters. It’s a shame that none of the many pure-rocket interceptors of the late 40s and early 50s made it into the air, especially the 468, which made aircraft appearing 20 years later look a bit staid. All that remains of the 468, following its cancellation in 1951, is a wind-tunnel model at the museum of technology at Dubna.

-Matt Willis Naval Air History

7. Polikarpov I-185
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Nikolai Polikarpov’s I-185 was an excellent aircraft stymied by engine trouble, politics, timing, and outright bad luck. It should have been the finest fighter the USSR fielded during the Great Patriotic war with 2000hp on tap, slightly smaller than a Grumman Bearcat but weighing 1900 lb less in normal loaded condition, faster than the contemporary Bf 109F at all altitudes up to 20,000 feet, its handling was immeasurably better and it was recommended for immediate production in the Autumn of 1942. Yet it ended up merely an also-ran. The problems began way back in 1937 when Polikarpov’s incredibly successful I-16 was fighting in the Spanish Civil war. Republican forces captured a Messerschmitt Bf 109B which was evaluated thoroughly by a team of Soviet experts. The consensus was that the 109 was inferior in virtually every regard to the latest I-16 Type 10. Whilst this was true, it was unfortunate that the Soviets failed to envisage the incredible rate of development of the 109; had they captured one of the considerably better 109Es that were fielded in Spain in the latter stages of the Civil war it might have encouraged greater urgency in developing a successor to the I-16. As it was, work on an I-16 replacement proceeded in a somewhat leisurely fashion and aimed for rather conservative performance improvement.

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The early Bf 109s were considered inferior to the Soviet I-16 Type 10s in almost all regards.

The fighter that emerged was the named I-180 and looked very much like stretched I-16. Development seemed to be going well until December 1938 when the test pilot Valeri Chkalov was killed in the prototype. Unfortunately for Polikarpov, Chkalov was a bona fide national hero of immense popularity. Whilst his body lay in state and was visited by all the principal military and civil dignitaries, the NKVD started arresting members of the design team on suspicion of sabotage. It is said that only the personal intervention of Stalin prevented Polikarpov himself being packed off to the gulag. Work continued on the new fighter, though the programme was somewhat under a cloud. Meanwhile Chkalov’s home town was renamed in his honour and in 1941 a biopic of his life was made entitled ‘Red Flyer’.

After Chkalov’s death a major redesign was implemented and the resulting I-180S looked a lot less like the I-16 which had spawned it. Unfortunately for the new fighter two prototypes were lost in spins in quick succession resulting in the death of another test pilot, Tomass Susy. Although 10 pre-series examples were built during 1940 the performance of the aircraft was tacitly admitted to be lagging behind world-class and a further redesign was undertaken. The resulting aircraft was the I-185 and it was intended for either the M-90 or M-71 engine offering nearly double the power of the M-88 fitted to the I-180S. Both engines were troubled but the M-90 particularly so and it was abandoned. The M-71 eventually achieved sufficient reliability to power the first I-185 to fly in February 1942. The aircraft flew beautifully and the M-71 was getting over its teething troubles, when it functioned properly the performance was spectacular (a speed of 426 mph was ultimately to be recorded) and the future finally should have looked rosy for Polikarpov’s purposeful fighter.

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Chkalov meeting one of the Mario Brothers.

However, by this time everything had been thrown into chaos by the Germans having invaded and begun their headlong rush towards Moscow. The Soviets needed lots of fighters immediately and didn’t have the luxury of waiting for promising prototypes. Unpopular but available fighters were produced in their thousands and gradual evolution rather than completely new types ultimately yielded the two major Soviet fighter series from Lavochkin and Yakovlev. Yet the I-185 was so good that it refused to die. In November 1942, the three prototypes were sent to the front to be evaluated under operational conditions. The report was unambiguously favourable: “The I-185 outclasses both Soviet and foreign aircraft in level speed. It performs aerobatic manoeuvres easily, rapidly and vigorously. The I-185 is the best current fighter from the point of control simplicity, speed, manoeuvrability (especially in climb), armament and survivability.” Plans were begun to start production forthwith and a ‘production standard’ aircraft was completed. Unfortunately the engine failed and it crashed. Development continued with the original three prototypes, one of which crashed and killed its pilot after another engine failure in January 1943. The M-71 was rapidly being considered a dead end.Plans to produce the I-185 with the reliable but lower-powered M-82 were eventually abandoned as the M-82 was required for the inferior (but good enough) La-5 that, crucially, was already in production and the I-185 programme was formally cancelled in April 1943, finally depriving the Soviet Union of its finest piston-engined fighter. A little over a year later Nikolai Polikarpov was dead and his design bureau was eventually absorbed into Sukhoi.

–Ed Ward

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In 1939 Nikolai Polikarpov was ordered to take a work trip to Germany. While he was away, all his mates fucked him over. His plant director, chief engineer, and the design engineer Mikhail Gurevich suggested a new fighter (the I-200) and got the go-ahead from Artem Mikoyan (whose brother was a senior politician- just saying). On his return, poor Polikarpov found that his bureau no longer existed, with his engineers at the new MiG bureau. Just goes to show, never go on holiday if you work with knobs.

 6. Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut

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While the US was entranced by stealth, Russia was seduced by super-manoeuvrability. A fighter based on the Su-47 Berkut would have been incredibly agile.

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In some parallel universe where Salamander’s Future Fighters is an aviation history book, crowds at airshows today are wowed by weird-looking fighters performing impossible manoeuvres, with their wings seemingly stuck on back-to-front. Here production versions of the Grumman X-29, British Aerospace P.1214 rub shoulder-pads with Russia’s Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut – a forward-swept wing (FSW) experimental heavy fighter from the 1980s. Like shoulder-pads, FSWs were briefly fashionable in the 1980s, as they promised enhanced agility, lower take-off and landing distances and better controllability at high angles-of attack.

While Russia had toyed with a captured Ju-287  bomber after the war and tested their own Tsybin LL-3 in 1948, the concept had to wait for fly-by-wire technology and composite materials for designers to be able to create a practical aircraft – because of the extreme instability and the strong wings needed.

Enter Sukhoi, which in 1983, was given the go-ahead to develop the Su-47 (originally Su-37) demonstrator – based on the Flanker family but with fly-by-wire, forward swept wings and canards.

The Su-47’s development was disrupted by the end of the Cold War and it didn’t get into the air until 1997, a dark time for Russian aviation (though Sukhoi was in a better position than most thanks to Flanker export sales)  Technology, too, had moved on.

 

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The truly extraordinary Belyayev DB-LK swept-forward wing bomber of 1940 will be covered in our forthcoming article on cancelled Soviet bombers.

 

 

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Another company interested in forward-swept wing was Northrop. This advanced tactical fighter concept is from the 1980s, and it bears interesting comparison with the Berkut.The Su-47’s development was disrupted by the end of the Cold War and it didn’t get into the air until 1997,

While its fly-by-wire controls and composite structure undoubtedly fed into Sukhoi’s Su-35 and PAK-FA programmes – its radical forward swept wings did not. FBW and thrust-vectoring means the Su-35 today can perform jaw-dropping aerobatics without needing canards or FSWs. Stealth too, where the alignment of edges is the first step in lowering RCS, would also present a unique problem for anyone designing a FSW fighter now. While only one was made, the Su-47 still looks unbelievable cool.

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Tim Robinson, Editor-in-Chief. AEROSPACE magazine @RAeSTimR

 

5. Sukhoi Su-37/S-37 

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As the Cold War was reaching its thankfully low key climax, the craze across the fighter houses of Europe was for canard-deltas. Soviet designers had been studying canard foreplanes on jet fighters since the 1950s, and re-awakened to the idea by both advances in flight control software and the Western trend, Sukhoi set to work on particularly potent fighter-bomber.

The Sukhoi bureau developed plans for the Su-37 (this designation was later recycled for a ‘Flanker’ variant, which is unrelated to this project) a single engine single seat fighter that, if it had been built, would today be regularly being used as a stock photo of a Gripen. Learning from experience in Afghanistan the ’37 was designed to replace Soviet Aviation’s ‘Fitters’, Floggers and Frogfoots (Or is it Frogfeet?). Again echoing the West the plan was to combine the ground attack and air-to-air roles with the emphasis on dropping things on stuff. Consequently it had an excessive 18 external hard points able to carry 8300kg of stores together with an internal 30mm gun. Of contemporary Western aircraft only Tornado could lug more around and they’re not as pretty. To assist the pilot in carrying out these disparate roles an ambitious avionics package was planned with multi-mode radar capable of terrain following and simultaneous tracking of up to 10 targets against background clutter.

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An integrated electro-optical system and defensive aids suite (DAS) were also planned, today technologies found on the F-35. Unlike the F-35 it also had 800kg of armour plate for the pilot and other sensitive areas. To reduce vulnerability on the ground it also, oddly for a non-naval aircraft, had folding wingtips allowing more to be packed into a HAS. Alas with the ending of the Cold War funding for this supersonic Sturmovik was not to be and instead we enthusiasts of Russian metal must be content with endless tedious Flanker derivatives.

— Bing Chandler, former Lynx helicopter Observer (now works in flight safety)

4 Yakovlev Yak-43

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Russia (and the Soviet Union) is often accused of stealing US aircraft concepts and technologies. In reality there has been give and take (as well as similar design solutions resulting from parallel teams working to solve similar problems).

That Lockheed bought research from Yakovlev on the STOVL propulsion system of the Yak-41 (or 141 if you prefer) is pretty notable. The Yak-41, impressive though it was, was merely a stepping stone to the formidable Yak-43 fighter. The Yak-43 would have been far faster and versatile than the Harrier, with a performance comparable to the MiG-29. The tumultuous transitional period that made the collaboration with Lockheed possible also killed the Yak-43, but its DNA lives on today in the F-35B.

Ten best fighters radars here

 

Analysis of latest fighter aircraft news here

3. Grokhovsky G-38

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Source: Deviant Art

In the mid-1930s, the concept of the ‘cruiser fighter’/ ‘Zerstörer’ was very popular in design and planning circles. The Grokhovsky G-38 was one of many examples of this class of fighter that never left the drawing board. It was a twin-boom, multi-seat heavy fighter comparable in concept to the Dutch Fokker G.1 or American Lockheed P-58 ‘Chain Lightning’. The G-38, however, was remarkable in a number of respects, most significant of which was the execution of the twin-book concept. The Fokker and the Lockheed were large, bulky, even clumsy aircraft, as was the original take on the G-38. When Grokhovsky hired the young Pavel Ivensen to work on the project, however, the aircraft was transformed into something rather exciting. Ivensen started from a clean sheet. The new G-38 was tiny for a three-seat aircraft, with a wingspan of 13.4 m (compared with 16 m for the P-38 and 17 m for the Fokker G.1) and ultra-neat packaging. The crew were contained in a torpedo-shaped pod faired into the broad wing centre-section, and the two Gnome-Rhone radial engines tapered to super-slender booms. It had an incredibly low frontal area for an aircraft of its class, and a high wing loading for the time, and it’s safe to say that it would have been fast. Most remarkable of all was the fact that the preliminary designs were approved in 1934, making the highly modern looking G-38 contemporary with the Hawker Hurricane and Curtiss P-36. Had it not been cancelled (for ‘unknown reasons’, around the time of the major Stalinist purges), it is intriguing to consider what the aircraft might have done for the otherwise lacklustre heavy fighter class.

2. Grokhovsky 39
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On 8 September 1914, the Russian Imperial Air Service pilot Pyotr Nesterov performed the first aerial ramming aircraft attack, using his aircraft itself as an offensive weapon. Though very dangerous, the use of ramming as a last ditch tactic proved popular with Soviet pilots.

In 1932, the Soviet air force began a classified project to produce a purpose-built ramming fighter. This effort, dubbed Project ‘Taran’ (battering ram) considered various manned and unmanned solutions before settling on Grokhovsky’s G-39 project. Grokhovsky was a highly-skilled pilot, aircraft designer and inventor; he created the world’s first cotton parachutes, and designed items as varied as cargo containers for airborne troops, rocket artillery, armoured hovercraft and even a weaponised snowmobile (it is not known whether the Saatchi artist Katya Grokhovsky, below, is a descendant). 3.jpg

The G-39 design was a monoplane pusher with rudders on the outer sections of the wing instead of a conventional tail unit. The most unusual feature of the G-39 was its weapon: two steel wires running from a boom on the nose to the wingtips, intended to slice through enemy aircraft. In case the wires snapped, the wing’s leading edges were made exceptionally strong. The exceptionally brave (or unfortunate) G-39 pilots would have had a degree of protection from a retractable bullet-proof windscreen. This extremely strange machine was readied for flight in 1935, but refused to take-off. With its 100hp engine, the G-39 was woefully underpowered. Work on the G-39 was discontinued. Like many others, he would was crushed by Stalin’s brutal state- Grokhovsky was arrested in 1942 and died in prison four years later.

  1. Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-150 family

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Ye-150 series were wildly high performance heavy interceptors. They could out-drag and out-climb any fighter in the world, and they also looked exceptionally mean. Despite taking its first flight in 1959, the Ye-150 could reach an astonishing Mach 2.65 (some sources claim even higher speeds) and could reach altitudes above 69,000 feet (remarkably all of this was achieved with the same installed thrust as today’s rather more pedestrian Gripen). This series of four experimental fighter prototypes were built in the effort to create a new, highly automated fighter to defend the Soviet union against a proliferating Western threat (including the supersonic bombers like the B-58- then in development). To catch and destroy these fast high-flying intruders the interceptor was to be automatically steered under the guidance of ground radars before engaging its own cutting-edge detection and weapons system. But it was a case of too much too soon; the ferociously exacting requirements on the electronics, missile and powerplant were too demanding, and each suffered severe delays and development problems. What could have been the best intercepter in the world was cancelled in 1962.

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate hereFollow my vapour trail on Twitter@Hush_kit

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Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate with the donate  button (at the top and button of this apge)– it doesn’t have to be a large amount, every pound is gratefully received. Suggested donation £10. 

At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy 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 of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

Interceptor: How how to fight & survive in Phantom & Tornado

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The RAF’s most advanced interceptor in the 1980s and ’90s was the Tornado Air Defence Variant. This programme went against received wisdom by being a ‘fighter’ based on a bomber. The initial model of ADV was the F2 which entered service in 1985, this was followed by the F3 (all images in this article: Copyright David Gledhill)

During the Cold War, Britain’s greatest fear was an attack from the Soviet Union. The communist superpower was equipped with a vast armada of heavy bombers capable of delivering nuclear armageddon to the United Kingdom hundreds of times over. Against this potential annihilation stood a force of RAF interceptors. In charge of the weapon systems of these supersonic guardians was a team of highly-trained Navigators. Hush-Kit spoke to former RAF Navigator David Gledhill to find out more.  

 

The Tornado F2 has a very bad reputation – would you have been confident to take it to war?

David Gledhill: “The initial operational standard of F2 delivered into service deserved its poor reputation, was under-developed and inadequately tested. There were many issues shortly after delivery including operational clearances. The F2 was not declared to NATO until 31 December 1986 and at that time its capability was marginal. It was, however, a very effective weapons platform from the outset and the missiles and gun performed well.

The Foxhunter radar was delivered late and for some months F2s operated carrying a ballast in the nose in lieu of the radar. It simply did not work effectively. There were problems with poor target tracking in track-while-scan mode and the software design and interface with the navigator who controlled the radar was poor adding significantly to the workload. For many years the navigator had to make up for equipment and software deficiencies using work around procedures. The fact it only carried two Sidewinders was quickly rectified with delivery of the F3.”

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Was the Tornado inferior to the F-4 Phantom* in any respects?

“The F2 and, subsequently, the F3 was generally better that the Phantom in most areas, (including performance, avionics and weapons) apart from the the high level subsonic performance, particularly when heavily loaded with weapons and fuel tanks. The big issue was that most of the improvements in the early years were not a quantum improvement and it lagged its peers. It took about 10 years to field a weapon system standard which met the original specification but by then the F3 had earned a poor reputation. Its reputation was, undoubtedly, worse than its capability for most of its service life.”

