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An Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers

 

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Dear Hush-Kit, 

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

Yours hopefully, 

Jeffrey Bainbridge, Luton 

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

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

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

So pretty good then? 

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

Think crap Su-35.

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

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

Is the J-11 a ‘pirate’ copy?

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

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Good radar? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s that? 

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

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

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

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

OK. We have:

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

Hey, are you just stealing this bit from Wikipedia? 

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

Alright, tell me quickly what the other ones are…

J-15

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

The J-15 has canard foreplanes and naval markings.

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

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

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

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

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

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The J-11D has a funny looking nose.

You failed, my head still hurts. 

 

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

Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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F-15 versus Tomcat (and Phantom and F-16)

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F-15 pilot Paul ‘Skid’ Woodford trained against the best fighter aircraft the US had in the 1980s. Here he describes how the F-15 fared in dogfights against the F-4 Phantom II, F-14 Tomcat and F-16 ‘Viper’. 

Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here and an in-depth interview about flying and fighting in the F-15 Eagle here. 

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F-15 versus F-14 Tomcat

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“F-14s armed with Phoenix missiles had a much longer ‘stick’ than we did, meaning they could launch missiles against us at a greater distance than we could launch our AIM-7s at them. In the 1970s and early 80s the F-14 had a track-while-scan radar that could individually target several targets at a time. The F-15 didn’t get track-while-scan until the second half of the 80s, as I recall. In other words, in a BVR fight the F-14 had the advantage. In a close-in visual fight, the larger and heavier F-14 was at a slight disadvantage: we could out-turn him while keeping our energy up; he would quickly get slow, which we could always tell by the fact that his wings began sweeping forward. In that arena, the F-15 had the advantage. “

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F-15 versus F-16

“I don’t know what F-16s are equipped with today. In my time the F-15 had the more powerful radar, allowing us to see and target them before they could see and target us. The BVR advantage was ours. In a visual fight against a clean F-16 armed with Sidewinders, we’re equals. Until the mid-1980s F-15s were limited to 7.33 Gs while F-16s could pull 9 Gs, so the turning advantage was theirs. Later, though, the F-15 was cleared up to 9 Gs and we were equal in a turning fight. Fighting F-16s was like fighting F-15s: it was hard work. At least when you were fighting F-16s you never got confused and shot at your own wingman, as we sometimes did when fighting other F-15s.”

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F-15 versus F-4 Phantom II

“In my time, the F-4 carried a shorter-range version of the AIM-7 Sparrow than we did, and its radar wasn’t as good in air-to-air mode. We had a decisive BVR advantage. Early on, when F-4 squadrons would ask to fly dissimilar air combat with F-15 squadrons, they’d ask us to not use our AIM-7s so that they could survive to the merge and engage us visually. Close in, the F-4 could lay on a hard initial turn at the merge, but would quickly begin to bleed off energy after that. I never fought F-4s armed with all-aspect AIM-9 Sidewinders like the AIM-9Ls and Ms we carried. The AIM-9s they carried in my day were older models that couldn’t be employed outside a 60-degree cone extending from their target’s tailpipes, which meant they had to manoeuvre into your six in order to get off a heater shot, while we could fire head-on to them. A well-flown F-4 was a lot of fun to tangle with, and we had a lot of respect for our Phantom brothers, but it was always at a disadvantage against the Eagle.” 

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Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here

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

Cold War Eagle Driver: F-15 pilot reveals all

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Paul leads a quartet of Eagles over Alaska.

During the Cold War, the most formidable Western fighter was the F-15 Eagle. From his part in the first USAF ‘Bear-H’ intercept, to tangling with elite Aggressor pilots and the dangers of dogfighting low over the sea, Paul ‘Skid’ Woodford describes the perils and joys of flying the best fighter in the world. 

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What were you first impressions of the F-15?

The F-15 was barely three years old when I started flying it. It even smelled new. It was the state of the art in 1978, and coming from the comparatively primitive T-37, a quantum leap beyond anything I’d experienced. My overwhelming first impression was of power. Once started, with both engines at idle, it strained against the chocks. Taxiing out, you had to work the brakes constantly to keep it from rolling too fast. From my first takeoff to my last, the thrust was exhilarating. Additionally: it was tight, quiet inside, and wonderfully smooth in the air.”

What is the greatest myth or misunderstanding about the F-15? One I hear constantly is that it can accelerate in a 90-degree vertical climb. No. When you see an F-15 doing a vertical takeoff at an air show, what you’re actually seeing is a jet slowing down: the technique is to stay flat and low after liftoff until you have 400-450 knots, then pull up at 4-5 Gs into a near-vertical climb. You’re slowing down the whole way, but the folks on the ground don’t see that.”

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The time Paul was a frontcover model.

What are the best things about the F-15?

“The excellent radar, the ergonomically designed weapons controls on the stick and throttles, the weapons displays on the HUD (now projected onto the pilot’s helmet visor, but that came after I flew the jet so I can’t speak from personal experience), the high seating position and unrestricted cockpit visibility. The Eagle is a direct descendent of the F-86 Sabre, another outstanding air-to-air fighter with great cockpit visibility. Did I mention the cockpit’s also quite roomy? Having flown in Century-series fighters (and once in a T-33), I’m here to tell you that’s a big deal.”

 

…and the worst? 

“Its size. These days potential enemy fighters are as large or larger than the F-16, and perhaps size isn’t the issue it once was. In my day the primary threat we trained against was the MiG-21. He could see us at a distance of ten or more miles; we couldn’t see him until five miles or less, and that could make all the difference in who gets to the merge unobserved with a huge initial advantage.”

What was the most scared you’ve been on a mission? 

“That’s easy. It was the time I almost hit the water during my first Eagle tour with the 32nd TFS at Soesterberg AB, the Netherlands. It was 1979 and I’d been flying the Eagle for less than a year. I was still a wingman, not yet a flight lead, but they trusted me enough to send me out by myself during a NATO exercise to intercept a two-ship of RAF Leuchars F-4Ks over the North Sea. There was a solid cloud deck over the water: I was on top at 5,000 feet and the targets were below. I didn’t know how thick the cloud cover was, but assumed it went down pretty close to the surface.

With a good radar lock on the Phantoms at 30NM, I started a gradual descent into the weather, keeping one eye on the altimeter and vertical velocity indicator and one on the radar. At 10 miles and 2,000 feet I was still on instruments, holding a right bank of 30 degrees in a wide curving intercept meant to put me behind the Phantoms a mile or two back, when the radar broke lock. I took my eye off the altimeter and VVI for what I thought was just a second while I reacquired the targets on radar. Suddenly, I felt my hair standing up.

I instinctively rolled wings level and began to pull. I bottomed out of the clouds just above the water, looking up at the Phantoms at my right two o’clock, and I swear for an instant also looking up at whitecaps (ocean waves). I was back in the clouds in a second, climbing away. I knocked off the intercept and flew home to Soesterberg. My G-meter read 9 Gs, and I realised that if I’d pulled less than that I’d have been a dead man. It was a lesson I never forgot.”

What were the 10 best fighters in 1985? Answer here.

Public specifications put the F-15’s top speed at Mach 2.5- can it really get there?

“I was the squadron functional check flight pilot at two of my bases, Soesterberg and Elmendorf. FCFs are flown clean, without external stores, and part of every FCF is acceleration to max speed at high (plus or minus FL400) altitude. I once got a fairly new F-15C up to Mach 2.21 on an FCF over the North Sea. This was a completely clean jet … they’d even taken the pylons off … but 2.21 was all she wrote, and I’ve never had one faster than that. Dirty, which is to say in normal training or combat configuration, I doubt anyone has gotten an Eagle much over Mach 1.8 in level flight.”

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Paul with with his wife, daughter and F-15 in 1983.

What upgrades or extra kit did F-15 pilots want on the aircraft? 

