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The MiG-29 is a ‘Super Hunter’: Account from a MiG-29 fighter pilot

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Air Marshal Harish Masand is a decorated veteran of the 1971 war, and a pioneer of the MiG29 force of the Indian Air Force. He is one of, if not the, the most celebrated Fulcrum pilot of the Indian Air Force. His solo MiG29 displays remain the stuff of IAF legend. We spoke to him about learning to master MiG-29 and its similarities to another fighter thoroughbred, the Hawker Hunter. 

“It was the autumn of 1986 when we landed up in Lugowaya, in Kirgistan, still a part of the USSR, to convert on the newly purchased MiG-29. The Indian contingent was about 200 strong with a large number of technical airmen, smaller number of technical officers, the core team of pilots from 47 & 28 squadrons, with me as the CO designate of 28 Sqn, and two controllers, if I recall correctly after almost two decades now. The weather was getting colder day-by-day and the trees were shedding their leaves to prepare for the oncoming winter, a pretty bleak landscape, but we all were pretty excited to be the first to convert and induct the so-far blanketed RAM-M, which I had seen only on some satellite photographs off Zhukhowsky.

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The living conditions in Lugowaya and our time in minus 28 C blizzards could, perhaps, better form part of another musing some day. Here, I would rather describe how I fell in love with the 29 and why I soon started calling it the Super Hunter. For the lay reader, let me just introduce the fact that I had flown the Hunter for over 4 years and fought the 1971 Indo-Pak war in it from 37 Sqn in Hasimara and had about 400 hours of experience on it.

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During ground training on the aircraft, which commenced immediately in the first week of October, we were asked to fill in a lot of forms giving our life history to the Soviets, one of which was the amount of flying done in the last 2/3 years. I was a Wing Commander then with a total service flying of about 2000 hours but had been in the cooler climes of Defence Services Staff College in the Nilgiris as an Instructor since October 1984 and had only about 5 hours of refresher flying on the MiG-21 a few months before departure to Lugowaya. My conduct, not to forget the perennial pipe, made the Sqn Cdr of the MiG-29 training squadron there, Lieutenant Colonel Neadogonov, feel that all his suspicions had been confirmed and the Indians also had a political commissar in their team, in me, to keep an eye on the contingent. Therefore, while he spoke to me with a little more respect, he did ask me if I was really a pilot, going to the extent of mentioning that he would have to refer this matter higher to figure out if I could be allowed to convert to the 29 with so little flying in the last two years. I was forced to politely, but strongly, tell him that the Government of India had selected me and paid for my conversion so he had to commence my flying along with the others, and in the order of seniority, though the decision to declare me unfit for the aircraft would be his. After this exchange, not quite as cold as the outside weather or heated, and perhaps also because of the speaking that Group captain Vaps Nair, the Command Ops rep, did on my behalf, Neadogonov said okay but did caution me that completion of the entire syllabus of about 20 sorties seemed doubtful for me since I was also slated for one sortie each in the more difficult phases of weapon firing, trainer captaincy and night flying, as one of the two squadron commanders in the Indian team.

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I do not have my log book with me right now but I recall we started flying around mid-December with a blanket of snow all around already. My first dual check was with my designated instructor, Alex Xohlov, pronounced Hovlov, who was barely over 5 feet tall, which was a whole head shorter than me making the two of us quite a funny pair. Alex also spoke largely in Russian. Somehow, in the pre-flight training sessions, we had got to like each other and I understood the essentials of what he said towards aircraft control or maneuvering while he understood my broken Russian, despite Devyani Kaul’s best efforts at teaching me the language before we left for the USSR. We had already been given one ground start practice where we had gone through the starting procedure and pre-flight checks so I had become quite comfortable in the cockpit, with the space and thru-cockpit visibility of the Hunter, unlike the Su-7s and MiG-21s I had flown since the early 70s for almost 15 years then. With its great over the nose visibility, I was particularly comfortable the day we taxied out for the first trip with the combination of nose steer and soft nose oleo making for a smooth but undulating ride with the nose going up and down like a lazy cobra hood. The controls were light enough and reminded me again of the Hunter. The take off was planned in dry power and the nose came up beautifully at under 200 Km/h, with a slight nose down pitching moment when the main aircraft intakes opened at 200 IAS, and we were smoothly off the ground at about 270 Km/h. We climbed to 5 km at 700 indicated with a climb angle of about 15 degrees. The controls were smooth and light, as delicate as the first power-control aircraft I had flown, the Hunter, and required only a gentle caress to make the necessary corrections in pitch or bank. The brute power available from the engines was subtly felt through the muffled rumble in the cockpit while we climbed at just below max dry power. The visibility from the cockpit all around was again absolutely superb and made you feel free. What little I couldn’t see behind me, despite cork-screwing in my seat, was visible in the three rear-view mirrors. The Hunter had a single rear-view mirror and I was quite adept at flying with the mirror, keeping an eye on my wingman or the mock adversary in the mirror, while doing battle formation flying, tail chase and even combat. I think I was allowed to practice about 3 g turns at 5 Km in the first trip as per the approved conversion syllabus. This was a cinch and I gently asked Alex in my broken Russian if I could try 4-5g turns and then some aerobatics. He obviously felt that I was handling the aircraft well enough because all he said was ‘ok” and not “nilziya”, which means not permitted, as I half expected him to say.

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Soon, I was enjoying myself doing hard turns, though not hard enough even at 5 g, loops, barrels and describing figures of eight on the horizon, not just because I was flying after a break, not because of the virgin white flatlands covered with snow below me but because the aircraft was so wonderful to handle, smooth and light like a sports car. The onset of the initial burble was at around 18 degrees on the angle of attack indicator and I found that at 15-16 alpha, the aircraft did everything smoothly even if the speed on the back of the loop was low. The joy was short-lived since after about 30 minutes of this dance in the sky, it was time to go home. Coming into land at a threshold speed of about 270-280 Km/h, I found the aircraft required little stick movement to flare and fly her onto the ground and after the first touch and go, I was ready to gently fly her onto the runway at about 240-250 Km/h. The tail chute was deployed soon after touch down to stop the aircraft on the likely icy and frozen bits of the runway. With the tail chute out, hardly any brakes were required to get to taxi speed, dump the chute on the edge and taxi back to the dispersal with a little occasional braking, as the 29 tended to accelerate even at idle power of the two engines. Throughout all this, Alex hardly said anything except an occasional “kharasho”, letting me do my own thing.

 

Once we got out after switching off and walked back to the squadron, huddled in the cold, Alex asked me “good?”. I said “athleechna” meaning excellent, I had enjoyed myself after all. Instead of debriefing me in the designated room, he took me straight back to the squadron commander, Neadogonov. From the rapid fire Russian between the two, I could barely gather much except that they were discussing my flight. Neadogonov looked at me quizzically towards the end and said words to the effect that I was kidding with them; either I had flown more than I had shown in the form and had I come with the evaluation team and had flown the 29 before. Debriefing myself and thinking about the trip later that day, it dawned on me that the cockpit visibility and feel of the aircraft was absolutely like the Hunter. More importantly, the take-off and landing speeds along with the rate of descent on finals were all similar to the Hunter when converted from Km and meters to Knots and feet. Even the rate of turn and g in dry power at 3-4 Km, or between 10-15000 feet, was the same as I had experienced in the Hunter. Soon I was calculating the radius of the loop and what else would the 29 do, similar to my favourite Hunter.

 

From then on, Neadogonov and the others gave me no problems in my flying and Alex Xohlov became more of a friend than an instructor to me. By the second or third solo trip, after examining my flight data, the deputy, Major Alex Kalsov told me, half in jest, while looking serious, that while there under conversion, I had better not do any loops or other manoeuvres below 1.5 Km altitude that was permitted to the trainees adding that I was free to do these over Rajpath after return to India. Separately, slowly Neadogonov and Kalsov started letting me do a little more with the aircraft like minimum height to 1 km and pulling 7 to 8g while the max permissible in their syllabus was about 5. During the night flying phase, while seeing us off at dusk for the solo trip, Neadogonov asked me to come to his office and chatted over a cup of tea till he said “ Harish, you can wait and go when its really dark, let the others go on now with a bit of last light.” Why I say all this is only to highlight how simple the 29 was to fly leaving you free to focus on combat employment since even with a break in flying, I could pick up the nuances of the aircraft pretty fast.

Back in India, and after adding a few more acceptance sorties at Nasik, where the aircraft was being handed over to us by the Russian erection team, to keep in touch and work out the radius of the loop after take-off with max burner amongst other manoeuvres, but still with under 20 hours on the type, I was at Palam to display the aircraft for the Air Force Day parade on 08 October 1987. How I got to that stage with even the tail slide being permitted to me is another story, to be told another day. But then, I had close to 430 hours on the aircraft, counting the ones I had on the Hunter. After all, the MiG –29 was a Super Hunter. A Hunter in dry power and a Super Hunter the moment you put on the burners. You couldn’t lose control of the aircraft unless you were bent on flying with 2 cross-eyes, and a pair each of crossed hands and legs. Better than the Hunter, with its two powerful engines, the 29 would always bring you back safe even if you lost an engine for some reason. It could comfortably do an overshoot in dry power from flare out height. After all each engine was really more powerful than the single Rolls Royce one on the Hunter.

 

Post-script: I commanded 28 squadron, the First Supersonics, till June 1989, doing operational flying and training but also displaying the aircraft all over in between with the badge of “Fulcrums: The Balance Rests On Us”. We even did the initial training for formation aerobatics on the aircraft till three aircraft, but this was later called off by higher authorities. From June 1989 till January 1991, I was Chief Operations Officer at Adampur where I kept in touch with the 29, since the third squadron of 29s was raised there with me around to help but never did the low-level stuff. In 1997, when I took over Air Force Station, Pune, I started this again slowly after a break of over 6 years in flying due to staff postings in the intervening period. The reasons and the story are for another time. However, in 1999, after over two years of this, the Chief of the Air Staff was pleased to award me “Displeasure” for doing low-level aerobatics without proper authorization. This was at the official age of over 53 years but, like I said, that would make another story. No regrets, but I have preserved the Displeasure for my grandchildren. After all, The MiG-29 is a Super Hunter and such a pleasure to do all the displays in and I am sure they would like to hear of my days on the Hunter and the Super Hunter. Only wish I could fly it again before I take off my flying boots for good.”

Special thanks to Angad Singh. 

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MiG-29 versus Mirage 2000: personal account from Air Marshal Harish Masand

 

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The MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 are both fast and extremely agile fighter aircraft — but which of these formidable machines would win in a dogfight —  the French beauty or the Russian beast? We spoke to a man with the answer, Air Marshal Harish Masand

“Running through my papers in an attempt to organise my retired life, which now essentially revolves around the golf course or the study room so that I could start punching the keyboard instead of the buttons in the cockpit, I came across my log books the other day. As any die-hard fighter pilot would vouch for, log books can’t just be put down without at least a bit of reminiscing on the good old times, remembering the freedom of the skies and chasing dream-clouds not just like a breath of fresh air but 100% oxygen. What caught my eye that day was the entry starting 30 Mar 1988 of Ex Lightning. Even after two decades, the memory of those two weeks, till the middle of April, when we fooled around with the Mirage 2000s with our mint-fresh MiG-29s, is still vivid in my mind and took me back nostalgically to the old days with the smell of jet fuel instead of cologne, the sweat on your overalls, even if you changed one everyday and wore a fresh one, and of course the quiet roar of the jets despite the air-conditioning and sealing of the 29 cockpit muffling the sound of the powerful R-33Ds.

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The exercise was conducted to evaluate the new 29s, received in Poona in June of 1987 but formally inducted in the IAF in December, against the Mirage 2000s, the best that the IAF had till then for over four years. While most of the ’29 jockeys barely had a 100 hours on type, one could not but feel the excitement of testing the machine, the individual skills and the newly developed tactics against the veterans on the Mirages I could feel this excitement amongst even the youngest and inexperienced pilots even though they were going to face the far more experienced Mirage pilots, all of the later handpicked for the first and many subsequent lots, most of them on the fleet for over 4 years and most with 500 hours plus on the type. Of course, one had also heard of how the Mirages had conducted a similar exercise against the MiG-23 MFs earlier in Adampur soon after the induction of the Mirages, whipped the veterans on the 23s and come home with a lot of gunshots against the ill-matched swing-wings. All the same, though we were relatively inexperienced, we were looking forward to the exciting and interesting two weeks ahead of us. In addition, in a couple of weeks after that exercise, our 28 Sqn was celebrating its silver jubilee as the First Supersonics and some of our attention had to go towards organisation of the events and preparations to tap into some professional and personal memories of the old-timers who were attending the function, including the then Chief, Polly Mehra, retired Air Marshal Mally Wollen and many other ex-COs and members of the First Supersonics. As it happened, after this exercise, we had our own tales to tell too.

“I think the ’29 is one of the best fighting platforms in the world even today”

Before I describe the events, I think it would be essential to put down the background a little more in detail to set the narrative in perspective. The trials were code-named Ex Lightning and were to be conducted in a Top Secret manner under the overall control and supervision of then Group Captain Jeff D’Souza, who was the Chief Operations Officer or COO of Air Force Station, Poona at that time. Jeff was a very qualified and capable officer having been on the staff of TACDE after winning the sword of honor in the 10th FCL course. On top of his impressive professional credentials, he was soft-spoken, mature and a truly likeable gentleman without any airs due to which reasons, as I remember, he commanded tremendous respect from all of us in the base as well as within the entire Air Force. The AOC, Air Commodore IS Bindra, had left the whole exercise to Jeff totally and was hardly ever seen for the brief/debriefs for the exercise. Jeff had made it quite clear at the start itself that ego and one-upmanship were taboo for the exercise and, while each specifically designed mission would be flown realistically to the limits of the aircraft, the rules of engagement and flight safety considerations were not to be violated. Also, considering the sensitive nature of the exercise and the information gathered, single copies of the mission reports after debrief would be generated by the nominated agency from either side, to be collated and forwarded to HQ personally by him. As a result, no performance figures or reports on the tactics were retained by the squadrons, at least on the 29 side. Due to this reason, as well as the fact that the information may still be sensitive, I hope the reader will understand the lack of any data or solid figures in this article. I only want to highlight the experience, some of the good times we had and the fun side of things in these two weeks.

“I only remember that the ’29 outperformed the Mirage in every sphere from sustained rate of turn to climb and even in instantaneous rate of turn.”

I was leading the team from the 29s while Pudding Ahluwalia, then commanding 1 Sqn, The Tigers, brought and led the Mirage Team from Gwalior. The first thing that struck anyone that saw the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 parked side by side in Poona was the finish and polish, as it had struck me in October 1987 when Joe Bakshi’s Mirages and our 29s were parked together in Hindon for the Air Force Day display over Palam. More than the sheer difference in size between the two aircraft, were, the clean lines and finish of the 2000 compared to the brutish rough finish and slightly wavy surfaces of the 29. While the finish on the 29 was much better than the MiG-23 or the 21, it was still nowhere close to the aerodynamically and aesthetically soothing finish of the 2000. Right from the first day of the exercise, therefore, I had started calling this a fight between the beauty and the beast and called the Mirage 2000 and their pilots “Delicate Darlings”, or DDs for short, a name that I had coined earlier in Hindon. The size difference between Pudding and me was exactly the reverse of the aircraft and I do not think Pudding ever appreciated being called a DD, particularly by me. When I had earlier used the term on Joe in jest at Hindon, he had merely laughed at it and, being the sport he was, even stood me a beer for thinking of such a term on a relatively quiet evening.