*HK:The F-4 was an older American design that entered RAF service in 1969

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 How did the Phantom compare to the Tornado in terms of:

A. Acceleration

B. Sustained turns

C. Instantaneous turns

D. High altitude performance

“The Tornado was perhaps a little slower to accelerate initially but rapidly overtook the Phantom and had a much higher top speed at all levels. This was an area in which the F3 excelled. It was cleared by the manufacturer to 850 knots/Mach 1.2 at low level and once there could hold supersonic in cold power. Sadly this was limited to 750 knots in service. At height with the wings fully swept it was very slippery and Mach 2 was easily achievable in a clean aircraft. To achieve a good sustained turn rate the wings had to be fully forward in the 25 degree sweep position. Turn rate was helped by the use of slats and flaps. It also benefitted from the spin prevention system and carefree throttle handling which prevented the pilot from exceeding the design limits and made it almost impossible to lose control. With the wings swept the aircraft needed a good deal of G to give a good, sustained turn which had a negative effect of the fatigue life of the airframe. Anyone who watched a Tornado F3 aerobatic sequence would have seen the instantaneous turn performance. During my brief “aeros” career I flew with Paul Brown who demonstrated the minimum radius turn immediately after takeoff. Flown at 250 knots, the jet easily stayed inside the airfield boundary hanging on the power. Sadly such a manoeuvre was not very useful tactically as, flying at 250 knots in a threat environment was ill advised. It was the Tornado’s performance at height which let it down. Above 25,000 feet carrying tanks and electronic warfare equipment it struggled and reheat was needed for most manoeuvres. Replacement EJ200 engines were considered to solve the issues but never installed due to funding constraints.”

Which aircraft have you ‘fought’ in training exercises, and of these which were the most formidable fighters?

“I came across most of the latest generation fighters over the years with the exception of the F-14 and the Soviet fighters. I flew in an F-16A of the Royal Netherlands Air Force which was a remarkable aircraft, albeit at that time only armed with stern hemisphere Sidewinders. The F-15C would have to be top of my list but I know that the Su-27 Flanker would have been a formidable opponent and is extremely capable in all corners of the envelope. That said, western avionics, particularly in the data link era would, hopefully, have redressed that balance. Nowadays, the F-22 is in a league of its own but with emerging fighters such as PAK FA in Russia and the Chengdu J-20 in China, that dominance may be challenged.”

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 Do you believe the ADV the right choice for the UK? what would have been better?

“I think it fair to say that most aircrew in the early ’80s would have preferred other fighter types to F3 but the mantra was that the weapon system would make up for airframe deficiencies. That clearly did not happen, at least not at first. The logical choice for the UK scenario would have been an F-14D as it was designed for exactly the same mission, namely to defend an aircraft carrier (which is how the UK was often jokingly referred to). A two seat F-15 would also have been eminently suitable. The logic of the early 80s was that two seat operations were still the optimum solution as avionics systems were diverse and integration was immature. The current standard seen in the F-15C simply did not exist in those days. The F-16 and F-18 were evaluated and rejected.”

How capable was the F3 at the end of its career, how did it compare with its peers? 

“The Stage 3 standard which retired from service in 2011 was light years ahead of that of the F2. At its demise, the F3 was armed with the C-5 standard AMRAAM and ASRAAM missiles, a capable Foxhunter which had automatic track-while-scan, JTIDS data link, secure radios, better identification systems and capable electronic warfare equipment including a radar homing and warning receiver, towed radar decoy, chaff and flares and a Phimat chaff pod. The situation awareness enjoyed by the crews was, arguably, better than even the latest generation American platforms. Regrettably, it still lacked the performance when carrying its role equipment particularly carrying 2250 litre tanks in the upper air but with improved situation awareness and long range weapons, the crew should not have been drawn into the visual arena.”

Do you believe that two seats are better than one for a modern fighter? 

“Having flown a Typhoon before I retired I am confident that modern design, integration and technology can be handled by one person. Current systems are a generation or more ahead of that in the F3. It is always preferable to have two sets of eyes in a close combat environment but today that should be a last ditch emergency. The battle should be fought beyond visual range. A single pilot can now cope with air defence operations in all but the highest workload environments in my opinion.”

What is the greatest myth or misunderstanding of the F3? 

“Undoubtedly, that the aircraft which emerged in the mid 90s had not improved over the early variants. By 1994 when “Stage 2” radar was introduced it came of age. It continued to improve and could have been even better with more investment. If it had been employed against an aggressive opponent, the results would undoubtedly have been surprising as it is unwise to under estimate an opponent. The standard which retired was one of the most capable fighters in the world and, with further enhancements would have been extremely effective.”

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Which variant of the Phantom did you fly? What were the various merits of the different British Phantom variants?

“I flew the FGR2 almost exclusively during my four tours. With its pulse-Doppler radar and Sparrow/Skyflash missiles it had a look-down, shoot-down capability against targets at extremely low level and could engage targets up to 70,000 feet. Although unreliable at first, it was a hugely capable radar for its generation. Having never served at Leuchars, I only ever flew the FG1 on one occasion and was unimpressed. Although the radar was similar, it lacked the inertial navigation system, the high frequency radio and the battery for internal starting. I felt sorry for Leuchars based crews operating many miles from the UK shores without adequate navigation kit. Although I never flew the F-4J, I flew about 10 sorties in the Luftwaffe’s F-4F as a NATO evaluator. At that time it was equipped with a pulse radar which was much less capable than the British Phantom and useless at low level. It also had only stern hemisphere Sidewinders so had limited capability. It was eventually upgraded with the AN/APG65 radar from the F-18, AMRAAM, AIM-9L and digital avionics and became one of the most effective Phantoms ever fielded. To its final days it always smoked like a chimney and that was never a good thing entering a visual fight as it advertised your position to an enemy.”

What is your lasting memory of the Phantom?

“The Phantom had charisma. Even now, most crews who flew the aircraft have a lasting affection which will never fade. It was rugged, capable and dependable and what more could anyone ask. As I always say you could love the Phantom, hate the Phantom but you could never ignore the Phantom.”

How many missiles do you think it would have taken to down a Tu-95?

That is hard to say. The Sparrow or Skyflash with its larger warhead would have been preferable to the Sidewinder. A kill always depended on striking a vulnerable area such as engines or control surfaces or causing damage to flight control systems. It would be possible to cause lethal damage with one shot but might have needed more. The ‘Bear’ was a large rugged aircraft and would probably have survived minor damage, but the Phantom had eight missiles and a gun. Happily the Cold War never turned hot.

Would a F3 have had the speed to catch a Tu-160? 

Without a doubt. The F3 could travel extremely quickly in a straight line. With an excellent “snap-up” capability the Skyflash would have been able to engage a Blackjack at any of its operational heights. A supersonic target was not much more demanding than a subsonic target other than the fact that things happened rather quickly. With a Mach 2 dash capability it might even have been possible to run one down even if the head-on engagement failed.

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Would this have been the hardest aircraft to intercept?

“The hardest engagements were high speed, low level targets employing jamming, tactics and terrain to avoid detection and engagement.”

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This 56 Sqn Phantom is at RAF Akrotiri. It is fitted with an external gun pod.

 How easy was it to get lost over the North Sea?

“Almost impossible. Precise navigation, other than maintaining the combat air patrol position, was rarely needed and area navigation was often good enough. It only became important when recovering to base, hopefully, with sufficient fuel. That said, quick reaction alert crews operating well north of Scotland with marginal weather at base or at the diversions were keenly interested in an accurate position. Overland was an entirely different proposition.”

What equipment would you have like to have seen integrated onto the F3?

“The air combat performance in the visual arena would have been transformed by fitting a helmet mounted sight allowing the crew to target weapons quicker and more effectively. The impressive off-boresight capability of ASRAAM could not be fully exploited by the weapon system. Internal electronic warfare equipment such as that developed for Typhoon would have mitigated some of the performance penalties of carrying external stores. The F3 would also have benefitted from a missile warning system. All this technology was available but was not affordable within a cash-strapped MOD budget.”

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How do interceptor crews feel about the prospect of shooting down a hijacked airliner? Was this eventuality trained for in the 1980s?

“I can safely say it was every crew’s worst nightmare. There were clear procedures to follow and, given the correct authentication, it would have been the crew’s duty to carry them out. That would not have made it any easier. We trained regularly when holding Quick Reaction Alert and Battle Flight and one of the drills was “intervention” when we would pull alongside, try to establish contact, give visual interception signals and shepherd a rogue aircraft to a diversion airfield. One of the main tasks in Germany was to investigate any incursions into the Air Defence Interception Zone or ADIZ. Often light aircraft would stray too close to the Inner German Border and our role was to lead them away to safety.”

 What were favourite and least favourite missions/flights?

“My least favourite flight was a Basic Radar Sortie Number One as an instructor on the Operational Conversion Unit when it was cold and wet and you were soaking before the canopy was even closed. Invariably, that would be followed by an instrument departure through thousands of feet of thick cloud following the leader on radar. The best sorties were undoubtedly a four- ship tactical mission over land in Germany against Jaguars or Harriers or other Phantoms and it sometimes seemed that World War 3 had, indeed, broken out.”

How much variation was there in the F3 fleet – were certain airframes better than others?

“The F3 was much better than the Phantom in this aspect. The Phantoms were built in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War. They seemed to be almost hand-built and engineering tolerances were ‘relaxed‘. Some airframes didn’t fly straight and, certainly, leaked. There was, undoubtedly, a difference in the performance of the radars, particularly in Germany. One airframe on 92 Squadron did not have a fully serviceable radar for its entire time on the Squadron. It was so marked that it was chosen as the test bed for the radar reliability trial. The F3 was vastly improved and I was never really conscious of any differences between airframes. The obvious difference was that in both aircraft, the rear cockpit in a ‘twin sticker’ had a different layout so demanded different routines when operating the kit.”

What advice would you give to today’s fighter crews?

“Times change and I would never presume to set my own experiences against modern challenges. There are a few old truisms that are still valid, however. -It’s the one you don’t see that gets you-  and -You fight like you train-.”

Although a within visual range fight is best avoided, how would you have fought the following…

A. A Su-27 in an F3 (and how confident would you feel of surviving)?

“The ‘Flanker’ was a very capable airframe with a good radar, an integrated infra-red search and track system, helmet mounted sight and capable weapons. Its turning performance was as good as the F-15 if not slightly better, although the avionics and combat modes were more traditional. The F3 was out-ranged by the longer range AA-10C Alamo missile when carrying Skyflash and that balance was only redressed by the fielding of AMRAAM. Without a helmet mounted sight, the F3 would have been killed inside a single turn by a well flown Flanker as, aerodynamically, it was out-performed at all levels.”

B. MiG-23 in an F-4 or F3 ?

“We gave the Mig-23 more credit than, perhaps, it deserved during the Cold War. Although it was a swing wing design, its turning performance was the same as the Phantom and inferior to the F3. The wings could not be moved under G so tactically it was limited. The weapon system and early generation weapons such as the AA-7 Apex and AA-8 Aphid were also less capable and the radar did not have true look-down, shoot-down capability. Furthermore, Soviet pilots were not well trained in air combat skills. All in, I would have been confident that a British crew with a serviceable weapons system in either a Phantom or an F3 would beat the average Flogger if employing normal tactics.”

C. How would an F-4 ‘fight’ a EE Lightning?

“The Lightning was an agile performer at all heights but suffered from an obsolete radar, limited capability missiles and a lack of fuel. The key would be to make best use of beyond visual range weapons, ideally, to achieve a kill before the merge. The Lightning emitted less smoke which meant a Phantom would often be seen before seeing the Lightning. Once visual a Lightning had the edge over a Phantom but was probably on equal footing with an F3 except at high level where the Lightning was superior. Pilots would use the vertical to keep a Lightning at bay until the opportunity for a forward hemisphere shot, either Skyflash or AIM-9L presented itself. In the days before those missiles were fielded, a stalemate was more likely. If the fight was prolonged, the Lightning would rapidly run out of fuel and be looking for a disengagement, at which time it would be vulnerable. Because of the limitations of both Firestreak and Red Top, a Lightning pilot would have to position close to the “6 o’clock” in order to take a shot. Tactically aware crews should have been able to fend off an attack long enough to run the Lightning short of fuel.”

D. How would an F-4 ‘fight’ a Harrier?

“The Harrier only ever carried the AIM-9G/L missile. Without beyond visual range weapons the Harrier pilot would be forced to adopt defensive tactics prior to the merge. Once visual a Harrier was extremely agile with good visibility from the cockpit. With an AIM-9L it had a slight advantage over the Phantom post merge. The Phantom crew would seek to generate a minimum separation pass and disengage allowing them to re-enter the fight, ideally having locked up and fired a Skyflash on re-entry. The legendary ‘viffing’ (vectoring in forward flight, or using the jet nozzle as ‘brakes’) was a useful technique to force a Phantom pilot to fly through leaving him vulnerable in the resulting ‘scissors’. It was ill advised in a multi aircraft engagement, however, as it left the Harrier pilot vulnerable to other fighters as it lost all the speed which was hard to recover.”

The Mighty Stage 3 ‘Pomcat’ 

 What was your involvement with the F3 upgrade- and why are RAF upgrades generally so slow? 

“I was the MOD desk officer responsible for fast-jet electronic warfare programmes in Operational Requirements in MOD. I proposed the original plan for the Gulf War modifications to the Tornado F3 and worked closely during the early months with the F3 Operational Evaluation Unit to modify the prototype aircraft. On a subsequent tour I was the sponsor in MOD for all airworthiness aspects of the Tornado F3 weapon system and avionics and saw many key modifications into service in concert with the operational requirements staff. Modification programmes are slow because each change has to be designed and integrated into the overall aircraft system by the manufacturer before entering an extensive testing cycle. These aspects are discussed extensively in Tornado F3 In Focus and my new book Operational Testing – Honing the Edge.”

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David Gledhill joined the Royal Air Force as a Navigator in 1973. After training, he flew the F-4 Phantom on squadrons in the UK, the Falklands and West Germany. He was one of the first aircrew to fly the F2 and F3 Air Defence Variant of the Tornado on its acceptance into service and served for many years as an instructor on the Operational Conversion Units of both the Phantom and the Tornado. He commanded the Tornado Fighter unit in the Falkland Islands and has worked extensively with the Armed Forces of most NATO nations including two tours of duty in the USA. He has published a number of factual titles through Fonthill Media including “The Phantom In Focus”, “Fighters Over The Falklands” and “Tornado F3 In Focus”. He has also published a series of novels in the Phantom Air Combat series; “Defector”, “Provocation”, “Deception” and “Maverick” which follow the exploits of a fictional Phantom fighter crew. He is about to publish a new book called “Operational Test -Honing the Edge” and has a sequel to his Phantom book called “Snapshot – The Wildenrath Phantom Years” in draft. His next novel “Infiltration” will pit his fighter crew against a Soviet naval task force operating off Scotland. You can find the full details of his books on his website or him on Twitter @davegledhill1.

IMG_5960.JPGThank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-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. 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. 

The top BVR fighters of 2016

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Since we assembled our assessment of the top ten fighters in the beyond-visual range regime in 2013, a great deal has changed. Most significantly, the Su-35 has entered frontline service with the Russian air force-  and the MBDA Meteor missile is now fitted to operational Saab Gripens. With this news in mind, and access to more information we have adjusted our top ten- there’s at least big surprise in the re-ordering. I hope you enjoy this article.

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To excel in Beyond Visual Range air combat a fighter must be well-armed and equipped with capable avionics. It must be able to fly high and fast to impart the maximum range to its missiles, allowing them to hit the enemy before he is even aware of their presence. The aircraft must give its crews good enough situational awareness not to shoot their friends down, and be easy to operate so it can deploy its weapons quickly and accurately. The black magic of the aircraft’s electronic warfare suite can also come in to its own, reducing the opponent’s situation awareness.

Hardware is generally less important than training and tactics, but removing these human factors from the mix allows us to judge the most deadly long-range fighting machines currently in service. The exact ordering of this list is open to question, but all the types mentioned are extraordinarily potent killers. This list only includes currently active fighters (so no PAK FAs etc) and only includes weapons and sensors that are actually in service today (so no Meteor missiles etc).

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10. Lockheed Martin F-16E/F

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A great sensor suite, including a modern AESA and comprehensive defensive aids systems is combined with advanced weapons and a proven platform; a small radar cross section also helps. However, the type is let down by mediocre ‘high and fast’ performance, fewer missiles than its rivals and a smaller detection range than some of its larger rivals. With Conformal Fuel Tanks its agility is severely limited.

Armament for A2A mission: 4 x AIM-120C-7, 2 x AIM-9X (1 x 20-mm cannon.).

9. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

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Well equipped with a great defensive system and excellent weapons the Super Hornet  has much to offer. It is happiest at lower speeds and altitudes  making it a fearsome dogfighter, but is less capable at the BVR mission; a mediocre high-speed high-altitude performance let it down, as does a pedestrian climb rate and acceleration at higher speeds. The touch screen cockpit has disadvantages, as switches and buttons  can be felt ‘blind’ and do not require ‘heads-down’ use. The much-touted AN/APG-79 AESA radars introduced on Block II aircraft has proved unreliable and has enormous development problems. One scathing report said ‘ …operational testing does not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in mission accomplishment between F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those equipped with the legacy radar.’ Read an exclusive interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.