“When I started flying the Eagle in 1978 we didn’t yet have the all-aspect AIM-9L Sidewinder IR missile, which was still in development. Our only forward-firing weapon was the AIM-7F Sparrow, which was a somewhat unreliable weapon. When we got the AIM-9L and the improved AIM-7M, the Eagle became a true all-aspect threat, and things only got better when the AMRAAM came along. The F-15C was a great improvement with its programmable radar, but it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the aircraft finally got a chaff and flare dispenser, something it should have had all along. In the early days Bay 5 (the large area behind the pilot’s seat) was empty; by the early 1980s it was filled with electronic countermeasures gear. Since I never flew in combat I can’t tell you how well the Eagle’s ECM suite works. Nor was I still flying the jet when data link capability was added, but from what I hear it has greatly improved pilot situational awareness, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to fly with it before I retired.”

Was the radar reliable? Was it a good radar? 

“Not at first. In 1978 F-15 avionics were still new and unperfected. We field-tested a lot of the early problems at Soesterberg, and when Reagan became president and money started flowing again, those early radar problems were fixed. By the time I left Soesterberg the radar was working as advertised. By the time I got to Kadena several years later, improvements like track-while-scan had been made and the radar was even better. A flight of four Eagles could sort and individually target four F-16s or F/A-18s flying in formation at 30+ NM. It was incredible. New digital array radars, part of the multi-stage improvement program (MSIP), came just after I left Kadena and I never had the opportunity to fly with one. Friends tell me the current radar is absolutely eye-watering.”

The F-5 was a very tough opponent. It had a decent radar. It could go fast, turn like a bat while keeping its energy up, and was hard to see in a visual fight because it was so small. If MiG-21s were half as good as F-5s, we’d have had our hands full had the Warsaw Pact ever moved on NATO.”

What was the most challenging aircraft you ever flew against in training – and what happened?

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“The F-5E Tiger once flown by USAF Aggressor squadrons. During my tour with the 32nd TFS in the Netherlands (1979 to 1982), we deployed to Decimomannu AB several times to fly dissimilar air combat missions with other USAFE and NATO units. These missions were flown on the Decimomannu Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumented (ACMI) range located just off the coast of Sardinia.

On one deployment in 1980 our opponents were pilots of the 527th Aggressor Squadron, based at RAF Alconbury in the UK, flying F-5E Tigers. I was scheduled to fly a 2 v 4 mission against the Aggressors but lead’s jet crapped out after engine start and there was no spare available. After a quick radio consultation with squadron ops, I was cleared to go out alone … to fight off four highly-skilled air-to-air pilots trained in Russian tactics, flying an aircraft chosen because its performance characteristics were close to that of the MiG-21.

The Empire’s Ironclad: Flying & Fighting in the B-52 here

I remembered the one thing my 32nd TFS flight leads had always tried to impress on me: when outnumbered, fly straight lines and hooks, and keep your energy up at all times. I was nervous as hell, a young guy who still had so much to learn about air-to-air flying, facing off against four F-5Es, so when I entered the south edge of the ACMI circle I was up at 45,000 feet and supersonic. I stayed fast for the next 20 minutes, darting into the Aggressors in a dive, escaping in an even steeper dive, only turning when I had sufficient distance to come back at them, pulling 7 to 7.5 Gs every time I did turn, and somehow I didn’t get killed, while managing to get two valid shots off against them. During debrief, I was pretty proud when the Aggressor flight lead told me I’d done well. Thankfully, he didn’t call me Grasshopper.

Since ACMI missions are instrumented and projected on big screens in real time, I knew all my bros were in the ACMI trailer watching me as I flew, and that only added to the pressure. But I did good, and straight lines and hooks was my mantra from then on, a lesson I in turn drummed into younger pilots.

The F-5 was a very tough opponent. It had a decent radar. It could go fast, turn like a bat while keeping its energy up, and was hard to see in a visual fight because it was so small. If MiG-21s were half as good as F-5s, we’d have had our hands full had the Warsaw Pact ever moved on NATO.

A thing people who haven’t done it don’t know about BFM is how physically demanding it is. It’s like doing a round with a heavyweight boxer … at 7 Gs a 200-pound pilot weighs 1,400 pounds, at 9 Gs 1,800 pounds, and you’ll do it over and over each engagement.”

What was your most memorable mission and why? 

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“In 1984, and I’m sure it’s still true today, we monitored Soviet air and sea activity with classified intelligence assets based in Alaska. I was never privy to the how and why, but we knew the Russians were starting to base Bear H aircraft in Siberia. The Bear-H, which had just begun to roll off the production line in the early 1980s, was said to be the platform for a new nuclear-tipped cruise missile.

We sat air defense alert at two remote sites in Alaska, Galena Air Station on the Yukon River, and King Salmon Airport near Bristol Bay. There were two fully loaded F-15s and two pilots on 5-minute alert at each location. I was flight lead and alert force commander at Galena, three days into a week-long alert tour, when we got a call on the hotline to suit up and be ready for a real world (i.e., not practice) scramble. This only happened when intel was monitoring activity at the Soviet air bases in the Far East Region, so we knew something was up.

Ten minutes later the horn went off and we scrambled. As soon as we were airborne we were vectored north. To my surprise, we were directed to join with a KC-135 tanker on a track up by Point Barrow, a tanker that obviously had been scrambled earlier, just for us. Also to my surprise, we weren’t under the control of ground radar units … an AWACs was in the air, again just for us. Clearly, something really big was up, and it had been underway for some time before we were scrambled.

After we refueled, AWACS vectored us north again. Well above the Arctic Circle and north of the Alaskan landmass, I picked up far-distant contrails moving east to west. At the same time our own radars began painting a target over 80 miles north of our position. We could tell from the contrails there were two aircraft, and pretty soon the radar began to break out two separate targets flying loose formation.

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I was never briefed on the details, but I think what had happened was that two Bear bombers had launched from Anadyr earlier in the day, flown north over the Pole to an area near Iceland, then turned back over the Pole toward home on what was at least an eight-hour mission. We were intercepting them on their homeward leg. They hadn’t penetrated the Alaskan ADIZ (air defense identification zone), but were paralleling it to the north. Based on our dedicated tanker and AWACS, I believe Alaskan Air Command and NORAD must have anticipated that at least one of the aircraft was a Bear H.

Sure enough, our targets gradually resolved into two large swept-wing aircraft, soon visually ID’d as Bears. When we got up alongside, one was old and grimy, probably a Bear C, but the second one looked brand new, with a pipe-like conduit running the length of the fuselage. That was what we’d been told to look for on the new Bear H.

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As lead, I instructed two to fly a mile or so behind the Bears while I went in for photos. After I used up my roll of film I took his place in trail while he closed in for more photos. After some time, AWACs told us to break off and head south. We were so far away from Galena we had to refuel once more in order to make it home. The whole time I was thinking a person wouldn’t survive more than five minutes on the pack ice below, had either one of us been forced to eject.

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The Bears were feeling frisky that day. I was flying close enough that they could see me clearly, and every time I held up the camera, the pilot of whichever Bear I was next to would roll into me, forcing me to put the camera down and fly up out of his way. I could control my jet with my knees in level flight, but needed my hand on the stick to manoeuvre out of the Bear’s way. Another thing I won’t forget: you could hear the Bear’s engines and propellers from a good distance away. It must have been incredibly loud to the Bear’s crew, and they had to endure it for hours and hours. The Bear H didn’t have a side observation port, but the Bear C did, and I could see a crew-member waving to me from it. Sadly, he wasn’t holding a copy of a Russian girlie magazine, and the only thing he saw me holding was my big camera.

Bears (as well as Bisons and Badgers) had tail guns, but the Soviets never aimed them at intercepting aircraft. In neutral position, the tail guns pointed straight back and up, and we always watched them closely. If the gunner ever moved the guns, we knew to break away fast, as that was a signal he was about to fire, but I never heard of that happening during peacetime intercepts, which were (and are) routine in NATO, the north Atlantic, and north and west of Alaska.

I was told President Reagan was shown the photos two days later. Never got a thank you call, though.”

On landing back at Galena, a C-12 aircraft and crew were waiting for us. They flew away with our unexposed film and I was told President Reagan was shown the photos two days later. Never got a “thank you” call, though.

A ‘Bear’ would be an easy kill, though, and a single Sidewinder would probably be more than enough to bring one down. When we ran intercepts, with one aircraft closing in from the side for photos and the second aircraft covering from behind, the cover aircraft always had an IR missile trained on the targets, a flip of the master arm switch away from being fired. Just in case.”

