Category: Aviation

10 amazing things you didn’t know about Air Force One

 

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Air Force One is the most important aircraft in the world, as this heavily modified airliner is used to carry the US President and his friends. The ultra high-tech jet can transport the Commander-In-Chief to any airport in the world in luxury and safety, and has some startling and unique features. Here are 10 astonishing facts you didn’t know about Air Force One. 

 

10. The aircraft is able to communicate with nuclear submarines. The communication pipe is over 120 miles long and is trailed from the aircraft’s main door. One end goes to the President’s chair, the other through the snorkel and onto the command deck of every Ohio Class Submarine.

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9. Like all airliners, sickbags are provided. In AF1 they are made from the flags of vanquished enemies.

Google reveals F-35 is overexposed here.

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It is customary for the President and First Lady to honour the ‘Lift-a-loft’ step on exiting the aircraft. The first couple will stay an average of one hour on this step to celebrate the achievements of the American company that makes it possible to exit large aircraft. Before Lift-a-a-loft was established (in 1962) many passengers starved to death, unable to leave their aircraft.

8. The aircraft is equipped with over 500 miles of Scalextric track.

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Dick Cheney’s favourite car to play on the onboard Scalextric track was a custom-made gold AMC Gremlin. Trump has a red Pontiac Firebird.

10 worst US aircraft here

7. On a hostile radar the aircraft appears as a mighty eagle holding lightning in its claws.

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6. Legally the interior of the Air Force One is considered the interior of the President’s mind, therefore US law and dreams are in force there, wherever the aeroplane is. The President’s nightmares are filtered out by a series of state-of-the-art ‘dreamcatchers’ developed by engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

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5. Over two litres of the President’s sperm is stored in a refrigerated unit in the rear fuselage. In the case of nuclear war, this will aid repopulation efforts.

4. The skull of President Nixon is given its own seat on all flights. This tradition was started by George W Bush, and has been continued by subsequent Presidents. It is said by the famously superstitious pilots that Washington will fall if Nixon’s skull is not carried aboard.

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3. In 2006 AF1 (then occupied by George W Bush) met Putin’s equivalent aircraft (the Ilyushin IL-96-300-PU) in the sky above Tokyo. Both leaders being competitive men, insisted that their own aircraft should reach Narita International Airport first. The details of the ad hoc drag-race that ensued were until recently a state secret. During the 20 minute race, AF1 reached an astonishing speed of twice the speed of sound (aided by two escorting F-22 Raptors pushing it). Though AF1 reached the airport perimeter first, Bush was despondent to seeing the Russian leader landing ahead of him…by parachute!

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2. There is a strict ‘no political chat’ rule on AF1; the President has designated it an official chill-out zone.

1. The President’s overhead luggage bin, is a whopping 10% bigger than a regular one. He is also allowed to bring on a generous two items of hand luggage.

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Find out 10 amazing things you didn’t know about the Spitfire here.

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

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. 

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes.Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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Flying and fighting in the MiG-19: In conversation with Wg. Cdr. Irfan Masum (Rtd)

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Like most MiG fighters, the ’19 was a rough and ready hotrod. Fast, agile and powerful — it was also ill-equipped, unforgiving and brutal. Armed with three 30-mm cannon and Sidewinder missiles, and the fastest acceleration of its generation, the MiG-19/F-6 of the Pakistan Air Force was flawed but potent. We spoke to Wg. Cdr. Irfan Masum about flying and fighting in the ‘Pack of Roaring Power’. 

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“Immediately after fighter conversion on the F-86F, I was selected for MiG-19 (the Chinese version that we had was known as the F-6) rather than go to a F-86 fighter Squadron. I was excited that I was to fly the MiG-19 as it presented a formidable challenge to harness the ‘Pack of Roaring Power’ as it was known in the PAF. I did my conversion in the Conversion Squadron in the year 1975.

There was no dual seater for training, at the time, and we had to be prepared really well to fly solo the first time. A couple of fast taxi runs were given, though.

My very first impression was that the plane didn’t look very aerodynamic and was not the prettiest fighter on the scene. It had a thick wing with thickness to chord ratio of about 8%, which meant that it would not transition to supersonic speed easily. However, the two powerful engines gave it good initial acceleration and with 0.8 thrust to weight ratio, it climbed exceedingly well which made it ideal for point interceptions.”

You’ve also flown the F-86F, how did the MiG-19 differ from this? 

“The F-86F had automatic leading edge slats, speed operated – a virtue not available to most other fighters around, not even the F-86E. That made the plane extremely manoeuvrable at low speeds. The MiG-19, on the other hand an aerodynamic problem where it would ‘adverse yaw’ at low speeds, often snapping out of hard turns during low speed manoeuvring. One had to assist a hard turn with a bit of inside rudder to keep it from ‘adverse yawing’. 

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Another major difference was in the fire control systems of the two planes. F-86F had a computing gunsight – where as the MiG-19 had a non-computing gunsight. That meant that the MiG-19 pilots had to pre-calculate (at various speeds, angles and distance scenarios) how much to lead the gunsight in order to hit the target, which bordered on the verge of judgement and estimated guess work envelopes.

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The F-86F used six –three on each side of the nose – 20mm canons with a very good rate of fire. The MiG-19 had two side guns and one center gun and used 30mm rounds at an inferior rate of fire.

The major difference in combat area was that the MiG-19 was better in the vertical plane, where as the F-86F had distinct advantage in the horizontal plane.

There is no statistical data of the two adversaries in actual combat. But the Korean War did see MiG-17 pitted against the F-86 in actual combat.”

Interview with a MiG-21 pilot here.

What were its best qualities? 

“The engines were powerful enough to get you out of a bad situation and the acceleration they provided was excellent, especially with afterburners.”

What were it worst qualities?

“There were quite a few bad qualities but the worst, in my opinion, was the thick wing which made transonic speeds (just short of Mach 1) very rough to ride through and almost uncontrollable, although it employed ‘short arm’ and ‘long arm’ technology to cater for it.”

How effective were its weapon systems? 

“With 30mm canon, just one bullet hitting the target was enough to destroy it. That is if you had computed the gunsight calculations correctly. It had no forward looking radar and no missiles carriage capability. It was the PAF (Pakistan Air Force) which modified it to carry two US made heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles.”

Interview with a Mirage 2000 pilot here.

What was your Squadron’s role?

“The fighter squadron that I served in was an ‘Air Superiority Squadron’ used for air defence and ground support roles.”

What advice do you wish you’d be told before flying the MiG-19?

“Don’t be scared of vertical manoeuvring the plane.  The myth was that the Chinese did not fly it as a combat aircraft where one would utilise the vertical plane as well. The reason that vertical looping manoeuvres bled the speed too low to handle the aircraft turned out to be myth only. Once you learned to fly at low speeds it manoeuvered beautifully in the vertical plane too.”

Did you feel confident at the prospect of facing potential enemies in the aircraft? 

“Absolutely. PAF put a great deal of effort in air combat training and DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) for the ‘Air Superiority’ squadron pilots. The aircraft could hold it’s own in point interception and air combat roles.”

What was the fighter you feared fighting the most and why? What were the aircraft you expected to face in war?

“We did not fear fighting any opposing aircraft. The Intel, at the time, was that we were  most likely to face the Hunter in the war as that was the aircraft which was to cross over the border to do battlefield air-interdiction and airfield strikes. The Hunter was a manoeuvrable aircraft like the F-86, and we had gained valuable experience during DACT with our F-86s. So we pretty much knew what tactics to employ. Firstly, force the Hunter to get into a vertical plane combat where our superior thrust-to-weight ratio would give us a distinct advantage. Secondly, allow the Hunter to exit and then catch him with the  MiG-19’s excellent acceleration and let the heat-seeking Sidewinder do the rest. Other aircraft that we could have encountered in our air defence role were Gnats and Canberra bombers. There were remote chances of encountering MiG-21 and Su-7 too.”

Did you practice dissimilar air combat flying? If so, against which types and how would you fly against them? 

“We had three mainstay aircraft in the time period I was actively flying. The MiG-19, F-86F & E and Mirage III. DACT amongst all was an essential part of the training.