Armament for A2A mission: Super Hornet (high drag ‘Christmas tree’) 12 x AIM-120, realistic = 6 x AIM-120C-7  + 2/4 AIM-9X ) (1 x 20-mm cannon)

8. Sukhoi Su-30MK and Shenyang J-11B

Until the arrival of the Su-35, the most capable official members of Sukhoi’s ‘Flanker’ family were the export Su-30MKs. Agile and well-armed they are formidable opponents. Armed with ten missiles the Su-30 has an impressive combat persistence and is able to fly impressively long distance missions. The radar is a large, long-ranged PESA (featuring some elements of an AESA) and Indian aircraft carry particularly good Israeli jamming pods. The type has proved itself superior to both the RAF’s Tornado F.Mk 3 and USAF’s F-15C in exercises, though the degree of dominance over the F-15C is marginal to the point that superior training, tactics and C3 saw the US lord over the type in later exercises. The pilot workload is higher than in later Western designs, the engines demanding  to maintain and the vast airframe has a large radar cross section.

A2A armament: 6 x R-77, 4 x R-73 (1 x 30-mm cannon)

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Shenyang J-11B

The Chinese pirate version of the ‘Flanker’ features a reduced radar cross section and improved weapons and avionics. With the latest Type 1474 radar (with a 100 miles + range) and the highly-regarded PL-12 active radar AAM, it is an impressive fighter.

6 x PL-12, 4 x PL-10 (or R-73E) + ( 1 x 30-mm cannon)

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7. Mikoyan MiG-31BM

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The Russian air force is currently updating its MiG-31 fleet to BM standard. The new model features an updated avionics suite further sharpening the teeth of this unique machine. The fastest modern fighter in the world, with a top speed of Mach 2.83, the MiG-31 offers some unique capabilities. Until the arrival of the Meteor missile in April 2016, no fighter had a longer air-to-air weapon than the type’s huge R-33S, which can engage targets well over 100 miles away. Designed to hunt in packs of four or more aircraft the type can sweep vast swathes of airspace, sharing vital targeting information by data-link with other aircraft. The enormous PESA radar was the first ever fitted to a fighter. The type is marred by a mountainous radar cross section and poor agility at lower speeds. More on the MiG-31 here and here.

 4 x R-33, 2 x R-40TD (1 x 23-mm cannon)

6. McDonnell Douglas F-15C (V) 3 Eagle/Boeing F-15SG Eagle

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That the Eagle has jumped two places in our rating is not due to any improvements in the design since 2013, but the fact that we have greater knowledge of how well it has been performing in international exercises. Though the famously one-sided score sheet of the F-15 should be taken with a pinch of salt (Israeli air-to-air claims are often questionable to say the least), the F-15 has proved itself a tough, kickass fighter that can be depended on. It lacks the agility (certainly at lower speeds) of its Russian counterparts, but in its most advanced variants has an enormously capable radar in the APG-63(V)3. The F-15 remains the fastest Western fighter to have ever entered service (the often quoted M2.54 speed is exaggerated, but it will get up to M2.3), and is currently the fastest non-Russian frontline aircraft of any kind in the world. The type is let down by a giant radar cross section, a massive infra-red signature and an inferior high altitude performance to a newer generation of fighters. Typhoon pilots who have fought it describe it as a challenging threat, Hornet pilots have noted that it is almost impossible to defeat at long ranges.

A2A armament: 6 x AIM-120C-7, 2 x AIM-9X (1 x 20-mm cannon)

5. Sukhoi Su-35S 

348374-admin.jpgRussia’s latest operational fighter was not in service at the time of our last list – today it very much is and is an impressive machine. The Su-35S were deployed in Syria in 2016 to provide air cover for Russian forces engaged in anti-rebel/ISIL attacks. The Su-35 is even more powerful than the Su-30M series and boasts improved avionics and man-machine interface. More on the Su-35 can be found here.

A2A armament: 6 x R-77, 4 x R-73 (1 x 30-mm cannon)

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4. Dassault Rafale

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The Rafale has leapt from position 7 to position 3 thanks to the new RBE2 AESA radar. The Rafale has great agility, one of the lowest radar cross sections of a ‘conventional’ aircraft and its defensive systems are generally considered superior to those of its arch-rival, the Typhoon. It falls down in its main armament, the MICA, which is generally considered to have a lower maximum range than later model AMRAAMs. It has a little less poke than the Typhoon in terms of  thrust-to-weight ratio leading some potential customers in hot countries to demand an engine upgrade. It has yet to be integrated with a helmet cueing system in operational service.

A2A armament: 6 x MICA (possibly 8 if required, though this has not been seen operationally)  (one 30-mm cannon)

3. Eurofighter Typhoon

A high power-to-weight ratio, a large wing and a well designed cockpit put the Typhoon pilot in an advantageous position in a BVR engagement. Acceleration rates, climb rates (according to a German squadron leader it can out-climb a F-22) and agility at high speeds are exceptionally good. Pilot workload is very low compared to most rivals and the aircraft has proved reliable. The type will be the ‘last swinging disc in town’, as it will be among the last modern fighters to feature a mechanically scanned radar; the Captor radar may use an old fashioned technology but it still a highly-rated piece of kit with extremely impressive detection ranges. It has a smaller radar cross section than both the F-15 and Su-30 and superior high altitude performance to Rafale. Combat persistence is good and the AIM-132 ASRAAM of RAF aircraft are reported to have a considerable BVR capability.

A2A armament (RAF): 6 x AIM-120C-5, 2 x AIM-132 (1 x 27-mm cannon)

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2. Saab Gripen C/D

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In our original list from three years ago, the Gripen did not even make the top ten. Its dramatic jump to the number two position is due to one reason: the entry into operational service (in April 2016) of the MBDA Meteor missile. The Gripen is the first fighter in the world to carry the long-delayed Meteor. The Meteor outranges every Western weapon, and thanks to its ramjet propulsion (an innovation for air-to-air missiles) it has a great deal of energy, even at the outer extremes of its flight profile, allowing it to chase maneuvering targets at extreme ranges. Many air forces have trained for years in tactics to counter AMRAAM, but few know much about how to respond to the vast No Escape Zone of Meteor. This combined with a two-way datalink (allowing assets other than the firer to communicate with the missile), the aircraft’s low radar signature, and the Gripen’s pilot’s superb situational awareness makes the small Swedish fighter a particularly nasty threat to potential enemies.

4 x MBDA Meteor + 2 x IRIS-T (1 x 27-mm cannon)

The ten best-looking Swedish aeroplanes here

1. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

Undisputed king of beyond-visual range air combat is the F-22 Raptor. Its superbly stealthy design means it is likely to remain undetected to enemy fighters, calmly despatching its hapless opponents. The type’s excellent AESA radar is world class, and its ‘low-probability of interception’ operation enables to see without being seen. When high-altitude limitations are not in place (due to safety concerns) the type fights from a higher perch than F-15s and F-16s, and is more frequently supersonic. High and fast missile shots give its AMRAAMs far greater reach and allow the type to stay out harm’s way. The F-22 is expensive, suffers from a poor radius of action for its size and has suffered a high attrition rate for a modern fighter.

6 x AIM-120C-5 + 2 x AIM-9M (1 x 20-mm cannon)

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Let’s get in to the merge, Top Ten Dogfighters here

By Joe Coles &  Thomas Newdick

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Top ten fighter radars

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The primary sensor of the modern fighter remains the radar. Up until the 1980s operating a radar effectively required a great degree of skill; today’s digital radars are simple to use, long-ranged and harder to jam than ever. As well as detection, modern sets can be used to jam, communicate and collect information about enemy sensors and communications. In the future AESAs will even be able to ‘fry’ enemy radars by overloading them with radio energy. That aircraft like the Rafale and Super Hornet are equally adept at the air superiority and ground attack missions has a great deal to do with the extreme versatility of the contemporary radar, which can simultaneously scan the air for fighters as it looks for ground targets. There are two types of fighter radar, mechanical- and electronically scanning. The latter can be divided into three categories: passive scanning, active scanning and ‘hybrid tilters’. The passive electronically scanning array radar (PESA) have a single radio source that sends energy to multiple receive/transmit modules. The PESA is relatively simple to create, but not as versatile as the AESA. The first PESA fighter radar was carried by the MiG-31, which entered service in 1981. The active electronically scanned array (AESA) also uses multiple modules but each can send a different radio signal (different in frequency or direction) allowing a greater degree of versatility, and making the radar harder to jam. The first frontline fighter to carry an AESA was the Mitsubishi F-2, though the Raytheon APG-63(V)2 for the US’ F-15C beat the type into full operational service in 2000. One of the limitations of AESA in the fighter role is that the signal is weaker at extreme fields of regard – a AESA can only see well at up to 60 degrees to the side. This issue will be addressed in the new hybrid tilting radars for the Typhoon and Gripen E/F which are AESAs mounted on tiltable plates. Russia’s PAK FA will also address the ‘field of regard’ issue with cheek-mounted arrays (additional to the AESA in the nose). However- neither the new Gripen E/F, Typhoon or PAK FA radar have entered service so do not make this list.

Radar performance is an extremely sensitive subject with security implications, so most of the important data is classified- but a broad understanding of capabilities can be described from open sources. The order is meaningful, but certainly not definitive: adhering to the top 10 format always requires a simplification. Much is open to interpretation so I am happy to receive corrections and additional information from reputable sources. 

 

10. FGM29 Zhuk-ME/FGM129 Zhuk-M1E joint place with PS-05/A Mk 3
The baseline MiG-29’s radar proved surprisingly capable when it was assessed by Western observers in the 1990s, despite its poor pilot interface. But this is positively prehistoric compared to the radar of the most advanced MiG-29s in service today. The MiG-29SMT (in service with the air forces of Russia and Yemen) carries the impressive FGM29 Zhuk-ME which boasts a search range of around 120 km against fighter-size targets. This mechanically scanning slotted aerial array radar is soon to receive software updates and additional modes in Russian air force service to further enhance its already impressive abilities. The FGM129 Zhuk-M1E, carried by the MiG-29K (used by the Russian and Indian Navies) is even better, detecting fighter-sized targets a full 10 km further away. It can also simultaneously engage four aerial targets with active-radar missiles.

 

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The Gripen‘s Saab EDS PS-05/A is an extremely reliable, easy to maintain and mature radar carried by the Saab Gripen. It boasts a large amount of effective modes and is said to have a high degree of immunity against jamming. It is however let down by its small size and age (which is compensated by Gripen’s excellent datalinks). According to the leaked Swiss fighter evaluation the Gripen trailed behind both the larger Rafale and Typhoon in terms of detection and acquisition. The latest version, the Mark 3, offers a significant increase in range and sensitivity over the earlier variants. The Mark 4 promises even greater performance, especially against stealthy targets (see below)- which Aviation Week believes “points to the use of multi-hypothesis or track-before-detect algorithms to pull targets out of clutter” – but has yet to receive a firm order. The set is mechanical scanning, but Saab has chosen to stick with this technology as an AESA would demand significant changes to the aircraft to provide sufficient cooling (though conversely an AESA upgrade has been offered). The combination of the Mk 4 and Meteor would be particularly effective.
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Saab has made dramatic claims about improvements to the PS-05’s performance. The most advanced version in service is the Mk 3. (Graphic from Saab)

 

9.NIIP N011M Bars and RP-31M Zaslon

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The BARS is unusual in being designed with a hybrid array arrangement, sitting between Passive ESAs (PESA) and contemporary AESAs. This design solution may have come from the absence of the notoriously tricky to master Gallium Arsenide power transistors (even Western European companies, with their incresed emphasis on high technology, found this hard).

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Design maximum search range for an F-16 target was said to be 140-160km, and an early lower-power version is said to have detected a Su-27 at over 320km. It is carried by all Su-30M and until recently was the best radar in service on a Russian fighter. The enormous power is a mixed blessing: it endows it with an impressive detection range, but also makes it detectable to hostile sensors from huge distances.

RP-31M

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The MiG-31’s RP-31 was the first ever operational electronically-scanned phased array fighter radar. The M variant can track up to 24 targets and simultaneously engage four well-spaced targets flying at altitude 50 m to 30 km and with a speed of 3,700 km/h (head-on). Claimed search ranges for the earlier variants are 280 km for the E-3 Sentry, 200 km for SR-71 flying at over 25 km altitude, 180 km for B-1B, 120 km for F-16 and 65 km for low-flying AGM-86B cruise missiles, all head-on (tail-on ranges are about 40-50% of the above). Search angles are 70° each side in azimuth, and +70°, -60° in elevation. The RP-31M has even greater search ranges- in 1994 it was claimed that a MiG-31 destroyed a target 300km away using the R-33 missile.

BT017 with Paveway IV (Zhuk-MFS r)-1

Photo credit: Jamie Hunter/Eurofighter

8. Euroradar Captor The Last Swinging Disc in Town and RP-31 Zaslon-A pulse-Doppler radar

 

That Typhoon still does not have an AESA, is something of an embarrassment to Eurofighter, who could be said to fudge the facts in their literature to imply that Captor-E is in service: it is not. But at least the existing Captor-M is the best mechanically-scanning radar in the world, with twice the power output of the APG-65, the ability to track 20 air targets simultaneously and automatically identify and prioritise them. It is a coherent I / J-band (8-12 GHz) pulse Doppler, radar with a 70cm diameter antenna. Even though it features a mechanically steered array, the low inertia non-counterbalanced antenna combined with four high torque, samarium-cobalt drive motors is capable of extremely high scanning speeds. The most remarkable achievement for the Captor is its ability to interleave different operations (such as air and ground mapping), something few if any other mechanically scanning radars can match to the same degree. It is unique in having a separate data channel exclusively for screening ECM, claiming to offer a robust protection from enemy interference (though a mechanical radar is still more vulnerable to jamming than an AESA set). Released figures state that the Captor can detect MiG-29-sized targets at 160 km and C-160s at over 320 km. The electronically scanned Captor-E that will probably replace the Captor is expected to be an exceptional device, in some respects (field of regard and possibly range) superior to even the F-22’s APG-77. Eurofighter have commented that during evaluations by potential customers looking at Typhoon and Rafale, that Typhoon consistently detected targets at longer ranges than did the PESA RBE2. In the Swiss evaluation (below) Typhoon scored worse than Rafale for acquisition but better for engagement.

An evaluation of the Typhoon versus the Su-35, can be found here.

 

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7. N135 Irbis7_04_09_813

The Su-35 is now in operational service with the Russian air force and according to some analysts is an effective counter to Europe’s Typhoon and Rafale. The primary sensor of its integrated suite is the monstrously powerful N135 Irbis, a passively scanning electronic array radar (in some respects it is a PESA/mechanically scanning hybrid). Compared to the Bars radar of earlier ‘Flanker’s it has a wider range of operational frequencies, greater angular search zone of up to +/-125° (due to better aerial and double-step drive), longer range and better resistance to jamming, finer resolution. TWS for up to 30 air targets, eight of which can be simultaneously engaged them by active-radar AAMs. At peak power  (limited to narrow sector) it can see a fighter-sized target from 217-249 miles (350-400 km) in head-on or 93 miles (150 km) in tail-on position.

6. Raytheon AN/APG-79 (Super Hornet) The Unreliable Witness of the Fleet 

150530-N-TP834-647 PACIFIC OCEAN (May 31, 2015) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Sunliners of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 launches from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during an air-power demonstration. Carl Vinson and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17, are in the 3rd Fleet area of operations returning to homeport after a Middle East and Western Pacific Deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner, Jr./Released)

The Super Hornet‘s AESA radar, with 1100 (it may actually be as high as 1368)  transmitter/receiver modules, is very impressive on paper, but reports from the DOT&E indicated less than glowing reviews from the real world: a 2007 report assessed as not operationally effective or suitable due to significant deficiencies in tactical performance, reliability, and BIT functionality. The Navy conducted APG-79 radar FOT&E [follow-on test and evaluation] in 2009 and reported that significant deficiencies remained for both APG-79 AESA performance and suitability; DOT&E concurred with this assessment. Since then there have been some improvements however, “operational testing does not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in mission accomplishment between F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those equipped with the legacy radar“. A report released in 2013 cited ‘The radar’s failure to meet reliability requirements and poor built-in test (BIT) performance remain as shortfalls from previous test and evaluation periods. Despite this many pilots have expressed delight with the abilities of the radar, especially its power to perform two tasks (A2A + A2G) at once. In 2015 Raytheon has flight tested the APG-79(V) X, a scaled down version intended for the legacy (C/D) Hornet fleet.

THALES / Ecrans du cockpit du Rafale, à Dassault Aviation (HM1) sur la base aérienne d'Istres, le 11/12/2008.

THALES / Ecrans du cockpit du Rafale, à Dassault Aviation (HM1) sur la base aérienne d’Istres, le 11/12/2008.