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Air HQ had also detailed three umpires from TACDE and accordingly, Vicky Chopra, Damu Damodran and Joe Bakshi from that hallowed institution were with us for the entire duration, flying with us in the rear cockpits of trainer aircraft from both sides to see there was no fudging or exceeding the limits of the aircraft as well as safety of the missions while also making for some lighter moments in the debriefs and for the entire duration of the exercise. Joe was known for his limericks and jokes, apart from his flying skills, and mid-way through the exercise, he coined a poem on the whole scene in a lighter vein and another at the end, scribbling away in the last row, as I saw him in the debriefs. I found these two poems to be quite funny and put the originals in the 28 Sqn Diary. To make for a better perspective, I have placed the transcripts of these two poems at the end of this rumination.

“He still could not accept that the Mirage did not out-perform the 29, at least in the instantaneous rate of turn. I tried to pacify him by saying things like that the Mirage was certainly a good-looking aircraft with some great qualities and systems and he should be happy that he got the beauty while I had the beast.”

The first few trips were planned as individual performance trials with one trainer from each side flying together and synchronously carrying out the briefed maneuvers starting at low-levels to check the timings and compare the performance. I had Doc Vaidya, then commanding 7 Sqn on Mirages, flying with me for the first trip in the rear seat even though he was from the rival camp since the idea was also to familiarize each side with the handling qualities of the other aircraft. Pudding had asked me earlier, right at the start if he could send a young pilot and an engineer to my squadron to study the manuals and the aircraft in greater detail, also by interacting with our people. Perhaps, his idea was to find some way of countering our tactics by understanding our systems better. Later, I was told that he was collecting performance figures for his own private report to his C-in-C or Air HQ. Whatever may have been the purpose, we did not dwell or worry about it since we were still from the same Air Force and the idea was to mutually learn and improve each other’s tactics and skills. That is also the reason why Doc Vaidya, who became a dear friend over the years, found a place in the rear-seat of my 29 on the very first trip. I do not quite recall what he felt about the experience except for the words “wonderful” and “thank you”. Perhaps, Doc would write about the experience himself someday.

 

I only remember that the ’29 outperformed the Mirage in every sphere from sustained rate of turn to climb and even in instantaneous rate of turn. This was as our side had expected, having earlier theoretically compared the performance figures for the two aircraft. The only doubt in our minds was about the performance of the fly-by-wire system which could reportedly produce the optimum performance on the Mirage in any given set of conditions, albeit with an over-ride for the slightly enhanced performance for a short duration while we had to get the best out of the MiG-29 manually through conventional hydraulic controls. Due to this reason, I would have been quite content to see the initial instantaneous rate of turn on the Mirage to be better, at least for the first 90 to 180 degrees of the turn, till the induced drag of the delta platform and the lower thrust to weight ratio of the Mirage took over. However, I had been working on coordinated pressures on the control surfaces to generate even rapid manoeuvres, instead of large or even noticeable movements on the controls which had their own problems, particularly at low-levels, for my displays on the 29 since Aug-Sep 1987 and, was very pleasantly surprised to see that this effort really paid off and even the instantaneous rate of turn was in our FAVOUR..

In a turn towards the Mirage, I found we were crossing even 90 degrees before the Mirage. Also, I had noticed, while practicing for the displays, that the 29 accelerated even at 9g at low-levels if the power was ahead of the onset of g and, therefore, required a coordinated turn with power management to stay at the optimum speed and at the desired g.

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As a matter of fact, I used to brief and show my younger pilots that if you went up faster on the throttle than the onset of g, the aircraft would be on the higher side of the curve and would keep accelerating even at 9g. In that case, the options were only two, either reduce the power to get the speed back or pull more than 9g, the latter option being beyond the laid-down limits for the aircraft. The corollary was that, at the correct speed and with the correct technique, the 29 would keep turning at 9g at low-levels till either you conked off or till the gas ran out. I mean the gas had to run out either in you or the aircraft if you wanted to foolishly continue with such a manoeuvre for a prolonged duration. Such was the brute power of the two engines on the 29 and the thrust-weight ratio. Naturally, our rate of climb was also better. While range fuel consumptions were better for the Mirage due to the shape and the resultant profile drag apart from the weight and the single engine configuration, in combat situations, we ended up consuming almost the same fuel due to the fact that the 29 did not have to remain in the afterburner regime through out the engagement.

 

Pudding was naturally upset with this outcome and convinced Jeff to repeat the sortie. Jeff agreed since a couple of other parameters, particularly in initial and sustained rate of climb, had to be rechecked in any case. So next day in the green period, there we were, Pudding and I, with Vicky and Joe in the rear cockpits I think, to haul the aircraft around again and measure the figures. Quite naturally, the results were the same as before. During debrief, Pudding first started off with the proposition that we were not comparing pilots but aircraft and, therefore, instead of me, somebody else should fly the 29. While I was quite happy to let even the youngest and most inexperienced pilot fly in other tactical exercises, such 9g manoeuvring and handling the aircraft to its limits at low-levels was something that one could not leave to a lesser qualified and less experienced pilot.

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I, therefore, opposed the suggestion and Jeff agreed with my view. In a lighter vein, I also made a counter-suggestion that, instead of Pudding, someone 40 Kg lighter fly the Mirage which might improve its thrust-weight ratio and thus its performance. I am sure if Pudding had been wearing slippers at that time, I would have got them immediately but since he could not easily bend down and undo his flying boots, I got away with just glares. If only looks could kill. I also remarked that the Mirage could be flown by anybody since you merely demanded the best performance from the smart fly-by-wire system. Unfortunately, with a ‘dumb’ flying control system in the 29, we needed rather smart pilots to fly it to its limits. Pudding let me off again, having known each other quite well since the early years of our flying in Hasimara/Bagdogra. Finally, it was decided by Jeff that we would do yet another trip for the instantaneous rate of turn, to be measured only through 90 degrees of turn. While we were leaving the briefing room, Joe just whispered “Dirty Harry getting dirty looks, Keep checking 6”. As may be obvious from the foregoing, we were ahead even within 90 degrees while sustaining our speeds.

 

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Later, we got into group combat and specific missions to try out the aircraft in their designated roles, where even the most inexperienced of our lot were given the opportunity to participate, some with less than 50 hours on type. From the tales I heard in and outside the briefing room, I know they all had a lot of fun while learning DACT with a capable and experienced adversary. While I do not wish to go into individual skills and claims in this area, it may not be difficult to guess these, being typical of die-hard fighter jocks. Suffice it to say that, in these exercises, our radar, IRST, HMSD and the voice information system really proved their worth and were put to good use.

Over the two weeks, I think we all had a great time and built a good bond between the two teams and the fleets, despite all the professional rivalry. In this regard, I particularly remember ‘Fuzz’ Moulik getting quite sentimental and emotional with his course-mates and friends from the other side, particularly “Sexy” Saxena, I think, from the Mirage fleet. Those who know Fuzz will know what I am talking about. For those who do not know Fuzz well, Fuzz gets all emotional and sentimental over a couple of drinks with friends but, underlying it, one can see that he really means every word of affection and would do anything for a friend. Pudding and I remained friends, though rivals for a long time through our careers which took us on different routes. One of the young friends that I made from Mirages was Cheema, now flying for Jet Airways, and we still play golf and share a drink whenever I am in Delhi and he is not on the roster for the next day. I got to know Cheema, then a Flt Lt, in very peculiar and rather funny circumstances that I must add as the concluding episode of Ex Lightning.

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The exercise got over on 14 April and the next day the Mirages were to fly back to Gwalior. Having known Pudding for so long, I invited him along with Jeff and a few others to a dinner in the best place in town those days, the Blue Diamond. The GM of Blue diamond, Rajan Kelshikar and his wife Neelu, had become real close to Malini, my wife, and me through the induction days since they were taking care of the Russian Warranty Team and catered for most big events at the base and the VIPs visiting us. With Rajan being kind enough to include me for discounts in the hotel, I could afford to invite a fairly decent number to the hotel as their farewell dinner. After a few drinks, Pudding got a little sentimental and carried away affectionately calling me by the distorted pet name he had for me from Adampur days, ‘Khappusky’, a Russian variation of the pet name I had on Hunters in Hasimara, and said that he still could not accept that the Mirage did not out-perform the 29, at least in the instantaneous rate of turn.

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I tried to pacify him by saying things like that the Mirage was certainly a good-looking aircraft with some great qualities and systems and he should be happy that he got the beauty while I had the beast etc. Not being able to reconcile to going back in this manner, Pudding suggested that, before they ferried out the next morning, he and I should do a 1 Vs 1 to prove who was the better pilot and which really was the better aircraft in front of all the people on the base right overhead. For this, we should take off in a spectacular manner; he would take off on Runway 10 while, simultaneously, I should take off reciprocal on 28, each in our lane on the same runway, do a roll of the top and from there engage in a 1 Vs 1. Jeff was watching this conversation with a wisp of a smile and winked at me to give me encouragement.

I responded by asking pudding which Air Force he was in and that, in any case, while he could maintain his lane on take-off on the DD with its sophisticated inertial navigation system, I could barely keep the brute of a 29 on the entire runway with its two engines in full afterburner. In any case, they were supposed to ferry back quietly the next morning and the roar of three engines in full afterburner at one time would wake up even the dead and perhaps make the AOC, who was not particularly fond of me, wonder what on earth was going on, come out of his office and lynch me from the nearest tree. Why AOC Bindra was not fond of me and the good times we had together will make for another interesting story later perhaps. Pudding kept insisting on a fly-off before he left while I kept telling him to enjoy himself, his drinks and go home without such a shoot out. Jeff then told me to go ahead and take him on.

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I, then, proposed that we take off with a break so that it sounds like two aircraft doing their own thing, perhaps an air test or something even like a take-off for ferry and time each aircraft from wheels roll. Each would then do a loop after take-off, a 360 degree turn and end with another loop, the whole sequence being timed from start to finish. The aircraft with the lesser timing would have proven its performance along with the skill of the pilots. A case of Black Label was agreed as the prize. The time would be kept by Jeff with a time-keeper from each side. Flt Lt Cheema was nominated from the Mirage fleet while, I think, Late Rathan or/and young Sandeep Singh were sent from our side to the ATC. Well, that is how I got to know Cheema well. I would not like to reveal the timings here but suffice it to say, the verdict was clearly in favor of the 29. After the event, Pudding tried to argue that timing from wheels roll was unfair since we had two engines and he took off on a single one. Guess he wanted us to be foolhardy enough to fly the routine on a single engine to be even. Even from unstick, the 29 was ahead by a vast margin for obvious reasons. AOC Bindra never found out, I guess, since he never asked me a question on this nor issued a warning. As far as I know, he did not question Jeff on this either. Pudding, before leaving, gave me the money for four bottles which we busted up in a fleet party on my birthday after a week on 23 April. The Sqn is still waiting for the remaining eight bottles. I last reminded Pudding of the remaining debt a month before he retired as the AOC-in-C WAC. In the meantime, Cheema got into the bad books of Pudding as the messenger with bad timings.

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I think it must be obvious that I enjoyed the ’29 a lot, a little more than the Hunter on which also I have some very fond memories. With its superb aerodynamic qualities, ‘light-n-easy’ control forces, the reserve of power and some great and rugged systems not seen in contemporary fighters, the 29 was like a multi-million dollar sports car which I enjoyed hauling around and exploring its limits. Certainly, the beast was a beauty to handle and never let me down. Nor should it let down anyone with a good head on his shoulders. Handled and serviced correctly, I think the ’29 is one of the best fighting platforms in the world even today and should benefit by the upgrade in the IAF, if done right. I certainly wish the upgrade had come in my time but better late than never.”

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Note from Hush-Kit

I’m indebted to Air Marshal Harish Masand and Angad Singh in making this interview possible.

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Flying & Fighting in the MiG-29: Interview with Indian Air Force ‘Fulcrum’ pilot Air Marshal Harish Masand

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A modern MiG-29 of the Indian Air Force.

Air Marshal Harish Masand is a decorated veteran of the 1971 war, and a pioneer of the MiG29 in the Indian Air Force. He is one of, if not the, the most celebrated Fulcrum pilot of the Indian Air Force. His solo MiG29 displays remain the stuff of IAF legend. We spoke to him about flying the formidable MiG-29. 

 

“(The instantaneous turn rate of the MiG-29) Beats all 4th generation fighter that I have read about or flown. Goes into a turn with 9g, or over if you wish to exceed the limits, in a jiffy with very small and smooth movements of the controls as if you had just willed it to turn, almost like a sports car.”

What were your first impressions of the MiG-29?

“It’s an amazing fighter. First looks give a very rugged, tough and menacing look like a hooded Cobra ready to pounce. The first time I flew it, I felt I was in a Hunter all over again. In dry power, it had very similar performance in almost every aspect including ease of handling and light controls. With afterburner, it became a super Hunter with much better performance. Thereafter, I published an article entitled, “The MiG-29 is a Super Hunter” in VAYU magazine describing my impressions in greater detail (which will be shared on Hushkit.net shortly)

Which three words best describe it?

“Awesome, incredible, deadly.”

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All images: author if not otherwise specified.

When did India procure the MiG-29s and where were you trained?

“India signed the contract in 1986 and starting October 1986, the initial lot, including me, converted on the aircraft in the Soviet Union. We flew from a base called Lugovaya. After conversion and return to India, we trained others and ourselves on the aircraft.”

What is the best thing about it?

“Its thrust to weight ratio which was about 1.1:1 at take-off and came close to 1.3:1 at combat weight.”

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And the worst thing?

“Not enough gas. The upgraded versions now have more internal fuel as well as AAR.”

Interview with Su-30 pilot here

How do you rate the MiG-29 in the following categories?

A. Instantaneous turn: “Beats all 4th generation fighter that I have read about or flown. Goes into a turn with 9g, or over if you wish to exceed the limits, in a jiffy with very small and smooth movements of the controls as if you had just willed it to turn, almost like a sports car.”

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B. Sustained turn: “At the corner speed, you could sustain 9g forever at ISA+10 (Indian atmospheric conditions) till you run out of gas or break your own back/neck trying to hold such g. As a matter of fact, you had to smoothly manage and coordinate the power with onset of g in the initiation of the turn, everything happening pretty rapidly. If you put on full burners too fast compared to onset of g, the aircraft would accelerate and you have to either haul more than 9g or reduce burners.”

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C. High alpha: “Carefree handling without worry of departures despite hydraulic controls with a stability augmentation system but no FBW. I used to demonstrate the tail slide on the aircraft regularly at shows within India those days. A mild judder told you when you were close to max alpha. A stick-pusher activated when you reached the stall but you could override it with a little effort. Post-stall, you could just sit back with stick fully back and the aircraft would behave like a falling leaf with slight rocking from side to side. Recovery was instantaneous with even slight relaxation on the control column and unloading.”

D. Acceleration: “Amazing due to the thrust to weight ratio and high SEP. In clean configuration, you can do a loop straight after take-off while accelerating for a max rate after finishing the loop. After a demo of slow speed handling at about 200 Km/h IAS, you could engage burners, put the landing gear lever in the ‘up’ position in one motion with your left hand and start the loop without having to unload to build-up speed.”

E. Climb rate: “Again amazing due to the same reasons. With full burner, if I remember correctly, it was about 330m/second soon after take-off.”

What was your most memorable mission? 