MiG Vs Mirage: As MiG pilots, we were always scarce on fuel, especially if we used after burners – which we had to in combat. Therefore, we always planned for a short engagement. MiGs would utilise the horizontal plane superiority against the Mirage and try and engage the Mirage in a ‘turning’ battle. MiG pilots had to rely a lot on clearing their tails exceptionally well, as the Mirage would try and merge the fight at high speeds to take a missile shot. Therefore, MiG pilot had to spot him earliest possible and quickly get into hard turn, into him, before letting the Mirage get in missile firing range. The Mirage would then exit still maintain high speed and out run the MiG, only to re-engage/ merge the fight without getting into a turning manoeuvre.”

What did it feel like firing the guns on the MiG-19?

“The 30mm ammo really shook the aircraft and made vibrations that could be felt in seat of the pants of the pilot. The central gun was very accurate. We as MiG pilots were always detailed to do gun harmonisation ourselves of the dedicated aircraft to our name. So, each pilot very much knew how accurately his guns fired.”

Which three words best describe the MiG-19?

 “Challenging – Powerful – Fun”

What equipment would you most have liked the MiG-19 to have been fitted with? What did it lack? 

“The MiG-19s that we got from China were only equipped with two side and one centre gun. Then we modified it to carry Heat seeking Sidewinders.

It had no navigation systems except NDB. It could have done well if it had INS (Inertial Navigation System) or at least a HUD.”

What was your most frightening or memorable flight on the MiG-19?

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“The MiG 19 was notorious for getting into spins without much warning due to it’s ‘adverse yaw’ attribute. And my most frightening episode also relates to this aspect.

I was an operational wingman in an ‘air superiority’ squadron with less than 80 hours on the type. During one of the air combat training missions, I got airborne as a part of a four ship for  2 Vs 2 air combat mission.

During the very first merge, I was told by my section leader to do a hard 180 turn to the left. I remember going in to a hard turn and lighting my after burner. The next thing I remember is that is that the MiG flips out of the turn and starts spinning (this phenomenon was the result of adverse yaw attribute of the MiG-19)

The spin recovery procedure was: “throttled idle, full opposite rudder to stop the yaw and shove the stick forward to un-stall the aircraft) – I did the procedure – The MiG kept spinning. I thought that I may have given the wrong rudder. So I tried to look at ‘turn and slip indicator’ to see which side I was spinning. Needless to say, in the confusion and panic state that had set in, I could not ascertain which side I was spinning. Since the MiG was not responding, I decided to apply the other rudder and wait. Fortunately, the MiG responded and the spinning stopped and I neutralized the rudder and the stick.

But my problem was far from over. Coming out of the spin I found myself in vertical dive and the mother earth approaching at a rapid rate (during the confusion of the spin recovery, I lost track of height loss and descended below 10,000 feet – SOP was to eject if not recovered by 10,000 feet)

It finally dawned on me that I could not eject while being in a vertical dive, MiG speeding up and the safe ejection altitude of 6,000 feet had already passed (the Chinese ejection seat had 6000 feet limitation for a safe ejection)

Having no other choice but to recover, I put the speed breaks out, pulled with all my might, overstressing the aircraft by pulling some 7-8 gs – but broke my descent. And to my relief cleared the ground. By how much, I really don’t know – but I had a good look at the cattle grazing on the mother earth.

Although safe, I was trembling to no end. Didn’t give a call to my leader and went back to the Base to land. The amazing aspect of this episode was – which I was told in the debrief – that my leader was talking to me all the time. He told me over the radio the direction I was spinning in – didn’t hear him – which rudder to give – didn’t hear him again – and the whole recovery procedure – didn’t hear that either. He even advised me to check my height and if below 10,000 feet, eject – God, didn’t hear that at all.

How I didn’t hear any of it, beats me to this day. But that is how one’s brain can act when in an emergency situation.”

…and your most pleasant? 

“My most pleasant moment was rather a cruel one. Having been pleased with myself in a certain situation, I got reported and was disciplined to a verbal extent by the Officer Commanding.

I was made to scramble from  ADA (Air Defence Alert) duty to intercept an unidentified target by the radar. I had  full gun ammo load and two live Sidewinder missiles. My wingman aborted on take off for a technical reason. So, I proceeded alone to the intercept point under full radar cover and spotted a rather large aircraft from some 20 NM. At first I thought that a Soviet Bomber from Afghanistan may have strayed in our airspace. However, as I closed in I realised that it was an airliner (B747) of our very own National carrier. The airliner had strayed in the military training airspace. I was told by the radar to guide it out of the military air space. The airliner was on VHF radio frequency and I was on UHF. Not being able to talk to the airliner on the radio I got up close and used hand signals to guide it away from the military airspace. Having achieved the objective of the intercept mission, I felt pretty good and decided to barrel around the airliner. I started my barrel roll from his right wing, went around and under him to come back on his right wing again from where I had started.

I had no idea that the Captain of the airliner reported me for barreling around him and putting both aircraft and the passengers at peril. That is till I was called in by the Officer Commanding the next day for disciplining me over the incident. Fortunately, the flak I got was contained to the office of the Officer Commanding only.”

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How would you rate the MiG-19 in the following ways? 

A. Instantaneous turn rates – Average

B. Sustained turn rates – poor as compared to F-86 and Mirage

C. Climb rate – Excellent with  thrust to weight ratio of 0.8, it climbed really well.

D. High alpha – High Alpha (very high angles of attack – close to stalling angle of attack -where the nose of the aircraft is kept way above the horizon while maintaining low speeds) If you could control the adverse yawing, High  Alpha was no great issue

E. Ease of flying – It was a difficult plane to fly primarily because of its bad aerodynamic behaviour. It would adverse yaw very easily, had awful transonic range speed control and it’s engines (axial flow compressors) were prone to stall if not handled properly.

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

Did you perform the ground attack role, if so what would you have been expected to do it in wartime and how did you prepare for it? 

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 “The MiG 19 was  used in ground attack role utilising its three 30-mm canons and 8 rockets in two pods (modified to carry the pods by PAF) in support of the Army’s ground battle. Typical targets were troops gathering to create a bridgehead, troops on ground like convoys, tanks, artillery and radar stations and lines of logistics, railroad stations etc.

Typical training consisted of live strafing and rocket firing at targets in the firing ranges created for the purpose. This was first practiced by remaining in the traffic pattern of the firing range and repeating attack after attack. Later, put to test by means of tactical strikes where you had only one dive attack to hit the target.”

Tell me something I don’t know about the MiG-19?

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Irfan Masum with his F-86F. 

“Having highlighted some of the disadvantages of the MiG-19, I’d like to dwell on the fun part of flying it, that is after one had mastered the art of handling it in the air.

During one of the 1 Vs 1 combat training, I pulled vertically up without the afterburner. The airspeed bled so fast that before I could recover, my speed was approaching stalling speed.  I knew fully well that if I allowed any yaw at the time of stalling, I will enter in a spin. So, I held my rudders neutral to avoid inducing any yaw. Also, I pushed the stick forward just enough to go to zero G – in a state of zero G the aircraft never stalls. Soon the speed went to zero and the MiG started sliding down while remaining in vertical position and the altimeter began to register a descent. I was thrilled that I was descending while in vertical position without stalling or spinning. My elation was rather short lived as I realised that I must recover without stalling or spinning. It was not possible to drop the nose forward or back words to the horizon. The only option was to yaw the MiG and let the nose drop sideways to the horizon. Mindful that if I induce a yaw the MiG will go in to a spin, I made sure that I maintained zero g (which does not allow the plane to stall) and induce a yaw just enough to let the nose drop sideway as done in a ‘Stall turn’ manoeuvre – which I had learnt in my basic training on the ‘Harvard the T-6G’. I also had to counter the roll that the yaw would induce by applying just enough opposite aileron. To my great delight and relief, the nose dropped sideways to the horizon and I could complete the recovery. The amazing thing was that the engines, which were very prone to stall, did not.

Encouraged by this feat, I went on to repeat it again and again, each time recovering without any problem. Thereafter, I would employ this manoeuver to shake off anyone who tried to get behind me in 1 Vs 1 combat. I would simply pull up vertically and unload to zero g, dropping my speed rapidly to zero. The chase aircraft would follow me and fall out of the vertical pursuit. I would then execute a stall turn and get behind him.

Some years later, when I became a fight weapons instructor, PAF got the dual seater of the MiG-19 and I began to teach this manoeuver to other instructors and demonstrate it to the students.

Another aspect of the MiG-19 relates to drop tanks that it carried. It carried two 760 litre each drop tanks which had to be dropped in case of actual combat. With drop tanks the Gs were limited to five and without drop tanks to six. Flight characteristics with drop tanks were more stable than in clean configuration.”