5. Thales RBE2 AESA

Though the AESA variant of the RBE2 may be one of the smallest radars on this list it should not be underestimated. When the Rafale entered service in 2001 it carried the RBE 2 radar, the first electronically scanning fighter radar in Western Europe. The radar has greatly impressed pilots, with many commenting on the excellent situational awareness it provides, and how easy it is to use on combat missions. The original RBE 2 is a passively scanned radar (the first of this type was the MiG-31’s Zaslon of 1981), something many consider a technological cul-de-sac. PESA’s have a single critical failure point, a risky proposition in a combat radar. But the PESA was a stepping stone to AESA development. It was a huge publicity coup for Thales, when the RBE 2 AESA became the first European AESA radar to enter operational service. The AESA has a field of regard of 70° on either side of the aircraft axis and between 800-1100 T/R modules. According to Thales, the radar offers an impressive improvement over the earlier passive-scanned RBE 2; in terms of performance, detection range is increased by more than fifty per cent and the radar’s ability to ‘look’ in many directions simultaneously offers enhanced tracking capabilities. Angular coverage in azimuth is improved and targets with lower radar cross section can also be detected. While understandably cagey in discussing such a sensitive subject, Thales acknowledges multiple Rafales with AESA could work together to detect stealthy targets. It is expected that electronic attack capabilities will be impressive and work hand-in-hand with the widely respected SPECTRA suite, though Thales also refuses to comment on this sensitive subject. Unlike the Raven and Captor E, the RBE 2 AESA is a conventional fixed AESA. The decision not to include a repositioner was made in the mid-1990s after a detailed study. The conclusion was drawn that though a repositioner is a good solution when the combat situation is simple, it becomes absolutely irrelevant when it the battlespace becomes more complex due to a high quantity of targets spread in space. The repositioned solution was also considered irrelevant for the majority of the missions. Cynical observers have questioned whether a repositioner could have been fitted in the petite nose of the Rafale, though the success of the Gripen’s Raven suggests this need not be an issue.Converting a Rafale to the new radar is reportedly very easy: it takes less than two hours to remove the PESA and to ‘plug and play’ the AESA antenna. The RBE 2 AESA is the same weight as the baseline radar and uses the same interface. Sixty RBE 2 AESA were ordered for Batch 4 Rafales; there are currently no plans to reequip the rest of the air force and navy fleet. T/R Modules: 800-1100 T/R modules (est).

4. AN/APG-80 1450976

The F-16E/Fs radar was said to be the first example of export customers receiving superior kit to USAF. It has a higher reliability and twice the range of older, mechanically-scanned AN/APG-68 radar systems. It has around 1000 T/R Modules and is considered by pilots both reliable and mature (think George Clooney).

3. Raytheon AN/APG-63(V)3 (F-15C/F-15SG)

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Building on the experience with the APG-79 but with the capacious nosecone and huge electrical power of the F-15 allowed Raytheon to create a radar that is both sophisticated and extremely powerful. The APG-63 has come on leaps and bounds from the rather primitive and ineffective set fitted to the original F-15As – in fact the new radar features little of the original mechanical set. Raytheon is the most experienced manufacturer and designer of AESA radars in the world- the company dominates the AESA market, according to the company’s promotional material it has produced 500 of the 780 AESAs in service worldwide – and the creation of an active ’63 has given the old Eagle a formidable improvement. The APG-63(V)3 radar is an update of the (V)2of the APG-63(V)2, applying the same AESA technology utilised in Raytheon’s APG-79. The (V)3 is designed for retrofit into F-15C/D and deployed in Singapore’s new F-15SG aircraft. Those F-15s fitted with the V3 are a match for any potential adversary in the beyond-visual-range fight.

2. Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 Eye of the blighted 150115-F-JB386-037 Though the F-35 has endured a horrific development, one success story from this blighted programme is the radar which is by most accounts excellent. It is likely that its offensive jamming capabilities (using the AESA) will be a significant development in the history of aircraft radar. The complexity of the F-35 sensor and weapon system is such that the potential (and an acceptable level of reliability) is unlikely to be reached for some years. Much of the F-35’s unprecedented level of situational awareness is thanks to the highly automated and extremely sophisticated ’81.

Type: AESA T/R Modules 1200

  1. Northrop Grumman APG-77(V)1 American SniperWaiting in the wings No expense was spared in creating the F-22‘s main sensor. Large, powerful and sophisticated, the APG-77 is also beneficiary to almost unlimited funding to keep it at the top of its game. The APG-77 is an active electronically scanning radar and has an impressive 1500 transmitter receiver modules. The relationship between performance and the amount of T/R modules is such that manufacturers are very cagey about sharing specifics (though observers with obsessive tenacity can count the amount visible from photographs). One disadvantage of the ’77 its is use of old-fashioned CPUs, which are tricky to maintain.The degree of sensor fusion in the F-22 is very high- in particular the relationship between the F-22’s radar and EW suite, further enhances the APG-77’s effectiveness. One of the main advantages of this radar is the Low Probability of Intercept (it is designed to not be conspicuous to enemy radar warning receivers), if this works in combat it will be a major boon. Some wonder the degree to which modern AESA-based RWRs would be able to detect it even a LPI radar, but international training exercises show that LPI does work, with feckless opponents having little warning of an impending Raptor attack.

 

 

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Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-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. 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. 

Su-35 versus Typhoon: Analysis from RUSI’s Justin Bronk

 

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Outside the Western world, Russia’s ultra-agile Su-35 is the most potent fighter in operational service. We asked Justin Bronk from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank his thoughts on the Su-35’s combat effectiveness against the Typhoon, the backbone of NATO’s fighter force. We also look at how the Su-35 would fare against the US’ F-15, F-16 and F-22. 

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HK: What is the current status of the Russian Su-35 fleet?

JB: Russia has 48 Su-35S in service with another 48 scheduled for production. They appear to offer a greater average serviceability rate than previous iterations of the Su-27/30 family, as well as the MiG-29, mainly due to the success of the new Saturn 117S thrust vectoring engines which have so far avoided many of the reliability issues of previous models. However, as with many other aspects of the Russian military, the fact that the production and service numbers of the Su-35 are quite low and exist within a huge mix of various MiG-29 and Su-27/30 derivations which do not share many key components means that running costs are high and logistics remain complex. This drives down serviceability to significantly below US, British and French fighter fleets, except in the case of small forward deployments such as Syria where the entire logistics chain can be concentrated on keeping a small portion of the force at high readines

How does it compare to Typhoon in terms of the following:

Detection/conspicuity to hostile sensors

The Su-35 has a significantly greater Radar Cross Section (RCS) than Typhoon due to its large intakes without effective fan-blade shielding, vertical dual stabilizers and thrust vectoring jet nozzles, as well as the latter’s greater use of radar absorbent materials and signature management for canards. The Su-35’s larger size and the canted position of the engines and greater thrust required also contribute to a heat signature that is significantly greater than Typhoon’s.

 

In terms of radars, the Su-35S’s Irbis-E PESA radar provides extremely high power levels allowing target detection beyond 300km (although without weapons which can engage at this range), as well as claimed advances in detecting low-observable threats such as stealth fighters at significantly beyond visual range. However, the downside to this is that the Irbis-E has to operate at extremely high power levels to achieve this performance and so is easily detectable and track-able at ranges beyond those at which it can track. All radars except AESAs with very low probabilities of intercept such as the F-22’s APG-77 suffer from this paradox but it is worse for the Su-35 because of the latter’s very large RCS and IR signature which means it must rely on out-ranging its opponents at BVR rather than trying to sneak up on them whilst relying on passive tracking.

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Copyright Eurofighter-L. Caliaro

Typhoon’s CAPTOR-M is comparable with the Irbis-E in terms of long range tracking and detection in active scanning mode and may be inferior with regard to detecting low-observable threats, but Typhoon has a very significant advantage in terms of passive tracking through the DASS and the world-leading PIRATE IRST.

Performance (at various altitudes, speeds and in both WVR and BVR)

Both aircraft are capable of super-cruising although the Typhoon’s speed without afterburners at combat loading is significantly higher than the Su-35*. Top speeds at low and high altitudes are comparable, but again Typhoon has the slight edge. In terms of kinematic persistence, the Su-35 burns much more more fuel to sustain energy than Typhoon, but also carries twice as much fully loaded. In prolonged engagements, the Typhoon has better combat persistence during sustained afterburner-dependent manoeuvres and also retains energy better at during high-g turns. This would tend to put the Su-35 at an increasing energy disadvantage over time, even as its thrust-to-weight ratio improves towards parity with Typhoon as it burns off fuel.

During a BVR engagement at high altitudes, assuming both aircraft have detected each other, the Su-35 is likely to be at a significant energy disadvantage as Typhoon would be flying at its higher service ceiling at faster supercruise speeds.

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WVR, however, the Su-35 is extremely dangerous due to its phenomenal supermanoeuvrability due to its thrust vectoring engines and huge lifting body. Both in the horizontal and vertical planes, Typhoon would likely be outmatched by the Su-35 WVR, unless a Typhoon pilot could find space to accelerate vertically to gain an energy advantage without being shot down in the process. In reality, of course, whilst in a WVR dogfight situation the Su-35 does have a kinematic advantage, both aircraft are equipped with helmet-mounted sights to cue off-boresight missile shots and carry extremely manoeuvrable IR missiles with excellent countermeasure resistance. Neither is likely to survive a WVR ‘merge’ against the other.

*HK: The Typhoon’s maximum quoted supercruise speed has varied. EADS test pilot Chris Worning put it at M1.15-M1.2, the RAF have stated M1.1 and Typhoon pilots have suggested 1.2-3 with four conformal AMRAAMS, twin tanks and twin ASRAAMs, and 1.5 clean. The Su-35’s supercruise is marginal, probably no higher than M1.1 – it is a much draggier design than the Typhoon.

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Maintenance/reliability/sortie rate

Su-35 is bigger, heavier and more mechanically temperamental than Typhoon. However, it does not have such a dependence on software and computers which can cause many issues of their own in the case of Typhoon. If deployed as part of a large unified fleet by a Western air force, Su-35 could probably approach Typhoon’s reliability rate and surpass it in terms of ease of maintenance. However, the fact that Su-35 exists within a patchily resourced Russian Air Force with a myriad of different fighter types means it comes substantially below Typhoon in terms of reliability.

Defensive aids/electronic warfare (EW) suite

Russian EW capabilities tend to be superb. However, their defensive aids suites often lag behind their Western competitors. In the case of Su-35 and Typhoon specifically, both have some of the best DAS and EW capabilities which their respective nations can mount in frontline jets, but the exact details are highly classified. It is probably fair to assume that Typhoon has the edge in terms of defensive aids and passive ELINT gathering, whilst Su-35 has the edge in offensive EW and jamming capabilities.

Man-machine interface/ ease of flying and fighting

This is an area where Russian jets have always struggled. Even with multifunction cockpit displays and digital flight instruments, the Su-35 lags behind Typhoon in terms of ease of flying and fighting with it as a weapons system.

Network connectivity

Lack of Russian Air Force standardisation means that Typhoon wins hands down with latest generation Link 16, MIDS and other connectivity advantages. However, Russian tactical doctrine may mean that this disadvantage is less of an issue for them than it would be for a Western Air Force.

Weapons

Su-35 benefits from superb Russian missile design expertise. The multiple seeker-head mix which Russian fighters would fire in missile salvos in combat with Western fighters makes defending against them a very complicated task. At long range, the Su-35 can fire a mix of semi-active radar homing, anti-radiation (home on jam) and IR homing missiles, whilst at short range the ‘Archer’ series remains as deadly as ever. Typhoon has the excellent ASRAAM and IRIS-T short range IR missiles which can equal or surpass their Russian counterparts, but at long range the AMRAAM is showing its age and against Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jamming technology which the Su-35S employs, its Pk drops significantly to the point that multiple missiles would likely be required to kill each target.

Which set-ups would favour which aircraft?

High and fast in BVR combat and rules of engagement which allow long range missile shots would favour Typhoon, especially once Meteor is fully integrated next year. WVR combat, especially at lower altitudes and speeds favour the Su-35. During a sudden incident as part of, say Baltic Air Policing, where both aircraft would typically be at medium altitude and at close range during QRA intercepts, Su-35S would likely be a real handful for Typhoon.

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Which aircraft, all things being equal, would have an advantage?

I would certainly still take a Typhoon going into a hypothetical ‘all things equal’ scenario, because of its superior kinematics at high altitudes and speeds which allow it to have control of an engagement except in specific scenarios.

Are there tactics which would enable a Su-35 force to take on a F-22 formation?

Simply put – no. Whilst the Su-35 does have the hypothetical capability to detect the F-22 at close ranges using its IRST and potentially the Irbis-E radar, both sensors would have to be cued to focus on exactly the right part of sky to have a chance of generating a target track. By contrast, the F-22 will know exactly where the Su-35 is at extremely long range and can position for complete control of the engagement from the outset with superior kinematics. The Su-35’s only chance would be to absorb the AMRAAM and AIM-9 shots from the F-22’s and hope that they had sufficient numbers left to attack the tankers and airbases which the F-22’s rely on post-engagement.

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How do the F-22 and Su-35 compare in terms of close-in agility/energy preservation/types of fighters (angles V energy)

The Su-35 can probably out-turn an F-22 in a horizontal fight at medium and low altitudes, but the need to carry missiles and tanks externally to be effective, as well as the brute size of the Sukhoi will ensure it remains at a distinct energy disadvantage to the Raptor in terms of energy retention and acceleration at all speeds. The F-22 also will not get into an angles fight with an Sukhoi – there is simply no need for it to do so.

How do they compare in terms of BVR engagements?

BVR engagements are all about situational awareness, positioning/energy advantage, and persistence in terms of fuel and missiles. In all but the latter category the Su-35 is hopelessly outclassed by the F-22 (as are all other operational fighter aircraft). Even in terms of missiles, the Su-35 can carry up to twelve to the F-22’s eight but combat practice, especially against stealthy targets, involves firing salvos of six missiles with mixed seekers so the Su-35 only really has two credible shots. By contrast the F-22 can get much closer without being threatened so even against the Su-35S DRFM jammers, it can fire smaller salvos with much better Pk.

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Britain’s Typhoons have intercepted Russian Su-27 approaching British airspace (pictured), and performed multiple exercises with Indian’s Su-30s. Far less is known in the West about the Su-35’s capabilities.

How would USAF F-15Cs and F-16Cs fair against the Su-35?

The USAF’s classic F-15C is slightly outclassed by the Su-35, although with upgrades along the lines of the Saudi F-15SA configuration, with a very powerful AN/APG-63(V)3 AESA radar and double the missile loadout of the classic F-15C, they are approaching parity again – albeit with a much heavier focus on BVR capabilities than WVR manoeuvrability than the Sukhoi. The F-15C (modernised), teamed with the F-22 fleet, can certainly remain a match for the Su-35S.

By contrast, the F-16 Block 50/52 fleet is certainly not capable of meeting the Su-35S on anything like equal terms – losing out to the Russian fighter in kinematics, sensors, weapons loadout and EW capabilities.

And against the Saab Gripen and Dassault Rafale? 

Gripen is a bit of an unknown quantity against modern air superiority machines because it takes a fundamentally different approach to survivability. Whilst in traditional DACT exercises, Typhoon pilots have often referred to the Gripen as ‘cannon-fodder’ due to its inferior thrust-to-weight ratio, speed, agility and armament, in the few cases where the Gripen has ‘come to play’ with its full electronic warfare capabilities, it has given Typhoons very nasty shocks. Against the Su-35S, Gripen would rely on the cutting edge EW capabilities which Saab builds the Gripen (especially the new E/F) around to hide the aircraft from the sensors of the Russian jets in much the same way as the Raptor relies on x-band stealth. These EW capabilities are so highly classified that there is simply no way to assess their effectiveness in the public domain. Having said that, RAF pilots who I have talked to with experience of the Saab fighter’s EW teeth first hand say that the ability of the aircraft to get alarmingly close without detection thanks entirely to EW is very impressive.

 

Rafale is in a similar position as Typhoon relative to Su-35, but with less of a kinematic advantage over the Su-35 at high altitudes and BVR ranges, and being closer to parity on manoeuvrability at medium and low altitudes than Typhoon. Equally, the excellent SPECTRA system on Rafale would give it more offensive and defensive options in the EW space against Su-35 than Typhoon would have.

What do you expect the future holds for the Su-35, in terms of upgrades and production figures?

I expect that following the second order of 48 being delivered to the Russian Air Force by 2020, further orders will come in in dribs and drabs whilst the PAK FA/T-50 continues to be refined. Upgrades here and there will no doubt be added but I don’t anticipate any fundamental improvements – the Su-35S really is the pinnacle of the Flanker line.

What should I have asked you about the Su-35?

Haha, is it good value for money? Not withstanding what I’ve said about the various ways in which top-of-the-line and extremely expensive Western fighters such as the F-22, Typhoon (and Rafale which we haven’t really touched on) have answers to the Su-35, for its price tag of around $65M very little comes close!