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“I suppose my most memorable mission on the MiG-29 was the 5 minute flight I did against the Mirage 2000 at the end of comparative performance evaluation trials against the Mirages on April 15, 1988. The Mirage Squadron Commander was unhappy with the results and insisted on a personal shoot-out before his departure on a personal wager of a case of Black label. We agreed to a profile of loop after wheels roll, a 360 degree turn finishing with a loop to evaluate which aircraft could do this profile faster. I beat him with a significant margin and got 6 bottles, which were consumed by the entire fleet that very night. I still vividly remember this fun mission since the remaining 6 bottles are still awaited, hopefully with interest. The sort of fly-off is described in more details in an Article entitled ‘Rivals From the Same Team‘ published in VAYU magazine soon (which is shared on Hushkit.net here)

10 incredible cancelled spyplanes here

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?

“In the MiG-29, we were doing DACT with almost all aircraft/squadrons of the IAF in turn for honing the skills of both sides in group combat and developing the right tactical manoeuvres. Later, as base commander of Poona and induction of the Su-30Ks, I did a number of DACT missions with the Su-30s. I found those the most challenging since the performance of both aircraft was similar.

The Su-30 had more gas and could last much longer in combat with similar performance. Therefore, the challenge always was to find ways to get a couple of quick shots and disengage before you started worrying about gas.”

Interview with MiG-25 pilot here

Interview with MiG-27 pilot here

How good were the sensors?

“Excellent. The combination of the powerful Pulse-Doppler radar, IRST and helmet mounted sight with the weapons slewed to the sensors was wonderful and unique since it did not exist on any other comparable aircraft those days.

 How easy is to fly? What is the hardest thing about flying it?

Absolutely easy with carefree handling characteristics. Like I said earlier, I felt I was flying a Super Hunter in the very first sortie on the 29 and felt absolutely at home even though I only had under 400 hours on the Hunter, flown 15 years earlier. The hardest thing was to teach my juniors how not to exceed the g limits in their excitement of engaging in combat since the aircraft had no g limiter and had to be initially flown to its limits by feel, cross-checked with the instruments as and when one could steal a glance inside. The idea was to touch 9g and stay there without having to look inside.

How would you rate the cockpit?

“Very comfortable. Roomier than all the previous Russian aircraft I had flown. Very effective cockpit air-conditioning too, also unlike all the other Russian aircraft I had flown. While we didn’t have a glass cockpit, which has now come with the upgraded MiG-29s of the IAF after I retired, personally I was very comfortable with the dials because I kept my eyes out most of the time with only an occasional glance inside. The HUD quality could have been better. I believe we have a much better HUD now along with a helmet mounted display. The voice information system, better known as Natasha, was also very helpful.”

Have you fired live weapons- if so, what was it like?

“I fired all possible weapons on the Hunter, Su-7 and the MiG-21s. Firing weapons gave you confidence in the systems and you always had the adrenalin pumping in to improve your score and win side-bets. On the MiG-29, I only fired an R-73 CCM (AA-11/Archer) on a manoeuvring target, which also was a great experience.”

 How confident would a MiG-29 pilot feel going against a modern F-16? 

“In a modern MiG-29 like the upgraded one or the M version, and trained well, I feel the pilot should be supremely confident against the modern F-16.”

What is the greatest myth about the MiG-29?

“That the MiG-29 is not very reliable. With the help of technical officers, I personally carried out a reliability study on the 29s. It is a very rugged aircraft. Maintained correctly, the MTBF of systems was as good or better than most comparable systems.”

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How combat effective is the MiG-29?

“For the role it’s designed, it is pretty effective. Now it has multi-role capability and more fuel so it should be even better.”

 How reliable and easy to maintain is it?

“As I said earlier, the systems are pretty reliable. Actually, the pre-flight servicing and maintenance is simple. It provides for pre-flight and operational turn-around with just replenishments with a check of the systems during start through a BITE known as EKRAN. The reliability of the systems improved if serviced in this manner. However, initially, with over-servicing and checks in the pre-flight, we burnt a lot of systems and had to cannibalise due to lack of spares, which affected the availability of the aircraft and future reliability of the systems. Periodic servicing is, perhaps, more frequent than comparable western aircraft particularly for the engines but, then, that is based on the Russian philosophy of more thrust and performance with less life. At the squadron level in the early days, without previously having ever done it, we did an engine change in just about 3 hours with another hour for a ground run check. Initially, the engines also had problems of quality control during manufacture with failure of nozzle guide vanes and internal object damage. We also had some FODs due to lack of nose wheel guards/deflectors in the initial aircraft and the position of the nose wheel relative to the main air intakes when the FOD doors were still open. We overcame the FOD problem with a change in the normal landing run technique. An example of the reliability of the engines may also interest your readers. Once, after we had landed from a mission, the technicians informed us that the right engine of my wingman’s aircraft had extensive damage. On examination, it was revealed that one of the bolts from the air intake had come loose and had been injected with all visible blades completely gnashed up. I asked my wingman if he had heard any noise during flight and whether he had noticed if he needed a few extra revs on the right engine to keep the aircraft in trim in yaw. To our surprise, my wingman said, he never heard anything and actually needed about 2% more on the undamaged left engine at cruise settings. The damaged engine had kept functioning all the way without any problems. ” 

 

Flying & fight in the Gnat at War here 

   Tell me something I don’t know about the Fulcrum?

“Well, in a lighter vein, I can’t do mind reading, particularly from a remote location. What is it that you don’t know but would like to know? Perhaps, you don’t know that, with the reliability and redundancy in almost all systems, the MiG-29 can be recovered with almost any in-flight failure. In all my time with the MiG-29 as a squadron commander and, later, as the base commander, we didn’t lose a single aircraft or pilot.”

 What tips would you give new pilots coming onto the MiG-29?

“The one major tip would be to learn to fly the ’29 smoothly by feel till you perfect handling the aircraft to its limits in its huge envelope. The other would be read up all the technical information on the aircraft and systems till you know it inside out to be able to handle the weapon systems efficiently and get the most out of them. Last, regularly practice gun-shots on manoeuvring targets. If you can do that, missile shots become far easier.”

How much post-stall manoeuvring can the average squadron pilot do? Is this a rare skill?

“There isn’t much any combat aircraft can do after it has stalled except to recover quickly for further manoeuvring. Therefore, in my personal opinion, post-stall manoeuvring in combat is a myth. What I would like the average squadron pilots to do is to learn to manoeuvre the aircraft at extreme alphas just short of the stall and know how to rapidly get it to the best manoeuvring alpha while still engaged with the opponent.”

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What is the hardest manoeuvre to pull off in a MiG-29?

“Perhaps, the tail slide. However, it has little combat value and may be practiced only to get complete mastery of the aircraft. Apart from that, as in all 9g aircraft, the hardest human thing is to be able to look out while in a 9g manoeuvre, particularly at low-level.”

Everything you wanted to know about Indian air power (but were afraid to ask) here

What should I have asked you?

“You could have asked me if you could arrange a trip for me in the 29? I’d love to haul it around again. You could have also asked me as to why, despite the reliability and redundancy of systems, so many MiG-29s have been lost, including in the parent Russian Air Force. I would’ve just said due to poor training and leadership/supervision.”

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 How important is the helmet mounted sight?

“In the early days, the helmet mounted sight was a great advantage even though it was rather primitive with just a pointing/aiming system with no other information. However, it helped cue the sensors as well the missiles on to the target and saved precious seconds in lock, launch or taking a gun-shot on the selected target.”

Interview with a Mirage 2000 pilot here

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Image credit: Angad Singh

What were the biggest challenges in integrating the MiG-29, did anything need to be changed to make the most of the aircraft?

“Personally, I had the biggest challenge in trying to change the maintenance and servicing philosophy, practice and processes to extract the best from the aircraft. In addition to that, it was also a challenge to train new pilots and select the right team, which could extract the maximum out of the aircraft without compromising safety.” 

 In air combat with a Mirage 2000, who would have the advantage and why?

“Without doubt, the MiG-29 would have the advantage due to its better overall performance including in Thrust to Weight ratio and aerodynamics. ” 

More MiG-29 exploits from Air Marshal Masad here.

10 incredible cancelled spyplanes here

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Note from Hush-Kit

I’m indebted to Air Marshal Harish Masand and Angad Singh in making this interview possible.

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“If you have any interest in aviation, you’ll be surprised, entertained and fascinated by Hush-Kit – the world’s best aviation blog”. Rowland White, author of the best-selling ‘Vulcan 607’

I’ve selected the richest juiciest cuts of Hush-Kit, added a huge slab of new unpublished material, and with Unbound, I want to create a beautiful coffee-table book. Pre-order your copy now right here  

 

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From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazine (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

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Modern jet fighters to race at 2022 Reno Air Races

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What is already described as the ‘world’s fastest motorsport’ is about to get a lot faster — with today’s announcement that some of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft will be entering the fray in 2022. The aircraft, which will include the European Typhoon, French Rafale, Russian MiG-29 (from Slovakia) and the US’ F-22 Raptor will be racing at speeds more than double the fastest existing racer, the L-29 of the current ‘Jet’ category.

What became the STIHL National Championship Air Races in Nevada started over fifty years ago, when World War II vintage fighters which had customised to eek every extra knot of speed were set against each other in a breathtaking display of airmanship. Since then the annual Reno Air Races have become famous worldwide.

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In 2003, Skip Holm piloted a modified P-51D Mustang, Dago Red, to make a class speed record of 507.105 mph in a six-lap race around the eight-and-a-half mile course. Jet aircraft are even faster: in 2009, Curt Brown set a record of 543.568 mphin his L-29 Viper. But this is all pretty sedentary compared to the speeds that modern fighters will reach. We spoke to Tim Folland, an RAF pilot, from the British Typhoon team sponsored by The Mendips Scone Company:

“I won’t tell you the exact speeds I’ve been getting in test runs that simulate the course…but I am very confident….it is well in excess of 750 knots. The idea came about from the realisation that the aircraft would be in Nevada at the same time for a large tactical exercise. The addition of commercial sponsorship made the whole thing viable.” 

The Typhoon will be up against some very tough competition from the French Team Rafale (sponsored by Mensonge Pastis), the US Red Raptor (Unwahrheit Tires) and the Slovakian MiG-29 ‘The Wolves’ (Hovadina Beer). 

Slovakian Air Force pilot Blázona Klamstvopica will be flying the Soviet-era MiG-29, she noted: “This will be an incredible race, and will hopefully raise a lot of awareness of the skill and dedication of our air force. I am certain that the MiG-29 will perform well, it certainly has a lot of power and can make very fast turns.”

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Military aircraft procurement: An insider reflects on why it so often goes wrong

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Despite the billions at stake, it is not unusual for air arms to develop or buy the wrong warplane. Jim Smith, who spent much of his career close to the world of military aircraft acquisition, reflects on why this happens. 

Sometimes, you have to wonder – Reflections on procurement successes and failures

“Having spent much of my career close to the UK and the Australian acquisition systems, and having been at least occasionally at the margins of the US acquisition system, sometimes, you have to wonder. Dr Ron and I wrote a recent article for Hush-Kit about some spectacular conceptual failures affecting the British Aircraft Industry, for example the decision to build four V-bombers, and to then field three of them. There was also the mistaken belief that a turret-fighter, such as the Defiant, was a good idea. Plenty of other questionable decisions are to be found in the military transport, advanced trainer, or the civilian market. Other good examples are to be found in the enduring saga of the Fleet Air Arm, where pretty much everything of British design was a disaster, with the exception of adaptations of land-based aircraft, and the excellent Buccaneer S2…

But let’s not point the finger solely at the British. The US has had some truly spectacular moments where misjudgements about technology or requirements have resulted in unfortunate outcomes, and sometimes this has been compounded by a system where lobbying in Congress can replace sensible decisions with ones that are a little less so. (Does anyone know when the KC-46 will reach full capability?).

The French have produced some fabulously successful aircraft – exemplified by the Mirage Series from the Mirage III to the Mirage 2000. But there have also been a number of misconceived aircraft, like the Mirage 4000 – absolutely successful at demonstrating what a huge fighter could do – but not actually bought by anyone.

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Apart from disasters, other surprising outcomes are possible. Sometimes, serendipity comes to the rescue, and something you were not at all sure about turns out to be just the job. An example from the US is the Fairchild A-10. The A-10 ground attack aircraft was nearly the victim of a long-fought campaign to take it out of service, until it proved unexpectedly to be just what you need in the complex ground campaign in Syria.

Sometimes, the requirement is out-dated, and a leap into new technology proves transformational. The A-4 Skyhawk exemplifies this, having been designed in response to a US Navy specification which envisaged a twin-engine bomber weighing 30,000 pounds. Heinemann’s Scooter came in at 15,000 pounds, flew in 1954 and remained in production for 25 years.

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So, how to go about illustrating some head-shaking decisions? Well, the plan is to provide an explanation of the sorts of issues that get considered in a generic acquisition programme, and then provide some examples where the outcome appears to be unexpected. And, perhaps most difficult of all, suggest what may have gone wrong. In doing this, I am going to try to avoid anything of which I have direct first-hand knowledge. This is a disadvantage, but I cannot put myself within the reach of the Official Secrets Act!

In the interests of brevity, I’m going to focus this first look on fighter aircraft. Partly because it’s a key area of interest for Hush-Kit, and I think there is enough material, but also because there’s always the prospect of following up with a look at naval aircraft, helicopters, or bombers if there is sufficient interest. I’m also only going to look at aircraft that actually made it into service.  As an analyst, it’s probably also fair to warn that the outcome of this is more likely to be more questions than answers. But that’s OK, as these might be the inspiration for future topics.
Acquisition – What are the issues? 
Most real-world acquisition systems are complex and full of twists and turns as approvals of various sorts are sought and achieved. In general, looking at diagrams of such systems, initial reactions are likely to be ‘No wonder it takes so long!’, or the sarcastic ‘Couldn’t they find a way to make it more complicated?’.

Let’s cut through all that to the issues. The big questions are:
‘What do you need?’ (and the all-too-often unasked question ‘Why’) and ‘How many do you need?’ – sometimes referred to in the UK as ‘Needs and Numbers’.
The need should ideally be expressed as a capability.
What do I mean by that? Well, suppose you want to prevent threat aircraft from penetrating an air defence area. That’s a capability, because it states what you want to do, without jumping straight to the solution. Even if it turns out you need 100 aircraft a radar system and a command and control system to deliver the capability, you are also going to need manpower, training, maintenance, spares, consumables like fuel and so on. But you should also be looking at other ways of providing the capability, such as ground-based missile systems, which will require different manpower and support arrangements. Or you might want to dominate and hold dominance over threat airspace. That’s a different capability, Air Superiority, rather than Air Defence, and may drive to a different solution (reference earlier article on BVR combat), while requiring a similar, but different set of support capabilities.