Special thanks to @Le_Sabre54  for introducing me to the Wing Commander (Rtd).  

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes.  Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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Mirage pilot interview, Part 3: Stalling, Tomcats and duelling F1s

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Now a crack aerobatic pilot, Gonzalo O’Kelly was once one of the best fighter pilots in the Spanish air force. During his time in the Ejército del Aire he flew the Mirage III, a formidable and beautiful fighter of French origin. In the third of our five part Mirage special he rates the Mirage’s weapons, shares the hairy tale of stalling in a mock dogfight and describes flying against the US Navy’s 6th Fleet.

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Were the weapon systems effective? 

“Well, in those years nobody had weapon systems, maybe the Phantom was the exception. We had weapons and ways of using them. Our only ‘modern’ weapon was the radar guided missile Matra 530. We could carry just one in the aircraft belly hard point. It was big and heavy, and we didn’t like to fly with its added drag.

But the Cyrano II radar average effective range of detection was no more than 15 nautical miles, and if flying below 10,000 ft the ground clutter made it almost impossible to see any radar returns – so it was not a really effective weapon. We trusted our eyes much more than the old Cyrano II; we had two Sidewinders AIM-9B, two powerful cannon and we mastered their use.”

What was the most frightening mission you flew? 

“I had a very frightening mission — but was it my fault. The Mirage III was a noble steed, though you had to be careful when flying at the envelope limit. It was a one-on-one dogfight training flight in my Initial Training Course. I had about 25 flying hours on the type. Remember what I said before? The Mirage offered really no mercy to rookies.

I was flying on a two-seater Mirage IIID, with my instructor in the back and my sparring partner was our Squadron Chief, Lieutenant Colonel Quintana who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. I, of course, wanted show to off my flying skills, but my aircraft had other ideas.

The first engagement began with me 2,000 ft higher, and on his 5 o’clock. Both of us were at about 450 kts. I called “engaged” and he broke hard towards me. I had the advantage in speed and altitude so I let him pass left to right in front of me, and pulled up to exchange speed for altitude while turning right towards him. I still had a good position – and the advantage, so next our cross was almost equal, with both trajectories crossing with an angle of around 60 degrees. In this cross he already had his nose down.

I still was turning hard right with not too much energy but when he passed again in front of me, I decided to change my turn to the left to get behind him. It was a good manoeuvre with enough energy for softening the turn but that young lieutenant maintained the G’s. It looked like my aircraft agreed with me for a couple of seconds, and then suddenly changed its mind and gave me the most vicious self righting turn while stalling, and then going into a steep spin.

I controlled the spin while the instructor yelled at me in the interphone, and recovered after two rounds in which I lost 14,000 feet of altitude! The aircraft wanted to give me final lesson for the day, and promptly gave me a compressor stall to fight after the spin recovery. This at least, was easy: throttle back to idle and very gently, again forward. To understand how fast you could lose altitude in the Mirage III, we began at 35 angels (35,000ft), and recovered the compressor stall at 8,000 feet.

Then back to the base, to report the compressor stall to maintenance, and enjoy a particularly ‘nice’ post briefing.”

Which aircraft did you fly against in dissimilar type combat training? 

As Spain was not yet in NATO, we were limited to dissimilar with Phantoms from the 12th Wing, based in Torrejón Air Base, and Mirage F1 from the 14th Wing in Albacete Air Base. Once a year we took part in exercises with the US Navy 6th Fleet.This gave us the opportunity of having some very boring dogfights with the Tomcats.”

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Mirage versus F-14 Tomcat

“Regarding our exercises with the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, we always played the bad guys trying to attack and sink the carrier, but it was almost impossible. Think of 20 destroyers and cruisers around, all of them full of long and short range guided missiles -and leaving no hole to go through. So at the end of our attacking run, we used to meet a couple of Tomcats, but maybe they knew we had been killed three or four times before arriving there, so they didn’t seem eager for a bit of rock ’n’ roll. A couple of turns with their wings fully extended, and that’s all folks. Anyway, we were at low altitude.I don’t know why they never planned for real dissimilar dogfights with us as part of the exercises. They were not interested. Pity. You know what navies are like though…” 

Mirage III versus Mirage F1

“The Mirage F1 was a completely different thing. They had a lot of advantages over the Mirage III: Better engine, 7200 kgs against our 6700; the aircraft was a ton lighter; it had no need for external tanks so always flew in a full clean configuration; automatic slats and flaps; and better radar and a HUD. Only the weapons were equal: Sidewinders and guns. To dogfight them was real hard work for us. We had to emphasise mutual support to stop them entering firing range. If we reached an advantageous position on one of them, they only had to zoom up and comfortably wait up there for us to nose down and generate sufficient speed to follow. Our only resource was the diving acceleration, so the usual tactic was fly towards them at full throttle, kill the speed to get a position to fire the Sidewinder and escape diving like hell. I remember the F1 pilots complaining because we always tried to avoid close dogfight. Our answer always was: give us your engine and your automatic slats/flaps and we’ll stay for close dogfight.” 

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

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements (any you see are from WordPress and not us). If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. This site needs donations to keep going, thank you.

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

Mirage pilot, Part 1: Mirage versus Phantom

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Now a crack aerobatic pilot, Gonzalo O’Kelly was once one of the best fighter pilots in the Spanish air force. During his time in the Ejército del Aire he flew the Mirage III, a formidable and beautiful fighter of French origin. In the first of our five part Mirage special he recounts dogfights training against the massive F-4 Phantom II. 

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“Let’s start with the big and comfortable Phantom F-4C. I did a lot of dissimilar training with them, usually two-on-two. It had a couple of characteristics in common with the Mirage III: if you meet one with an experienced pilot driving, it was a very hard adversary- and it needed a lot of finesse with the controls at low speed. They had to turn by using their feet whenever they had their nose very high! We preferred high altitude to have room enough to manoeuvre while they always wanted to take us down below 20,000 feet.

Their main advantage lay in the systems. The Phantom had a powerful radar, four eyes looking around, long range missiles two fantastic engines, but no guns, so they always tried not to get closer than 1.5 or 2 miles from us. We denied them that possibility because is easier to close than to fly apart if you have an aircraft which accelerates like hell as soon as you put down your nose. Avoiding a Sidewinder is not so difficult if you are near the firing aircraft, and with speed to brake.

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It was very easy to spot Phantoms from  6 or 7 miles because that huge black smoke trail that their engines left behind (except in afterburner) and because it was a big bird. We always had a lot of fun in dissimilars with the Spanish Phantoms,  the post briefings were real hard battles, and everyone learned a lot about dogfighting, mutual support and extracting the best from our Mirages.

Scissoring with a Phantom was something you remember forever. Only two crosses were allowed.. but what exciting crosses! Sometimes the first engagement ended before beginning — if both pairs crossed, we pulled hard up and they dived down so both lost visual contact of each other.

It was so much fun with the USAF Phantoms. The last mission I flew before leaving 11th Wing was a week long detachment in Torrejón AB to train our American fellows in tactics against the Mirage III.

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They flew the F-4D, a bit better than C, but still no guns. To begin with, their briefings were 2 hours long! Rules of Engagement took 45 minutes.

I remember after finishing the first one, the Major leading the flight asked me, “How long you need from you arrive in the aircraft and be ready to start engines?” I said five minutes. He raised his eyebrows and said “Five minutes? We need 30 minutes at least”. My God! 

As we were there to do what they needed from us, we flew as required two manoeuvres and then knocked it off, and repeat and repeat. After two days we were able to have some fun and they got a couple of surprises, and hopefully some lessons.” 

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Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. 

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

The 10 Worst French Aircraft

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When compiling this list of terrible French aircraft we ran up against an unexpected problem: France hasn’t made many terrible aeroplanes. In creating features on the worst British, American and Soviet aircraft (reminds me, we should do German) the shortlist had to be (Frank) whittled down from thirty apiece, but here we had to work a little harder. France certainly made some mediocre aeroplanes, and some flawed designs, though few compete with some of the truly nightmarish offerings of the 20th Century’s other great aviation nations. Don’t worry though, we found a bunch of wonderfully weird French losers. Light up a Gitanes, stick Gainsbourg on the stereo and prepare to meet the ten worst French aircraft. 