Justin Bronk is a Research Fellow at the Military Sciences at Royal United Services Institute. He has written articles on the RAF’s role in Syria, and the Rafale versus Typhoon

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You may also enjoy 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 of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

 

 

The F-15 that never was: The North American NA-335

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The USAF 1960s programme that led to the F-15 was won by McDonnell Douglas, but other fighter design houses had offered rival concepts. The most exciting of these unsuccessful designs was offered by North American, and was designated NA-335. In many ways its configuration resembled the later Sukhoi T-10. The Sukhoi T-10, after much modification, became the now ubiquitous ‘Flanker’ series. The American design differed in two significant ways: it lacked the gap between the engine nacelles, and it had only a single vertical fin. The ventral gully produces complicated airflows and can offer some separation issues for air-launched weapons, but it does allow the rear fuselage to add significantly to overall lifting area contributing to the fighter’s performance. The 335’s single-tail (backed up by large ventral fins) would have made the aircraft inferior to a twin-tailed aircraft like the F-15 in controllability at high alpha, but it would have been lighter and simpler. However, the ‘335s significant leading edge roots would have aided its ability to generate high alpha angles. Even with folding, it is harder to see how the large ventral fins would not necessitate a very tall stalky undercarriage.

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The sabre-shaped wings are particularly interesting – they feature similar wingtip curvature to the T-10, potentially causing issues at high transonic speeds and ruling out the use of tip-mounted missiles.

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The ten worst British military aircraft

 

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The Supermarine Swift was a deeply flawed fighter, but was saved from this list by its more successful career in reconnaissance.

If you want something done slowly, expensively and possibly very well, you go to the British. While Britain created the immortal Spitfire, Lancaster and Edgley Optica, it also created a wealth of dangerous, disgraceful and diabolical designs. These are just ten plucked from a shortlist of thirty.  In defining ‘worst’- we’ve looked for one, or a combination, of the following: design flaws, conceptual mistakes, being extremely dangerous, being unpleasant to fly, or obsolete at the point of service entry (and the type must have entered service). Grab a cup of tea, and prepare for ire as you read about ten machines they wanted your dad, grandad or great granddad to fly to war.

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10. Blackburn Beverley

‘The Beverly Hellbilly’
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A Beverley gives birth to a cub. Initially born with six wheels, the wings only develop after sexual maturity.

A mere year separates the service entry of the Beverley (1955) and the US’ C-130 Hercules (1956), yet sixty years later one of these is still the best tactical transport – serving with many air forces around the world- and the other only exists in the form of a single lonely museum piece standing in the cold in a village near Hull. There’s a reason for this.
 The Beverley had four Bristol Centaurus capable of generating a total of 11,400 horsepower pulling a fully loaded Beverley weighing 135,000 lb; the C-130A had a maximum weight of 124,200 lb and had 15,000 of turboprop horsepower to move it. The Centaurus also powered the abysmal Firebrand, pitiful Buckingham and the technically brilliant (but conceptually wrong-headed) Brabazon- and, for the sake of fairness, the Sea Fury. Lockheed threw vast resources at getting the Hercules right (so much so that Kelly Johnson thought the project would sink the whole company), whereas Blackburn used warmed-up World War II technology and a dawdling development time to produce an aircraft that was at best mediocre and which did its own small part in teaching the world that America was better at making aeroplanes.
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In defence of the Beverley it performed well in austere conditions and could be procured without spending foreign currency reserves. (Thanks to Jon Lake)

 

9. Supermarine Scimitar

‘Red Beard’s scabbard’
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Take an aircraft so dangerous that is statistically more likely than not to crash over a twelve year period- and arm it with a nuclear bomb. Prior to this, ensure one example crashes and kills its first Commanding Officer, infront of the press. There you have the Scimitar. Extremely maintenance heavy, an inferior fighter to the Sea Vixen and a worse bomber than the Buccanneer- the Scimitar was certainly not Joe Smith’s finest moment. It was the last FAA aircraft designed with an obsolete requirement to be able to make an unaccelerated carrier take-off, and as a result had to have a thicker and larger wing than would otherwise be required. Only once did a Scimitar ever make an unassisted take-off, with a very light fuel load and no stores, and then just to prove that it could be done

 

Read The 11 Worst X-Planes here

 

8. Panavia Tornado F.Mk 2
‘The Timcat’
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“Don’t worry sir, I hear the Flankers are not too agile with full tanks”

The Tornado interceptor was a very British development of an international aircraft. In the 1970s the British Aircraft Corporation pushed heavily for an interceptor variant of the Tornado (a ground attack aircraft). The government and partner nations were sceptical that this project would be the low-cost, low-risk, high-performance fighter promised, so BAC massaged the facts a little, deliberately understating what a huge undertaking it would be. Essentially they took a heavy airframe optimised for low-level flight, with engines optimised for low-level flight, with a radar optimised for attacking ground targets at low-level flight, and attempted to turn it into an interceptor intended to attack bombers at medium and high altitudes. To add to the fun, it was decided to develop an extremely ambitious new radar, despite Britain not having created an advanced fighter radar since the Lightning’s 50s technology AI23 (the Sea Harrier’s Blue Fox was a low-performance set derived from a helicopter system). Despite its ‘F’ designation, and the euphemistic ‘interim’ description, the F.Mk 2 did not have a functioning radar and lacked several other vital components for a modern fighter. The centre of gravity issues caused by the absent radar were solved with a large chunk of concrete ballast satirically dubbed the ‘Blue Circle radar’ after a cement brand (the nature of this ballast was probably apocryphal – see comments section)  . Despite the Tornado’s terrible high altitude performance and poor agility, huge amounts of money and time led to the F.Mk 3 – which eventually matured into a capable weapon system. Quite how many F-15Cs could have been bought for the cost of the Tornado Air Defence Variant programme is a question many RAF crews moaned to themselves as they struggled to refuel at altitudes higher than the Post Office Tower.

 

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7. Gloster Javelin
‘It’s not time for T’
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It takes a special kind of genius to make an aircraft with a delta wing and one of the highest thrust-to-weight ratios of its generation subsonic, but that’s what Gloster did. The Javelin entered service in 1956, the same year as the dreadful Convair F-102, but even the disappointing American fighter would have smashed the Javelin in a drag race. After a mere twelve years in service, the RAF dropped the type. Unsurprisingly no export orders were received for the ‘Tripe triangle’.

 

6. Blackburn Firebrand
‘Fleet evil’

Blackburn-B-37-Firebrand-3.jpgThe story of the Firebrand torpedo fighter is a rotten one. The specification for the type was issued in 1939, but it was not until the closing weeks of the war that it began to enter service. Despite a luxiuriously long development, it was an utter pig, with stability issues in all axes and a tendency to lethal stalls. There was a litany of restrictions to try and reduce the risks, including the banning of external tanks, but it still remained ineffective and dangerous to fly. Worse still, instead of trying to rectify the problems the FAA started a witch hunt of those pilots who dared to speak the truth about the abysmal Firebrand. Only two Firebrand squadrons formed, of which the flying complement was heavily, if not entirely made up of qualified flying instructors, suggesting only the most experienced pilots could be trusted with this unforgiving monster.

 

5. de Havilland Sea Vixen

‘Vixen vapour rub’

 

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The observer sat below and to the right of the pilot in what London estate agents would refer to as a spacious luxury living area; he sat in a cramped space in virtual darkness in a ‘coal hole’ notoriously difficult to escape from.

 

The Royal Navy’s Sea Vixen fighters were death traps. 145 Sea Vixens were built, of these 37.93%.were lost over the type’s twelve-year operational life. More than half of the incidents were fatal. The Sea Vixen entered service in 1959 (despite a first flight eight years earlier), two years later than the US Navy’s Vought F-8 Crusader. The F-8 was more than twice as fast as the Sea Vixen, despite having 3,000Ibs less thrust. The development of the Sea Vixen had been glacial. The specification was issued in 1947, initially for an aircraft to serve both the FAA and the RAF. The DH.110 prototype first flew in 1951, and one crashed at the Farnborough the following year. This slowed down the project, which was then put on hold as the DH and the RN focused on the alternative DH.116 ‘Super Venom’. Once the project became prioritised again, it was substantially redesigned to fully navalise it. Then when the Royal Navy gave a firm commitment, it requested a radar with a bigger scanner and several other time-consuming modifications. All of which meant it arrived way too late- its peer, the F-8 remained in frontline service until 2000, its other contemporary, the F-4, remains in service today- the Sea Vixen retired in 1972. Fifty-one Royal Navy aircrew were killed flying the Sea Vixen.

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4. Saro Lerwick
‘Fat boy swim’
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Despite possessing a decidedly cuddly aesthetic the Lerwick was a killer, difficult to handle in the air or on the water and a miserable combat aircraft. Recommended to be scrapped in 1939, the Lerwicks were pressed into service due to the lack of any alternative and of 21 built, 11 were lost, 10 in accidents and one simply disappeared. Its main problems were the old chestnuts of lack of power coupled with an inexplicable lack of stability. The Lerwick could not be flown hands-off, a serious flaw for a long range patrol aircraft nor could it maintain height on one engine. It was prone to porpoising on landing and take off and possessed a vicious stall. Added to this structural concerns (the floats regularly broke off) and a woefully unreliable hydraulic system and it is amazing that the diminishing number of Lerwicks managed to remain in use until the end of 1942.

 

3. Blackburn Botha
‘Botharation’
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Another great Blackburn design, the Botha was damned from a chronic lack of power. Its poor performance meant it was never to enter service in its primary role as a torpedo bomber. Had that been all it would have been nothing worse than an obscure mediocrity but Blackburn had cleverly made it extremely difficult to actually see out of the aircraft except dead ahead. This posed something of an issue for an aircraft now intended for reconnaissance and the Botha was supplanted by the Anson, which it had been supposed to replace. Passed to training units the Botha’s vicious handling traits conspired with its underpowered nature to produce a fantastic amount of accidents. Yet somehow it soldiered on until 1944 and a terrifying 580 were built.

 

2. Blackburn Roc
‘Death metal Roc’
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The Roc was a fairly innocuous flying machine, however as an example of the wrong concept applied to the wrong airframe to produce a useless combat aircraft it is hard to beat. The ‘turret fighter’ that was so inexplicably popular in Britain just before the war was most memorably realised in the Boulton Paul Defiant, an extremely well-designed machine (considering) that did surprisingly well given that it had to lug around a draggy, heavy turret to no good purpose. The Roc by contrast was lumbered with a massively over-engineered airframe – a legacy of its being derived from a dive bomber – had a less powerful engine and was over 100 mph slower. How an aircraft that could not attain 200mph was expected to survive, let alone fight, in 1940 is one of the enduring mysteries of the early war period, as is the fact that its only confirmed ‘kill’ was a Ju 88, one of the world’s fastest bombers.

 

1. Blackburn ‘Twin Blackburn’ or ‘TB’
‘The conjoined flip-flop’
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Apparently named after a disease, the TB was a bad aircraft that could not perform the one task it was designed for and thus set a precedent for many Blackburn designs to come. The Twin Blackburn nevertheless saw service for a year or so before it was finally put out of its misery and all nine examples were scrapped. Intended to destroy Zeppelins, the floatplane TB was supposed to climb above them and drop explosive Ranken darts on any insolent dirigibles foolish enough to approach its precious airspace. Unfortunately, the poor underpowered Twin Blackburn was unable to drag itself to airship operating altitude, even after its deadly cargo of explosive darts had been cut by two thirds. Furthermore the structure, which consisted of nothing more complicated than a couple of B.E.2 fuselages lashed together with a new set of wings and a vast amount of hope triumphing over experience, was not very rigid and the action of warping the wings flexed the poor TB so much it could end up turning in the opposite direction. The observer sat in one fuselage, the pilot in the other and communication was impossible except through waving, presumably to prevent either expressing to the other their true opinions of the designer of this radical machine. As if tumblr_inline_nj1wv8FNHO1t90ue7that were not enough, the wooden floats were mounted directly below the rotary engines. Rotaries drip out a lot of oil and as a result the TB’s floats would often catch fire. It would be nice to say that despite all this the TB inspired the fantastic Twin-Mustang but of course it didn’t.

 

 

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Thanks to all those whose offered opinions. Special thanks to David Donald, Jon Lake, Bill Sweetman, Sunho Beck, Actuarius and Matt Willis. Apologies to Jon Lake for including the Beverley.

Have a look at 10 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. 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 humourous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

The ten best-looking US Navy airplanes

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The US Navy has had such a dazzling selection of beautiful airplanes, that we must accept that there has to be omissions in this list. Despite this, we hope you enjoy our choice- the following ten are certainly all extremely handsome machines. 

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10. Grumman Panther

F9F attached to the USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA31) flies over task force 77 engaged in 3 carrier operations against North Korean targets.  The carriers are USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA31) USS ESSEX (CVA9) and the USS PRINCETON (CVA37). NARA FILE #:  80-G-480645

9. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 HornetWorld-Cockpit-Blue-Angels-F-18-Hornet-Fresh-New-Hd-Wallpaper

8. Vought F7U Cutlass

Tail Hook JM low rez7. F2D Banshee

A F2H-2 "Banshee" is serviced aboard the USS ESSEX (CV-9), for a strike on Communist targets in Korea, by crewmen of the 27,000 ton aircraft carrier.  A "Banshee" is hauled to the flightdeck of the carrier on the forward elevator. NARA FILE #:  80-G-432627

6. Vought F4U Corsair

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5. Wright XF3W Apache

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4. North American A-5 VigilanteDN-SC-04-09229 3. Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

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2. Grumman F-14 Tomcat

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1. Grumman F7F Tigercat fighter2ws_1680sx

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Note: This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Thank you.

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft,and10 worst British aircraft

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

OCTOBER 23, 2016

The secret life of aircraft

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Looking up at an aeroplane in the sky, have you ever wondered where it originally came from- and where it will end its life? We take a fascinating look at the secret life of aeroplanes. 

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  1. Conception

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As with most vehicles, aeroplane copulation involves the male mounting the female from above (or in some cases behind). When a male aeroplane is interested in mounting a female, he waggles his wings and activate his foglights. If the female is receptive, she will either extend her drogue, sometimes called a basket, or in the case of many inland aeroplanes species, the male will extend his boom. Once coupled, the aircraft will exchange vital liquids that contain the blueprint for a new aircraft. If fertilisation is successful, the female aircraft will gestate for between ten and twenty years.

2. Birth

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Birth traditionally took place at 25,000 feet, but modern birthing techniques can be as low as 500 or as high as 30,000 feet. The process takes place at great speeds to avoid Predators or other Unmanned Air Vehicles. Litters vary in size, this F-111 is giving birth to four young (young F-111s are known as piglets). Note that the young have yet to develop full-size wings.

3. Childhood

11390h.jpgAs can be seen in this photograph of a young Bell X-1, young aeroplanes seldom stray far from their protective mothers. Note that the mother has four visible engines, whereas the X-1 has none. Engines are developed during puberty. A young aircraft often has neither the software, weapons integration or spare parts to make it in the world by itself.

4. Adolescence 

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After sexual maturation aeroplanes are forced to leave their family nests. Badly tempered- and highly hormonal male aeroplanes often form gangs (as seen above).

5. Sexual orientation 

Though these terms are now highly contentious, traditionally three types of aeroplane sexual orientation were understood:

A. Monocoque

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A monocoque aircraft relationship involves at least one mailplane in a monogamous relationship.

B. Biplane

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Biplanes are more versatile than monocoque aircraft, but some (especially in the monocoque community) have expressed doubt on their existence.

C. Triplane

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Very popular in the hedonistic 1910s, especially in German aristocratic circles – today there are few self-designated ‘triplanes’. Triplanes were famous for their flamboyant ‘drag culture’ – later replaced by the Lift-to-Drag culture.

6. Finding a job

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Though originally it was considered enough that aeroplanes could fly -today they are forced to earn their keep. Some are employed by budget airlines to act as prisons for humans, the hapless detainees are not allowed to leave until they have bought a thirty Euro teddy bear and a four-Euro Coke. Other aircraft are forced to perform in circuses flying unnaturally low or to fight to the death for the entertainment of national leaders.

7. Middle Age

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During middle-age, aircraft become more emotionally maintenance heavy. Aware that they are half way through their service life many, like this German Tornado ECR, start to wear gaudy costumes in an attempt to recapture the ghost of their youth.

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8. Old Age 

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The average aeroplane lives to around 7,000 flight hours. By 6,500, the aeroplane will be suffering from embarrassing coolant leaks, a general feeling of fatigue and appalling unreliability. Belts, hoses and gaskets — and anything else that rubs against something else — will need frequent attention. On the positive side, most elderly aeroplanes are thoroughly loved by both humans and other ‘planes. Particularly charismatic geriatrics may even become stars, performing before millions of spectators.

9. Death 1461203297783321.jpg

One day an aeroplane will die. Its turbines or pistons will splutter and give up, and it will be hauled away, melted down and turned into sporks. Many aeroplanes, as Zoroastrians, request an open ground-level burial. A ‘tower of silence’ is built – where the bodies are left exposed so their aluminium can be picked from their bones by Vulture UAVs. 