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‘When do you need the capability?’ – all too often re-interpreted as ‘When can we fit it in the budget?’. This is an important question though, as it is a key driver for technology and risk. If you need the capability right now, there is no option but to buy something already in service. A great solution for timeliness and low risk, but you will then be tied to technology that is perhaps 10 years old, and which was developed for someone else’s needs.
If the capability need can’t be met without developing new technical solutions, then you will inevitably have to grapple with the time, cost, and capability risk of developing those solutions. In either case you will need to consider how the new capability is to be integrated with your existing systems.
‘How much will it cost?’ Always an excellent question, because you will not know the answer at the outset. Even if you have the sticker price available for an off-the-shelf product, you will still need to work out how to get it into service with your trained manpower, on your bases, with the necessary operating equipment, facilities and spares, and provision for support of all sorts for the expected life of the solution. If you are having to develop a new solution, or pay someone else to do this, all of this data, and the time required, will be at best uncertain.
‘Who would you like to buy the capability from?’ This may seem a daft question, given you will not have selected a supplier until you have detailed answers to all the questions, and a Commercial offer from some entity that can deliver what you want. But your Government’s National Industrial Policy will come in to play at this point, with all sorts of complications and issues to consider.
If you are buying a ship, do you want it to be built in Spain, or Scotland? Or on the West Coast or the East? Should we sustain our own design capability and bear the additional cost and risk to do this, perhaps to avoid the constraints of US ITARs (International Traffic in Arms Regulations)? Or perhaps build someone else’s design under license, and wear the time taken to transfer the technical knowhow, build specific facilities and so on. Or is it really time we ordered a new helicopter from (insert name)? Or can we really get another European procurement through Congress?
‘What are we actually going to buy?’ This of course is the big question at the end of the process, although all-too-often the answer may appear to have been decided at the beginning. What we are going to buy will generally determine the manufacturer, unless a license or collaborative deal is to be struck.

Can you imagine the immediate post-war problem (before collaboration was thought of for the UK) – “…the next fighter, chaps, should we buy it from Armstrong-Whitworth, Avro, Boulton-Paul, de Havilland, English Electric, Fairey, Folland, Hawkers, or Vickers-Supermarine, or must we consider some ghastly foreign supplier? Or for a transport, Avro, de Havilland, Blackburn, Handley Page, Miles, Airspeed, Shorts or Vickers?”
The answer to this final question depends, of course, on the answers to all of the preceding questions, generally determined through a competitive process in which the Government declares detailed requirements, against which companies, or consortiums, make commercial offers to supply systems that meet those requirements.
Well, that’s the ideal, but in reality, anything off-the-shelf probably won’t meet all your requirements, and modifications will have to be designed and paid for; anything developmental will carry the risk that it will not meet the requirement, or will do so only after a longer period than you could conceivably have guessed; training, spares support, licensing costs, special facilities and ground equipment will all be needed, and all cost money. And, of course, Contractual terms have to be negotiated and agreed.
After all that, one almost understands why the processes are so complicated.
A word about culture: Of course, there are also other cultural factors outside the strict process to be mastered, overcome or got around. The US hates to buy anything from anywhere else. Fortunately, as the only Nation in the world still using the Imperial measurement system, everything has to be re-designed for them anyway, so a special variant can always be built in the USA, making it a domestic product really. I am told that in the Indian procurement system there are perhaps 20,000 people who can say ‘No’, and only three who can say ‘Yes’ – doubtless a dreadful slur, but perhaps with a grain of truth.
And then, there’s collaboration. Suppose you want to do a complex combat aircraft with about four partners. That means you are likely to have a National Industry from each of the partners, as well as some sort of Joint Company to deliver the product. But there will also be four sets of National Officials, seeking to meet the requirements of four National Air Forces, all coordinated by some sort of Joint Project Agency. So, a design review will need a minimum of 10 representatives?  Well no, the representatives will need to be advised by specialists, for example in ‘pilot interface’ (you can’t just say cockpit), control systems, sensors, weapons, airframe structure, aerodynamics and performance, propulsion system, logistic support and so on. If everyone turns up, your ten representatives are likely to be being advised by about 70 or 80 specialists. Collaboration is not easy.

Example 1:  UK post-war jet fighters

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So how come the UK managed to have the Hunter, Swift, Meteor F8, Meteor NF 11, Javelin, Sabre and Venom all in service at the same time?

At the end of World War II. The US had world leading capabilities in aircraft production, the UK had world leading capabilities in gas turbine engines, and the Germans had the most advanced understanding of high-speed aerodynamic design. As German resistance to Allied Forces crumbled, a race began between the US, UK and Russia to gain access to German aeronautical knowledge.

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One of the key transforming technologies in high-speed fighter design was the application of swept wings to allow flight at high transonic and supersonic speeds. Despite the UK maintaining a technical edge in jet propulsion, both the Americans and the Russians gained early access to swept wing technology, and the Americans, in particular, gained an early appreciation of the need for powered flight controls to produce supersonic fighters.
In the early to mid-Fifties, the UK was playing catch up, seeking to understand and apply this new knowledge to the Swift and Hunter as day fighters, and to develop night and all-weather fighter capability through the Venom and the Javelin, which would eventually supplant the Vampire and Meteor in this role.
The Swift, Hunter and Javelin all suffered protracted development as various aerodynamic and control issues were understood and ironed out, and the Canadair Sabre was used briefly as a stop-gap in advance of the Hunter becoming fully operational.
In the context of the procurement process, the management of technical risk was the main issue. Lack of detailed understanding of transonic and supersonic aerodynamics, and control system design, led to a series of issues with the Swift, Hunter and Javelin, with the latter also encountering ‘deep stall’ problems due to the interaction of its delta wing with its T-tail.
The other aircraft – the Venom and Meteor fighter and night fighter variants, were simply incremental advances of the Vampire and Meteor, and provided reliable service until supplanted by later aircraft.

Example 2: UK fighter aircraft progression

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Credit: BAE Systems

In the UK, once the Hunter and the Javelin were in service, the air defence of Great Britain might have been thought reasonably secure. However, this happy situation was not to be, as in November 1955, the Soviet Union successfully tested an air-dropped H-bomb. No longer could the RAF envisage intercepting Soviet bombers over the United Kingdom. Instead, efforts would be required to develop a high-speed, rapid climbing interceptor which could be launched from land bases to intercept bombers before they could overfly the UK.

Effectively, the Air Defence of Great Britain would now have to be achieved using rapid-climbing supersonic point defence interceptors, rather than using, at-best, transonic fighters. The immediate consequence was the development of the English Electric Lightning, surely one of the most extreme and impressive fighter aircraft ever developed. The initial requirement was to protect the V-bomber bases to maintain the viability of the UK nuclear deterrent. The Lightning entered service in 1960, and remained in service until 1988.
During this period, the role of the aircraft slowly changed. Despite its rapid climb rate and high speed, Lightning capability was always limited by its short endurance and range. Progressive development increased fuel volume somewhat, and improved missiles and radar gave the aircraft more capability as a weapons system. In the meantime, however, the USSR had developed long-range stand-off missiles for nuclear weapon delivery, challenging the RAF to push interception points further offshore.
Effectively, the requirement had changed from point defence of the V-bomber bases to stand-off interception at a distance. Defence of the V-bomber bases had, of course, become redundant in 1968, with the transfer of responsibility for the Nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy. The extended interception capability required an aircraft with more endurance, better radar, and longer-range missiles so that bomber threats could be intercepted before reaching their missile launch points.

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This requirement was filled by the Tornado F3, a clever design which exploited a variable-sweep wing to enable high endurance combat air patrols which could loiter on patrol, supported by tankers. With fully operational radar, and data-linked AMRAAM missiles, the F3 became a very effective Beyond Visual Range (BVR) fighter, and the introduction of ASRAAM provided a significant Within Visual Range (WVR) capability. The aircraft was retired in 2011, having been replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon. Changes in the global strategic situation had complicated Defence requirements and planning. The Tornado F3 was optimised for situations where the threat was both identifiable and somewhat predictable, but the world had changed, and was no longer so convenient. The key capabilities now needed were the ability to operate effectively when the threat direction and behaviour was unpredictable, and where the mix of aircraft in use could include similar types on both sides. The ability to deliver BVR combat was no longer assured, and WVR combat was more likely.
In these circumstances, the high wing loading and relatively low power-to-weight ratio of the F3 was a significant disadvantage, particularly in WVR combat against agile and powerful threats. Something was needed with greater air combat manoeuvre capability, and this has proved to be the Typhoon. Agile, with very high energy manoeuvrability as a fighter, and flexible multi-role capability as a strike aircraft, the Typhoon is combat proven and very effective. When armed with the Meteor missile and equipped with an active electronically scanned array radar (which may become a reality this year for the Kuwaiti air force) Typhoon should be one of the world’s most flexible and capable weapon systems.

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Yet again, a nagging doubt emerges … US, and increasingly, Russian and Chinese, aircraft have low radar signatures as well as having good manoeuvrability and range. Hence the next step down the air combat path is being investigated – the Tempest project.
In the context of the procurement process, UK fighter aircraft have been requirement chasing. No sooner has each been developed to be a very effective system, then the requirements have changed. From the simple WWII-like intercept capability of the Hunter and Javelin, to the point defence interception of the Lightning; then to Combat Air Patrol and BVR combat with the Tornado F3; and on to long-range missiles for BVR, high energy manoeuvrability for WVR, and the multi-role strike capability of the Typhoon.

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Next to flexible, stealthy air combat and strike with the Tempest and its adjunct projects. Arguably, always half a step behind …
Example 3: USAF Fighters

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Since 1950, the USAF has operated an incredible range of fighter aircraft. Considering only the jet aircraft, and only the genuine fighters that entered service, one can identify seventeen different types, compared to the ten types used by the RAF.
From the many aircraft one could consider, I have selected the F-104 Starfighter, one of the most iconic aircraft of all time. With its minute wings, large engine and rocket-like appearance the F-104 is a spectacular aircraft. Yet from a USAF perspective, it can only be considered to have been a failure.

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The USAF eventually accepted 296 Starfighters, of which 170 were F-104As and 77 were F-104Cs, a relatively small proportion of the 1400 eventually built. The F-104As had a troubled development history, with propulsion, structural and aerodynamic problems. No less than 52 aircraft were used in the flight test programme over a two-year period, and the general use of the aircraft was somewhat ad hoc.

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The USAF made two operational deployments of the F-104A – to Germany for 1 year at the time of the construction of the Berlin Wall, and to the Southern US at the time of the Cuba Missile Crisis. The F-104Cs were also deployed as a precaution during the Cuba Missile Crisis, and were based in Taiwan, and at Da Nang, South Vietnam, for two periods between 1966 and 1967. Twenty four aircraft were used as target drones, others were transferred to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force and to Pakistan.

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So, what went wrong? Well, the early F-104A and F-104C aircraft were designed as short-range day fighters, with US experience on the Korean peninsula in mind. In the US context, the aircraft was seen as a simple, low-cost day fighter. The F-104A and C can be regarded as having met these requirements, but, in practice its capabilities were not very useful to the USAF, as evidenced by its limited operational deployments in circumstances where rapid reaction was perhaps more important than flexibility of operation. In short, while the F-104 met the specification, that specification did not meet the USAF’s operational needs. Although blessed with a scorching climb rate, the short range of the aircraft was mismatched to either the home-defence role, or to deployment unless to protect high value local targets.

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The interceptor concept was more of a success in Japan, where proximity to China made for short reaction times, increasing the utility of the F-104J. The F-104G, which was widely used within the NATO European environment, was extensively strengthened and redesigned to support all weather multi-role operation, but not operated by the USAF.
Other Projects, Other Questions
The few fighter-focussed examples considered have shown some of the difficulties that can arise in introducing new technologies; in keeping the capability relevant; and in getting the requirement right in the first place. There are a heap of other questions that could be looked at through the lens of the difficulty of getting the right capability at the right time.
Some of this is to do with looking ahead and trying to understand where geo-politics and technology might provide opportunities to exploit, or threats to counter. Some of it is down to the inherent difficulty of trying to out-match rivals who are themselves trying to out-match you. And some of the difficulties are down to managing processes to rapidly and accurately select the right capability, product and supplier, while spending large sums of public money in a contested environment.”

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From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

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F-15, JF-17 and Bison pilots describe fighting F-16s

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Whenever I interview a modern fighter pilot, the subject of how his or her fighter compares to the F-16 in a close-in fight is always brought up. Here we find out how pilots of the F-15C and JF1-7 rate the Viper. 

F-15C versus F-16

“Ok, first, most answers in air combat are…’it depends’. It depends on skill, experience, recency of experience, are we fighting where it is optimal for one plane and not the other? Assuming equal pilots (meaning both have the same air-air experienced and recency of experience), the F-16 is a more efficient turning plane. It enjoys a slight advantage in sustained turn ability, where as the Eagle has a slight advantage in instantaneous turn ability. The turn circles are almost identical. Depending on configurations, the thrust-to-weight ratio is all pretty close to equal.
So how did I fight an F-16? First I always assumed the pilot was awesome. Assuming we meet 180 degrees out with our speeds where we want them — and no one has an angular advantage I would elect to take the fight single circle (the tactical scenario may not favour this is a full up air battle). My goal is to get slow and use my ability to fly at higher AOA/slower speeds than the F-16 can. The F-16 has decent AoA capability, but the FBW (fly-by-wire) system is limited in speed of movement of the controls as it approaches its AoA limit. The F-15 has no such limits. In my experience I usually had more air-air experience (total and recency) than the vast majority of F-16 pilots and usually had little trouble neutralising and then killing them in close. Like all victories it comes down to flying your particular aircraft at the extremes and doing it more efficiently and precisely than the other pilot. That being said, an F-16 can win a single circle fight if the adversary is not on their game, it can also lose a 2 circle fight if they are not proficient at it.
Hope that helps!

Let me add this.  Air-to-air combat is incredibly fluid, it changes very fast.  So even though a F-16 may have a better sustained turn rate then an F-15C, if through my intercept I can achieve 30 or more degrees of lead turn, I will happily go 2 circle.  And that is the goal, to merge with an advantage, that way, any enemy advantage is minimised and maybe even negated and a quick kill follows. That is the goal!

In my 2000+ hours I fought the Viper a lot, I have flown against many Weapon School grads, and average pilots. In most all cases I did really well. For any fighter pilot, it is about controlling the fight and forcing the fight that favours your aircraft. Because most F-16 units don’t do much air-to-air (A/T=Adversary Tactics folks being the exception), their experience, especially recency, was often spotty at best. So was I confident ? Always. Did I do well? Usually. But everyone has bad days and good days. That is why there is no absolutes in air-air combat.”
— Shari Williams

JF-17 versus F-16

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Which threat aircraft is most challenging and why? “Definitely the Su-30 is the most difficult aircraft in terms of current Indian Air Force inventory but we regularly fly against the F-16 and more importantly AMRAAM, so Adder and Alamo seem less worrisome (smily face).”

How comfortable and ergonomic is the JF-17 cockpit?
“It is one of the most digitised cockpit I’ve flown till date. Even the F-16’s cockpit fades in comparison to the Thunder’s cockpit layout.”

In a WVR fight would you rather be in an F-16 or JF-17?
“F-16 .. for the initial 180deg turn, then Thunder all the way. JF-17 with PL-10 mod (currently in pipeline) will trump F-16 with AIM-9M any day of the week, but currently on brute performance F-16 has the edge.”

Full JF-17 pilot interview here.

MiG-21 versus F-16 

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How confident would you feel going against a modern F-16 or MiG-29?
“It is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Modern day fighters have systems assisting you. Superior radar, helmet-mounted sighting systems, great Radar Warning Receivers, counter missile systems, electronic warfare systems like the self protection jammers etc. The older version MiG-21 had none of these, so they are clearly out of the fray. The MiG-21 Bison is the most modern MiG 21, and it is formidable in all of these — the only downside being the limited endurance that a MiG-21-class of aircraft has. Eventually it is the man-machine combo that makes or breaks an air combat.