 

10. Blériot 125 ‘Verne Baby Verne’ 

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After flying across the channel in his excellent Type XI monoplane, Louis Blériot spent the whole of the rest of his life trying to detract credibility from himself and his achievement. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the series of large aircraft his company built throughout the 1920s. Seemingly engaged in a competition with himself to produce the aircraft most resembling an illustration from a Jules Verne novel, Blériot produced a series of unsuccessful bombers and airliners whose outlandish appearance were in direct proportion to their operational mediocrity and chief among these incredible duds was the 125. In October 1927 Blériot saw Fritz Lang’s seminal film ‘Metropolis’ and, taking the idea that life imitates art at glaringly face value, set about building an airliner to encapsulate the science fiction aesthetic he had so enjoyed on that autumn night at the Gaumont Palace cinema, Montparnasse. This, though almost undoubtedly untrue, is the only way to explain the appearance of the Blériot 125 when, in 1930, it emerged from the chrysalis of its hangar like a fantastical butterfly from a daring Art Deco future. Regrettably, an airliner carrying its passengers in twin fuselages resembling railway carriages whilst housing its engines and luckless pilots in a teeny car-shaped pod atop the single massive wing turned out not to be the way forward, as the complete and ongoing absence of aircraft of this configuration serves to prove on a daily basis. Even at the time people were confused, there are many contemporary references to the radical design of the aircraft but no mention anywhere of what possible advantage this configuration is supposed to confer.

The 10 sexiest French aircraft here

As it turned out, the Blériot 125 turned out to be underpowered and exhibited severe controllability issues and one can hardly be surprised given the encumbrance of those two draggy fuselages combined with the modest power available from its two Hispano-Suiza engines plus the sheer amount of aircraft optimistically expected to be directed about the sky by its two teeny tiny rudders. At least with the massive side area provided by its mighty fuselages, not to mention the engine/crew pod, the 125 must have possessed impressive directional stability. The problems ultimately proved insuperable and after three years of tinkering the 125 still wouldn’t fly properly and was ignominiously scrapped having never carried a fare paying passenger. To be fair to Blériot Aéronautique S.A. they did produce a few relatively acceptable designs, unremarkable and largely forgotten now but who cares? Blériot’s crazed failure from a beautiful alternative future that would never come to be remains far more entertaining.

9.Mignet HM.14 Pou du Ciel (Flying Flea) ‘Micro-lousy’

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Pauvre Henri Mignet. The tragic tale of the H.M.14 ‘Pou-de-Ciel’ (in English, literally ‘Louse of the Sky’) could so easily have been completely different. A mere six inches or so of wing overlap separated unprecedented success from tragic disaster. Mignet was a romantic figure, a radio engineer (though some sources claim he was a furniture maker, whatever) with a self-deprecating sense of humour, a fascination with flight, and a chronic inability to fly a conventional aircraft. The latter quality inspired him to try and develop a new type of aircraft which would be simple, easy and safe to fly. The Pou-de-Ciel would ultimately achieve two out of three of these qualities.

Furthermore this was to be an egalitarian aircraft, straightforward to construct and designed to be built at home in a four metre square room.

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In designing an aircraft easy for non-pilots to fly (“leave aviation to the aviators” he once quipped) Mignet’s aircraft was genuinely revolutionary. The Pou-de Ciel had no ailerons, lateral control deriving from the rudder and its interaction with the pivoting front wing. The only controls were the throttle and the stick, which operated the pivoting wing and rudder and flying the Pou proved easy and intuitive. Remarkably the aircraft was designed to be impossible to stall, if the front wing did enter a stall, the airflow from it over the rear wing forced the nose down slightly and the Pou automatically recovered. The future appeared bright for Mignet’s machine, especially after he and his wife flew their Pou-de-Ciel’s over the channel to Britain (where it was dubbed the Flying Flea) and there began a short-lived craze for building and flying Mignet’s creation. Unfortunately the phrase ‘short-lived’ would prove all too accurate in a rather more literal sense.

Between August 1935 and May 1936 seven H.M.14s were lost in inexplicable fatal accidents and the authorities in both France and the UK grounded all Flying Fleas. Wind tunnel tests were undertaken in both nations and it was discovered that the air flow from the pivoted front wing when pulled back, to point the aircraft up, increased lift from the rear wing, pointing the aircraft inexorably down: ironically the same effect that prevented a stall occurring and made the aircraft ‘safe’. If the Pou-de-Ciel entered a 15 degree dive, recovery was impossible and the luckless pilot was carried into the ground in the appropriately coffin-shaped fuselage and the French and British immediately banned the unfortunate aircraft. Mignet developed a successful fix for the suicidal tendency of his creation with creditable speed (basically moving the rear wing back the afore-mentioned six inches) but neither his own nor his Flea’s reputation ever fully recovered (though many modified variants of the basic design have since been constructed). A curious aside of this sorry tale is that, because none were flown after 1936, many original H.M.14s survive to the present day, so it is likely that you won’t have to travel far if you want to have a look at the deadly Sky Louse in the flesh.

8. Dassault Balzac/Mirage IIIV ‘Harrier Carrefour’

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As F-4s and MiG-21s poured off production lines in their thousands, aircraft designers looked for unconventional ways to kill test pilots, spend billions and make aircraft that nobody wanted – the best solution to this was the vertical take-off & landing fighter. When NATO issued Basic Military Requirement No. 3 in the early 1960s aircraft manufacturers swarmed around like wasps to ice cream. NATO wanted a common supersonic fighter capable of vertical take off and landing. If World War III kicked off, the type would be based in austere locations away from known airfields, and drop retaliatory tactical nukes on the invading Soviet hordes. The fact that at the time of the brief there wasn’t even a subsonic jet VTOL fighter didn’t stop this ambitious concept. Anyone who was anyone in fighter design submitted a proposal; Dassault submitted a concept based on the Mirage III. Vertical propulsion would be provided by eight small lift jets embedded in the fuselage. Lift jets, it was hoped, meant vertical flight without the perils of tail-sitting and without the limitations of (inevitably non-afterburning) vectored thrust. The planned fighter, the III-V was to be large (around the length of a Super Hornet), but a smaller testbed – the Balzac –  was modified from a Mirage III prototype. One lethal crash later many were questioning the sense of the project. It had many problems, including gross instability, stall-inducing exhaust re-ingestion and debris-sucking, a troublesome main engine and underpowered lift engines. Even if all of these were solved (and some were in its later big brother the Mirage III-V) there were the still the unsolvable issues of the terrible payload, terrible range (thanks to the Gainsbourgesque thirst of the lift-jets in the hover and their taking up most of the internal space where fuel tanks could have been located) and horrendous maintenance requirements of multiple engines. When the large Mirage III-V crashed in 1966, it was time to knock the whole thing on the head. Still at least, the Mirage IIIV grabbed the absolute speed record for a VTOL aircraft at Mach 2.03,  a record unlikely to ever be surpassed (incidentally, the Mirage G.8 still holds the European speed record at Mach 2.34).

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The Balzac was not named for the French writer Honoré de Balzac, but after the phone number (BALZAC 001) of a famous Parisian movie advertising agency, following the decision that, the first aircraft would be given the unimaginative designation ‘001’.

NATO never managed to get its shit together and mass order a single fighter type, despite the huge cost savings inherent in such a scheme.

(By the way, Britain’s entry, the P.1154 won the contest).

7. Airbus Helicopters Tigre ‘HAPless in Seattle’ 

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While the Opel Tigra car, developed by Germany, France and Spain, is a huge success, its rotary-craft (almost) namesake (created by the same nations) has proved a huge disappointment. It’s a bit of push to blame the Tigre purely on France, but as it’s now under the Airbus Helicopters label (headquarters at Marseille Provence Airport), it’s fair game. To be fair, Spain and Germany, must shoulder some of the responsibility for what has been described as ‘a Ford attack helicopter at Lamborghini prices‘. Development was very slow, the requirement was issued in 1984 yet the type didn’t enter service until 2003 (even then it couldn’t do much).  Integration of weapons systems proved slow and VERY expensive. Only one export customer bought the Tigre (or Tiger as other nations know it), the Australian Army. The first two helicopters were delivered to Australia in 2004. Full operating capability was planned for 2011, in reality it didn’t happen until 2016. In 2012, after multiple incidents with cockpit fumes that endangered aircrew, Australian pilots refused to fly the Tiger until all safety concerns were resolved.  In 2016, an Australian Defence White Paper announced that the Tiger helicopters would be replaced with other armed reconnaissance aircraft in the mid 2020s – hardly a long life for such an expensive acquisition (the US Army have flown Apaches since 1986, and in updated form the type remains in production today).  Issues cited by the Australian Paper included the shipping time of sending parts across the world for repair, a lack of commonality with other Tiger variants and the high maintenance cost of the engines. In 2013 prices a French HAD cost US$49m a pop (the 2014 unit price of the far, far more capable AH-64E was US$35.5M). It’s hard to know how they got it so wrong as France is great at building helicopters and their military equipment also tends to be first-rate. Perhaps the difficulty of the task was underestimated- or the failure of the partners to agree on a single variant is to blame, whatever the reason, it ended up as a very costly way to not buy Apaches.