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______________________

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Note: This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Thank you.

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft,and10 worst British aircraft

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

OCTOBER 13, 2016

Mirage 2000 pilot interview: Cutting it in the ‘Electric Cakeslice’

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After mastering the Lightning  and Tornado, the RAF’s Ian Black volunteered to fly France’s hottest fighter, the superb Mirage 2000. Black explains what is was like to fly the ultimate Mirage, and how it fared in dogfights against the most formidable fighters of the 1980s. 

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How did you end up flying Mirage 2000s?

“I’d flown Air Defence for around 12 years and converted from back to front seat. I’d reached a point in my career where i had to expand my horizons. I could go down the staff Officer route, apply to the Red Arrows, Test Pilot School or try for an exchange posting. I opted for the exchange option as i wanted to fly an aircraft the RAF didn’t have as well as the opportunity to learn a foreign language appealed – At the time the RAF had exchange postings for Air Defence pilots on the F-15C/ F-16/ F-18 F-4F and Mirage 2000 – I wanted the French Exchange because it was based in Provence and the Mirage is a unique airframe.”

Which variant?

“I flew the Mirage 2000C – RDI – at the time the FAF had the Mirage 2000C RDM ( pulse radar ) and the RDI Pulse doppler radar. They also operated the Mirage 2000D and 2000N – Eventually a Tornado GR1 pilot flew the Mirage 2000D, but the N’s Nuclear role meant no foreign pilots were allowed to operate it.”

“I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating”

What were your first impressions of the cockpit?

” Slightly disappointing at first – I’d come from the Tornado F3 which was painted grey – then blacked out for NVG work – and was very spacious and well laid out. The Mirage 2000 is more like a fighter from the 70s with a lot of analogue displays. The rear view was not as good as an F-16 and it was pretty cramped. On the plus side it was not overly complex.”

Is it easy to fly?

“Yes and no- It’s easy to fly once you get the hang of it but the delta wing takes a unique approach to flying – Its not like a conventional wing – It generates huge amounts of lift but also an enormous amount of drag – great for a ‘Bat Turn’ but you always end low on energy afterwards. Landing is pretty straightforward. The view is good. Air-to-air refuelling is easy. It has very well balanced controls and gives you great seat of the pants type senses – I’d almost say it was the perfect blend of old and new – great feedback to the pilot using its early fly-by-wire controls without feeling like a computer game.”

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What is the hardest thing about flying the Mirage 2000- any quirks?

“As mentioned, the delta wing could catch you out, it would give you 9G+ performance but at a penalty; flying in the circuit could be a challenge, turning finals required quite a lot of pulling on the stick -which loaded the wing up as the drag built. Once you rolled wings level it was imperative to take the power off or you would accelerate quickly.”

How does the acceleration and climb compare to a Lightning?

“The Lightning had two massive Rolls Royce Avon engines – The Mirage 2000 had one – but it was still pretty potent.”

Did you fly dissimilar air combat training (DACT) flights on the Mirage 2000? If so, against which types and what did you learn from each type?

 “An interesting question – I must have flown against the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, Tornado F3, F-8 Crusader and the F-104 Starfighter in combat. The older generation didn’t stand a chance, but the F-16 block 50 was very good. One of the drawbacks of the Mirage 2000 being unique was that as we did a lot of 1vs 1 and 2vs 2 Mirage vs Mirage combat – you developed tactics and handling skills to fight Mirage vs Mirage. This actually was counter productive as these tactics -and the way you handled the aircraft – didn’t cross over to fighting other types. I got beaten by an F-16 by fighting him like a Mirage and learnt a painful lesson.”

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“DACT was interesting in the M2000 – if your opponent was new to fighting a delta it could make his eyes water! At the merge the initial 9G+ turn was eye-watering, despite having a single engine it could still reach heights other fighters like the F-16 couldn’t. It also possessed, in my opinion, a far more sophisticated fly-by-wire system – it was in effect limitless. I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating ! As we hit Zero the aircraft began to slide backwards and the ‘burner blew out. My heart-rate increased. As the aircraft went beyond its design envelope, the nose simply flopped over pointing earthwards – with a few small turns the airspeed picked up. As I hit 200 knots I simply flew the aircraft back to straight and level. I admit that my opponent did shoot me down, but he did say it looked spectacular. This sort of carefree handling gave pilots huge confidence in the aircraft”

What was the most challenging fighter you faced while flying the Mirage?

“Probably the F-15C as AMRAAM was just coming into service which totally outclassed us – They had amazing SA and the way they operated was impressive.”

How would you rate the M2000 in the following:

 Instantaneous turn rates (at low/medium and high altitudes)

“Stunning – at all altitudes – with its big wing even at 50,000 feet using the leading edge slats it could still turn well.”

Sustained turn rates (at low/medium and high altitudes)

“Sustained turn was still good, especially at low level where you had sufficient energy to maintain speed.”

High Alpha

“The Mirage 2000 was legendary at its low speed high Alpha Passes -120 knots was pretty easy to fly.”

Weapon system

“As a weapons system the Mirage 2000 is a great ‘package’ with a good radar , onboard electronic countermeasures and radar warning receiver. It also packs a good array of weapons – with air-to-air refuelling its a formidable fighter. “

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Which three words best describe the M2000?

 “Vive La France !  It’s Sexy. It’s French – Dassault make fine aircraft and apart from the ejector seat it pretty much is 100%. Future-Proofed – The M2000 first flew in 1978 and it’s still in service in 2016 – despite its sleek frame it’s built like a tank and can pull 9G all day long.”

How would you compare the aircraft to an F-16?

“I’d say the F-16 has the edge – whilst the M2000 evolved from the RDM – RDi to RDY versions they were pretty small upgrades in terms of airframe performance – The latest Block F16s are a world apart from the original F-16As. Part of the Mirage 2000’s problem was the arrival of Rafale, which pretty much stopped any further development.”

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How does it compare to the other aircraft you have flown?

“The Mirage 2000 is a fourth generation fighter – and extremely capable in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles – as well as being highly manoeuvrable even when loaded up. The Tornado was extremely competent at the role of interceptor, but lacked the agility of Dassault’s masterpiece.”

What was your most notable flight on the Mirage 2000?

“When you fly a Mach 2.0+ 9 G fighter trust me they are pretty notable. A few stick out: night missions with air-to-air refuelling over Bosnia or live missions protecting High Value assets over Iraq were pretty noteworthy. Flying in another Air Forces aircraft is a real honour – the trust they have on you is humbling. “

Ian flew the Mirage from 1993-97. Even after flying the mighty Lightning, the Mirage 2000 remains Ian’s favourite aeroplane. 

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraft

 

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER 11, 2016

Revolution! Interview with USMC Osprey pilot

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The most radical, and controversial, aircraft in frontline service is the V-22 Osprey. Far faster and longer-ranged than a helicopter yet with the same ability to take-off and land vertically, the Osprey is unique. But its critics describe it as vulnerable, costly and dangerous. So what is the view of those who have taken the aircraft into combat? We spoke to Carleton Forsling who flew MV-22s for the United States Marines Corps to find out more.

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“From a commander’s perspective, the speed and range of the Osprey are complete game-changers. Fixed-wing aircraft have always travelled long distances at high speed, but they require airfields to operate. That has always implied a chicken-or-egg scenario–you can’t get troops in without an airfield, but you can’t take an airfield without troops. Before the Osprey, that meant fighting one’s way to get an airfield or other facilities close to the fight or using airborne troops, which have always been incapable of sustaining themselves. Helicopters are notoriously short-ranged and slow. They provided tactical mobility, not operational or strategic mobility. Today, an Osprey can deliver troops hundreds of miles at high speed. It completely changes that paradigm.

From a pilot’s perspective, that is still impressive. For example, when I flew CH-46E Sea Knights, usually called the “Battlephrog,” it took the better part of a week to move helicopters from North Carolina to California for an exercise. With the V-22, it was just a long day. I flew a CH-46E from a ship in the Arabian Sea to Afghanistan in 2001. It was a fairly harrowing trip – at the limits of the machine. When I delivered one of the first V-22s from a ship to Afghanistan in 2009, it was as uneventful as taking a commuter flight from Des Moines to Chicago.

Still, what I most enjoyed about the Osprey was the way it made many of the most demanding tasks in traditional helicopters easy. In a helicopter, especially an older helicopter like a CH-46E, instrument flight was practically an emergency procedure. It was something you avoided. The V-22 was such a good IFR platform we could fly formations through bad weather routinely. In the -46, landing in a brownout was tempting fate each and every time–you just set your deceleration and attitude as best you could and tried to time your landing. In a V-22, you have several options in automation–you can use the electronic display to hand-fly the aircraft to the deck, showing your drift all the way to the ground even if you can’t see it. You can also use it to set up in an automatically stabilized high hover, or HOGE, then let yourself down under computer stabilization. Your choice depends on the tactical situation. It makes the most demanding task in all of military aviation, the brownout landing, into a routine one.

 

I always expressed my frustration with the Osprey as something along the lines of “We bought a Lamborghini, but didn’t spring for the power locks or a decent stereo.” It was things that the engineers forgot, like making the latches on maintenance panels sturdy enough for the demands of a high-performance machine, or having a GPS not certified for IFR use, or an icing system not up to commercial standards. The big-ticket technology, like the tiltrotor part, worked great. It was the ancillary systems that drove me crazy sometimes.”

Myths

“The biggest myth is that it’s unsafe. I did many tours, airshows, and public-relations appearances with the aircraft. Some people acted as if I was a professional stuntman or something and asked if I felt like I was in danger flying it. Historically, the Osprey suffered greatly, reputation-wise, because senior leaders mishandled its introduction, both in engineering and in aircrew training. In its mature form, it is statistically one of the safest combat aircraft in military service. It has double and sometimes triple redundancy in most of its critical systems. In the event of an engine failure, it can fly all day in airplane mode. In many helicopters, the second engine just takes you to the scene of the crash. I had my share of emergencies in the V-22, just as I did in the Phrog (CH-46), but I was always confident in the airframe to do its job.”

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What were your first impressions of the Osprey?

“The first time I saw it was as a CH-46E pilot flying around MCAS New River. It was still in developmental test at the time, and it was something like seeing a pink elephant or something. It was cool-looking, but I never thought much of it. Then I heard about the much-publicized mishaps and disparaged it, just like some of my compatriots.

The programme stopped flying for a couple of years, but when it stood up, some of the lead pilots did a road-show to tell fleet pilots where the program was going. I was an instructor in HT-18, the helicopter training squadron. When I saw their presentation, I was impressed. When the message came out asking for applications to fly it, I jumped right on it.”

Is it reliable?

“I won’t lie and say it isn’t a bit finicky. I like to say it’s a Lamborghini, but perhaps it’s best likened to a Porsche Panamera. It ain’t a Honda Accord. It takes more to keep it going, but it gives a lot more too. It’s a much more avionics-intensive machine. In fact, one of the problems we encountered early on is that the squadrons were structured very much like an old helicopter squadron in terms of the numbers of airframes mechanics, power line (or “flight line” in Marine-speak) mechanics, and avionics technicians assigned. In reality, most problems with the Osprey came down to electronics, and gradually the Corps readjusted to that.”

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“It does have the complexities of both a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopters have a lot of hour-limited components, as does the Osprey. It does take a lot of work, I won’t lie about that. Many maintainers who switch to the Osprey aren’t pleased at first, but eventually most grow to love it, just like any other aircraft.

Another thing to remember is that the aircraft is incredibly self-aware. Whereas in a traditional aircraft, the first indication of a system degradation is an in-flight emergency, in the Osprey almost every parameter is recorded every flight. That means that problems are spotted before they affect the safety of flight and can be fixed before a system fails, not after. That’s a huge step up from legacy aircraft”

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Is it too fast to be used to its greatest potential with helicopters?

“That depends. It’s a mistake to treat it like a legacy aircraft, and during the fleet introduction, a lot of pilots were frustrated by senior leaders who treated it like just a slightly faster version of the CH-46. During exercises, we’d park the amphibious ships just a couple of miles from the beach, so that the V-22s barely had a chance to transition from helicopter, or “VTOL,” mode, before touching down in an LZ. If we employ it that way, then it is truly just an overly-expensive rotorcraft.

If we employ it they way it was designed, though, it can achieve things that no helicopter can. There are a variety of ways to achieve that synergy. If I had (several) billion dollars, I’d invest in high-speed escorts, perhaps even in heavily-armed V-22s to achieve that. In today’s world, though, there are still many ways to exploit the Osprey’s assets while still supporting troops in an LZ. That can come from using armed rotorcraft from FARPs (Forward Arming and Refueling Points). It can come from synchronizing V-22s with fixed-wing escorts. And it can be done by using V-22s to land where the enemy isn’t, because he can’t be anywhere, and the V-22 gives commanders the opportunity to “hit him where he ain’t.”

Have a look at 10 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. 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 humourous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

Is it particularly vulnerable to ground-fire?

“Like any rotorcraft, it’s not invulnerable. Movies sometimes give the impression that some helicopters can be rendered invulnerable to small-arms fire. Other than critical systems, it’s impossible to protect helicopters from holes being punched in them if they’re hit.

The biggest defense against battle damage is to avoid being hit in the first place. The Osprey is unique among assault aircraft in this regard. Enroute, it flies faster than helicopters, making it harder to hit. It also can fly either a low altitude or high altitude profile, depending on the MANPAD threat.

It is also far more maneuverable than traditional rotorcraft. Some people mistake being able to shake the controls around for maneuverability. Maneuverability means being able to move an aircraft’s velocity vector quickly in multiple axes. That’s something the Osprey can do better than any helicopter I’m familiar with. The Osprey can displace from a threat vertically and horizontally. In helicopters, the solution is just to fly lower, and there’s certainly a lower limit on altitude!”

 

150715-M-TT095-119.JPG“If it does get hit, the Osprey has multiple redundant systems. That’s true for its engines, hydraulics, and key electronics. Its fuel tanks are self-sealing and fill with inert nitrogen as they empty to prevent fires. The pilots’ control inputs are transmitted to the control surfaces by electrons, not rods and cables. The troop seats stroke to reduce the impact in the event of a crash. Those features are what truly help troops survive in combat.”

What is your most memorable flight on the aircraft, what is it like to fly?

“Most memorable? Well, there was this time when I flew though the wake of my lead aircraft while turning and descending on a base leg and it nearly flipped us over. We recovered at 47′. That phenomenon has to do with the strong rotorwash due to the high disk loading of the V-22, which leaves disturbed air behind a lead aircraft and the way the fly-by-wire system holds an attitude for the dash two. After this incident, the Marine Corps changed the parameters for where the dash two aircraft should be relative to the lead aircraft while descending in conversion (helicopter) mode. In my personal opinion, this wake interaction was what caused the Marana mishap, not the infamous “Vortex Ring State.

As far as what it’s like to fly, it’s like nothing else. It accelerates and decelerates incredibly quickly and is extremely maneuverable for a big aircraft at both high and low speeds. It’s also remarkably stable. Hovering is a breeze–to the point that fixed wing pilots transitioning to the V-22 ask what the big deal is when helicopter pilots talk about hovering. It’s also an amazing instrument platform.”

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What do you believe is the future for the V-22 and tilt-rotors in general?

“I think that tiltrotors have a very bright future. When I look at the information on the upcoming Bell V-280, it really looks as if they taken the lessons of the V-22 and taken it to the next level.”

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“As long the military has a need for crisis response, there will continue to be a need for tiltrotors.

The biggest challenge will be whether tiltrotors are accepted in commercial aviation. The operating cost will have to come down for it to become viable in EMS, petroleum, and executive transport. The military doesn’t have to turn a profit. Civilian operators do.”

Does it have a nickname?

“The Osprey hasn’t gotten a cool second nickname like some other aircraft, like the CH-46 SeaKnight, which became the ‘Phrog,’ or the CH-53, which became the ‘Shitter.’ Occasionally you’ll hear someone call it the ‘Plopter’, but it really hasn’t caught on, except as an occasional joke.”

Any advice to those working with the Osprey?

“Try to keep up. Seriously, though, my guidance for those planning to fly with the Osprey is to begin your mission planning with a clean sheet of paper. The Osprey isn’t a helicopter that flies fast. It’s an airplane that can land vertically.

The biggest mistake you can make is to treat it like just another rotorcraft. Whether that means you fly unescorted and use operational surprise, whether you coordinate a time-on-target CAS or artillery strike, use detached escort, etc…that’s all situationally dependent.  The flexibility of the Osprey is one of its biggest assets, but it’s also a challenge for planners who’ve worked under the same paradigm for a long time.”

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What equipment would you like to see fitted to the MV-22?