 

mix_f15_su27-1 How would an F-15 fight a Su-27, and in a notional 1v1 how confident would you be as an F-15 pilot? 

“I can’t speak to the effectiveness and reliability of Su-27 missiles or its radar, but I will assume for now those systems are the equal of the F-15’s. I would fire at optimum range (AMRAAM or AIM-7) and immediately crank away in an f-pole manoeuvre designed to give my missile the shortest and straightest flight path to the target while making his missile fly farther in order to get to me. I would try very hard to take the ‘Flanker’ out beyond visual range, and for sure before the merge by following up with high-aspect IR missile shots as soon as I was in range. Chaff, flares, and other measures to reduce my own radar and IR signature, you bet … I’d be doing them all. If I did merge with a ‘Flanker’, I’d fly good BFM (basic fighter manoeuvres). Our pilots are better trained than theirs, and that should give us the advantage in a dogfight … but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about dogfighting it’s that it’s a great equaliser, and only one of you is coming out alive. I have a lot of respect for the Su-27, from all I’ve heard about it.

What was the most exciting training exercise you went on and why? 

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“Me taxiing in at Kadena AB after returning from a deployment to RAAF Darwin, 1991”

“My favourite was a three-week deployment from Kadena to RAAF Darwin for a combined RAAF/USAF exercise called Pitch Black, mainly because Australia and the Australians are so much fun. Weapons System Evaluation Program deployments to Eglin AFB in Florida were always great, because we got to live-fire AIM-7s and AIM-9s at Firebee drones and full-scale QF-102 targets. The best and most important training, though, was always Red Flag at Nellis AFB, where, operating with allied and US forces we fought full-scale air battles against trained adversaries, life-like targets, and air defence systems designed to simulate those used by potential enemy nations. Much of Red Flag is classified, but I think I’m allowed to say I learned a lot about some of the MiGs I’d likely see in combat, and the tactics their pilots would use.”

How would you fight the modern agile fighters in within-visual range combat (without AMRAAM or Sparrows)? 

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“Tough question because today, even in the visual arena, everyone has all-aspect short range IR missiles, and as far as I know they’re all damn good. In the early days of the F-15, F-4 squadrons didn’t want to fight with us in training unless we agreed not to use our BVR AIM-7s, and not take AIM-9 shots against them unless we were behind their wing line. I think that’s the question you’re asking here: how would we dogfight with aircraft similar to the F-15 if we couldn’t take them out prior to the merge. I’ve flown BFM with F-16s and F/A-18s. In my experience, the best way to dogfight them is to merge unobserved with lots of energy. The best way to do that is to come in super high and supersonic … even if they know you’re coming in high and fast, they rarely look high enough, and if you’re supersonic they’re looking for you where you were a few seconds ago, not where you are now, so you’re split-S’ing down on them from above before they even see you.”

How would you describe the F-15 in three words?

“Powerful, solid, smooth.”

What do you think of the programmes to develop a next-generation fighter to replace the F-22?

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“I can’t speak to that other than to say I don’t see manned fighters going away, and that at some point we’ll have to field new ones. As for the F-22, on the whole I wish we’d have built more of them, but the current fleet, augmented with the 200+ F-15Cs still in service, meets current air superiority needs. I’m a proponent of replacing the F-15C with new F-15SAs when the Cs retire. The two-seat F-15SA Strike Eagle variant, purchased by Saudi Arabia, is currently in production, and Boeing is trying to gin up interest in an even more advanced variant, the Silent Eagle. Buying either of these for the USAF would be a great way to augment the F-22. But that’s just me … there are probably some on the Air Staff who think the same way, but they have to be very careful how they say it lest it be taken as a threat to the F-35 programme.”

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How well trained were your generation of F-15 pilots? 

“We trained constantly, flying three to four days a week at minimum, on some days flying two or even three missions back to back. We flew a lot of dissimilar missions against allied aircraft (RAF Jaguars, German F-4s and F-104s, occasionally Tornados), not to mention USAF, USN, and USMC units flying Phantoms, Skyhawks, Tomcats, Vipers, and Hornets. Unless the kids today are getting as much flying time as we did, I would say fighter pilots of my generation, late 1970s to the mid-1990s, were the best-trained pilots ever.”

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Was the FX concept that led to the development of the F-15 the right idea?

“I was still in undergraduate pilot training during the great debate over the F-15, which led to the lightweight fighter competition between the YF-16 and YF-17. Here’s what I remember about the debate (which was over by the time I earned my wings and started a three-year tour as a T-37 instructor pilot).

Read about the F-15 that never was: The NA-335 here.

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Opponents of the F-15 had argued it was too big, too expensive, and (curiously) too capable, and that we’d be better off spending our money on a large fleet of low-cost F-5s. The F-15 had powerful defenders. It was never not going to go into production, but thanks to the lightweight fighter competition we wound up with a smaller fighter to supplement it, the F-16, which in my opinion was needed in any case to replace the F-4 Phantom II. When all was said and done the F-16 turned out to be expensive too.

The untold story of Britain’s F-16 here.

You can tell who won the debate by the fact that the USAF, from the very beginning to the present day, has kept the F-15 in the air-to-air role it was designed for, while assigning the F-16 primarily to air-to-ground roles.

By the way, I hear echoes of this old fight in the constant criticism and fault-finding with the F-35. This project isn’t going away either, and as with early F-15 problems, money will be thrown at the F-35 and I’m confident it’s going to be a great jet.”

I’ve heard when the F-15 entered service it was inferior in some ways to the fully matured F-106, would you agree? 

“I never heard that. The F-106 carried different missiles, and I’m pretty sure they were inferior to the AIM-7s and AIM-9s we carried on the F-15. At some late point in its life the 106 finally got a gun, but it occupied the part of the weapons bay that used to house the Genie nuclear-tipped rocket, so they gave up one capability to gain another. Also, if I remember correctly, not that many ‘106s ever got the gun mod. I don’t think you’ll find any F-15 pilots who would agree that the Eagle was in any way inferior to the F-106 (and I knew a lot of former ‘106 pilots who transitioned into the F-15).

The Eagle remains the most lethal air-to-air fighter ever fielded, with a combat record of 104 kills and no losses. Some day the F-22 may be able to make a similar claim, but it’s going to have to score some combat kills first. As I said in an earlier post written for my blog, I don’t think there’s a potential enemy air force in the world that won’t have second thoughts about engaging a four-ship wall of Eagles headed its way, knowing the capabilities of our radars and missiles.”

  

Paul ‘Skid’ Woodford, Lt Col, USAF (Ret): Personal history 

  • 1974: Student, undergraduate pilot training, Vance AFB, Oklahoma
  • 1975-1978: T-37 instructor pilot, 8th FTS, Vance AFB, Oklahoma
  • 1978: F-15 RTU: 555th TFS Triple Nickel, Luke AFB, Arizona
  • 1979-1982: F-15 pilot, 32nd TFS Wolfhounds, Soesterberg AB, the Netherlands
  • 1982-1985: F-15 pilot, 43rd TFS Hornets, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
  • 1986-1988: Staff tour, US Special Operations Command, MacDill AFB, Florida
  • 1988-1992: F-15 pilot, 44th TFS Vampires, Kadena AB, Japan
  • 1992-1995: Chief of flight safety, HQ Pacific Air Forces, Hickam AFB, Hawaii
  • 1995-1997: Staff tour, 99th Range Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nevada

 

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Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here

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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 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.

The more you give, the more we can give you 🙂

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

f_15_missile_launch-1280x800.jpg

What crashed near Area 51 last week?

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A mystery aircraft crashed close to Area 51 last week. The pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, later died. The type of aircraft remains a mystery, we speculate on what it might have been. 

Last week a pilot was killed in a plane crash at the Nevada Test and Training Range, the Air Force said. According to the official release, the aircraft was assigned to Air Force Materiel Command and was flying a training mission. Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, 44, died from injuries sustained in the crash, which took place on 5th September at 6 p.m.