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6. Nieuport-Delage NiD 37 Type CourseAprès moi le Délage’ 

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The French philosopher Michel Foucault was sceptical of absolute ideas. Perhaps Foucault would have approved of the ‘sesquiplanes’ designed by Gustave Delage which denied such absolute notions as being either a monoplane or a biplane, instead opting to be ‘one-and-a-half- planes’. These made great fighters in World War One, so Delage kept going with the concept for his post-war racers. He flirted with pure biplanes with the  Nieuport-Delage NiD 29V which smashed the world speed record in 1920 at an impressive 194.4 mph, but returned to his 1½ obsession with the Nieuport-Delage Sesquiplane. The following year the new aircraft bettered the ’29V by clocking 205.23 mph (a speed cars would only take seven years to equal, with Campbell’s Bluebird). At the Coupe Deutsch race this same racer crashed for reasons unclear (perhaps wing flutter or maybe a birdstrike), in the capable hands of Sadi Lecointe . In 1922 Delage came out with an even faster Sesquiplane, the NiD 37 Type Course (racing type, as opposed to the Type Chasse fighter). The ’37 looked, and was, weird: it had a broad aile inférieure (the wing-like shoe for the main landing gear or half-wing that defines the sesquiplane), minute wings and a sleek streamlined fuselage that resembled a bomb painted red and white (to add to its eccentric appearance, the radiator hung under the nose in a ‘lobster-pot’). On the day of the first flight attempt the test pilot (again the heroic Sadi Lecointe) sat astride the engine (with the pedals attached to the back of the 407 hp motor) ready for the type’s first flight. At full throttle the machine raced across the airfield displaying no intention whatsoever to leave the ground. Lecointe tried repeatedly to coax the reluctant machine into the air. He gave up when the carburettor burst into flames and burnt his feet.

5. Simplex-Arnoux (1922) Race with the devil’

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A aircraft seemingly designed to test an atheist’s resolve.

René Arnoux had pioneered tailless flying wings, designing his first as early as 1909. When he put his mind to creating the fastest possible racer he retained his disdain for the tail, seeing a potential weight and drag saving. The racer, which was powered by the 320 hp Hispano-Suiza, was built to win the Coupe-Deutsch race of 1922. It was to be flown by the national hero Georges Madon, a fighter ace in the First World War. The resulting aircraft, the Simplex-Arnoux, was tiny- the fuselage being essentially an aerodynamic fairing that covered the engine – and lethal. Interwar racing pilots were used to limited views from the cockpit and vicious handling characteristics, but even by these standards the Simplex-Arnoux was a nasty aeroplane. The enormously broad-chorded wing obscured the view down, the barrel radiator obscured the view ahead (and blasted the unfortunate pilot with scorching hot air). It had also had appalling control authority as Madon found on a pre-race trial flight. The Simplex-Arnoux was too much to handle, even for a pilot with 41 confirmed victories and 64 probables, and the resultant crash caused Madon severe injuries.

 

4. Antoinette ‘Monobloc’ ‘Ian Dury & The Monobloc-heads’

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In the very early days of aviation the ‘Antoinette’ monoplane was massively successful, a supremely elegant machine when compared to the Wrights, Farmans and Voisins that were its contemporaries. At its heart was the world’s first V-8 engine, patented by Léon Levavasseur, intended for speedboats, and named Antoinette after the daughter of his financier Jules Gastimbide. And what an engine it was, boasting (for its time) exceptional smoothness and refinement, its power to weight ratio was not surpassed for 25 years and it is hardly surprising that early aviation pioneers beat a path to Levavasseur’s door to obtain an example of his brilliant engine. Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis made the first aircraft flight in Europe and was powered by an Antoinette, Samuel Cody made the first flight in a British built aircraft with an Antoinette engine, and an Antoinette powered Paul Cornu’s helicopter, the first to leave the ground, to name but three. When Levavasseur branched into building complete aircraft around his engine the future looked bright indeed, especially when famed Anglo-French pilot Hubert Latham started to set altitude and distance records in them. The company helped set up a flying school (incidentally training, amongst others, the first female pilot to fly combat missions, Marie Marvingt) and developed the world’s first flight simulator. Antoinette was on top of the world.

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Hubert Latham

Thus the utter and complete failure of the Antoinette Monobloc was tragic indeed. The aircraft was years ahead of its time, the world’s first cantilever monoplane wings, fully faired undercarriage in huge spats and a beautifully streamlined fuselage which completely enclosed the Antoinette engine. For 1911 this was futuristic indeed. Unfortunately it couldn’t fly. The Monobloc was (under)powered by the 50 hp V-8 engine that had propelled its immediate predecessor, the Antoinette VII which had weighed 590 kg and could hurtle to a maximum speed of 70 km/h. All the fascinating features of the Monobloc had pushed its weight up to 935 kg and 70 km/h (or indeed any speed at all) would remain an unattainable dream. Nonetheless Hubert Latham took it to the Concours Militaire at Rheims where he gamely demonstrated its utter inability to fly to the assembled military dignitaries of many nations.
Within a year the Antoinette company was liquidated.

3. Spad S.A ‘Free Spadicals’

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Have you ever stood inches in front of the whirling propeller of a frontline fighter from the First World War? Have you then made a small wood and canvas box to sit in, have someone bolt it to the front of said fighter, then got in it, with the whirling blades of the propeller maybe a foot away from your precious head, whilst an undertrained adolescent flies it (and more importantly you) up into the sky in which lurks hundreds of people in better aircraft who are literally trying to kill you? Of course you haven’t because you’re not an idiot. Yet that was exactly the fate of the observer of the SPAD S.A, an aircraft apparently designed to maim, kill, or, at best, terrify one of its occupants.

The design was a cruelly logical response to the problem of firing a machine gun through the airscrew arc of a conventional tractor aircraft. If you can’t shoot through the propeller, just attach the gun in front of the propeller – and the gunner to fire it. The idea was not unique either, the Royal Aircraft Factory in the UK built the experimental B.E.9 with the same layout, however the British machine was wisely discarded but the SPAD S.A. went into service.

It was not popular.

As well as the obvious inherent horror of the design the gunner’s perilous nacelle was prone to extreme vibration and on several occasions detached from the rest of the aircraft with lethal consequences. Communication between the crew was impossible, and in the event of the aircraft tipping onto its nose (a common occurrence at the time) the observer would be crushed. A British evaluation of the type came to the chillingly sardonic conclusion that “it would be expensive in observers if flown by indifferent pilots”. Contemporary French reports suggest the S.A was little used and many were offloaded onto the Russians as soon as possible. In Russian service the S.A was similarly unpopular and its only effect on Russian servicemen was to prove their Imperialist masters really did have it in for them and hasten the revolution. It also didn’t help that the acronym SPAD phonetically translates as ‘plummet’ in Russian.

2. Bloch 150 (early) ‘Bloch Party’ 

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By 1935 it was a fair bet that any new conventional aircraft built by an experienced design team would be able to fly. However every now and then a machine unable to leave the ground would emerge to challenge such assumptions and the Bloch M.B.150 fighter was just such an aircraft. Attempts to get the new fighter off the ground were abandoned in 1936. As well as being embarrassing, the ensuing delay as the aircraft was redesigned cost precious months and meant that, when the Bloch fighter was most desperately needed it was not available in sufficient numbers. It is probably an exaggeration to claim that the failure of the original M.B.150 to fly cost France victory in the air but it certainly didn’t help.