 Group Captain MJA Vinod, full interview here

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Pilots of 7 rival fighter aircraft types describe dogfights against F-16s here

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Pilots of 7 rival fighter aircraft types describe dogfights against F-16s

t9IS5OzvovNkxM0Pz9bKK0-IpVZ3hAVYY8-cxdYY5Eo.jpgWhenever I interview a modern fighter pilot, the subject of how his or her fighter compares to the F-16 in a close-in fight is always brought up. I collated these answers for a snapshot of how the pilots of other types (including the ‘Flanker’, Gripen and Rafale) rate the formidable Viper.

(The full interviews can be found on this site, I will link to them in a later edit) 

Mirage 2000 versus F-16 

“An interesting question – I must have flown against the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, Tornado F3, F-8 Crusader and the F-104 Starfighter in combat. The older generation didn’t stand a chance, but the F-16 block 50 was very good. One of the drawbacks of the Mirage 2000 being unique was that as we did a lot of 1vs 1 and 2vs 2 Mirage vs Mirage combat – you developed tactics and handling skills to fight Mirage vs Mirage. This actually was counter productive as these tactics -and the way you handled the aircraft – didn’t cross over to fighting other types. I got beaten by an F-16 by fighting him like a Mirage and learnt a painful lesson. “DACT was interesting in the M2000 – if your opponent was new to fighting a delta it could make his eyes water! At the merge the initial 9G+ turn was eye-watering, despite having a single engine it could still reach heights other fighters like the F-16 couldn’t. It also possessed, in my opinion, a far more sophisticated fly-by-wire system – it was in effect limitless. I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating ! As we hit Zero the aircraft began to slide backwards and the ‘burner blew out. My heart-rate increased. As the aircraft went beyond its design envelope, the nose simply flopped over pointing earthwards – with a few small turns the airspeed picked up. As I hit 200 knots I simply flew the aircraft back to straight and level. I admit that my opponent did shoot me down, but he did say it looked spectacular. This sort of carefree handling gave pilots huge confidence in the aircraft”

— Ian Black

Gripen versus F-16 

Would you be confident facing an F-16?

“Absolutely. I can’t think of anything the F-16 would be better at, if we don’t count ease of refuelling (F-16 is refuelled with a boom and the boom operator does much of the job). Of course, there’s a lot of details and circumstances here, but generally the Gripen is a step or two ahead, especially in my favourite areas. As mentioned, I really like pilot UI and large screens, and F-16 is lacking a bit in that area, so maybe I’m a bit biased. I do like the F16’s side-stick though! I have flown an F-16 and I loved the stick. It didn’t take many minutes to get used to the stiffer stick, and it’s more ergonomic for the pilot in high-Gs (and probably for long missions) to have it on the side. Flying in close formation with another fighter was almost as easy as with the Gripen.”

“I’ve flown against F-16s and F-18s. No surprises really, they are what they are. The F-16s are a lot like the Gripens but you can claw yourself closer and closer to their behind, if that is your goal.

For F-18s you have to look out for their ability to do high AOA turns for quick point-and-shoot. They will be sitting ducks after such a move though. The Gripen ‘carves’ through the air better then both and you will not lose as much speed when turning. Saying that, I believe that ACM is mostly a curiosity today, but a damn fun one and good for training aircraft handling. The IRIS-T missile is so good (and as are others) that everything you can see with your eyes is basically within your Weapon Employment Zone, WEZ. You can of course end up in a ‘furball’, having to fight your way out with guns, but it would suboptimal to craft fighters for that purpose today, as anyone with a missile left would win hands down. So, it’s always better to opt for one more missile than guns, if we’re talking ACM.

I know the guys in the Swedish Air Force are very keen to fly their Gripens in air combat manoeuvres against Denmark’s and Norway’s F-35s. I think you can guess why.”

 –– Lieutenant Mikael Grev, full interview here

F/A-18C Hornet versus F-16 

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What is the best way to fight an F-16? And the worst?

“Throughout my career I flew against F-16s many times and in my opinion, it was the hardest of the 4th generation fighters to beat. It was small, had a lot of thrust, and a very impressive 9G turn. The F-16 had a turn rate advantage and much better thrust to weight when compared to the F/A-18C. The F/A-18C had a better turn radius and could fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) than the F-16. The best way to fight an F-16 is in a 1 circle fight, usually in the vertical. Getting the Hornet’s nose on first to try and get an early shot, whether with a missile or the gun. The key would be to get the F-16 reacting to the Hornet, bleeding energy, and getting slow. At slow airspeeds, the F/A-18’s AOA advantage meant I could point my nose easily and get a shot. The worst way to fight against an F-16 would be two circle fight on the Horizon. The F-16s 9G turn and superior thrust to weight would give him a better turn rate and the F-16 would out turn the Hornet. If an F/A-18 tried to match the F-16 turn rate, the Hornet would get bleed energy and its turn rate would continue to be less than the F-16.

Like all fighters, most of the ability of a fighter plane to fight is dependent on the skill of the pilot. The F-16’s performance, much like the Hornet’s, would suffer if it was carrying external stores. A slick Viper (F-16) flown by an experienced pilot was a beast and was always a tough fight. There was a Air Force reserve squadron out of Luke that was full of experienced pilots, all of them had at least a thousand hours in the Viper. They always flew slick Vipers and they were a tough fight for an F/A-18C which always had at least one external tank and two pylons. This reserve squadron also went on that Key West Det. From what I saw and experienced, in a pure visual fight a slick Hornet was better in the visual arena than a slick Viper. I rate the F-16 pilots from that reserve squadron in Luke as the best I ever fought and in the visual arena the Hornet more than held it’s own on that Key West det.”

Louis Gundlach, full interview here

Find out how F-15 and JF-17 pilots rate the F-16 here. 

Rafale versus F-16 

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Which aircraft have you flown DACT against?
“Against F-16, against Typhoon, against Super Hornets. Against Harrier. Against Alpha Jet. Against Mirage 2000.”

…which was the most challenging?
“The F-16 is pretty cool. Typhoon is a joke, very easy to shoot. F-16 actually was a good surprise actually, I found it to be a pretty good aircraft. I think the most challenging was the F-16, it’s a pretty small jet so it’s easy to lose sight of it. So I think that was the big one.”

Pierre-Henri ‘Até’ Chuet, full interview here 

 

Typhoon versus F-16

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

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

Squadron Leader Roger Cruickshank, full interview here 

MiG-29 versus F-16

 How confident would a MiG-29 pilot feel going against a modern F-16? 

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“In a modern MiG-29 like the upgraded one or the M version, and trained well, I feel the pilot should be supremely confident against the modern F-16.”

 — Air Marshal Harish Masand, full interview here

Su-30 versus F-16 

What was your most memorable mission?

“Well there have been many over the years but a few that stand out are as follows: –

DACT with F-16 Block 60*of Republic of Singapore Air Force.

(*Ed: think these are actually Block 52)

The strongest adversary that we could possibly face in our life as a fighter pilot was the F-16 of PAF (for obvious reasons). So the excitement of facing an F-16, even in a mock combat was unbelievable. The weight of the mission was overbearing! Perhaps that’s what makes it special. As the combat commenced, we manoeuvred for our lives and in very little time the situation was in our favour! The desperate calls from the F-16, “Flare, Flare, Flare!” are very distinctly audible in my ears even today! From that day, the anxiety that prevailed over facing an F-16 in combat was gone forever…. vanished! It was clear what the outcome would be!”

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“Another mission that stand out is a group combat mission that was pitching a Su-30 & one MiG-21 BISON against three F-16 . As luck would have it, the BISON did not get airborne and now the game was one Su-30 vs three F-16 in a BVR scenario. Again, we pushed the envelope, manoeuvred between 3000 ft to 32000 ft, pulling up to 8 g, turning, tumbling, firing and escaping missiles in a simulated engagement. The crew co-ordination between us in the cockpit and the fighter controller on the ground was the best that I have ever seen! The results in a mock combat are always contentious but with ACMI, they are more reliable. End score: one F-16 claimed without loss. When we got out of the cockpit we were thoroughly drenched in sweat and tired from the continuous high G manoeuvring but all smiles for the ecstasy that we had just experienced.”

 

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?
“In the Su-30 I have flown DACT with RSAF (Royal Singapore Air Force) F-16, M-2000 H /5[ FAF], MiG -29 amongst the ASFs. I think the most challenging was the M2000 in France. The carefree manoeuvrability of the Mirage its nose profile and avionics package perhaps gave it an edge over the others. The F-16 beyond the initial turn loses steam, the MiG -29 is very powerful but conventional controls maybe …. . A good Mirage guy can manoeuvre more carefree.”

Gp Capt Anurag Sharma, full interview here

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Flying & fighting in the F-14 Tomcat: Interview with an Iranian fighter ace

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The F-14 fighter garnered global fame as the star of the extremely American Top Gun film, but in an unlikely twist of fate, the vast bulk of the Tomcat’s air combat experience actually took place in the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. Col. Mostafa Roustaie (ret.) flew the formidable Tomcat in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) in which he shot down five Iraqi Mirages and MiGs. He spoke to Hush-Kit about flying and fighting in this awe-inspiring fighting machine. 

What were your first impressions of the F-14A?

“I believe the first time I set my eyes on an F-14 was during my undergraduate pilot  training (UPT) in the United States in the early ‘70s. There was a massive amount of hype about the F-14A and the F-15 Eagle at the time. Our gut feeling was that the then ruler of Iran, His Majesty the Shah, would eventually choose one of these two beautiful birds. The F-14 was on a US-wide test run and tour visiting all US military bases. It was then in Laughlin AFB that some of us Iranian cadets were allowed to see the F-14 for the first time. I got a chance to check the cockpit out. I was wholly impressed. Believe me, I fell in love right there and then with this beautiful jet, and even more so with its roomy cockpit. After completion of my UPT training in the United States, I went back to Iran to complete my fighter pilot training with the Imperial Iranian Air Force on the F-4E Phantom II (which was a brand new aircraft in our fleet of fighters). Believe it or not, even though I was a full-time F-4E pilot, I could not stop thinking about the Tomcat. I dreamed about it every night, hoping to be able to fly it some day. The requirement to fly and train in the Iranian F-14A demanded around 1000 hours of flight hour on the F-5, or about 1500 hours on the F-4 Phantom II. Those were amongst the most challenging years of my life as I worked hard to be chosen for the F-14 slot.”

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Three words to describe the Tomcat? 

“So hard to just choose three. Maybe those three words would not do it justice. Due to my intense interest in the F-14, I would devour anything that related to it. I would constantly speak with my old instructor pilots who had by then been assigned to F-14. The F-4 Phantom II in its time was one of the best fighter aircraft in the world. Flying it was definitely a privilege and a chance of a lifetime. Flying the F-4 made you proud. And I say this now as a former F-4 pilot, but Grumman’s Tomcat was a cut above. It was something else. F-14 was ‘the last word in the fighter business.’”

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1974, 1st air base Mehrabad, Tehran. 2nd Lt. Roustaie seen in middle row half kneeling, second from right. Class 53-18 / F-4E Phantom front seat course. Credit: author

“I wanted to kill this guy by then. Adrenaline was pumping through me. I was full of rage, disappointment and excitement. I thought if it comes to it, I am gonna have to ram this guy. Maybe he read my mind, I don’t know. At this point, for reasons I will never understand this Iraqi pilot made a rookie mistake. Instead of climbing to clear a ridge, he turned and impacted the hillside at high speed as we flew over.”

What is the best thing about it?

“When (and if) you get to intimately know the F-14, you realise that it is a very forgiving and steady airframe. My honest experience tells me that majority of mishaps are due to pilot error. However, the F-14 was generously forgiving of one’s mistakes… so long as the envelope is not pushed beyond what the airframe and aircraft are designed for.”

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What is the worst thing about it?

“I can only speak from my own experience, and in comparison to the aeroplanes I flew (such as the T-37, T-38, and F-4D/E). But I am willing to say that there are no or very few negative issues about it. The F-14 was the ultimate fighter aircraft. It was the result of years of research and combat experience. A generation of fighter design thinking that culminated in the production of Grumman’s Tomcat.
Maybe, since we were an air force and were used to backseat stick and control, the addition of a stick to the backseat would have been desirable (I am saying this only from a training perspective). Although this was not much of hinderance. Our superb US Navy, and IIAF training proved that the Tomcat was a flawless design. It was proven in combat. All in all, it seriously was excellent. Absolute perfection”

How do you rate the F-14 in the following categories?

Instantaneous turn: “I would give it an A+. If you paid attention and watched your angle of attack, stall indicators and whatnot then the instantaneous turn rate was better than great. Although as you know, every airframe has its own G-limits and we made sure not to stress the airframe beyond what was asked of it.”

Sustained turn: “Again I would give it the same rating if not better. 95 out of 100. If you observed the above notes (and I must add it put G pressure on the plane and the pilot which is an extra thing to worry about) then it had no problem. It was good at it. As I will shortly explain, I had an intense aerial duel with a MiG-21, and the F-14 proved more than capable in flying regimes that were not possible in any other fighter at that time. I personally can attest to the F-14’s amazing qualities in the proverbial ‘knife-fight in a phone-booth’.”
High alpha: “The AOA in Tomcat was easily controllable provided you made the right inputs and speed corrections. In fact, the F-14 was great at high alpha flying. I would give it an A+.”
Acceleration: “Never seen an aircraft accelerate this quick. Even with the notorious TF30 engines on our F-14s. Its powerful engines, and its five zones give an experienced fighter pilot a sense of superiority in the sky that is unmatched. I loved it. 100 out of 100 for this one.”

Climb rate: “I would refer you to what I said about acceleration. Same deal. I urge your readers to watch dozens and dozens of video clips out there showing F-14’s superior climb rate in the airshows and displays.”


Sensors: “We are talking about 1970s technology in 2020. For its time in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and well into the 1990s, it was superior to anything that was out there in the Eastern or Western bloc. We proved this in the war against numerous Iraqi Mirage F1 fighters, MiG-23, and in one instance a MiG-29. Its capable radar, jammers and receivers were a world ahead of its contemporaries. It felt like Tomcat designers had gone to war once before and knew what a fighter pilot needed (and desired to have) in combat. Compared to the F-4E, it was light years ahead. The AWG-9 radar and control system was a miracle. I could fly over the northern Persian gulf and could see the movement of Iraqi aircraft as far as Baghdad on my radar scope. This boggled my own mind every time. Its radar warning receiver was excellent. Night flying or flying in weather were a joy.”

Performance: “In general, the aircraft was unrivalled. It was well equipped, and in the hands of a decent fighter pilot who could use all that it offered, it was a great machine.”

Man-machine interface/cockpit?

“The switchology was excellent and thoughtful. I was pretty elated and shocked when I sat in the front seat of an F-14A for the first time. It felt like I was sitting on top or out of the aircraft. I mean it was like sitting atop the jet. It offered the pilot and RIO an unmatched view of the surroundings. I remember when I was an F-4 pilot, my helmet would bang the cockpit each time I wanted to look down and I would end up rolling the aircraft to get the desired view down low. The F-14 was totally different. Each switch was placed in its correct position, was accessible. The seat itself was easily adjustable, and the environmental control system was my favourite.”

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Graduation night February 1974. Laughlin AFB, Texas. US instructor pilot: Captain Joseph Gary Kristoff

Situational Awareness

“My take is that you have to be present in the cockpit to to know what is going on around you. By that, I mean you had to have your mind present and be focused. There are many systems in a fighter aircraft that constantly feed you all kinds of data to keep you alive. A fighter pilot that does not know what is going on around him/her, or isn’t aware of its systems will end up as a guest at Azrael’s (angel of death) evening party. A fighter pilot must have all his six senses tuned to his/her systems while engaging those very senses outside of the cockpit to survive combat. In essence, a fighter pilot has not gone to the park for a walk. He’s gone to war and that is his job. He has to do his job flawlessly to survive.”