“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” according to Maj. Christina Sukach, Chief of Public Affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis. The crash occurred a day before a pair of A-10crashed at the same training range.

Why classified? 

The majority of classified aircraft that have been revealed over the last forty years have been low- or reduced observability designs; aircraft with reduced conspicuity, especially to radar. This have included the Lockheed Have Blue (a technology demonstrator that led to the F-117), Lockheed F-117, Northrop Tacit Blue (a technology demonstrator that influenced the B-2), Northrop B-2, the US Army’s (still secret) stealth helicopter, the Boeing Bird of Prey and the Lockheed RQ-170. The external geometry of a stealth aircraft is not the whole story (much of stealth is materials) but does reveal a great deal. Note that in the case of the F-117 and the B-2, technology demonstrator preceded the operational aircraft. Reconnaissance aircraft also tend to lurk in the shadows. If the aircraft was involved in stealth research (and should be noted that USAF said it was a ‘training’ flight) then it could be in the exotic field of visual stealth. The science of invisibility has long been of interest to USAF and there have been several significant steps forward in this field in recent years.

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This mysterious triangular aircraft from 2014 may show an aircraft that supports the B-21 bomber project or perhaps the RQ-180

Another large aircraft programme at an early stage, and perhaps requiring testbed aircraft is the US’ sixth generation fighter. The B-21 bomber is also in development. The next generation US fighter will be tailless to offer a greater degree of stealth against low bandwidth radars, it is possible that the mystery aircraft is a technology testbed for the 6th Gen fighter and features a new tailless design concept. Again though, the word ‘training’ – if taken on face value- implies an operational aircraft.

Four military aircraft myths you shouldn’t believe here

It also possible that the aircraft may have been a F-117, though why this would have been kept secret is questionable (though rumours of a the officially retired F-117 fleet being loaned to a specific Middle Eastern client nation have long been rumoured). At least two F-117 are still airworthy and were photographed flying in 2016.

Other classified aircraft have included USAF’s fleet of captured Soviet designed fighters operated to train pilots in countering threats by the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron. An officially unacknowledged Su-27 has been photographed training with F-16s.

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Another mystery aircraft from 2014.  Is it possible that there is a manned variant of  the RQ-180?

Triangular and cranked arrow-head designs have been reported over the last ten years. One of the latter being photographed in 2014. Hypersonic aircraft are another area of interest.

Pilot experience

Schultz was a combat veteran and test pilot with over 2,000 hours flying hours. His flying experience was largely with fast jets, mostly in the air-to-ground role, which may offer a clue. He had flown the F-35 and CF-18, Canada’s variant of the F/A-18 Hornet, and the F-15E, in which he flew more than 50 close air support missions in Afghanistan. Perhaps significantly he performed systems engineering for the Airborne Laser programme.

The top ten fighter aircraft here

Not F-35 

While initial speculation pointed to the possibility of the crash featuring the controversial F-35 or F-22 this has since been denied. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, ruled out the idea that aircraft involved may have been an F-35 Lightning II.

We don’t know

There is currently not enough information to work out what the classified aircraft was.

Save the Hush-Kit blog. This site is in peril, we are far behind our funding targets. If you enjoy our articles and want to see more please do help. You can donate using the buttons on the top and bottom this screen. Recommended donation £10. Many thanks for your help, it’s people like you that keep us going.

How to kill a Raptor here

Update

Some have noted that classified aircraft in the past have had cover stories (a crashed F-117 was reported as an A-7) and it is perhaps odd that this one does not. It has been suggested this supports the idea that it was actually a F-35, or F-35 in secret configuration.

 

Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four military aircraft myths you shouldn’t believe

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Where do the eternal truths we believe come from? Our culture? The Platonic world of forms? Bill Gunston after a pint of bitter? Who knows. Here are four aviation myths we should not believe. I’m locking myself away for a couple of weeks to avoid the inevitable hate mail this will generate. 

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The Lockheed F-104G Starfighter was terrible 

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An avgeek parallel to the internet’s Godwin’s law, as online discussion on the topic of the German F-104 Starfighter grows longer, the probability of a mention of its allegedly dismal attrition record, or of ‘W****maker’, approaches 1. A total of 292 Lockheed F-104s were lost in German military service, one for each of the words in this article. By 21st-century standards, it’s a catastrophe. In fact, Starfighter attrition was an improvement over its predecessor in Luftwaffe service, the RF/F-84F. Proportionally, it suffered fewer losses than the RAF’s Lightning, that perennial ‘pilot’s aircraft’ (just what aircraft isn’t?). Long before the Tornado was drafted, the F-104G was blazing a trail across inclement European skies as the first true multi-role combat aircraft of the jet age. In Luftwaffe service, the Starfighter was admittedly limited in its roles of interception and reconnaissance, but as a low-level nuclear strike fighter, it provided teeth to back up NATO’s rhetoric into the early 1980s. Substitute the additional fuel pack used in the strike role for the M61 Vulcan cannon (which found its first application on the F-104), and hang as much conventional ordnance as that famous tiny wing would permit, and the Starfighter was equally useful in the conventional attack role. The German Navy might have wanted the Phantom or Buccaneer, but they showed just what ‘Kelly’ Johnson’s design could do low over the chilly Baltic, toting anti-ship missiles or running the important ‘Baltic Express’ reconnaissance mission.
The F-104G was never far from scandal in Germany and elsewhere; even the F-35 would struggle to bring down a Dutch monarch or inspire two concept albums!

The Panavia Tornado F.Mk 3 was rubbish 

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Though the Tornado bomber remains extremely potent 35 years since it entered service, the later interceptor variant is long gone. It had a very bad reputation, which in its early days was justified- it had poor agility, poor high altitude performance and the radar didn’t work. But this turd was successfully polished, by the time it was retired in 2011 it was one of the best beyond-visual range fighters in the world. According to former F3 Nav, Dave Gledhill, speaking to Hush-Kit: “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…if it had been employed against an aggressive opponent, the results would undoubtedly have been surprising as it is unwise to underestimate 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.”

The cancellation of the BAC TSR 2 was a tragedy 

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Declinism is the belief that a nation is heading towards decline, and it is paired with a nostalgic view of the past. The usual stance of British aviation enthusiast is that the Government (typically Labour ones) killed wonderful Britain’s wonderful aviation industry (sometimes the evils of America or France are also included). The reality was far more complicated (see David Edgerton’s excellent ‘England and the aeroplane’ for more on this). The martyr for this mythology is the TSR 2. The TSR 2, like the F-35, had a high wing loading, stacks of leading edge electronics and was expected to perform a great many disparate roles. Did the world really need a British Vigilante full of wildly expensive electronics that would be obsolete as soon as the 70s technology explosion took place? Also, as would prove to be the case in the first Gulf War, low-level flying (something the TSR 2 would have excelled at) was the wrong idea*.

If it had gone into service, nobody, other than perhaps Australia and Saudi Arabia (they’ll buy anything) would have bought it. The collaborative Tornado, which led to the Typhoon, would not have happened. The most likely outcome being that Britain would have ended up licence-producing F-15s – which actually would have been very effective (and great deal cheaper) so despite what I was going to say, maybe the TSR 2 would have been a good idea after all.

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 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.

The more you give, the more we can give you 🙂

The English Electric Lightning was an excellent fighter 

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We all love the Lightning, and are often blind to its terrible limitations. An extremely high price was paid for its ultra-high performance: and that price was combat effectiveness. If you are going to have an aircraft with such a pitiful endurance, at least make sure it has sporting chance of killing the bombers it is sent to destroy. The Lightning’s piss-poor radar and two extremely limited missiles meant there was very very little margin for mistakes, or bad luck, for an actual interception. The single-engined Swedish Draken had half the amount of Avon engines as the Lightning, yet still had a mach 2 top speed, superb weapon systems and a range more than twice the Lightning’s (it was also far easier to maintain, was cheaper and better armed). Another example of a more sensible solution, was the French Mirage III.

There was a small period of time, in the early sixties when the Lightning was the best, but failure to upgrade it made it one of the worst fighters at the time of its retirement. Scandalously, the Lightning entered the 1980s with no beyond-visual range weapons (something carried by the Soviet escort fighters it was expected to face), prehistoric weapon systems, and – out of mindless penny pinching- no radar warning receiver.