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Even once the Bloch had been developed into an aeroplane that could actually fly it wasn’t exactly a stellar performer. With its wonky nose (the engine was pointed slightly to the left to counteract airscrew torque), slab sided fuselage, apparently undersized wings, cumbersome tail unit and crudely massive gun barrels it could hardly be described as a looker either. It was, at least, incredibly strong and able to survive remarkable levels of combat damage, which was lucky given its lack of speed or agility and the M.B.150 and its slightly improved M.B.151 and 152 variants served valiantly but not particularly effectively throughout the Battle for France. A considerably better variant, the M.B.155 was just entering service as France capitulated and served in the Vichy air force but the final development, the M.B.157, boasted truly outstanding performance. Unfortunately the single example suffered the ignominy of only ever flying in German colours.
Ultimately Marcel Bloch changed his name and that of his company to Dassault consigning the embarrassment of the M.B.150 to another age, and, to the casual observer, another aircraft company.

1. Potez 630 and 631 (fighter variants)  ‘Le Bf 110′

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Had the Potez 630 and 631 fighters been able to avoid combat it would have been just another pre-war mediocrity hardly worthy of mention. Unfortunately for it and its crews it was committed to aerial combat against, amongst others, a far superior aircraft that it just happened to uncannily resemble.

During the 1930s most of the world’s major air forces flirted with the idea of twin-engined ‘heavy’ fighters. These shared a common concept that a larger fighter aircraft could effectively escort bombers deep into enemy territory, making up for any deficiency in agility deriving from their size, when compared with opposing single-engined fighters, with heavier firepower and speed. Aircraft such as the Westland Whirlwind and Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu were all variations on this theme. Sadly the concept was flawed, World War Two era twin engine fighters were never a match for their single engine counterparts as the debacle of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 in the Battle of Britain serves to demonstrate. The Messerschmitt was an excellent aircraft (its rate of climb was greater than that of the Spitfire for example) yet it was unable to survive against determined fighter opposition, ultimately needing to be supplied with a fighter escort even though it was supposed to be an escort fighter. Imagine then how much worse it would have been if it hadn’t been such an excellent aircraft and one has a reasonable idea of the hopelessness of the Potez 630.

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The Potez 630 family was a diverse group of aircraft with pleasant flying characteristics comprising derivatives optimised for every conceivable role from Army co-operation to bombing, and in general it performed adequately if not spectacularly during the fighting over France and after. The fighter variant was, at least, well armed boasting two 20-mm cannon in a ventral gondola and two fixed machine guns (one firing backwards!) plus a machine gun on a flexible mount for the second crewman. However it never had sufficiently powerful engines to propel it to a decent speed and proved to be slower than many of the German bombers that it was supposed to be shooting down. Against modern fighters it had no chance at all. The afore-mentioned Messerschmitt 110 with an extra 750 hp on tap was a full 120 km/h faster and unfortunately for the Potez, from most angles it looked very similar indeed to the German fighter. It is not known how many ‘friendly-fire’ incidents resulted in losses but there are many documented instances. Pity the poor Potez pilot – strapped into an aircraft with inadequate performance, expected to chase down bombers that he is unable to catch, and shot at by friend and foe alike in invariably superior aircraft.

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To be fair to the French, the limitations of the Potez as a fighter were well known by 1939 but the fact was (in an annoyingly non-stereotypical act of engineering efficiency) it was so well designed for mass production that it was available in great numbers immediately, plus it was very cheap: despite being a fairly large twin-engined aircraft the Potez 630 could be built in fewer man-hours and for less money than a Morane-Saulnier 406, the commonest French single-engine fighter in 1940 (and also not that great a combat aircraft). Ultimately even the standard escape route for inadequate twin-engined fighters, night-fighting, provided no solace for the Potez. In the absence of any kind of guidance system the best it could do was fly around at night hoping to blunder into an enemy aircraft and it is fair to say that its service as a night fighter was effectively irrelevant. At least it was nice to fly and the three examples that somehow contrived to survive the conflict were used postwar as trainers for the reconstituted Armee de l’Air.

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SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons at the top and bottom of this page. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

Also check out: Top 11 cancelled French aircraft

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Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplane

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

Airshow review: RIAT 2017

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The Air Tattoo, at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, is one of the best places to find emotionally immature dads and angry men with huge zoom lenses. Our Man at RIAT reports on this year’s most exciting air show. 

Best thing? 

Knackered looking U-2. Good F-22 display obvs.

Best swag? 

Leonardo die cast T-346 model.

Worst swag? 

Israeli emoji stickers for kids.

Best cocktails? 

Discovery Air Defence

Worst display?

Thunderbores (USAF Thunderbird team).

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Best thing you bought? 

Belgian Mirage 5 coffee table book.

Best static display? 

French Alpha Jet with special tail markings to commemorate Eugene Bullard (first African-American military pilot). 

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Best vintage flying item? 

Hangar 11’s P-51D. You can keep your Spitfires. Special mention to Austrian Air Force Saab 105s- almost as old!

Best example of UK-US cooperation in field of air warfare?

Use of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ to accompany F-22 display.

Most missed display item? 

B-1 or B-52 as part of the USAF 70th celebration. B-2 is fairly ‘meh’ in comparison.

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Was the commentator like Alan Partridge? 

No, Ben’s (Ben Dunnell) commentary was very good, as ever.

Worst item of clothing? 

Take your pick from almost any of the journos in the chalets on Sunday.

 

Best entrepreneurs? 

Ukrainian Air Force selling hollowed out grenades as salt and pepper shakers.

Worst haircut? 

Obviously the Flygvapnet Gripen pilot’s man bun – although it could find limited uptake in Dalston this Summer.

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Gripen (model?) at RIAT 1997.

Gone AWOL award? 

Discovery Air Defence A-4. Big shame it didn’t make it to the static.

Worst use of social media? 

Carol Vorderman. Reinforcing her profile as a societal menace.

(That better be sarcasm, she reads Hush-Kit and is lovely.)

Fashion must-have?

Saab complementary Panama hat. Better build quality than the Marshall Aerospace equivalent.

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Worst static display item?

Pakistan Air Force C-130 (look at that tail!). But bonus points for mattresses below the ramp so kids could do ‘para jumps’.

 

Coolest sounding plane?

Italian Air Force Tornado. Been too long since these were doing solo displays.

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Hottest pilots? 

Axel and Pastif from Couteau Delta. Although U-2 pilot Kevin gets recognition for use of his RayBans.

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SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons at the top and bottom of this page. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

The more you give the more we can give you 🙂

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

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10 incredible facts they don’t want you to know about aviation

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It would be beyond the wildest imagination of our parents to believe that one day every journey would take place in an actual flying machine, but today this fact has become mundane. From the helicopter that takes you to work, to the hypersonic airliner that takes us away for our weekend city-break, the aircraft is universal. Yet much remains unknown about these majestic ‘sky boats’. Here are 10 facts they didn’t want you to know: 

10. The world’s first aeroplane original.jpg

In 1986 Russian hunters discovered these preserved remains on Russia’s Arctic coast. The aircraft is dated as having lived around 30,000BC, making it the oldest ever found. The aircraft, dubbed ‘Thora’, is the common ancestor of all extant variable geometry types from the Su-17s to the mighty Tu-160.

9. Why was the B-25 bomber called the ‘Sixer’? 

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Due to a design flaw, the B-25 Mitchell had six shadows.

8. The modern Airport 

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Air travel is more popular than ever. Passengers must arrive at the airport two hours before departure to ensure they have time to spray perfume on their arms, and marvel at how ugly modern watches are. Despite the automation of modern airports, it is impossible for airlines to know which gate your aircraft will be at in advance. No one knows why this is.

 

7. Airport security 10-Tips-for-Getting-Through-Airport-Security-Fast-and-Efficiently.jpg

Terrorists are everywhere. Despite it being more likely you’ll win the lottery than be killed by terrorists, it’s important that you take your shoes and belt off to humble yourself to the god of safety.

6. Defensive systems 

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Tinfoil not only protects your mind from CIA intervention, it also protects military aircraft from radar-guided missiles. ‘Chaff’ are strips of tinfoil dispensed from paranoid aircraft. When the seeker-head of the missiles sees the chaff it realises its target is a troubled soul, so leaves it alone.

5. Light aircraft 

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When not cheating on their wives, middle-aged right-wing men collect in fields to complain about how expensive their unnecessary light aircraft is.

4. Helicopters 

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It is a popular misconception that all helicopters feed on human blood; in reality it is only the females, and they only do it to feed their offspring.