Tell me something I don’t know about the F-14?

“I think a lot of ordinary people do not and can not fathom the awesome capabilities the F-14 brought with it. I was an F-4 pilot with hundreds of hours of flight time and despite my affection for the F-14, I really did not know much beyond what others told me and what I had read about it. It was only during training and then actual air combat when its true capabilities came to the fore. There was no peacetime limitations on what I could or could not do with this aircraft. I was told to defend the skies and I did what it took to do so.”

How good was the AIM-54A, what was your experience with the weapon system?

“As you know, the origins of AIM-54 dates back to the missile system that was envisioned for the A-12/YF-12 supersonic interceptor. And we all know the F-111B story. Then it morphs into, and gets finessed to what we now know as the AIM-54A and C variants of the original concept. So it began its journey as a powerful, heavy long-range missile that was to intercept Russian long range bombers threatening US Navy carrier strike groups. But what gave it the lethal punch was the combination of then the AWG-9 system with the missile itself. I personally believe the Iranian kill rate using the missile was above 90 percent. A handful malfunctioned on launch and dropped off the jet cold. Overall it was a reliable and effective weapon system.

Let me add an important note to this whole thing. Our air force’s maintenance squadrons with their highly capable weapons and armament shops (which I might add were all US-trained) provided us with reliable missiles and systems to use in combat. All this could not have been achieved without their dedication in eight years of conflict with Iraq. I personally launched four of those AIM-54A missiles at enemy aircraft. Three performed flawlessly and scored hits giving me three confirmed kills. But the fourth one is most likely a probable. I could not see what it did and so I can not take credit for it. Although after we had landed, our intelligence reported a heightened radio traffic on the enemy side and our SIGINT/ELINT units confirmed search & rescue activity in the area of the probable hit, but I could not visually confirm anything. In order to increase the chance of a hit, we were instructed to launch within 40 miles. It was a proven lethal long range platform. Our F-14A kill ratio is still jaw-dropping. A few Tomcats brought down by friendly fire but that is for another day. ”

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Imperial Iranian Air Force flight cadet M. Roustaie. USAF Laughlin AFB, Texas. T-37 solo flight. Credit: author

What was your toughest opponent, and why?

“I had a few dogfights. I mean very close encounters with an enemy aeroplane. The ones that are known as ‘phone-booth knife fights’ in fighter pilot jargon. Twice against French -built Mirage F1, once against a MiG-23, and one time against a MiG-21 over the town of Ilam in western Iran near the Iraqi border. I had hurried his number 2 back to Iraq, but ended up in a breath-taking four to five minute-long flying duel against their flight lead. He was a superb and capable pilot. And if I may say so here, I still mourn his loss as a flier, an expert. Now more than 38 years after that day, I don’t see him as an enemy. Here is what actually happened. I struggle a lot inside with this one incident.

Hours earlier I had landed around 2030 local time and took a bit of time to debrief. As I was leaving the squadron building around 2230, I saw the next day flight schedule and my jaw dropped. They had set me with 1st Lt Reza Tahmasabi as my RIO for an early 0530 launch. When I got home, I passed out on the sofa while I was eating. And all I remember is the flight scheduler’s call shortly after to remind me that the squadron’s shuttle was en-route to pick me up. It was early morning of October 26th, 1982. The armed conflict that Iraq had commenced against Iran in September 1980 was still raging, and in its third year.

“Seconds ago, I wanted him dead. Now he was dead. But my heart broke for him. Maybe I even shed a tear. That pilot was incredible.” 

Reza and I launched in an F-14A (serial No. 3-6078 BuNo 160376 callsign ‘Captain One‘) around 0530 AM local time and came under the control of Dezful air base’s Ground Control Radar in SW Iran. The area was calm and our radar scope clear. We would run to the vicinity of our border with Iraq under Dezful air base’s radar control and then would head back. This would go on a few times. One time we would turn right, and next we would turn left. In the middle of my last right turn, Reza my RIO strangely (and impatiently) asked me to halt my right bank and hold it. A second later, he called out a high velocity contact on radar fifty miles out. Radar calmly asked us to hang on a second, as it could be friendly aircraft. Seconds passed, and the radar operator calmly told us that there were no friendlies in the area and asked us to watch out. My senses were now in a state of heightened tension. I could tell something was up. Moments later Reza said “… don’t have whatever it was on my scope any more, but it was for real..” He had not finished his sentence when Dezful ground radar officer came back on and told us there were a pair of enemy aircraft 30 degrees to our left, low, with a heading of 180 probably on a bomb run against the Iranian towns of Ahwaz or Dezful. I pushed down low while talking to my trusted radar intercept Officer (the ‘back-seater’ or RIO).

The radar controller kept giving us the updated track, heading and speed of these ‘bandits’ closing on us. Reza was also urging me to keep a tight left turn as he warned me of the closure rate and distance. I reached out and flipped the switches for a heat-seeking AIM-9 missile launch. At first, I got a glimpse of the number 2 in trail, and moments later his number 1 came to view as well. It was hard to tell the type of the enemy aircraft but a guessing game ensued. Was it a MiG-21, or an Su-22 strike aircraft? Unsure, I pressed on, while Reza my good RIO kept an eye out for others. The Number 2 aircraft noticed us and banked so hard to the right I thought to myself that maybe its pilot had gone mad. Now the flight leader was mine. I was prepared to launch the Sidewinder (my guess is that we were about three miles out) but he noticed us either through his fleeing wingman or somehow managed to see us, dropped his ordnance plus fuel tanks as he dove down hard to the right. He entered into a valley and flew fast and furious over a riverbed towards Iraq. We gave chase about 200-300 feet above him and entered the valley. This pilot seemed to know the area quite well. He weaved and whirled so well it enraged me. It was really difficult for me to accept that a 1950s MiG-21 was giving me a run for my money in my modern F-14. A few instances he came close to within range of my heatseeking missile but each time he would turn so sharply and timely as though he could read my mind. This Iraqi pilot was for sure a miracle worker. I was in awe of his superior airmanship. In a nimble MiG-21 he flew brilliantly. I was chasing and admiring when my back-seater Reza called out our fuel level which made me come out of afterburner and give an audible sigh. I was like “Oh man we have come this far for a kill, and now we have to go back due to low fuel.” I wanted to kill this guy by then. Adrenaline was pumping through me, I was full of rage, disappointment and excitement. I thought if it comes to it, I am gonna have to ram this guy then. Maybe he read my mind. I don’t know.

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At this point, for reasons I will never understand, this Iraqi pilot made a rookie mistake. Instead of climbing to clear a ridge, he turned and impacted the hillside at high speed as we flew over. Seconds ago, I wanted him dead. Now he was dead. But my heart broke for him. Maybe I even shed a tear. That pilot was incredible. An exceptional airman. Even though I was unable to shoot him down, the kill was later credited to us as a manoeuvre kill. 38 years after and I am still sad that a good pilot had to pass-on that way. He did not deserve to perish like that. Our fuel level was now critical and finding the airborne tanker was a challenge. However the tanker pilot had heard our plea over the radio and had decided to abandon its track to meet us for a much needed air-to-air fuel transfer. We made contact with them and got home safe.”
What was life like in your unit during the war? What were the biggest highs and lows?

“At the onset of the war, we had very little combat experiences. Our peak adrenaline rush was mock basic fighter manoeuvre (BFM) sorties or air combat manoeuvring (ACM) sorties done under tight pre-determined rules by the air force brass. And then the war broke out. I had not seen a live AIM-54A Phoenix missile until the first night of the war. We had practiced with CATM-54A missiles and such, but never before had I seen an armed missile. On top of this, the stress of combat was felt across our families. My wife ran the family. While I acted like a trained military puppet, day and night roaming the base and preparing for what was then a fully-fledged war with a neighbouring country. Family life was on hold, and military orders were the priority. As there were not enough F-14 pilots available, so we had to fly long hours to cover the skies and provide combat air patrols (CAP) for the nation’s critical infrastructure including ports, major cities and oil facilities. Thankfully, the Shah’s foresight had prepared us for the day we would go to war and as a result the former Imperial Iranian Air Force had acquired several squadrons of aerial tankers. We were well trained in the art of air refuelling and our KC-747s, and KC-707 (Boeing 747-100, and 707-300s) could sustain us in long flights. There were occasions where I personally flew eight–nine hour long missions providing CAP to ocean-going oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. I know of a few pilots who flew even longer hours. The camaraderie was great. Despite all the sacrifices, our families were there for us and they’re the ones who should be thanked. The biggest highs were when there was no fatality or incident in our wing, and the lows were when we’d lose a friend or an aircraft.”

 Tell us about your kills

“I have five kills under my name. One MiG-21 that I maneuvered to impact with the ground, or rather he impacted with the terrain as I was chasing him. Two Mirage F1 jets, and two MiG-23 Flogger strike jets.”

How did you feel going into combat in the F-14A?

“Certainly, the confidence I felt (and I think every one in our squadron surely felt) was very high. That we were in the world famous F-14 with its cutting-edge technology (combined with the training we received from our Iranian and US Navy instructors) made us feel invincible. Given all the challenges we felt as F-14 pilots in post-revolution Iran, I believe the aircraft and its crew overall performed marvellously.”

F-14 combat effectiveness and importance in the war

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“Psychologically speaking it was always a boost to know I was in an F-14 facing hostile forces. Having an F-14 in the skies over friendly forces was also a morale booster. I must add that an interceptor is incomplete without its controllers. Some of our ground controllers were so good that we’d blindly go wherever they told us to. I can recall Captain Pezhman, or Major Asem. These two were my own favourites whom I trusted and could tell they had my best interests in mind.
And as a fighter pilot I definitely knew I had the best technology available to me and we were well trained. I had a great number of flying hours by then and my confidence level had risen drastically. All that was needed was a bit of luck to own the skies. I want to say thanks to the person who actually purchased the F-14 for the air force. He chose well.”

What is the biggest myth about the Iranian F-14 fleet?

“There are a few. The biggest lie, I suppose, is that given the chance Iran should have acquired the Eagle. I disagree. Many of my fellow pilots in the Iranian AF would agree with me on this, I am sure. Iran is a vast country with a unique geography. High mountain ranges, deserts and its proximity to the Soviet Union during the Cold War left us no choice but to go for a long range interceptor with a capable radar and deadly armament. The F-15 is a superb dogfighter and its current versions are significantly better than those of the mid 1970s. But looking back, the F-14 offered Iran what the F-15 could not: the ability to deter Russian overflights, and engage multiple targets from unbelievable distances while providing radar coverage for other friendly aircraft. This proved important as the Shah’s attempt to buy the E-3 AWACS never materialised due to the 1979 revolution. The F-15 matured a bit later.

Another myth is that F-14 is indestructible and invincible. I disagree with this assessment a little. The F-14 is like any other weapon system — and  is prone to mishaps, human errors and technological advances that can defeat it.”

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An Iranian Tomcat pilot (not author)

What else should I have asked you?

“I can’t think of anything at the moment. Everything that needs to be said about my experience with it has been said here, and there are hundreds of books and documentaries about this venerable aircraft. Maybe I should hint at the TF30 engines. Many comments have been said about these engines. Yes, it is not perfect and a lot has been said about its stall characteristics in certain flying regimes, but in the hands of a stable, well-trained and knowledgeable pilot, these engines are never a problem.

What was your most memorable mission and why?

“Two missions will always stand out in my mind. One was the dogfight with the MiG-21 in 1982, and the other one, a compressor stall incident which took place during a mission I undertook on May 5th, 1985 in central Iran over the city of Kazeroun while tanking after an exhausting CAP sortie.

We were at 24,500 ft performing our second aerial refuelling of the day. Once our aeroplane was full, I pulled the throttles back gently. Quite suddenly, there was frightening noise in the cabin and all went silent. Fog filled the cockpit and I could barely see. At first I thought it was smoke, but when it subsided I realised it was not. My ears were hurting with a kind of pain I’d never experienced before. The aircraft went nose down, and the front control panel blinking like a Christmas tree. Every warning light was on except the ones for ‘fire’. A quick glance at the engine gauges told me all I needed to  know. We had two basic options: get the engines back, or ‘punch-out’ (eject).

My back-seater, that fateful day, was Captain G. Mardani. He started reading the emergency checklist as I was attempting an air start. It was so quiet I could hear my own breath. I told my RIO to be prepared to bail out once we reach 11,000 feet.
From then on, I focused on air start procedures, but then I quickly realised it can only be done under 13,000 feet. Perhaps three or four minutes must have passed but it seemed like three to four centuries to us. Passing 13,000 feet, the ‘Master Caution’ light came on. That meant electrical power was restored to the aircraft, meaning one of the engines was now back on line. Believe me, I could not bring myself to tell my RIO not to punch out. Words would not come out. I mustered all that was left in me and shouted— “Do not punch out!” repeatedly. And he quickly barked back — “Yeah I know. Calm down. I can feel one of the engines running.” It feels like you have hit the jackpot. The right engine came back up, but the left just did not budge, I declared an emergency and returned to Shiraz Air Base for a barrier arrested recovery using the F-14’s hook to catch the cable in order to slow and halt the stricken jet.”

Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan visits Iran's 8th Tactical Air Base in Isfahan f-14 tomcat fighter jet iranian air force base fighter air craft  (2).png

Iran’s F-14 force remain operational today long after the US Navy retired their final Tomcat.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

“My pleasure. I should thank you for reaching out. Special thanks to Mr. Kash Rayan for conveying my sentiment and words to your esteemed readers. I should hereby say that the Iranian air force combat record is one that gets ignored by western observers for various reasons. It shouldn’t be. I hope more and more of your readers, aviation enthusiasts and academics study this conflict in depth away from the politics of today’s world. The Iranian Air Force used existing western military doctrine to fight a Soviet trained adversary in the air, on the ground and at sea. And a fair study of the war in the air, and at sea at least shows the (albeit slight) triumph of the Western doctrine. It is a great case study for Cold War historians.

Once again, many thanks for giving me an opportunity to speak about my experiences.”

Details of Colonel M. Roustaie’s aerial kills
Date: 15th January 1981
Aircraft: F-14A Serial No: 3-6027
Weapon: AIM-54A Mfg Serial No: 40215/8
RIO: Captain A. Jalal-Abadi
Callsign: Vulture 3
Location: Khuzestan province of Iran.
Target destroyed: MiG-23 Flogger
Date: 5th Oct 1981
Aircraft: F-14A Serial No: 3-6036
Weapon: AIM-54A Mfg Serial No: 6/40261
RIO: 1Lt. Ahmad R. Fereydouni
Call sign: Dragon 4
Location: SW Iran. Slightly west of the port city of Mashahr
Target: MiG-23 Flogger
Date: 26th Oct 1982**
Aircraft: F-14A Serial No: 3-6078
Weapon: None. Manoeuvring Kill
RIO: 1Lt. Reza Tahmasbi
Callsign: Captain 1
Location: West of town of Dezful
Target: MiG-21 Fishbed. (Aircraft wreckage and pilot’s body found).