Save the Hush-Kit blog. This site is in peril, we are far behind our funding targets. If you enjoy our articles and want to see more please do help. You can donate using the buttons on the top and bottom this screen. Recommended donation £10. Many thanks for your help, it’s people like you that keep us going.

Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

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 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 Incredible Cancelled Westland AircraftHow to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraft, The 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. 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 LightningThose 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 Tornado, also optimised for low level flight became potent when equipped with stand-off munitions and precision bombs that could be accurately used from medium altitude. Tornado would remain penalised by its the small wings built for tree-top flight. I cannot criticise it for its low bypass ratio in this context as the TSR 2’s Olympus would have had a medium bypass ratio.

10 Incredible Cancelled Westland aircraft

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As early as 1848, one John Stringfellow was experimenting with heavier-than-air flight in Somerset in West England. This West English tradition continued with Westland Aircraft, formed by the father of the great aircraft designer Teddy Petter (creator of the Canberra, the Lightning, and the Gnat among other aircraft) in 1915. Westland famously produced the extremely effective Lysander, the almost brilliant Whirlwind and the superb Lynx helicopter, but not all the designs of this innovative company entered production. A delve through the Westland archives reveals a host of fascinating flying machines savagely discarded by history. 

10. Wizard l & ll (1926) ‘The Blackballed Wizard’

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The extremely attractive Wizard fighter started life as a racing aircraft known simply as the ‘Racer’. In an age of biplane and sesquiplane fighters, a parasol monoplane was something of a novelty. Despite the stigma of its unconventional configuration, the first Wizard attracted Air Ministry interest, and Westland was asked to submit the design for  Specification F 20/27, a requirement for a new RAF fighter, a role the Wizard would have performed admirably. The A&AEE’s test pilots praised the Wizard’s performance: it was impressively fast and had a remarkably good climb rate. But they also noted the pilot’s limited forward view and considered the aileron control loads too great. So, the Air Ministry gave Westland a contract to refine the Wizard. The Wizard II that followed was fitted with a new, all-metal wing of increased span and reduced chord. By mounting the wing on more conventional struts and reducing the central section, the pilot’s forward view was improved. The engine was also replaced with a supercharged 500 hp Rolls-Royce F.XIS. The changes that created the Wizard II, which were probably unnecessary, marred the aircraft’s performance. The RAF were unimpressed and did not order it into production.  Many at Westland believed the Wizard’s failure was less to do with the aircraft, which was superb, and more to do with the RAF’s prejudice against monoplanes. 

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9. Fairey Rotodyne (1957) ‘The Screaming Commuter’

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The merger of Fairey’s aviation interests with Westland Aircraft took place in 1960. Westland now had the intriguing, and much hyped, Fairey Rotodyne project.

Streaking from city centre to city centre with a top speed twice that of helicopters of the time, the Rotodyne, could have been a major transport innovation. As the world’s first vertical take-off airliner it could have revolutionised air travel, removing the need for remote airports for everything but long haul journeys. 

The concept was extremely innovative. For takeoff and landing, the rotor was driven by tip-mounted jet engines. These engines did not have intakes or compressors, but were fed from compressed air piped from the main turboprop engines. The turboprop-powered propellers on the wings provided thrust for horizontal flight while the rotor autorotated (‘autorotation’ is when rotors turn around while unpowered, but in flight). Thanks to its tip-mounted jets, the Rotodyne was exceptionally noisy, an undesirable trait in a city centre airliner, and was cancelled. Debate still rages about the degree to which the Rotodyne’s noise levels could have been reduced.

8. C.O.W. Gun Fighter (1930) ‘Schräge Moo-sick’

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The Westland C.O.W. Gun Fighter was a response to Air Ministry specification F.29/27 for an interceptor fighter armed with the ferocious Coventry Ordnance Works 37 mm autocannon. The aircraft which resulted was based on the earlier Interceptor. Vickers created a rival design, the bizarre Vickers 161 COW-gun fighter. The gun of the Westland C.O.W Gun Fighter was mounted at  55º in order to fire up into an enemy bomber when the fighter was manoeuvred directly below. Trials were discouraging, with the aircraft displaying ‘alarming’ handling characteristics, and the experiment was dropped. The concept of upward firing guns, established in World War One, returned in World War Two, when German ‘Schräge Musik’ night fighters achieved considerable success.

7. Westland Dreadnought (1924) ‘Wetland Dreadful’

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The Dreadnought was an attempt by Westland to perfect the new German-Dutch technology of metal aircraft construction, and explore an aerodynamic configuration with a continuous aerofoil section over all parts of the aircraft. The story of the Dreadnought begins with the Chairman of Airco sending William Wilkins to Russia to study the possibility of licence-production of the de Havilland DH4 and DH6. Mr. Wilkins returned to the United Kingdom with something far more interesting, the inventor Nikolai Stepanovich Voevodsky. Voevodsky had been in correspondence with Airco for several years with ideas for aerodynamically clean monocoque blended wing aircraft. But these plans for Anglo-Russian collaboration could not bear fruit during the Russian civil war (with Britain supporting the losing side). Voevodsky’s plans were adopted by the Aeronautical Research Committee, who were embarrassed by the German and Dutch advances and wished to leapfrog their technological lead.

The concept was given to Westland Aircraft to construct an aircraft. The machine was extremely ambitious –  a 70 ft wingspan aircraft. Unfortunately the aircraft was terrible, and couldn’t fly – the first attempt at flight took the unfortunate test pilot’s legs off. As Bill Gunston put it “It was perhaps the worst form of all metal construction, the underlying skeleton of the very large wing being of enormous complexity…yet with the skin doing very little to bear loads”.

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6. Westland Westminster (1958) ‘No, Prime Minister’ 

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The Westminster was based on the rotor and transmission system of the S-56. Other than this, it was an all-new design.  Whereas the S-56 used massive radial engines, the Westminster was an extremely advanced design powered by two Napier Eland 229 turbines. The use of a proven rotor and transmission system was a wise one, as the cost of developing one from scratch was well beyond Westland’s budget. As it was the project cost £1,350,000 (equivalent to around £50 million in 2017) of company money. This large experimental helicopter could have led to a productionised machine capable of carry 40 passengers at 150mph for 100 miles. Two variants were proposed a civil transport version and a flying crane.

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5. W-37 Jet trainer (1954) ‘Jetboy’

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The aircraft project types with the lowest survival rate are as follows: counter-insurgency aircraft, supersonic business jets and jet trainers. Every major and minor aircraft manufacturer has had a go at some or all of these, and almost all of them fall at the wayside. Westland was no exception, and in the mid 1950s they offered the RAF the W-37 jet trainer. The idea was to get rid of initial (called ab initio in Britain to remind pilots that the RAF is posh) training in piston-engined aircraft. The RAF didn’t go for the W-37, but did embrace all-jet training for a while.

4. Westland W-81 (1951) ‘Merlin’s Grandma’

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In the early 1950s Britain was creating the most advanced turbine engines in the world. The W-81 was a bold attempt to harness the turbine to build a helicopter far in advance of any other. In fact, the specs of the W-81 would still be respectable in 2017: a maximum cruising speed of 180 mph, a payload of 32 fully-armed troops or four tons of cargo and maximum range of 950 miles.

3. Compound concept (1979) ‘The Yeovil Speedhawk’

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A coaxial design concept from 1979. Coaxial rotors, popular in Russia with the Kamov design bureau, have several advantages including increased payload for a given amount power. Co-axials do not have the torque issues of conventional helicopters, so do not have to waste precious power on a tail rotor – this means all power is devoted to lift and thrust. This design harvests the extra power to a ducted propeller providing extra ‘push’. The combination of a slick design, co-axial rotors and a pusher propeller would have made this design much faster than a conventional helicopter. In 2007 flew a similar design, the Piasecki X-49 ‘SpeedHawk’ (OK, I admit the X-49 also had vectoring thrust and wings). As an aside, Westland has held the absolute speed record for conventional helicopters for 31 years- a modified Westland Lynx achieved a speed of 249 mph in 1986.