3. Bombers

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Bombers are large multi-engined aeroplanes that carry high explosive or nuclear weapons to drop on cities. Cities are the natural habitat of many humans, so an unfortunate byproduct of this hands-on town-planning is the killing of people. Fortunately, the only nations with bombers are very powerful.

2. Ejection seats 

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When the aeroplane embryo is ready to leave the aircraft’s pouch it has yet to have wings of its own, so it is projected into the sky on a rocket-powered chair. As an encouragement to carry out such a stressful and perilous endeavour, the embryo is given a tie following a successful ejection.

  1. The Wright Brothers brothers

As can be seen by their clothes, the Wright Brothers were cocktails waiters from 2009. They built the very first aircraft as a way to publicise their new bar ‘The Kitty Hawk’.

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10 amazing things you didn’t know about the Supermarine Spitfire

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The Supermarine Spitfire was a masterpiece of engineering, and more importantly a vital weapon in the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Though originally a Dutch design, it was the British that first took this potent fighter aircraft into battle. Think you know the Spitfire? Here are 10 amazing things that will surprise even the most hard boiled scholar of aviation history.

  1. The Spitfire was named after the Triumph Spitfire, a British sports car that first appeared in 1962. Zastava_Yugo_311.jpg

2. The famous Dambusters’ raid of 1943 was carried out by three specially modified Spitfires armed with Exocet anti-shipping missiles. Of the three aircraft sent, four returned.

3. Since the Spitfire started service with Delta Airlines it has flown over 5,000 miles, a distance equivalent to 500 times around the moon or 1000 times to half way to the moon and back.

4. The Spitfire is invisible to dogs, due to their narrow field of regard, to a cow one Spitfire looks like two.

5. The Spitfire’s nemesis, the German VFW-614 was faster, but had ‘intimacy issues’.

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The unmistakable Supermarine Spitfire.

6. Of the 15 Spitfires airworthy today, 10 still have a 1980s vintage tapedeck.

7. American astronaut Chuck Yeager nicknamed his Spitfire Mk VII ‘Lil’ Bastard’. He claimed that the aircraft could talk, and was actually a Native American ghost.

8. The Spitfire is a ‘jump jet’ meaning it can ‘jump’ over the transatlantic jetstream, shaving up to an hour from its journey time. Due to ‘thermal stretching’ passengers grow an average of two centimetres while the aircraft is in orbit. On landing they return to their regular heights and partners.

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Top scoring Spitfire pilot Dr. Ray Mears. Mears shot down 32 helicopters during the 1987 Pentonville Prison riots.

9. The Spitfire’s original name was Shirley Crabtree Jr.

10. Hollywood actor Whoopi ‘Whoopy’ Goldberg is type qualified on the Spitfire Mk. I and claims she can dive inverted without stalling. She was in the 1990 motion picture ‘Ghost’

Fact checking by The Daily M**l editorial team.

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You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

The top fighter aircraft of 2017 (BVR combat)

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Picture credit: Jamie Hunter

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

Hardware is generally less important than training and tactics — removing these human factors from the mix allows us to judge the most deadly long-range fighting machines currently in service. The exact ordering of this list is open to question, but all the types mentioned are extraordinarily potent killers. This list only includes currently active fighters (so no PAK FAs etc) and only includes weapons and sensors that are actually in service today. The Chengdu J-20 is not considered mature enough to make this list. 

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(This list is BVR only, for WVR see here)

10. Lockheed Martin F-16E/F

joint-place with 

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

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

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

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

dsc_3153 (1).jpgWell equipped with a great defensive system and excellent weapons the Super Hornet has much to offer. It is happiest at lower speeds and altitudes, making it a fearsome dogfighter, but is less capable at the BVR mission; a mediocre high-speed high-altitude performance disadvantage the ‘Rhino’ as does a pedestrian climb rate and poor acceleration at higher speeds. The touch screen cockpit has disadvantages, as switches and buttons can be felt ‘blind’ and do not require ‘heads-down’ use. The much-touted AN/APG-79 AESA radars introduced on Block II aircraft has proved unreliable and has enormous development problems. One scathing report said ‘ …operational testing does not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in mission accomplishment between F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those equipped with the legacy radar.’

Read an exclusive interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.

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

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

9. Sukhoi Su-30MK

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

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

8. Shenyang J-11B

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

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

7. Mikoyan MiG-31BM

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

Designed to hunt in packs of four or more aircraft the type can sweep vast swathes of airspace, sharing vital targeting information by data-link with other aircraft. The enormous PESA radar was the first ever fitted to a fighter. The type is marred by a mountainous radar cross section and abysmal agility at lower speeds. More on the MiG-31 here and here. 

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

6. Sukhoi Su-35 

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The Su-35 is considerably more capable than earlier ‘Flanker’ families and would pose a significant challenge to any ‘eurocanard’. Su-35S were deployed in Syria in 2016 to provide air cover for Russian forces engaged in anti-rebel/ISIL attacks. The Su-35 is even more powerful than the Su-30M series and boasts improved avionics and man-machine interface. More on the Su-35 can be found here. Teething problems encountered in Syria are now being rectified, though the type still lacks maturity.

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

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

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Though the famously one-sided score sheet of the F-15 should be taken with a pinch of salt (Israeli air-to-air claims are often questionable to say the least), the F-15 has proved itself a tough, kickass fighter that can be depended on. It lacks the agility (certainly at lower speeds) of its Russian counterparts, but in its most advanced variants has an enormously capable radar in the APG-63(V)3. The F-15 remains the fastest Western fighter to have ever entered service, and is currently the fastest non-Russian frontline aircraft of any kind in the world. The type is cursed by a giant radar cross section, a massive infra-red signature and an inferior high altitude performance to a newer generation of fighters.

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

4. Dassault Rafale

Joint with

 Eurofighter Typhoon 

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

The Rafale is extremely agile, with one of the lowest radar cross sections of a ‘conventional’ aircraft and its defensive systems are generally considered superior to those of its arch-rival, the Typhoon (though the Typhoon’s have been considerably updated). It falls down in its main armament, the MICA, which is generally considered to have a lower maximum range than later model AMRAAMs. It has a little less poke than the Typhoon in terms of  thrust-to-weight ratio leading some potential customers in hot countries to demand an engine upgrade. It has yet to be integrated with a helmet cueing system in operational service.

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

Eurofighter Typhoon

A high power-to-weight ratio, a large wing and a well designed cockpit put the Typhoon pilot in an advantageous position in a BVR engagement. Acceleration rates, climb rates (according to a German squadron leader it can out-climb a F-22) and agility at high speeds are exceptionally good. Pilot workload is very low compared to most rivals and the aircraft has proved reliable. The type will be the ‘last swinging disc in town’ as it will be among the last modern fighters to feature a mechanically scanned radar; the Captor radar may use an old fashioned technology but is still a highly-rated piece of equipment. The Typhoon has a smaller radar cross section than both the F-15 and Su-30 and superior high altitude performance to Rafale. Combat persistence is good and the AIM-132 ASRAAM of RAF aircraft are reported to have a notable BVR capability. On the recent Atlantic Trident exercise where the F-22 ‘fought’ alongside F-22s and F-35s it was praised for its defensive aids (which have undergone some updates).

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

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3. Saab Gripen C/D

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In our original list from four years ago, the Gripen did not even make the top ten. Its dramatic jump to the number two position (see last year’s list here) was due to one reason: the entry into operational service (in April 2016) of the MBDA Meteor missile. The Gripen is the first fighter in the world to carry the long-delayed Meteor. The Meteor outranges every Western weapon, and thanks to its ramjet propulsion (an innovation for air-to-air missiles) it has a great deal of energy, even at the outer extremes of its flight profile, allowing it to chase maneuvering targets at extreme ranges. Many air forces have trained for years in tactics to counter AMRAAM, but few know much about how to respond to the vast No Escape Zone of Meteor. This combined with a two-way datalink (allowing assets other than the firer to communicate with the missile), the aircraft’s low radar signature, and the Gripen’s pilot’s superb situational awareness makes the small Swedish fighter a particularly nasty threat to potential enemies. The Gripen is not the fastest nor longest-legged fighter, nor is its radar particularly powerful. It would have to be used carefully, taking advantage of its advanced connectivity, to make the most of its formidable armament.