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4 & 5:
Date: 7th August 1984
Aircraft: F-14A Serial No: 3-6055
Weapon: AIM-54A Mfg Serial No: 40230
RIO: Capt. Hossein Sayyari
Call sign: Khofash (Bat) / Scrambled flight / QRA
Location: 70 miles west of the island of Kharg in the Persian Gulf
Targets: 2 Mirage F-1EQ
One dead Iraqi pilot was snatched from the sea by Iranian Navy helicopters. The other one crashed inside Iraqi airspace. SIGINT reports combined with 6th air base radar data indicated a crash of a Mirage F-1EQ inside Iraqi territory. Later on, Iraqi air force POWs confirmed the loss of one such jet on that specific date to their Iranian debriefers.
**My own note on the third kill…
The logbook shows the date of that kill as October 26th 1982, but during the phone interview the interviewee mentions November 5th as the date. To ensure reliability and honesty, I have chosen to report the logbook date. I must note that the Persian calendar (solar calendar) is obviously different from the Gregorian (western) calendar. So discrepancies in the reports are expected.

I have verified his logbooks and corroborated with another fellow pilot from a different squadron and his account is verifiable..

Colonel M. Roustaie is also the only Iranian air force pilot known to have trapped aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier. He trapped aboard USS Midway in the backseat of a US Navy F-4. during Midlink-77 exercises involving Iranian military assets and US forces in the Persian Gulf and sea of Oman.

 

Biography: Born 1951. Entered Imperial Iranian Air Force in 1970.
Training: US Air Force UPT. Laughlin AFB, TX. (class 74-04).
F-4D/E Phantom II pilot with 2200 hours.
F-14A Tomcat pilot 2086 hours
Aircraft flown: T-37, T-38, F-4D/E, F-14A
Iran AF’s 6th Tactical Fighter Base deputy of operations.
30 years of service. Honourably retired.

 

 

 

Kash Ryan a native of Iran, hails from a military family. Both his father and grandfather were professional service members. His father served in the Iranian Air Force retiring as a Lt colonel. Kash served mandatory service in Iranian Air Force in the late 1990s.
Growing up on an air base planted the seeds of curiosity about aviation and aircraft in him. He is a qualified private pilot currently splitting his time between Canada and the United States. As a military history enthusiast he was compelled to bring several fascinating combat memoirs of the Iranian Air Force pilots to a wider audience in the English speaking world for the first time.

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We’ve interviewed a bunch of warplane pilots- here are some them:

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“If you have any interest in aviation, you’ll be surprised, entertained and fascinated by Hush-Kit – the world’s best aviation blog”. Rowland White, author of the best-selling ‘Vulcan 607’

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Saab JA 37 Viggen

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21

Mikoyan MiG-27 ‘Flogger’

BAE Systems Hawk 

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’ 

Sukhoi Su-15 ‘Flagon’

Panavia Tornado GR.1

Panavia Tornado F.Mk 3

BAe EAP

Mil Mi-24 ‘Hind’

North American F-86 Sabre

North American F-100 Super Sabre 

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

BAe/Md Harrier GR.Mk 7/9

Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet 

McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle 

Hawker Sea Fury

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress 

Saab JAS 39 Gripen and here too 

Eurofighter Typhoon

Boeing RC-135

Dassault Mirage 2000

English Electric Lightning

Boeing KC-135

Fictional MiG fighters (and the aircraft that inspired them)

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Since the Korean War of the early 1950s, the aircraft designation ‘MiG’ has a had powerful association to many Westerners: MiGs were fast, agile and hostile fighter planes flown by dastardly communists  — and they were shrouded in mystery. Whereas Western fighter designs were publicly promoted years before their first flight, new Russian MiGs were revealed in blurry photos from spy satellites, as if from nowhere in formations over parades in Moscow or eviscerating NATO opponents in exciting artist’s impressions released by the US Department of Defense. They were perceived as deadly and mysterious, and this was convenient for Western propaganda purposes. The MiG mystique naturally inspired a raft of fictional aircraft waiting to be blown from the sky by heroic Americans. Here are some of the fictional MiGs that appeared in books, TV shows and films in the late 20th century. 

MiG-242 (1968) 

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Gerry and Slyvia Anderson created a series of British television puppet shows from the 1960s, including Joe 90. Joe 90 took place in the future — or rather what was the future, as it was set in the 2010s.  It was about a nine-year-old boy who could essentially Google things with his mind, which is not too far off Googling it with your fingers but this was 1968, so meant he was employed by the World Intelligence Network (WIN) as its ‘Most Special Agent’. The shows had a boyish obsession with fantastical vehicles,  many of which were informed by Gerry’s personal love and great knowledge of real-world machines. The first episode of Joe 90 featured the MiG-242. This model was extremely futuristic for 1968, but was clearly a chimera of contemporary aircraft. The MiG-242 had twin outboard-mounted tails, variable geometry wings and was launched from a pivoting platform for near-zero runway length launches.

 

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MiG-19/SM-30

The Soviets were interested in zero-length launch platforms in reality, and considered using rocket-assisted take-off aircraft for the point defence protection of airfields and critical targets using MiG-19s.  Tests with MiG-19/SM-30 ‘Farmer’ (with the PRD-22R booster unit) were semi successful but it was clear that this was a role that was better suited to surface-to-air missiles, a rapidly maturing technology.

In the US, Boeing proposed a Mach 2.8 carrier fighter operating from a vertical platform in the 1960s, the ultra-sleek ‘Nutcracker’.

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‘Nutcracker’

 

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The balletic Nutcracker.

 

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Zero launch technologies were tested in several countries. This is a German F-104G being thrown into the sky with rocket assistance, a technology pionnered by the sex magician and rocket engineer ‘Jack’ Whiteside Parsons.

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The MiG-242 was ramp-launched using an electromagnetic rail.

 

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The MiG-242s were radically altered Angel Interceptor props from the Andersen Captain Scarlet series.

MiG-2000

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Ward’s MiG-2000 featured inward canting fins. Another popular ’80s idea for stealth aircraft, possibly stemming from leaked information on Lockheed’s ‘Have Blue’.

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The MiG-2000 was a notional threat aircraft devised by General Dynamics’ Richard Ward, of what a follow-up to the MiG-29 might look like. It was intended to give the  international F-16 community an idea of what they may be up against in the year 2000. This was based on Ward’s observations of several technologies the Soviets appeared to be very interested in, most notably thrust vectoring and the canard-delta arrangement. According to Bill Sweetman (in conversation with Hush-Kit) there is a misinformation in Ward’s artwork – as he had a good knowledge of key stealthy design features actually being developed in the classified world and deliberately avoided them in his artwork and description.

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Mikoyan MiG-37 (1989) 

In 1989, stealth was a hot topic. One of the first books on this topic was Stealth Warplanes, by Doug Richardson. It looked to many observers that MiG-37 seemed the most likely designation for the first Soviet stealth fighter (see Testor’s MiG-37 below). Soviet developments could not be ignored by the book, despite the fact that at this time, nothing about Soviet stealth projects was known by the press. So the ‘Mikoyan MiG-37’ was pure conjecture, based on the pure ‘conjecture’ of the MiG-2000 above. 

One of the fascinating features of this book was its strong belief in ‘round stealth’. Many of the hypothetical aeroplanes in this book feature rounded-off wingtips, noses and fin-tips of the hypothetical aircraft. Radar returns would be scattered from these curves:

“…the rounded planform (of the MiG-37) shown here would ensure that reflected energy was scattered over a range of directions.”

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A 1982 Lockheed ATF concept that includes ’round stealth’.

In reality, this design idea was never used (albeit to a small degree on some cruise missiles), and it could be argued that the cultivation of this idea was the result of deliberate disinformation by several companies. Loral, Northrop and Lockheed (in several ATF artworks) may have been actively involved in this attempt to draw attention away from the F-117-faceting and B-2 flying wing approach. This idea can be seen on most ‘F-19s’ and is evident on this MiG-37.

Of course complex curves are used in modern low observable designs, but this ‘round stealth’ is not like the two US schools of stealth that have emerged, the Lockheed approach (sharp angles and flat surfaces) and the Northrop approach (as flat as possible, and of the flying wing configuration for subsonic designs, as seen on the B-2, Lockheed Martin RQ-170, Dassault NeuroN etc). When Northrop and McDonnell Douglas designed the YF-23, they incorporated the ‘flat as a pancake’ Northrop approach.

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Doug Richardson’s Mikoyan MiG-37

The notional MiG-37 is a tactical fighter that weighs around 50,000 lb and is powered by two 30,000 lb (in reheat) thrust class turbofans. It has two-dimensional vectored thrust provided by ‘slotted low-RCS nozzles’. It is a two-seater, with a canard delta planform and two canted out vertical fins. The concept emphasises performance and reduced radar cross section.

Did history provide us with a real MiG-37 to compare it to? The simple answer is yes. The Mikoyan Project 1.44/1.42 was a technology demonstrator that first flew in 2000. It displayed some similarities to Richardson’s MiG-37.Image

MiG 1.44/1.42

It was a canard delta, it did have twin outwards-canted tails. The thrust class was similar, though the real aircraft was even more powerful, with two Lyulka AL-41F turbofans rated at 176 kN (39,680 lb) in reheat. Weight was between 42-62,000 lb depending on fuel load, test equipment etc, so again- excellent guesswork. It certainly did not have rounded-off wingtips or tail-fins. The nozzles were not flat, despite the stealth advantages these could have conferred. The reason for the inclusion of round exhaust nozzles could have been one or more of the following-

1. 3D vectoring was envisioned, requiring a circular nozzle (perhaps extreme manoeuvrability was considered more important than minimum RCS)
2. Russian metallurgy was not good enough to make square nozzles which could withstand the  high temperatures of a vectoring jet nozzle
3. The actual production version if made, would have featured 2D nozzles
4. They were not required or were not consider a suitable design feature

(Though recently photographs have come to light of Soviet mock-ups of fighter designs with 2D vectoring thrust nozzles)

It was claimed that the aircraft would feature plasma stealth technology, an exotic idea that a General Electric employee had filed patents relating to in 1956. Little has been heard about plasma stealth since, though the fact that the later PAK FA is so carefully shaped suggests it is not a technology that was made to work satisfactorily. Problems in developing working plasma stealth include the generation of sufficient power to create the required plasma layer, and the operation of radar and radio in what amounts to a ‘radio blackout’. Talk of this technology may have been deliberate disinformation.

The MiG 1.44/1.42, a candidate for the Mnogofunksionalni Frontovoy Istrebitel (Multifunctional Frontline Fighter) programme was cancelled (though some contend that research from this effort found its way into the Chengdu J-20 project though there is no direct evidence of this). Sukhoi’s rival S-47 ‘Berkut’ took a radically different approach and adopted canards with forward swept wings, as can be seen from later developments this configuration appears to have been a design dead-end, at least for the time being.

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In reality, thirty plus years later, MiG has only got far as the MiG-35

MiG-31 Firefox (film version) (1982)

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Credit: Kurt Beswick

The Firefox is a splendidly ambitious design, supposed able to achieve Mach 6 and to embody a range of advanced technologies, including thought control of it weapons systems (as long as you can think in Russian). Other claimed characteristics include 2 x 50,000-lb thrust engines, flight at up to 130,000 ft, internal carriage of 6 AA-11 missiles, 2x 23mm cannon and chaff and flare dispensing pods.

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Hush-Kit’s Editor asked Jim Smith for his thoughts on the MiG-31 Firefox.

“Apart from a few obvious blunders, I really quite like the Firefox. If one imagines a strategic air defence aircraft, capable of taking on the XB-70, SR-71, and other high-flyers like the U-2, a configuration which borrows from the Valkyrie makes some sense.

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My biggest concern with the Firefox is the propulsion system, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment, and suppose sufficient thrust is available. The highly-swept near delta wing looks to fit inside a Mach 2.9 Mach cone, and it would be plausible to achieve that sort of speed without excessive wave drag and heating, assuming the stated materials for the structure. Mach 6, even for brief periods, does not look likely, particularly given the propulsion system. I like the use of the canard and the fold-down wing tips, both clearly borrowed from the Valkyrie, and the essentially high-speed bomber/transport-like configuration would be well suited for high-speed interception of strategic targets at high altitude. I would, however, expect any kill to be achieved using internally carried long-range air-to-air weapons. There is no need to carry 2 x 23mm cannon, and one cannot readily conceive a situation where this aircraft would be used in WVR combat.

Here are a few other (unsuccessful) aircraft designed with the same sort of performance goals (M 2.5 or thereabouts):   

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Avro 730

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Boeing 2707.

I particularly like the Douglas one, whose canard and wing resemble the Firefox quite closely, although it has a different propulsion arrangement and a single fin rather than twin fins.

What about propulsion? Well, what we do know about high-flying fast aircraft is that they have large engines, and truly enormous propulsion systems. Managing the intake compression process to bring airflow to the engine front face at stable subsonic speeds requires a very large and complex intake system. Look at Concorde, the XB-70, the MiG-31 (the real one) and the SR-71, and what you will find is huge engines behind bigger intake systems.

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The Mach 3 XB-70 had a huge intake system for its six engines.

I used to attend meetings occasionally with Rolls-Royce at Filton. On the wall of their management conference room, occupying the entire length of the room was a fabulous full-scale drawing of the engine installation of the Olympus 593 in Concorde. Truly, engineering as art. But driven by the physics of getting the air to the engine in a usable state – stable in flow, and at the temperature and pressure required.

There is no way Firefox would work with anything that could be described as a high-bypass ratio turbofan. Something I recall being referred to as ‘a leaky turbojet’ would be more likely. But probably installed either like the Concorde in underwing nacelles, or like the Douglas supersonic transport or the XB-70.

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The position of the XB-70’s six engines is apparent from the rear quarter.

The two twin-engine aircraft known to have this sort of performance are the remarkable SR-71, where the engines have been described as turbo-ramjet, and the MiG-31. For the SR-71, both the intake and ejector exhaust nozzle are critical to engine performance, and very complex airflow management is required. For the MiG-31, the powerplant is the Soloviev D-30R, which is a ‘leaky turbojet’ with a by-pass ratio of 0.57, but only about 2/3 the proposed thrust of the Firefox engine. In describing the earlier MiG 25, Jane’s stressed that most of the thrust at high speed comes from the intake and nozzle, and these are pretty complex for both the MiG-25 and 31.

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Key to the MiG-25’s remarkable performance are its vast intakes.

I regard the splitting of the intake path both by the wing and the fin structure as a concern, given the known complexity and sensitivity of the intake systems for similar aircraft.  I do not believe the system, as drawn, could get the aircraft to Mach 6, and possibly not even to Mach 3.

On the whole, I suggest the aircraft would be suited to two engines installed like Concorde, or indeed like current Sukhoi aircraft essentially in nacelles fed by underwing intakes. If the target performance were to be Mach 3-ish, as suggested by the appearance of the airframe, it does not seem evident that 50,000 lb thrust engines are required, leave alone additional rockets. It’s worth noting that the stated dimensions of the Firefox are significantly smaller than those of the SR-71, supporting the view that 50,000 lb thrust engines would not be required.

But then, all you would have is a sexier MiG-31, not at all what was envisaged by the film script.

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What about thought-control? We already have voice control for a number of functions in some advanced aircraft. Thought control might be quite difficult, but programs have existed where there was conceptually a progressive hand-over of autonomy from pilot to system as pilot workload went up, allowing fuel to be managed without intervention, for example.  However, I would think that thought-controlled weapons systems would be among the last to be implemented, because of the need to track ‘who did what’, both for training, and to provide an audit trail for decisions to employ lethal force.

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The SR-71’s unique intake system.

I admire the ambition of the Firefox, and the recognition of the importance of advanced systems as well as the right airframe. There’s no way the stated design would achieve Mach 6, and given that, I prefer to view Firefox as a strategic interceptor, operating at a maximum of Mach 3+, heavily armed and with good systems. But no cannon, no auxiliary rockets, and somewhat smaller thrust. Otherwise, I think that the forward part of the aircraft does look somewhat crude, and would probably produce unacceptable high-speed drag.”