2. Westland W-90 (1957) ‘The Ark’

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The titanic W-90 would have been the biggest helicopter in the world by a huge margin. It was planned that the W-90 would carry 450 soldiers; the largest aircraft that actually went into production, the Mi-26, could only carry 90. The W-90 was to be powered by three large Armstrong Siddeley turbojets mounted one to each blade. At 196 feet in diameter, the main rotor would have been almost twice that of the Mi-26’s, and at 200,000 Ib the W-90 was also almost twice as heavy. Troops would occupy the three separate decks, sharing the lower floor with cargo, military vehicles or artillery.

1. Westland Pterodactyl Mk V Fighter (1934) ‘The Cursed Dinosaur’

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J. W. Dunne (1875-1949) developed some fascinating theories on the nature of time and consciousness, and he also pioneered stable aircraft and swept wings. At the age of 13 he had a dream he was flying an aeroplane that needed no steering — a significant anecdote, as Dunne was a firm believer in precognition in dreams (in fact he did not believe in the linear progression of time, something he thought was merely an illusion brought about by human consciousness – see Slaughterhouse-Five for a similar idea).

Here was a man who had the idea of tailless swept-wing aircraft years before the Me 163 was melting its groundcrew. His work inspired the brilliant engineer G.T.R Hill (designers have designations rather than names) who was looking for a way to save the many lives lost in air crashes. Dunne’s designs were the first inherently stable aeroplanes and thus had a degree of inherent safety, to this Hill added pivoting wingtip controllers which could act as ailerons and (when activated in unison) elevators. The Pterodactyl series had good handling and explored several new ideas (including variable geometry wings in the IV version).

An all-metal fighter variant, the Mk V, was built powered by a steam-cooled 650h.p Goshawk engine. As you’d expect from such a revolutionary design, it was beset with problems (the worst being the collapse of the entire wing during an early taxiing trial). But this, and other teething problems, were overcome (like the appalling Nieuport-Delage NiD 37 Type Course, the aircraft was a sesquiplane). The aircraft proved 10mph faster than the RAF’s best in-service fighter, the Demon. It was armed with two fixed .303 machine-guns, racks light bombs and a two-way radio. The addition of an electrically powered gun turret did not reduce the aircraft’s impressive 190 mph top speed (there is some debate as to whether this was actually fitted). The fighter was considered in two configurations: one with a tractor engine and rear-mounted gun turret (the Mk V) and the other a pusher aircraft with a front-mounted turret (the unflown Mk VI). Though promising, the RAF deemed the advantages of such a radical new design too small compared to the potential risks.

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

 

 

 

Ж is for Zhukovsky: The Russian MAKS airshow in breathtaking photos

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Every year Flanker fanciers head East to Russia to gaze in terrified wonder at the flying feast displayed above Zhukovsky airport. The Aviationist‘s Jacek Siminski survived the airshow, and returned grinning like a Cheshire cat (and stinking of jet fuel and vodka) to tell us what happened, and share some stunning photos. 

All pictures: Jacek Siminski
Best thing? 
“Russkiye Vityazi display, witnessed from the media platform. The 12 Saturn engines working simultaneously sound like a symphony. Being a geek who watched ‘Wings of the Red Star’ narrated by Peter Ustinov, I knew that sound instantly. I did not know, at the time, when I was watching this TV series, whether the sound in the show was somehow artificially generated. Now I know – it was not. You just need a bloody awful lot of engines to achieve this. A total eargasm. Equally good was a tactical display staged by two Su-30SMs of the Russian Navy, flown in the humid Moscovian air. It’s just stunning what that jet can do to the laws of physics, and to the humid air around it.”
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Best swag? 
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Greg

“A military hat bought at the Monino Air Force Museum by a friend of mine. Featuring a shitload of gold military pins on one side. Greg looked as if he fled from Stalingrad.”
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Worst dressed? 
“A guy wearing socks and sandals at the same time. Probably came from Poland, like me. Luckily my English is good enough to pretend that I am a foreigner.”
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Best cocktails? 
“Cocktails? In Russia? Seriously? Only pure Stolnichnaya in big glasses.”
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Worst display?
“For me? Al Fursan‘s display was a bit disappointing,  highly reminiscent of what Frecce Tricolori are doing. But again this is a matter of context. When you are a Soviet/Russian aviation fanatic, who goes crazy when he sees anything reminiscent of a Flanker, then you do not really care about the western pieces of hardware in the sky.”
Best thing you bought? 
“MAKS ‘Remove Before Flight’ keychain. A unicorn. On Saturday, which was a day open to the general public, I probably bought the last of these keychains”
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Best static display? 
“Oh come on, do you really need to ask? Tupolev Tu-95 Bear, alongside Tu-160 and Miasischev Atlant. Oh, and the MiG 1.44. Not to mention the Tu-144.”
(pics of these coming to Hush-Kit soon!)
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Best vintage flying item? 
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“Only a single vintage flying item, but blows everything I’ve seen in Europe out of the water – Il-2 Sturmovik, ‘die Schwarzer Tod‘ (The Black Death). Reportedly there is one more flying example in the US, however I have never even seen a YouTube clip featuring that airframe. Would anyone care to help?”
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Most missed display item? 
“I did miss some irisations – though this is not an aircraft, I know. I would have loved to have seen the MiG-25, MiG-31 or Geofizyka – but it was sadly absent. The Tu-95 ‘Bear’ with its supersonic propeller-tips would have been an amazing thing to witness. They say that this year’s flying programme at MAKS was modest, when compared to the previous years. Maybe the Western sanctions are working? Next year is the TSAGI 100th anniversary, maybe then we will see some of that unique stuff flying.”
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Best entrepreneurs? 
“Guys in the Russian trains playing guitar and selling homemade CDs!”
Worst haircut? 
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The Ilyushin Il-114 is a rare beast: only twenty were ever produced.

“Did not notice one.”
Gone AWOL award? 
“Strizhi and Vityazhi joint barrel roll or a flypast in a single formation. I was hoping they’d do it again.”
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Worst use of social media? 
“Probably me. Not posting too much (enough) throughout my stay in Moscow.”
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Я is for Yakovlev (Яковлев)

Fashion must-have?
“Vityazi or Sukhoi tie-dye T-shirts. Bonkers.”
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Worst static display item?
“None that I have noticed. But I am an avid Russian aviation fanatic. Everything within the static display was giving me a weird feeling in my pants.”
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Coolest sounding plane?
“Undoubtedly, the aforementioned six Su-30SM formation.”
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Hottest pilots? 
“All Russian women are equally beautiful, and you fall in love every step of the way. I am sure there were some pilots among them.”
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 Is PAK FA the coolest thing in the world?
“I will disappoint you and say: No, it is not: the Su-34 is way cooler, with its brutal and violent display of air combat manoeuvring-  and the resultant formation of clouds and rainbows around it. But again, the PAK FA programme is still in its infancy. You can’t expect a toddler to be as cool as Maverick in ‘Top Gun’, saying ‘Because I was Inverted’ and putting his Ray Bans on. The prototype won’t be flown as violently as an aircraft that is already being used operationally. Unique? Hell yes. Cool? Su-34 is the coolest jet of all them Sukhois, at least for now. The wider front section of the fuselage acts as a great catalyst for the vapour cones to form.”
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 How is MAKS different to a Western airshow?
“People are friendlier, more helpful and open, with their ‘hearts given to you in their hands’, as one the old Polish sayings puts it. For me, the show was less commercial than any Western one, and very well organised. Ah, detailed security checks should be expected. You have to put your bag through a Heimann X-ray every time you enter a train station, then before you get on the bus, and then, before you get into the show area. At the beginning it could be viewed as a nuisance, but one can get used to it. And the Russians are super-nice about this, hence throughout the whole procedure you are treated more like a guest, less like a terrorist. I was being warned by my friends: you’ll end up with a bullet in your head, and your camera gear being sold on the Russian counterpart of eBay. Nothing like that ever happened. I began to like Russia, maybe even becoming a bit of a Russophile. People say that it is those at the top who create the hostility — the ordinary men and women are as heart-meltingly warm as it gets.”
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В is for vyertalyot (вертолет).