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

2. Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

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

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

1. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

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Undisputed king of beyond-visual range air combat is the F-22 Raptor. Its superbly stealthy design means it is likely to remain undetected to enemy fighters, calmly despatching its hapless opponents. The type’s excellent AESA radar is world class, and its ‘low-probability of interception’ operation enables to see without being seen. When high-altitude limitations are not in place (due to safety concerns) the type fights from a higher perch than F-15s and F-16s, and is more frequently supersonic. High and fast missile shots give its AMRAAMs far greater reach and allow the type to stay out harm’s way. Firing trials have been completed with the latest AMRAAM, the longer-ranged and more sophisticated AIM-120D, but this has yet to enter service. 

The F-22 is expensive, suffers from a poor radius of action for its size and has suffered a high attrition rate for a modern fighter. 

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

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By Joe Coles &  Thomas Newdick (Airforces Monthly)

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

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Not forgetting:  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story of The Planet SatelliteFashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 

Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

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As well as being a razor, mach 3 is a speed. It’s very fast. Flying at mach 3 produces oven-like skin temperatures and requires aircraft with exotic propulsion systems, and structures wrought from unusual metals that refuse to behave as well as aluminium. Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, several mach 3 fighters have been considered. Some have even flown.

 

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8. Mikoyan ‘MiG-41’

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The Russian MiG bureau has barely kept its head above water over the last 25 years, but according to some reports it is quietly working on a mach 4+ interceptor to replace the MiG-31, dubbed the ‘MiG-41’. You never know what to believe when it comes to Russian military aircraft, though it seems doubtful that Russia could afford such a programme if it couldn’t even fund the PAK FA by itself (it required reluctant Indian investment). If it is ever made, it will require a revolutionary form of propulsion – perhaps a modern variable-cycle interpretation of the J58 that powered the SR-71?

7. Dassault Mirage  (cancelled)

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For thirty years the French solution to anything was the Mirage. VTOL fighter? Try a Mirage. Swing-wing fighter? Try a Mirage. Nuclear medium bomber? Same again. So it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that several mach 3 Mirage concepts were studied. Butch intakes, new transparencies and huge engines would have given the MD 750 a formidable appearance. Generally the French air force prefers lighter fighters, and like many heavyweight Dassault concepts this failed to get funding.

6. North American XF-108 Rapier (cancelled)

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Of the slew of unflown mach 3 interceptor designs considered by the USAF in the 1950s, the North American XF-108 Rapier got the closest to being fully developed. If it had entered service it would have been exceptionally advanced: it was intended to carry the Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar, the first pulse-Doppler fighter radar set with a look-down/shoot-down capability (something that didn’t become common until the 1980s). It was also to be equipped with an infra-red search and tracking (IRST) system, and Hughes GAR-9 (missiles capable of destroying bombers over 100 miles away). Powered by two of the same engines as the equally ambitious XB-70 Valkyrie (and equipped with the same escape system), the F-108 would have been impressive but insanely expensive – in 1959 dollars the project would have cost four billion! The project was scrapped, which though a sane act, did deprive the world of what would have been the epitome of a kick-ass fighter. Its unfortunate name was temporarily carried by the F-22. 

5. General Dynamics/MD RF-4X Phantom II (cancelled)

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In the 1970s, the Israeli air force wanted a reconnaissance aircraft capable of carrying the extremely impressive HIAC-1 camera. The F-4 was considered, but the G-139 pod that contained the sensor was over 22 feet long and weighed over 4000 pounds – and the Phantom did not have the power to carry such a bulky store and remain fast and agile enough to survive in hostile airspace. One solution was to increase the power of the engines with water injection, something that had been done for various succesful F-4 record attempts. This combined with new inlets, a new canopy and huge bolt-on water tanks promised a mouth-watering 150% increase in power. This would have allowed a startling top speed of mach 3.2 and a cruising speed of mach 2.7. This level of performance would have made the F-4X almost impossible to shoot-down with the technology then in service. The F-4X would also have been a formidable interceptor – something that threatened the F-15 development effort, causing the State Department to revoke an export licence for the RF-4X. Even with the increase in power, the Israeli air force was still worried about the huge amount of drag, but a solution came in the form of a slimmed-down camera installation in a specially elongated nose. This meant the interceptor radar had to be removed, which assuaged the State Department’s fears and the project was allowed to continue. However worries from the F-15 project community returned (as did worries about how safe the F-4X would have been to fly) and the US pulled out. Israel tried to go it alone but didn’t have enough money, so the mach 3 Phantom never flew. rf-4x_4

4. Republic XF-103 (cancelled)

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In 1949, the USAF issued the Weapon System WS-201A request for an advanced supersonic interceptor, which became better known as the ‘1954 interceptor’. The brief was demanding — perhaps too demanding. It called for an extremely fast all-weather interceptor with a sophisticated radar and air-to-air missile armament. A mach 3 top speed was sought, which would be over three times faster than the fastest contemporary fighter. One of the main stumbling blocks to achieving mach 3 was the fact that jet engines of the time simply weren’t up to the task. Enter Alexander Kartveli. Born Alexander Kartvelishvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, he was a hugely important designer, who worked on the potent P-47 Thunderbolt, the beautiful and impressive Republic XF-12 Rainbow, and the slightly shabby Gloster Javelin. To solve the propulsion problem he proposed using a Wright J67 turbojet (essentially a Bristol Olympus) supplemented by a RJ55-W-1 ramjet. Though the project was eventually cancelled in 1957 without ever flying, the design did inform the Republic RF-84F Thunderstreak and later F-105 Thunderchief (notably in the intake configuration)

3. Mikoyan MiG-25 (1964)

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Yes, yes – I can hear all you dorks shouting ‘the MiG-25 is limited to mach 2.83, and as low as 2.5 operationally’. But it can go mach 3. Famously an Egyptian one (admittedly the recce version) legged it across Israeli airspace at a whopping 3.2, ruining the engines according to legend. The MiG-25 was the only mach 3 capable fighter (yes, yes—fighter interceptor if you’re going to be a dick about it) to enter service. At speeds above mach 2.5 aluminium is not much good so an alternative was needed. Mikoyan adopted a radically different solution to Lockheed’s: instead of using titanium as the primary material (which was difficult to work with, expensive and mostly being shipped to the US) the MiG-25 used 80% nickel-steel alloy, 11% aluminium, and only 9% titanium. I seem to remember it also contains 5kg of gold. The British had experimented with steel for their utterly crap Bristol 188.

Despite its limitations (terrible agility, range and avionics), the MiG-25 has proved surprisingly capable in air-to-air combat, downing a brace of Iranian F-4s (and an F-5s). The most successful Iraqi MiG-25 pilot was Colonel Mohammed Rayyan, who was credited with 10 kills. In Desert Storm the type shot down a US F/A-18 Hornet, and even put up a spirited dogfight against the then invincible F-15.

2. Mikoyan MiG-31 (1975)

MiG-31BM_2_SK_en.JPG

The MiG-31 is the Volkswagen New Beetle to the MiG-25’s Volkswagen Beetle. Beefier and far technologically superior, the MiG-31 remains in service with the Russian air and space force today.

In 1986 six MiG-31s intercepted an SR-71 over the Barents Sea by performing a coordinated interception. It is rumoured that after this interception, no SR-71 flew a reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union.

Structurally, it’s a little different to the MiG-25, being 49% arc-welded nickel steel, 33% light metal alloy, 16% titanium and 2% composites. It is also an absolute beast, with a maximum take-off weight the same as a Boeing 737 airliner — or more than five MiG-21s! Armed with the longest range air-to-air weapon outside of Sweden and comfortably able to outdrag a Raptor, the MiG-31 remains in a league of its own.

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1. Lockheed YF-12 (1963)

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Not only did the YF-12 actually fly, it could also comfortably exceed mach 3. It was the largest and fastest fighter that ever flew, and smashed a load of speed and altitude world records. When the F-108 was cancelled in 1959, it seemed a waste to junk the advanced radar and missiles so someone had the bright idea to stick them on a top secret spyplane airframe then in development: the A-12 (which later evolved into the famous SR-71 Blackbird). Ironically, it was designed to shootdown Soviet bombers, yet was made from Russia-sourced titanium (it had been procured with an innocent-sounding cover story).President Johnson announced the existence of the YF-12 in 1964, allowing it to be used as a cover story for any observed test flights of the still-secret A-12/SR-71. Stealthy, supercruising and capable of flying at extremely high altitude, the YF-12 was in many ways the grandfather of the F-22 Raptor.

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