“I’m not even as creative as the Bell-Boeing developers right now. Anything that could be installed on a light cargo aircraft can be put on an Osprey. Of course, the vertical landing capability means that those capabilities can be brought to environments that didn’t have them before, e.g. off amphibious ships and out of remote forward operating bases.

I think the MV-22 is capable of doing many of the tasks the Air Force AC-130 and the Marine Corps Harvest Hawk KC-130 aircraft are doing. It is definitely capable of providing close air support and other fires, especially in a low-threat environment.

Additionally, it’s supremely well-suited for other utility missions, e.g. command and control, surveillance, electronic warfare, and aerial refueling. The sky is the limit. It could be a drone mothership, an AWACs or E-2 type battle manager, whatever you want.

The big issue is not the technical feasibility of these, but investing in the resources to train pilots and aircrew in not just their primary assault support missions, but also the additional missions the Osprey is capable of.”

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How did the MV-22 do in Afghanistan- what were the biggest challenges and most notable missions?

“The V-22 built on the lessons learned in Iraq when it went to Afghanistan. It became more of a mainstay of Marine Corps assault support in Afghanistan, vice just a sideshow.

To be honest, neither conflict  was one at which the Osprey was really going to demonstrate decisive advantages over helicopters. When there’s already a network of forward operating bases and the distances involved are relatively short, the Osprey’s advantage over traditional rotorcraft is reduced when compared to an amphibious assault or long-range crisis response scenario.

However as the war in Afghanistan wound down, the Osprey became a great platform for casualty evacuation. As the Marine Corps started to shut down FOBs, and the distances to medical facilities became greater, the “golden hour” could still be maintained. Helicopters couldn’t do that.”

Carl is the Senior Columnist for Task and Purpose

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More about Carleton Forsling:
USMC major (retired), now flight officer (EC-120 pilot) with Baltimore Police Department, Served in several billets, including Executive Officer of VMMT-204 (joint V-22 training squadron), Executive Officer of Border Advisor Team 2/6 (working with Afghan Border Police), Maintenance Officer of VMM-165 (fleet Osprey squadron), flight school instructor pilot in TH-57s, NATOPS evaluator (check pilot) in CH-46E and MV-22B, several others
Aircraft: T-34C, TH-57B/C, CH-46E, MV-22B, EC-120
Major operations: Kosovo/Albania 1999 flying the CH-46E (Allied Force, Joint Guardian, Noble Anvil, Avid Response)
Afghanistan 2001 in CH-46E, delivered first MV-22Bs to country in 2009. Served as advisor with Afghan Police in 2012-2013.

 

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and10 worst British aircraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER 6, 2016

A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters

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 Keith Shiban flew the B-52 in the nuclear deterrent role, and in combat missions over Iraq. We asked for his assessment of a bomber pilot’s nightmare, the latest generation of fighter aircraft. His conclusion? He’s glad he’s retired! Over to Keith: 

“As an old bomber guy, I write about fighter planes the same way I would about grizzly bears, biker gangs, and mafia hit-men. I’m no expert on any of them. I just know I wouldn’t want one coming after me. So here is one aviation geek’s look at what’s out there today and what’s coming in the near future.”

Fifth Generation

“What sets these apart is that they all use some degree of “low observable” technology to enhance survivability. Other features include advanced engines with vectored thrust, the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without afterburner, advanced radars that are hard to detect and advanced sensors and electronics to improve the pilot’s situational awareness. By this criteria, the only operational 5th Generation fighter is the F-22 Raptor.”

F-22 Raptor

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“This thing’s been in service for 11 years now? Damn, I’m getting old.

I’ll admit I was at first a bit skeptical of the F-22. Having talked to people that worked on the programme as well as people who have actually flown it has brought me around. Apparently it really is as good as they say it is.

I am told that four F-22s, if they are fully data-linked, can take on as many F-15s as you care to throw at them until they simply run out of missiles and go home. Yeah, it’s that good. It will see you long before you see it and your first indication that it’s in the neighborhood might be an AMRAAM missile in your face. Nasty.

F-22 tactics seem to involve flying at high speed at high altitude, which adds a lot of extra oomph to its missiles when they’re launched. The technical term is “kinematic advantage”. Think of it as giving the missile a big head-start on its way to the target. For example, the AMRAAM missile gets about a 40% range bonus when launched in this manner.

Ironically, this is how we thought air combat would be back in the 50s and 60s with supersonic jets firing radar-guided missiles from beyond visual range. It just took technology a while to catch up. Mind you the F-22 can still dogfight, but I would venture that if a Raptor finds itself in a visual dogfight something has gone very wrong.”

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“The only drawbacks that I know of are that the F-22 is expensive to operate and it is limited by how many missiles it can carry internally. To correct the second issue, there is talk of having other platforms carry missiles that the F-22 could target and launch remotely. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Today everything is data linked together and newer missiles can be fired first and then locked on to a target.”

Other weaknesses of the Raptor include: a poor range for its weight, absence of a helmet-cueing system and the use of rare and obsolete electronic components. Though cutting edge at the time, the man-machine is inferior to the F-35 and the Gripen E/F.

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Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA

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Gone are the days when Russia cranked out relatively cheap fighters like the MiG-21 in huge numbers. Today the T-50 is every  bit as complex and expensive as its Western counterparts.

So expensive, in fact, that Russia is jointly developing it with India to defray some of the costs. This is similar to how Western fighters like the Typhoon have been developed.

The T-50 has some cool features. The engines will have vectored nozzles, similar to the F-22, but which can move in both axis. This will let them use vectored thrust for yaw and roll, unlike the on the F-22 which can only affect pitch axis.

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On paper the T-50/PAK FA looks impressive but it’s still not an F-22. It has a radar cross section several orders of magnitude larger than the F-22. It’s stealthier than a 4th Generation fighter, but calling it a true 5th Generation fighter might be a stretch.

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The engines, always a problem in fighter development, are apparently giving them some difficulty. The T-50 will initially fly with a variation of the Su-35’s engine, which is itself a derivative of the Su-27’s engine that has been around for a long time.

The Russian economy being what it is these days, they now plan on only building an even dozen of these between now and 2020. That’s way down from the initial plan of 52.

In summary, it’s a very expensive aircraft that may not live up to expectations. Where have I heard that before? Still, the fact that they’re even building something like this shows just how far they’ve come.

Chengdu J-20

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“Gone are the days when China could only build copies of Soviet designs. They’re now building some pretty cutting-edge stuff of their own. The J-20 is one of them and could be operational around 2018.

The J-20 “Black Eagle” is a bit of an enigma. We’re not exactly sure what its intended role is. Or if we do we’re not saying. China certainly isn’t.

It’s big, stealthy and appears to have been built with range and payload in mind. That leads some to think that it’s primarily a long-range strike aircraft. However, it also appears to be built for maneuverability due to the canards and vectored nozzles. So perhaps it’s more of a heavy air-superiority fighter.  Or maybe it’s both.

The big question seems to be, will the Chinese be able to develop a suitable engine for it? Currently it is powered by the WS-10 engine, derived from the commercial CFM-56. The production model is supposed to get the much more powerful WS-15 engine, assuming they get it working. In order to compete as an air-superiority fighter it will need the more powerful engine.

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I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the “Black Eagle” (cool name) probably won’t be a match for the F-22, but would definitely be a threat to US and allied fourth generation fighters in the Pacific Rim.

Its combination of range, speed and stealth would also make it a major threat to high value assets like tankers and AWACS. Without tankers, short-ranged fighters like the F-22 and F-35 would have a tough time operating over the vast distances of the Pacific.

Lockheed F-35 Lightning II

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The F-35, depending on who you ask, is either the latest and greatest in fighter technology or an overweight, over cost, poorly performing testament to a bloated defence industry. If you’re looking for the definitive answer I’m afraid I don’t have it. One thing that everyone can agree on is that it’s expensive, behind schedule and very controversial.

I can safely say that it’s trying to do an awful lot with one aircraft. The F-35 will be built in three flavours to replace the Air Force F-16 and A-10, the Navy’s F/A-18 and the Marine’s AV-8B Harrier. That’s a pretty tall order.

Why are we doing this? The main reason is that air defences are getting to be really good. So good, that anything without stealth may be tactically obsolete in a few years, at least in a high-intensity conflict.

I would say that the most important feature of the F-35 is the electronics. Sensor integration on the F-35 is said to be even more advanced than the F-22.

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F-35 detractors say it’s too expensive, too slow and can’t beat a ‘legacy’ fighter in a visual dogfight. An F-35 proponent would say that if an F-35 ever finds itself in a dogfight something has gone horribly wrong.

Keep in mind that the F-35 is not meant to be an air superiority fighter. It’s a multi-role aircraft. Perhaps a better description would be a strike aircraft that can protect itself if need be.

I can remember being told back in the 1980s that the F-15 and F-16 ‘wouldn’t work’ because they were too expensive and too complicated. That obviously hasn’t been the case. I think the same may someday be said of the F-35, but only time will tell.”

 Generation 4.5

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“Sometimes these are described as Generation 4.5 or ‘Fourth Generation Plus’ aircraft. That means they have most of the cool features of the Fifth Generation aircraft minus the stealth.

Depending on your point of view, that makes these either a more cost effective choice than the expensive stealth aircraft or they’ll just have really great situational awareness of the thing that kills them.

Dassault Rafale

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“I admit I’m a bit of a Francophile, so that’s reason enough for me to like the Rafale. Plus it’s also a good looking jet and that’s got to count for something.

The Rafale came to be when the French pulled out of the Eurofighter programme and decided to go their own way. That sounds very French.

The Rafale frequently gets compared to the Eurofighter Typhoon, especially since both are heavily competing for export sales. Which one is better? I guess that’s kind of like asking which is the best car. It depends on what you want it to do.

From what I can gather, the Rafale is better than the Typhoon at the air-to-ground mission. It reportedly has a very good ECM package that lets it operate in places that might otherwise require stealth or a SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) package.

Conversely the Typhoon is reportedly better in the air-to-air role due to its superior radar (editor notes: probably not true of AESA-equipped Rafales) and data-link capabilities. The Typhoon currently has better air-to-air missiles, but the French will soon equip the Rafale with the same missile (MBDA Meteor). For now the Rafale has to get by with the relatively short-ranged MICA.”

Eurofighter Typhoon

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“The Typhoon is a joint venture between the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. This shows just how expensive modern jet fighters are. It would have been prohibitively expensive for any one European country to develop this aircraft on their own.

I don’t think the Typhoon is a pretty as the Rafale but it has a very futuristic look to it. Something about those squared off intakes and the downward canted canards.

I’m surprised that Germany bought off on the name ‘Typhoon’, since that was a British WWII fighter.(Ed: They haven’t really for just that reason, in Luftwaffe service it’s known as the Eurofighter). 

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Obviously I haven’t flown one of these, however if anyone wants to give me a ride in one I’m available. I’ll try not to throw up in it, honest.

The Typhoon’s list of features reads like an F-22 minus the stealth. Supercruise capability, extremely maneuverable, advanced radar (it is effective even though it is mechanically scanning) and sensors, advanced data-link. It even has voice recognition, like my phone, except I don’t use it because I’m old. Other than being expensive (and what isn’t these days) it sounds very impressive.

Certainly a number of countries have decided to purchase these. If you’re into the whole Anglo-French rivalry that’s been going on since the beginning of time, the Typhoon is outselling the Rafale by a sizeable margin.

Sukhoi Su-35 

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“It used to be that Russia built cheap, relatively unsophisticated fighters in large numbers. ‘Quantity has its own quality’ as the saying goes.

Today they are building very advanced (and expensive) aircraft that are close in capability to their Western counterparts.

The Su-35 is the latest variation on the tried and proven Su-27 Flanker. When the Russians build something that works they like to stick with it. Performance wise it stacks up very well against aircraft like the Typhoon and Rafale. Its avionics, while an improvement over older Russian aircraft, probably aren’t a match for the latest Western systems.

“The Su-35 makes me makes me glad I retired.”

While it boasts exceptional maneuverability, especially at low speeds, what really impresses me about the Su-35 is the number of missiles it carries. With a load of up to 12 (count ‘em) air to air missiles of various types, it can present a serious threat.

One probable Su-35 tactic would be to send a salvo of missiles at you with different seeker heads. Light your afterburners to manoeuvre against the radar-guided missile? Guess what, there’s a heat-seeker right there with it. Turn on a jammer? Here comes the anti-radiation missile to home in your signal. Makes me glad I retired.

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The other drawback to the Su-35 is that Russian aircraft really aren’t as reliable as you think they are. That at least has been the experience of the Indian Air Force, which operates both Russian and Western aircraft.”

Saab JAS-39 Gripen

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“Sweden may be officially neutral, but don’t confuse that with weakness. It’s more the ‘poke your nose in here and we’ll bite it off’ kind of neutrality. As such they’ve always maintained a very capable air force.

Saab has built some impressive fighters over the years and the Gripen is certainly impressive. Think of it as the “poor man’s Typhoon”. It can do most of what the Typhoon or Rafale can do for about half the cost. It’s cheaper to operate than even the ‘low-cost’ F-16.

It also has the advantage of being able to operate from roads and austere airfields.

In a ‘bang for the buck’ competition the Gripen seems to be the clear winner. Would you rather have three Gripens or a single Typhoon or Rafale?”

Chengdu J-10

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The ‘Vigorous Dragon’ (sounds like a superhero) is China’s first home-grown fourth generation fighter.

Just how home-grown it is depends on who you ask. Some claim it has its roots in the Israeli Lavi and US F-16. The Chinese claim it grew out of their own cancelled J-9 project. Who knows? It does look a bit like the Lavi, but different countries often reach the same conclusion on their own. It’s not like we’re the only smart people in the world.

It’s hard to guess just how capable the J-10 is since the Chinese are pretty secretive about their systems. On paper it seems to be in roughly the same class as an F-16C.”

The Legacy Fighters

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“The F-15/16/18 and A-10 have been around a long time, yet continuous upgrades have kept them relevant. It’s amazing just how good the F-15 has been for such a long time. We’re talking about a plane that first flew in 1972!

The question is, can these aircraft be kept relevant against the threats we’re likely to face? It all comes down to what you think we’ll be doing in the next ten years or so.

The stated case for the F-22 and F-35 is that something like an F-16, as good as it is, just won’t be able to operate in a future high-intensity conflict. Even if it was fully upgraded with the latest electronics, the argument goes, the lack of stealth would still render it vulnerable to modern air defences.

The opposing case would be: we’re not fighting a high-intensity conflict today, we’re bombing terrorists in the Middle East. An F-16 or an A-10 is almost overkill for that scenario.

Even in a future conflict the legacy fighters might be able to operate behind a “wall” of Fifth Generation aircraft. Once the defenses are neutralized an F-16 or F/A-18 is still a perfectly good strike aircraft.”

Summary

“These comparisons tend to leave out one very important factor. It’s not just a battle between Fighter A and Fighter B, it’s a fight between two forces. You might read that Fighter A once beat Fighter B in some exercise but that doesn’t tell the whole tale.

Who has the better training? Who has the better tactics? How many hours a month do their pilots get to train? Who has the better Command-Control and Intelligence? What about AWACS and tanker support? Who has the better logistics? The best jet in the world won’t do much without spare parts to keep it flying. None of that is as sexy as dogfighting but it’s very important.”

Creating Hush-Kit takes time and resources, if you would like to help us continue please hit the donate button on this page (we are unfortunately well behind on our fundraising efforts). 

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy 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 of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

SEPTEMBER 20, 2016

10 most insane aircraft

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As can be witnessed in popular political movements, insanity is very ‘hot’ this season. Stephen Caulfield from Suburban Poverty decided to leap on the bandwagon with this collection of 11 deplorables. Such was the quality of the entrants, even the remotely controlled stuffed cat pictured failed to make the grade.

10. Piaggio P.7

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This is not a picture of a crashed aircraft waiting for a hoist out of Lake Como. The P.7 is seen here in pre-take-off position. The waterproof fuselage would lift up on hydroplanes as it moved forward. Pilots refused to fly it – the man who did try couldn’t get it to fly. Some things don’t really need to be explained.

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9. Fu-Go/Outward
Fu-Go balloons & Operation Outward

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Women and schoolchildren built a large number of incendiary-carrying balloons entrusted by the Japanese army to the jet streams over the Pacific Ocean for delivery to North America. Such are the schemes of a dying empire. Over 9,000 were released, and they did kill people picnicking in Oregon. Fu-Gos were made from less strategic materials, including layers of mulberry-based paper squares secured with an edible glue (this programme was hampered by war-deprived workers stealing and eating said glue). This programme’s sheer insanity has brought it a certain legendary status. No, the Fu-Go bombs did not enter the dishonour roll of insane aircraft because they succeeded in burning down the forests of North America. They arrived as far away from Japan as Saskatchewan and Mexico, making them the first ever intercontinental strategic instrument of air power. They are insane in their own right.