MiG Project 701/Sukhoi T60S

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MiG 701.jpgAn intelligence blunder made the West believe that what was actually a MiG concept for high-speed replacement for the MiG-31 was actually a Sukhoi bomber. Though not fictional as such, this is a good excuse to mention an interesting design. As of 2020, work continues on a high-speed replacement for the MiG-31.

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The MiG  project 701 is similar in some ways to the earlier British BAC EAG 4458 concept. Seen here in British Secret Projects 5: Britain’s Space Shuttle by Dan Sharp.

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-28 (1985) Top Gun

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Real Soviet fighters were not available for the 1986 Top Gun movie so US Navy F-5s (operated by the real Top Gun aggressor units) were painted black and given Communist-style markings. The black paint was sleek and sinister, and made the aircraft both easier for the audience to see and to clearly differentiate from the ‘goody’ F-14 Tomcats.  The MiG-28 is is highly described as manoeuvrable, but somewhat slower than the F-14 Tomcat, both of which are true of the F-5.  The American pilots are warned that the MiG-28 was armed with the AM 39 Exocet, this is a real French anti-ship missile which earned notoriety in the Falklands War which took place four years before the film. The nationality of the air force operating the MiG-28s is not stated but according to a director’s commentary was originally intended to be North Korea, though there is also nods to it Libya or the Soviet Union.  Intriguingly, the Soviets had some actual F-5s of their own.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (Kfir)

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The Iron Eagle films started bad and got progressively more dire. Simplistic, atrociously scripted and ridiculous – this was fun ’80s action propaganda at its best. It was a paean to the F-16, in the same way that Top Gun drooled over the F-14. Though the poster for the film portrayed USAF F-16s, all the aircraft in the film were (somewhat bizarrely) provided by the Israeli air force. This is said to be due to USAF’s long-standing policy of not cooperating on any film with a plot that involves the theft of an aircraft. If this rule is real it makes one wonder why the USAF appears to have assisted in the 1985 film D.A.R.Y.L. which features an electronically enhanced child stealing a Blackbird. 

Where this rule comes from and why it is in place is unclear, but this led the filmmakers turned to turn to Israel. As well as F-16s, the Israeli Air Force operated Kfir’s (a heavily Isreli adaption of the French Mirage 5) and this unfamiliar aircraft was an excellent choice to portray the ‘MiG-23’s of the Bilyan air force (Bilya being a fictional North African nation)

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The MiG-23s of Iron Eagle appear as actual MiG-23 shapes in the pretend targeting sytem symbology of an F-16.

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For Iron Eagle II (1988) big lumbering F-4E Phantoms of the Israeli Air Force were cast as the small nimble MiG-29. The times they were a changin’ and so this time the Soviet MiGs were allies of the US’. This concord, which happened to a lesser degree in reality,  didn’t last and today the DoD has going back to its comfort-zone of hating/posturing of hating the Russians. Either for legal or safety reasons, real Soviet markings were not used and a made-up hammer & sickle rondel was stuck over a standard 1980s three-tone Israeli camouflage scheme.

Mikoyan MiG-31 ‘Firefox’ (book) 

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This 1980s audiobook portrays the Firefox has a twin-tailed midget Tornado with canards.

The MiG-31 ‘Firefox’ of the 1977 novel incorporated stealth technology, was capable of hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (partly thanks booster rockets) and had a thought-guided weapons system. The real MiG-31 is a very fast, though not as fast the ‘Firefox’, interceptor known by the NATO reporting name of Foxhound.

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The idea of a superior Soviet fighter plane eclipsing the West’s machine echoed the panic expressed by defence planners on the perceived capabilities of the real-world MiG-25. Indeed the original frontcover depicted a MiG-25. I don’t have a copy of this novel to hand so welcome any readers to share descriptions of the aircraft’s appearance in the comment’s section below, just to be clear I mean the novel only as I’m fully aware of what the film version looked like.

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This edition has a Panavia Tornado IDS as the cover aircraft.

Mikoyan MiG-37B ‘Ferret-E’ (1987)

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According to Doug Richardson’s 1989 ‘Stealth Warplanes’,“In the autumn of 1987, the US plastic model manufacturer Testors.. launched its model of the “MiG-37B Ferret E”- a Soviet equivalent to the Lockheed stealth fighter. Its appearance must have caused a few smiles around the Mikoyan design bureau. As its manufacturer admitted.. Its reception in the Pentagon must have been less amusing. Here in widely-distributed form was the first model to widely illustrate the use of RCS reduction technique.” It seems that the concepts of a gridded intake and a surface made of flat panels was already there for those looking.  And Testors’ model designer John Andrews certainly seemed to have his ear to the ground. Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes, from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. He was asked by the British Government to assess the YF-22 and YF-23; we wondered what he would make of a totally fictional aircraft, the MiG-37B model kit of 1987.

 

“The Testors toy company released this model 2 years after their very successful F-19 kit and only about a year before the F-117 appeared in public. It’s a pretty ugly beast, but, let’s not hold that against it, given the impact that designing for low signature had on Have Blue and the F-117. So what have Testors’ done in ‘Russianizing’ their F-19 stealthy strike concept? Well, somewhere along the way, the Testors team appear to have heard some whispers about ‘The Black Jet’, as insiders were referring to the F-117. The MiG-37 model has outward canted fins, and has a facetted structure, while retaining the letterbox-slot exhaust of their F-19 concept. While the appearance of these features may have caused some disquiet in some circles, there was by this time some awareness of strange black aircraft operating up in Tiger Country (the far reaches of the Nellis, Tonopah and Area 51 complexes). In addition, the Pentagon was moving towards first, disclosure that the F-117 existed, and then, the presentation to families and the media which I attended.

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As well as some of the F-117 features, Testors has done quite a good job of giving the aircraft a Russian look. Partly, the use of a MiG-23- like undercarriage, and partly subtle stylistic and colour scheme aspects which just convey a less-Western look. Paradoxically, the crude-looking faceted shaping turned out to be more accurate than the smooth surfaces of their F-19 concept.

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From a propulsion perspective, the intakes perhaps look a little more likely to work than those of the F-19, and still bear no resemblance to those of the F-117. From a stealth perspective, however, the whole aircraft is full of changes in angle which look counter productive to maintaining a low signature. In particular, the under-surface of the aircraft does not feature the flat surface of the F-117, and appears unlikely to be successful in managing the MiG-37 ‘s signature. In addition, the changes in sweep of the planform, the gaps and joins around wing slats and other features, and the intakes all suggest a less successful stealth design.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-37B Ferret E [LIMITED to 500px]

Aerodynamically, the MiG-37 concept would probably have been more efficient and easier to manage than either the F-19 or the F-117, as the moderately swept wings would allow the use of high lift devices and a significantly lower take-off and landing speed. Like the F-19, the relatively conventional cockpit would probably have resulted in a less constrained environment for the pilot than the essentially pyramidal F-117 cockpit.

 

I am a bit concerned about the extremely large fins, coupled with the anhedral of the wing, which might lead to unusual lateral-directional handling, but again, there is nothing terrible about the configuration (given the open-minded approach I am adopting). It is very ugly, but it is not alone in that.

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Like the F-19 forward fins, I do have a gripe – the dorsal airbrakes just don’t make sense. There-s no way this aircraft would be used as a dive bomber, and the configuration is likely to be draggy enough that airbrakes are unlikely to be needed to manage the approach. Plus they have the disadvantage that they would deny the opportunity to use uber-cool black silk parachutes deployed by the 2 F-117s that came ‘out of the black’ at Nellis in April 1990.

Summing up the MiG-37 – ugly, but closer to the appearance of the F-117 than the F-19. In the aerodynamics vs stealth trade off, perhaps the solution has better aerodynamics than stealth.”

 

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The Convair XF-92A played a “MiG-23” in the Howard Hughes film, Jet Pilot, starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh. However, it did not make the final edit.

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Hush-Kit meets Secret Projects’ Paul Martell-Mead

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What is the forum & why did you set it up?
“Secret Projects Forum is both a discussion forum and a database. It’s a place to discover and share interesting nuggets of aviation history, with a particular emphasis on prototypes, cancelled and unbuilt projects, with like-minded people from around the world. It’s been running since December 2005 and hasn’t run out of steam yet, though Facebook groups like ‘The Greatest Planes That Never Were‘ are mounting a challenge.
I was always an aviation nerd and an avid reader; Airfix kits of WW2 aircraft on the ceiling, aircraft books on the shelves. When I got to secondary school I found a copy of Derek Wood’s book ‘Project Cancelled’, which blew my mind with its array of fantastic-looking British designs which were never built, or were cancelled. For someone who felt pretty knowledgeable about aircraft it was like a whole new horizon opening of things to know about. That was the start of something. ‘Warplanes of the Future’ by Bill Gunston showed me a bright future of non-yet-built aircraft.”

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‘Stealth Warplanes’ by Bill Sweetman blew the lid on the fascinating world of Stealth. These would be my version of the holy Trinity. Sweetman’s now a member of the forum, by the way.

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I failed to make it though an aero engineering degree, the first time I’d failed at anything academically —  and in a fit of pique I threw away most of my aircraft book and magazine collection and decided to pursue an English degree instead. I did well enough at that to get funded for a scholarship for a masters, but doing that masters course (medieval English) cured me of ever wanting a career in academia. I ended up with a career in IT (systems sngineer) mostly by accident.
The internet revived my interest in aviation. A largely solitary interest from my childhood was now something you could share with people all around the world. The chances of finding people interested in such a niche subject in your immediate peer group is tiny, but multiplied across the billions of people in the world, you can form sizeable communities. I lurked on a number of existing aviation forums, posting things I found interesting, but none were quite aligned with my interests, though the www.whatifmodelers.com forum was closest. I met fellow travellers interested in the same things I was, so I decided to start my own forum. It was pretty easy, people joined up in decent numbers, and once there was some content for Google to index, more like-minded people searching for this stuff inevitably found their way to the forum.”

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 Why do you think there is such an interest in secret & cancelled aircraft?
“Partly I think because there are relatively few new (manned at least) aircraft in development. Mining the rich vein of aviation’s past is one way to keep discovering interesting ‘new’ designs when nobody is building them. Also, it’s interesting to see the what-ifs, the designs that could have been built instead of the planes we know. Having done some archival research, it’s clear that the process of choosing a winning design is often only loosely aligned with what is technically the best proposal. Of course, unlike real aircraft, designs that weren’t built never suffer the indignity of failing to achieve their promised performance, so you need to guard against believing everything in the brochure. ‘It would have been great’ ignores the giant chasm separating a brochure from an actual finished aircraft.”
Personally, I am very interested in the whole design and engineering process — from first sketch to final hardware for iconic planes such as the F-16, far more than I am interested in their subsequent operational history. There’s a great design progression linking the F-111 to the F-16, unlikely as it seems, and the process of refining the design, the alternate approaches considered, the rival designs proposed by other manufacturers. There’s an interesting book in that, I think. I may have to write it one day.
What is your favourite aircraft and why?
“Probably the MiG-29 and Su-27. I grew up buying the Observers Book of Aircraft, and recall buying a volume where suddenly these cool new planes were included (in artist’s impressions).

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They looked very un-Soviet, but they were still largely unknown, mysterious and alluring. I remember my copy of Air International dropping through the mailbox in 1986 with photos of the MiG-29 visit to Finland – I did a lot of drawings inspired by it that week. I went to the Farnborough Airshow in 1988 with my dad, and wasted two rolls of film taking terrible photos of the MiG-29 there. I saw the grainy Su-27 photo in Flight International in late 1987, then a few years later I was watching it do the ‘Cobra’ at an airshow. I have an amazing book on the Su-27 (Su-27 Fighter: Beginning of Story by Ildar Bedretdinov et al) but sadly part two is only released in Russian, so I can only look at the pics. Part 1 is the kind of detailed engineering history I love: 360 pages just covering Su-27 development up to the T-10 prototype.

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What is your favourite cancelled British fighter and why?
“Probably the Hawker P.1216 V/STOL fighter from the early 1980s, which was passed over in favour of the Eurofighter. The Typhoon is a bit of a ‘meh’ design, workmanlike but nothing very interesting or innovative. P.1216 would have been a much more interesting aircraft, and Ralph Hooper felt it was achievable whereas the P.1154 was a step too far in the early 1960s. If co-developed with McDonnell-Douglas for the Marines, it might have altered the direction of the later F-35 programme.”
Aurora – fact or fiction?
“Fiction. The ‘Aurora’ name comes from a B-2 related funding line item. Researcher Dan Zinngrabe did think that something classified and fast was flown at least in a prototype form in that timeframe, so I wouldn’t rule out something experimental and fast existing. There’s no infrastructure or funding to support an operational fleet of cryogenically-fuelled aero-spaceplane reconnaissance aircraft. There’s no Mach 6 SR-71 replacement in service, or Lockheed Martin wouldn’t be promoting their SR-75.”
Biggest aircraft myth?
“MiG-25 as a “big bad” prior to Belenko’s defection. Sober intelligence agency analysts correctly saw it from 1967 as an interceptor with limited manoeuvring capability, but a politically useful consensus emerged from the Air Force’s own pet intelligence analysts that it was some kind of Mach 3 super-fighter built from titanium that made the F-4 obsolete, and that helped sell Congress on the F-15. Same people who insisted on a “bomber gap” that never existed but helped fund a pile of B-52s.”

 Favourite secret or cancelled US type and why?
YF-23. If there’s ever been a fighter which looked like the future, its the YF-23. The F-22 resembles a warmed over F-15 in comparison. Would it have made a better choice for the US Air Force? No idea. It would have looked awesomely cool though.
How many Black projects do you believe are flying now and what are they likely to be?
I’m sure there are demonstrators which have not yet been revealed, most likely in the unmanned space. Northrop Grumman seemed to have something more than the B-2 on their stealth CV to get the B-21 program. I’m on the the fence about the Northrop Grumman RQ-180, it makes sense, but I’ve not seen the evidence.”

What is your favourite cancelled Soviet type?
Sukhoi T-4MS. A variable geometry blended-body intercontinental bomber design that lost to Tupolev’s rather pedestrian design that evolved into the Tu-160. It had a very high lift/drag ratio, but would have been a challenging design to build, and Sukhoi really had enough on their plate with the Su-27 and other projects.

 What should I have asked you & why?

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What’s been the best thing to come out of running the forum?

“I got to meet Tony Buttler and Chris Gibson virtually, and then in person, and that led directly to me writing a book on the Hawker P.1121. I got to fly to England, visit Scale Modelworld in Telford and do a book signing. That was awesome.”
Tell me about an aircraft type I don’t know about

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“I don’t know what aircraft you don’t know 🙂

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An oddball one-off aircraft was the Acme Sierra / Sierra Sue, a Y-tail, pusher prop light aircraft built by Northrop engineers Walt Fellers and Ron Beattie in their spare time from 1948 and which first flew in 1953. Walt Fellers revisited this Y tail layout in 1968 for the N-308, a Y-tail pusher turboprop that was for a time the preferred configuration of Northrop’s A-X (A-10 Warthog rival), and Sierra Sue flew some test flights in connection to the Northrop A-X program.

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Sadly requirement changes forced Northrop to drop the turboprop design and move to jets. Aesthetically, it was a much more interesting design than the built YA-9, which is rather dull.”

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