Best place to get vodka?
“Any local shop with low prices. We did it in a convenience store, located at the corner of the street where our hotel was.”
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 Ж is for Zhukovsky (Жуко́вский)

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

Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. _DSC9176-Edit

The top fighter aircraft of 2017 (BVR combat)

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Picture credit: Jamie Hunter

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 sufficient 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 into its own, reducing the opponent’s situation awareness.

Hardware is generally less important than training and tactics — 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. The Chengdu J-20 is not considered mature enough to make this list. 

10. Lockheed Martin F-16E/F

joint-place with 

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

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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, and fewer missiles 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).

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

dsc_3153 (1).jpgWell 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 disadvantage the ‘Rhino’ as does a pedestrian climb rate and poor 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.

This list, which for the sake of brevity (largely) treats aircraft as isolated weapon systems, does not favour the Super Hornet: in reality, with support from E-2Ds and advanced other assets, US Navy Super Hornets would be extremely capable in the BVR arena against most adversaries.

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)

9. Sukhoi Su-30MK

su30mki-07.jpg

The most capable official members of Sukhoi’s legacy ‘Flanker’ family are 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 remarkably 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)

8. Shenyang J-11B

j11b-prototype.jpg

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)

7. Mikoyan MiG-31BM

mig-31bm_on_the_maks-2009_01.jpg

The MiG-31 is designed for maximum BVR performance. Against bombers and cruise missiles it is superbly capable (and would be ranked higher on this list), however as a defensive interceptor it is vulnerable to more agile and stealthier fighter opponents. The fastest modern fighter in the world, with a top speed of Mach 2.83, the MiG-31 offers some unique capabilities. Until the advent of Meteor-armed Gripens, no operational aircraft had a longer air-to-air weapon than the type’s huge R-33, which can engage targets well over 100 miles away. The recent K-74M, which is believed to be in limited operational service, is even more potent and may even have some advantages of Meteor.

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 abysmal 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. Sukhoi Su-35 

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The Su-35 is considerably more capable than earlier ‘Flanker’ families and would pose a significant challenge to any ‘eurocanard’. 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. Teething problems encountered in Syria are now being rectified, though the type still lacks maturity.

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

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

Singapore Airhow 2012

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, and is currently the fastest non-Russian frontline aircraft of any kind in the world. The type is cursed by a giant radar cross section, a massive infra-red signature and an inferior high altitude performance to a newer generation of fighters.

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

4. Dassault Rafale

Joint with

 Eurofighter Typhoon 

Dassault-Rafale-Meteor-2015.jpg.6315390

In 2018 the Rafale F3R will be in service with both AESA and Meteor — giving the Typhoon more than a run for its money. However, though testing has been completed with Meteor, Rafale does not yet carry it. The maturation of the Rafale’s AESA pushes the Rafale from its previous number 7 to a very respectable number 4. 

The Rafale is extremely agile, with 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 (though the Typhoon’s have been considerably updated). 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)

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 is still a highly-rated piece of equipment. The Typhoon 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 notable BVR capability. On the recent Atlantic Trident exercise where the F-22 ‘fought’ alongside F-22s and F-35s it was praised for its defensive aids (which have undergone some updates).

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

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3. Saab Gripen C/D

saab-jas-39-gripen-latest-hd-wallpapers-free-download-2

In our original list from four years ago, the Gripen did not even make the top ten. Its dramatic jump to the number two position (see last year’s list here) was 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. The Gripen is not the fastest nor longest-legged fighter, nor is its radar particularly powerful. It would have to be used carefully, taking advantage of its advanced connectivity, to make the most of its formidable armament.

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

2. Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

AIM-120 201.jpg

The F-35A makes its debut on this list in the number two slot. Stealth and unparalleled situational awareness make a potent beyond visual fighter of the F-35A, despite its pedestrian kinematic performance. The F-35A has gained a formidable reputation in large-scale war-games; against conventional opponents the F-35 raking up a reported 17-1 simulated aerial victories. The F-35, if it is to stay in a stealthy configuration, has less missiles than its rivals. It also lacks the agility and high altitude performance of the F-22, Rafale or Typhoon.

4 x AIM-120C-5 (1 x 25-mm cannon)

1. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

F-22_-_Golden_Formation.jpg

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. Firing trials have been completed with the latest AMRAAM, the longer-ranged and more sophisticated AIM-120D, but this has yet to enter service. 

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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By Joe Coles &  Thomas Newdick (Airforces Monthly)

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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 aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  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. 

Broken boomerangs: Ten forward swept wing aircraft that never were

general_dynamics_F-16_SFW_swept_forward_wing_2_big

The F-16SFW responding to the 1980 ‘Queen Kong attack’.

Today, every aircraft that travels faster than 500 mph has a swept-back or delta wing. However, this isn’t the only solution to high-speed flight: the swept forward wing offers several advantages (for the same given wing area), among them a higher lift-to-drag ratio, better agility, higher range at subsonic speed, improved stability at high angles of attack, and a shorter take-off and landing distance. In the early to mid 1980s it seemed inevitable that forward swept wings (FSW) would catch on, but despite some mouthwatering artist’s impressions they never did. Despite advances in materials that made FSW designs viable, the advantages weren’t enough, and despite a few limited production oddbod aircraft, the concept never really spread. Here are ten FSW aircraft that never made it into production. 

(Hush-Kit needs donations to survive. The donate button can be found on this page. Many thanks)

10. Rockwell Sabre Bat ‘Hyper Sabre’ (1980)

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Neeeoowww! Rat-a-tat! Boom!

If the world was run by 7-year-old boys (admittedly we’re not far off this right now) the skies would be full of Sabre Bats duelling with MiGs. The name is perfect,  it looked perfect- but it was not to be. The Sabre Bat was Rockwell’s response to a DARPA brief for a FSW research aircraft, that led to the Grumman X-29. Though Rockwell’s entry offered 10 degrees greater forward wing sweep than the winning X-29, the Sabre Jet did not win the tender. However, Rockwell got quite caught up in the Sabre Bat project and proposed it as the basis for a super agile light fighter.

According to Boeing: “Mike Robinson, the Sabrebat (sic) program manager for Rockwell and now with Phantom Works business development, recalled that the Sabrebat FSW concept was based on the HiMAT (Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology) test flight experience (see Page 8 of the May 2007 Boeing Frontiers). “That program amassed a wealth of transonic/supersonic data on HiMAT’s graphite composite variable-camber wing.” Robinson continued, “The FSW demonstrator program proved to be very successful in that we developed a high-tech design team, tools and insights at a time when there were few new designs in work.”

saber-bat.jpg

The Sabre Bat mock-up.

Intriguingly, North American (Rockwell’s predecessor) had experimented with wind tunnel models of P-51 Mustangs with swept forward wings for greater manoeuvrability.

9. Junkers Ju 287 ‘Junk, gifted und bleak’ (1944)

ju287-03b.jpg

With their thick reptilian skin, beady eyes, grasping claws and thin reedy voices it’s not hard to spot an affectionado of late-war German aircraft, and one of their favourite aeroplanes is the Junkers Ju 287.  The ‘287 was a testbed to explore the technologies required for a new jet bomber. The forward swept wings allowed space for a large single bomb-bay at the aircraft’s centre of gravity – and helped achieve a swifter take-off (early jet aircraft, especially the Me-262, were particularly vulnerable during take-off runs as they required a long distance to reach flight speeds). A version controlled by a piggy-backing fighter aircraft, and released as massive missile was considered but never used. Aeronautical engineer Brunolf Baade, who had worked on the  Ju 88, Ju 188, Ju 388 (and at North American before the War)- was a vital member of the Ju 287 design team.

8. OKB-1 140 ‘OKB cupid’ (1948)

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Following a period of capture by US forces, Baade continued work on a variant of the Junkers Ju 287 jet bomber known as the OKB-1 EF 131 for the Soviet Union. The final prototype was adapted for use in the OKB-1 140 programme, an improved variant with changes that included Soviet engines and defensive guns. The OKB-1 150 used advanced materials, but progress was hampered by the official suspicion of German expatriates. This concept grew into a larger and more capable aircraft, but was cancelled in favour of far more ambitious bomber designs in 1952.