 

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Did you know that Britain mounted a far greater balloon campaign against Germany during the middle of World War II? No, you didn’t. It was ten times bigger, and a lot more effective, but also insane. Both programmes offer proof that science is no guarantee against insanity.

The Royal Canadian Navy had to go out and blow up the last one of these things in 2014. 

 

 

8. Chyeranovskii BICh-21

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Here is an entry from that Fordist font of high function, the Soviet Union. Life is hard, da. Hence the expression ‘life’s a bitch’ (note from Editor: Jesus, I hoped you were going to avoid that pun). With any luck, and maybe a residential treatment programme, it might turn out to be a BICh-21 tailless racer from the 1930s. Being easy on the eyes and being insane don’t necessarily exclude one another. For further evidence of this phenomenon, enrol in a free online dating service immediately.

 7. Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg

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Among the sorrowful artefacts and moments of the Third Reich, the manned version of the FZG-76/V-1 barely registers. It was really just another ersatz outburst (note: were Ersatz Outburst a Prog Rock band?) on the fanatical road to ruin, rubble and regret. That is to say, it was insane. Shades of the modern Middle East here – suicide as a tactical approach to lavishly equipped and larger opponents with all the advantages. Contemporary accounts rehashed for the digital era claim “it flew fairly well”. There was an apparently mirthless notion that the pilot would aim his Reichenburg and bail out. But isn’t the round thing above the cockpit a pulse jet intake? Never used in action, but WTF?

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6. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II ‘Joint Sunk-cost Fallacy’

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Take a little bit from each of these entries and add eighty zillion lines of computer code. Seriously, it’s getting a little late in the day for the human race to be concentrating so much on high-tech weapons. Even if this flying laptop has a belly full of super secret weapons, that doesn’t mean it isn’t insane. Though in the last couple of years the general mood of the press has become more supportive of the F-35, the following quote from the US GAO should be considered: “DOD plans to begin increasing production and expects to spend more than $14 billion annually for nearly a decade on procurement of F-35 aircraft.”

There are two ways you can look at the F-35: if you believe high-intensity war against an advanced enemy is a possibility, you may want to consider the fact that the Lightning II was conceived to be supported in war by large numbers of high-end F-22s to protect them from enemy fighters – but the Raptors weren’t ordered in large numbers. Or if you believe that low-intensity war against irregular forces in poor countries is the more likely, you may wish to question the use of aircraft of this level of expense and sophistication. And although programme supporters have been citing the sunk cost fallacy forever, there are at least three more questions you should ask:

1. Could the high levels of situational awareness and connectivity (neither of which the F-35 currently has, reliably) be retrofitted to older platforms?

2. How long have potential adversaries had to think about countering aircraft with reduced conspicuousness in the x-bandwidth?

3. Which threats could not be handled adequately by non-stealthy aircraft with stand-off munitions?

And we’re not being all loony-tunes Russia Today in asking these questions – there is certainly more than one high-ranking member of the US Navy that has come up with answers that would discomfort Lockheed Martin.

More cynical observers might note that nobody can afford, or needs, large numbers of stealthy tactical aircraft.

5. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ‘Dr Strangehate’

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No plane spotter or other type of aero enthusiast should ever be totally comfortable with their interest. There needs to be a little psychological ‘something’ present to remind them that expressions of military might are rooted in corporate power and abuse – and are a disaster for the human race. What can we label that little something? Label it insanity. Take a wild guess how many people this eight-engine monster has killed or hurt in the last 60 or so years. B-52s have killed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Afghanistan. Over twelve days during the Vietnam War, B-52s dropped 15,237 tons of bombs.

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In 1961 a B-52 broke up in mid-air over North Carolina. The aircraft was carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, information declassified in 2013 revealed that one of the bombs came very close to detonating.

The list of accidents involving B-52s carrying nuclear weapons is also extremely scary. In 1961, a B-52 accidentally dropped a 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bomb on North Carolina! According to a bomb disposal expert who took part in the Goldsboro incident- “We came damn close to having a Bay of North Carolina”. The destruction would have been greater than that of every explosive ever detonated in history combined and would have killed everyone in a 14 mile radius – with many more being killed by radiation and secondary fires. Fortunately the weapon did not explode. Nuclear warfare remains the most insane idea of all time. The concept of nuclear deterrence is equally whacko, and rests on the premise that a leader who deems genocide acceptable can be deterred by the threat of genocide. Thanks to the nuclear deterrent, the Cold War was a period of peace, completely free of proxy wars.

At this very moment the B-52 remains an instrument of nuclear annihilation by accident and intention, and for perpetual police actions. Insanity is nothing if not durable and easily scaled up.

4. Heinkel He-177 Greif

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One risk with a list like this is a tendency to drift towards late Third Reich prototypes like the Natter and its ilk. Nonetheless, from this set of German wings, we just cannot look away. You see, when engineers and other technical adepts are yes-men locked in a military-industrial complex throwing big money at ill-advised, immoral aggressions, you better go to the basement and stay there.

 

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What a waste. A silly collection of specifications (including the expectation of an ability to dive bomb with over twenty-five tons of aircraft) resulted in major structural failures and fire-prone powerplants. The Greif typifies a couple of hundred completely whacked wartime crash programmes, and illustrates exactly why they are called that to this day. The Greif killed a huge chunk of the Luftwaffe’s test pilot cadre, probably some of the era’s best pilots. Also, it never really looked right from any angle. Insanity is a matter of perspective.

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3. Piasecki PA-97 Helistat

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Kiss your loved ones before you leave the house tomorrow morning. If they ask why you are crying, mumble ‘Helistat’ before turning your back on them for the last time. The Helistat concept was to combine the lifting abilities of four helicopters with a giant sausage (in fact a 1950s naval airship) full of helium to allow the transport of massively heavy payloads. Test flights were made from the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, using the ancient airship hangars. At 343 feet (104.54 metres) long, it was the largest aircraft in the world when it first flew in 1986.

On 1 July 1986, a gust of wind rocked the test aircraft, causing it to move across the ground. This in turn caused the undercarriage to shimmy uncontrollably, which led to ground resonance (an unwanted phenomenon whereby the helicopter rotors oscillate in phase with the frequency of the helicopter shaking on its undercarriage – Wiki rather neatly compares this to when clothes get stuck in one part of a washing machine during the spinning cycle). This shook one of the helicopters off its mounting, whereupon its rotors slashed the gasbag, causing the remaining three helicopters to break free. One pilot was killed, and the project was scrapped. Today, Piasecki is interested in returning to the concept with an even bigger helistat.

See the ten coolest cancelled helicopters here

2 . Fly-powered art aircraft ‘Wasp Factory-build’

Sometimes life finds us riding a bus at night, crying and laughing simultaneously. Other times, we stay in and build powered model aeroplanes. Animals are put on this Earth for our entertainment, apparently. You can see the aircraft here.

At least no death is involved here, unless you count the flies.

1 – Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka ‘cherry blossom’

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A ‘manned bomb’ with three solid fuel rockets, and yet so much more. Let the term ‘manned-bomb’ term sink in a little, maybe even say it out loud to yourself if there’s no-one else in the room. The ‘cherry blossom’ looks a bit like a spritely orange prop reject from a Star Wars movie. Cute, yes – but thoroughly insane. These desperate things actually entered service and rearranged several United States Navy vessels (there was over a ton of explosives inside each one). It flies straight into its target.

It’s hard to know the exact calculus involved in determining the difference between a heroic dangerous assignment in war and an inhuman act of forced martyrdom – however you do the maths, being an Ohka pilot was a shitty posting.

Stephen Caulfield cleans limousines around the corner from what was once the Avro Canada plant.  He appreciates writing, art, aeroplanes and the tragic nature of modernity in pretty much equal parts these days. His contributions to Hushkit.net have included the very tasteless The top popstar-killing aircraft manufacturer of all time, the bizarre Top ten most-whacked undercarriage, the widely discredited Bermuda Triangle  and this lovely ode to the C.102 jetliner. 

Keep this blog alive!

To keep this blog going – allowing us to create new articles – we need donations. We’re trying to do something different with Hush-Kit: give aviation fans something that’s entertaining, surprising and well informed in equal parts. Please do help us and click on the donate button above – you can really make a difference (suggested donation £10).

You will keep us impartial and without advertisers – and allow us to carry on being naughty. A big thank you to all our readers.

 

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

nuclear_mishap-_marker_in_eureka_nc

SEPTEMBER 19, 2016

Generation Xbox may kill you: Why you SHOULD be afraid of flying

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Do commercial pilots know what they’re doing? Flight Safety expert Philip Chandler believes many airline pilots have lost basic skills that save lives in emergencies.

“In the final few days of 2014 an A320 of Air Asia flew into the Java Sea killing all 162 on board.  What had been a perfectly airworthy jet with a minor system fault had fallen in a stalled condition from 28,000 feet with the Captain pushing the stick forward to regain airspeed and the Co-Pilot pulling back; the aircraft’s flight control system had detected conflicting signals, and taken the democratic decision to let them cancel each other out- the result was none of the aircraft’s control surfaces (the flaps and assorted moving parts that steer the aircraft) moved.  If this seems familiar, it’s because only five and a half years earlier Air France 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris had plummeted in to the Atlantic with the same confusion in the cockpit.  Although both accidents had their roots in minor technical faults, the aircraft flew into the seas as a result of crews’ dependence on automation – and ignorance of what to do if things go wrong. The crew failed to carry out correct actions that even the private pilot of a light aircraft would be expected to get right.

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As isolated incidents these two events would be bad enough, however Loss Of Control Inflight (known as LOC-I ) is now the leading cause of fatalities on modern airliners. Since 2006 43% of fatal incidents on airliners have been due to the inability of the aircrew to operate the aircraft.  Nor is it an Airbus issue, Asiana managed to bounce a 777 along San Francisco airport after the crew, including a training captain, failed to understand the autopilot logic and stalled on short finals.  Three of the 307 aboard were killed, two of whom were notably not wearing their seat-belts and were flung clear of the wreckage suffering blunt force trauma, possibly from being run over by a fire tender.

Nor does it only affect fixed wing aircraft, in August 2013 a Super Puma of the CHC Helicopter Corporationcrashed just short of Sumburgh Airport after entering a vortex ring state, where the aircraft is trapped in a column of descending air of its own making.  In that case the crew had again failed to fully understand the workings of the automatic pilot and had allowed the aircraft to get too slow with too little power available to maintain height.  This of course being only one of many possible ways to suffer a fatal accident in a Super Puma the numerous technical failings the type has suffered in the last decade being worthy of an article on their own.  Hint hint (OK Philip, go for it. Ed)

Although accidents can happen at any stage of the flight only around 24% of fatal accidents occur while an aircraft is cruising, the time to really worry is during the final approach and landing.  During this phase of the flight 49% of fatal accidents take place, accounting for 47% of the 3191 deaths that have occurred since 2006. Just to prove that you can’t relax once the aircraft is on the ground 20% of deaths occur because the aircraft runs off the runway, lands abnormally or the pilots just miss the big ass piece of tarmac they’re supposed to land on.  As recently as 5 August 2016, a Boeing 737-400 of ASL Airlines failed to stop on Bergamo’s 9209 foot runway and instead ended up straddling a dual carriageway another 900 feet further on.  Fortunately it was a freighter operating for DHL so there were no passengers to worry about and both crew survived (the aircraft on the other hand may need a bit of a polish before re-entering service).  Slightly further back in April 2013, a Lion Air 737 landed in the water 0.6 nautical miles short of the seawall that protects the runway threshold.  In that case the crew continued to descend below the minimum safe altitude despite not being in sight of the runway.  When they finally made the decision to go around they were far too low and only the shallowness of the water prevented any fatalities.

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Is too much automation to blame?  Probably not, aircraft accident rates in commercial aviation have been decreasing as automation has allowed aircraft to be operated more efficiently than ever before.  However, this has removed the onus on aircrew to maintain core flying skills with the so called ‘Children of the Magenta’ blithely following the lines presented to them on the in cockpit displays and successfully completing hundreds of flights.  But when something does go wrong many lack the basic skills required to fly the aircraft and make the wrong decision when faced with the unexpected.  The miracle on the Hudson and the successful end to QF32, an A380 that suffered an uncontained engine failure, were in no small part due to the training and experience the crews had that allowed them to Aviate, Navigate and Communicate when things started to go wrong. Unfortunately, although many fine websites exist that allow you to determine the best seat to choose for any flight, the author has yet to find one that gives you a detailed breakdown of the flight decks experience levels.

Current trends since 1999 indicate that on average there are 4.14 hull loss accidents per million departures, leading to 32 fatalities per million departures.  With nearly 38 million scheduled flights per year that’s a decent line in revenue for Boeing and Airbus in replacing lost aircraft.  With an annual average of 1233 deaths in commercial accidents it is however fair to say that no matter how terrifying the flight may seem, you’re significantly more likely to die on the drive to the airport than on the actual flight.  In the UK alone there are an average of 2500 road traffic deaths a year.  So maybe catch the train to the airport next time.”

Since working in Flight Safety, Philip Chandler regularly Googles airline safety records before booking flights.

Keep this blog alive!

To keep this blog going- allowing us to create new articles- we need donations. We’re trying to do something different with Hush-Kit: give aviation fans something that is both entertaining, surprising and well-informed. Please do help us and click on the donate button above – you can really make a difference (suggested donation £10). You will keep us impartial and without advertisers – and allow us to carry on being naughty. A big thank you to all of our readers.

 

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

Air Asia Accident Report

Sources:

http://www.aaiu.ie/sites/default/files/FRA/KNKT%20Indonesia%20Final%20Report%20PK-AXC%20Airbus%20A320-216%20Air%20Asia%20PT%20Indonesia%202015-12-01.pdf

Air France Accident Report

https://www.bea.aero/docspa/2009/f-cp090601.en/pdf/f-cp090601.en.pdf

Asiana Accident Summary

http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2014_Asiana_BMG-Abstract.aspx

CHC Accident Report

https://www.gov.uk/aaib-reports/aircraft-accident-report-aar-1-2016-g-wnsb-23-august-2013

ASL Accident Details

http://avherald.com/h?article=49c27d0c

Lion Air Accident Report

http://asndata.aviation-safety.net/reports/Indonesia/20130413-0_B738_PK-LKS.pdf

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not Hushkit.net

SEPTEMBER 13, 2016

Shocking revelation in Indian Rafale fighter jet deal

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NEW DELHI:  Long rumoured to be imminent, the Indian Air Force’s attempt to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from French aerospace giant Dassault has been rocked by a revelatory press conference held this morning in New Delhi.

According to a Government  spokesperson, “The contract and the inter-governmental agreement have dragged on for so long – and have been quoted as imminent as so long- that we started to suspect foul play. An investigation revealed that negotiations were partly led by a company known as Vasdu Holdings.” Investigation of this shadowy firm’s involvement in the Rs 55,000 crore (7.3 billion Euros) deal led members of Indian’s Procurement Supervisory Board to Hollywood. It is here that the Managing Director of Vasdu Holdings lives – but who is he? One C.A Kutcher. If that name is familiar it is because it is that of Christopher Ashton Kutcher, the film star and famous prankster.

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During today’s press conference the 38-year-old hunk revealed that the Indian Rafale deal was a prank, one that went wildly out of control: “The medium fighter contest was started as a joke to conceal David Hasselhoff’s motorcycle, but it spiralled out of control. Soon we had the biggest arms manufacturers in the world queuing up try and sell us their planes. I was like, ‘dude- this is literally off the hook crazy- but man let’s ride it out’.”

The first the 64-year old actor and singer David Hasslehoff knew of the joke was when representatives of Russian aircraft manufacturer RSK MiG were found in his garage trying to integrate R-77 missiles onto his Harley-Davidson Roadster. Kutcher was now in hot water, and the situation was only getting worse – as Heads of state flocked to Indian to woo the Government with grand promises in an attempt to seal the deal, he knew he had to do something. Indian’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition hit big delays in 2007 as Kutcher was busy filming romantic comedy ‘What Happens in Vegas’ with Cameron Diaz. On 31 January 2012, it was announced that the Dassault Rafale had won the contest, defeating the Eurofighter Typhoon (the Gripen NG, MiG-35, F/A-18 and F-16E had already been dismissed from the evaluation).

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“Shit was now real, and I felt like I couldn’t back down. I knew if I kept a poker-face Hasselhoff would look like a total dick. To buy time- I’d already added like a million delays- I scrapped the MMRCA last year citing deadlock over Dassault’s refusal to take responsibility for the 108 jets to be made in India. I said that the Government had decided to go instead for direct purchase of 36 Rafales during the Modi-Hollande summit in Paris. I have managed to delay and delay the deal but now feel I must confess that the whole deal was a joke that got out of hand. I sincerely hope that India taxpayers, the French Government and David Hasslehoff have the good grace and sense of humour to forgive me my greatest prank.” 

 

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You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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