7. Sukhoi S-37 ‘Berkut’ ‘Gorbachev’s Cobra’/Yeltsin’s Toboggan’  (1997)

su47cv6.jpg

‘Flanker’s flanking.

The US spent the ’80s and ’90s in a stealth frenzy while the Soviet Union seemed more interested in fast climbing aircraft with extreme agility. As the Su-27 prepared for service entry in the early 1980s, the Soviet Union started considered its next generation of advanced tactical fighters.

Though the operational fighter that could have evolved from the Sukhoi S-37 ‘Berkut’ would have been stealthier than this technology testbed, it’s hard to imagine it being very stealthy, which raises the question of what advantages it would have offered over an advanced ‘Flanker’?  Today’s heavyweight future fighter, the Sukhoi PAK FA, does not feature forward swept wings. The degree to which it was a general testbed rather than the template for an actual fighter remains a hotly debated subject. It was certainly superbly sinister its black paint scheme.

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Work done on the internal weapon’s bay of the S-37 may have aided the design of the PAK FA. Similarly, the S-37 large round LERX may have led to PAK FA’s unique adjustable leading edge vortex controllers (LEVCONs).

6. North American WS-110A Supersonic Bomber ‘Nemesis the supersonic warlock’ (1955)

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In 1955, USAF issued General Operational Requirement No. 38 for a new bomber. The new aircraft should have the payload and intercontinental range of the B-52 combined with the Mach 2 top speed of the Convair B-58 Hustler. This was a time when anything could be improved by adding a fin, some Brylcream or a nuclear reactor so both conventional and atomic powered (or fuelled) aircraft would be considered. The (barely) conventional jet-powered version was assigned the designation Weapon System 110A. North American Aviation’s responded to this extremely demanding brief, clearly after their draughtsmen had got smashed on martinis, with the WS-110A.  The WS-110A featured huge wing tip fuel tanks that could be jettisoned when their fuel was expended, allowing a supersonic dash to the target. The tanks also consisted of the outer portions of the wing, which were swept forward. Properly insane, and possibly wonderful, the WS-110A never happened but it did pave the way for the doomed, and incredibly impressive Mach 3+ North American XB-70 Valkyrie.

Top 11 Cancelled French aircraft here

7. Grumman ‘Concept 9’ ‘Bananarama’ (1982)

After winning the DARPA contract, Grumman flew the X-29 in 1984. Prior to this, Grumman submitted four different concepts for the 1982 USAF Request For Information for an advanced tactical fighter (a project that Lockheed won that culminated in the F-22 Raptor). All featured twin vertical fins (the single finned aircraft illustrated is an earlier study) and vectored thrust. ‘Concept 9’ was a 51,414 lb fighter with a forward swept wing design based on the nascent X-29. It is likely that the real designs were stealthier than the artist’s impressions shown.

6. Rockwell D-645-1 ‘Rocky’s Revolver’ (1979)

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The Rockwell D 645-1 was a 1979 concept for a low-cost subsonic missile carrier. Why are the engines located above the wings? I don’t know. Why has it got such an unusual configuration – again I don’t know. Seems kind of stealthy  (in terms of frontal cross-section) in a squashed pancake kind of way, but then there’s hugely visible open compressor faces and a massive vertical tail -so who knows? I’m going to have to dig out my ‘Warplanes of the future’ (1985), do some homework and then amend this entry. Cruise missiles were to be carried on a rotary launcher, effectively making the aircraft a giant flying revolver.

You’d think that a low-cost subsonic cruise missile carrier would just be a 737 derivative, but I suppose that wouldn’t interest Rockwell.

5. General Dynamics F-16 SFW (Swept Forward Wing) Windscreen Viper’ (1980)

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You can do anything with an F-16: stick a delta wing on and you’ve got a long-range attack aircraft (F-16XL), change the landing gear you can make a decent naval fighter (V-1600) – so why not make a FSW demonstrator? In 1976, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) awarded funds to General Dynamics, Rockwell and Grumman under the Forward-Swept Wing Program. The engineers at General Dynamics, of course, suggested fitting a FSW to their F-16. In 1981 DARPA decided to opt instead for the Grumman X-29 based on the F-5/F-20, a decision many said was due to the F-16s over -representation in upcoming DARPA test programmes. In the end the X-29A featured a load of F-16 components, including an adapted form of its fly-by-wire system.

Ten incredible cancelled military aircraft here

4. Convair XB-53/XA-44 ‘Convair the meerkat’ (1945)

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This was an unusual forward-swept wing medium bomber design powered by three J35-GE turbojets, proposed in the 1940s. The wing, with its 30° forward-sweep and 8° dihedral was strongly influenced by wartime German research. Classified as a medium bomber, the XB-53 would have carried up to 12,000 pounds of bombs as well as 40 High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR) mounted on underwing pylons.

3. British Aerospace P.1214  ‘Bond’s X-wing’ (1980)

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You can’t put conventional afterburners on a Pegasus engine for several reasons – the hot and cold air is separated, the inlets do not slow the airflow sufficiently for serious supersonic flight, and the jetpipes would be too short- and it would also set fire to everything (it was tried from the 1960s and proved problematic) . This is a shame as a Harrier is desperate for thrust on take-off and could do with the ability to perform a decent high-speed dash. Though conventional afterburners are out of the question, you you could however use plenum chamber burning (PCB). This technology was developed for the Mach 2 Hawker Siddeley P.1154 (think the lovechild of a Harrier and a F-4, with the wingspan of a Messerschmitt Bf 109) – which never entered service.

PCB chucks additional fuel burnt into a turbofan’s cold bypass air only (instead of the combined cold and hot gas flows as in a conventional afterburner). This is great, but how do you incorporate this into swivelling nozzles without destroying the rear fuselage with heat and vibration? BAe thought it found the answer – get ride of the rear fuselage altogether, and mount the tail onto two booms. Worried that this already eccentric idea might seem too conventional, BAe decided to add an ‘X-wing’ configuration with swept forward wings (which were in vogue in the early 1980s). This did produce the coolest fighter concept of the 1980s, even in the -3 variant shown which had conventional tails.

The P.1214 would have been extremely agile (and probably short-ranged). As fashion changes, the P.1214 lost its swept forward wings and became the P.1216 which was intended to satisfy the USMC and RN’s desire for a supersonic jump-jet (a need eventually met by the F-35B). A full-sized wooden P.1216 was built to distract Thatcher from stealing children’s milk, predictably (as it was British) the whole project was scrapped.

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The P.1216: think P-38 for the F-16 generation.

2. Northrop-Grumman ‘Switchblade’ ‘X-files jetski’ (1999)

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This 1999 patent is most often viewed online through the skunk weed fug of a Black projects observer’s bedroom in Delaware. No other variable geometry- or swing wing- aircraft came close to having the huge arc of possible wingsweep angles of the ‘Switchblade’. Did the severe raked-back wing-sweep hint at a mach 3+ plus capability? Was the forward sweep for a short take-off, or extreme dogfight agility? Little is known for sure but it looks like stealth was a consideration. Note the unusual placing of the engines – to shield them from ground radars perhaps? The Switchblade remains to this day a mysterious concept.

One thing it did influence was the fictional F/A-37 from the 2005 borefest ‘Stealth’.

Boeing Model 449-3 ‘Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Pootly Pepperpot’ (1944)

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The 1940s were for jet fighters what the 1960s were for Rock ‘n ‘Roll — it was a time for wild experimentation, the ingestion of copious quantities of LSD and it ended in Prog Rock. Shortly after World War II had ended, Boeing produced a series of designs for a swept-wing jet fighter under the Model 449 designation. Both swept-forward and -back wings were considered, but it is unlikely that contemporary materials would have been able to deal with the loads and aeroelastic twisting imposed on a FSW design.

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Though it has so far failed to catch on, it is possible that the forward swept wing will return in the future.

If this article interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £11. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

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 aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  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. 

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This picture again.

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

Indian 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 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 programme, 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. The hiccups right now are probably only an appetiser. Without going too 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 a 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.

 If this interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent.