Category: Interview

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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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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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. 

F-14s, Victors & Spitfires: An interview with aviation artist Ian Bott

An artwork showing an Avro Vulcan taking part in the 1977 Red Flag exercises in Nevada, representing my collaboration with writer James Kightly on the ‘Aircrew’ series for ‘Aeroplane Monthly’. James and I have produced over 70 of these features over the past six years and I’m constantly amazed at his ability to come up with fascinating facts about obscure subjects plus am constantly grateful for his patience when dealing with a prima donna artist.

“An artwork showing an Avro Vulcan taking part in the 1977 Red Flag exercises in Nevada, representing my collaboration with writer James Kightly on the ‘Aircrew’ series for ‘Aeroplane Monthly’. James and I have produced over 70 of these features over the past six years and I’m constantly amazed at his ability to come up with fascinating facts about obscure subjects plus am constantly grateful for his patience when dealing with a prima donna artist.”

Many of your artworks are of aircraft, which is your favourite aircraft?

I’m a kid of the Cold War so anything loud, overpowered and short on subtlety floats my boat. The B-58, X-15, SR-71, F-14, Lightning, mighty Vulcan or any century-series fighter or Reno Unlimited Class racer would all be good examples. However, if I had to pick one aircraft above all others it would be a humble two-seater with a 110hp engine that could manage about 100kts on a good day with a tail wind: Cessna 152 N-606GS, the aircraft that I did the bulk of my PPL training in. I spent many blissful hours getting to know her most intimate details and the subtleties of her personality. It was love at first sight and, though we occasionally had our disagreements, she never let me down and always looked after me, even when I treated her inconsiderately.

 What’s the hardest aircraft to draw?

Anything with lots of the following: struts, wires, exposed cylinder heads, antennae, multiple panes of Perspex making up a canopy reminiscent of something at Kew Gardens or, worst of all, overly-elaborate markings with lots and lots of lettering (yes US Navy of the 60s and 70s, I’m talking about you).

Materials/techniques you use?

As a professional illustrator working in 2013, software and drawing tablets have replaced much of the traditional paints, brushes and other media of earlier years but I still find that there’s no digital substitute for sitting down with a pen, pencil and paper and just drawing. My single most important piece of equipment is the set of ellipse templates that I’ve had since art college in the 80s and have used almost every day since.

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What tips can you offer those trying to draw or paint a Spitfire?

If you’re going to draw a Spitfire my one piece of advice would be, without a shadow of a doubt, steer clear of clichés. I’m not saying that the aviation art world doesn’t need any more artworks of Spitfires silhouetted against pretty sunsets or shooting down Messerschmitts over the White Cliffs of Dover, all I’m suggesting is that the artist delve into the rich history of the aircraft and try and find a less well-known facet of the Spitfire story to depict.

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Which aircraft is the most attractive and why?

To me the most attractive aircraft are those that combine a mixture of Swiss-watch precision, curvaceous lines and brutish power. The SR-71 probably embodies all these characteristics most strikingly but the Hawker Sea Fury, F-14, and Blackburn Buccaneer are other good examples.

 In terms of aesthetics, what is your favourite:

Wing

The U-2’s . A high-aspect ratio glider-type wing attached to the fuselage of a Starfighter but it works. Genius bordering on insanity.

Or:

Jack Northrop’s YB-35 (which is pretty much all wing). One of the most beautiful things ever to take to the air

Fuselage

The B-17. Sleek, purposeful and bristling with armament. I flew in one in 1999 and the experience of sitting in that glazed nose with four Wright Cyclones roaring away around you was breath-taking

Canopy

The B-17’s successor, the B-29. Reducing drag by making the canopy the nose of the aircraft and doing it with style to boot

Engine

Has to be the Merlin, a work of art in its own right. The positioning and cowls on the Mosquito look particularly handsome and powerful

Tail

The beautiful sweep of the Victor’s tail. Never did the threat of nuclear devastation come in such an attractive package

Jet exhaust

The jet exhaust of the F-14. So powerful yet elegant that a close-up of the working of the exhaust mechanism is one of the opening shots of ‘Top Gun

Undercarriage

Anything built by Grumman for the Navy. If you’re going to have to design an undercarriage for carrier landings it’s going to end up looking like a brick outhouse. They know it, they don’t care and, in fact, I suspect they’re probably proud of it

If you’d like to see more of Ian’s work you can either like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IanBottIllustration

or check out his website at www.ianbottillustration.co.uk/

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All artworks copyright Ian Bott 2013

The Stealth Guru: Hush-Kit meets Bill Sweetman

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Tenacious journalist Bill Sweetman has always been one step ahead: the man described by Tom Clancy as “a genius” was writing about ‘stealth technology’ when it was sill buried in official secrecy; he broke the story of the Laden raid stealth helicopter; possibly unearthed proof of the Aurora hypersonic spy-plane and remains an outspoken critic of the F-35 programme.

How did you start in aviation journalism? I answered an ad in the back of Flight for a sub-editor. Mark Hewish, who was in that position, had taken a job at New Scientist (although he changed his mind and stayed on as a defence writer). The printers insisted on having an extra sub (so one could always be there on Friday) and IPC balked at the GBP 2,400 salary, which was the lowest NUJ rate. The solution was to hire two trainees at 60 per cent. I arrived thinking that I was on a gap year before Uni and never left.

 What are the biggest pitfalls facing aerospace writers? Making a living! Related to the fact that many outlets pay minimum rates and have little interest in quality. The other problem is that there are lots of people paid to manipulate the story, and most of them earn more than you do, and some of them are depressingly good at it.

Your informed guesswork and predictions regarding US black programme have frequently proved very accurate. Is there an article you are particularly proud of?

I still look back on the 1986 book Stealth Aircraft with affection. Some of my IDR and Interavia stories on stealth in the late 1990s and early 2000s hold up well in retrospect. There’s a lot in there that has never been published or talked about since. Breaking the bin Laden stealth helicopter story – now, that was quick-draw fun.

Some of your journalistic investigations appear to involve long, exhaustive studies of budget documents. If this is the case, what motivates you to persist- does it not seem tedious sometimes? Browning had a mathematician saying “While I triumph o’er a secret wrung from nature’s close reserve”. When it stops being interesting you’re probably not getting anywhere.

What have been the highest and lowest points of your career so far? I’m deeply enjoying the present day, the hunt for black programmess and the epic story of JSF – which started off as the most ambitious project since the ICBM and has been a grievous disappointment.

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Which black programmes are you currently most interested in? I could tell you, but then I’d have to use some hackneyed cliché from one of the worst aviation movies ever.

What is the biggest myth regarding stealth? Stealth doesn’t make you invisible, much less immortal.

Who are your writing heroes ? Bill Gunston, above all. Mark Hewish was my mentor in many ways – very efficient and a total professional. LJK Setright was an inspiration in terms of having fun with writing. C.G. Grey – great writer, lousy politics. Outside aviation, Wodehouse and Saki are influences.

Does the inclusion of industry advertisers in aviation magazines have an affect on the impartiality of reporting? Not if I have anything to do with it.

The Typhoon, F-22 and F-35 programmes have all received a great deal of criticism; can you give an example of a well-run military aircraft project? Almost anything from the land of blondes, aquavit and IKEA.

What are the future aerospace technologies to look out for? Additive manufacturing. The application of 3D aerodynamic modelling to blended shapes.

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Do you have a favourite aeroplane, and if so why? The ‘Flanker‘ in its many forms. It was a very difficult program and relied on a lot of aerodynamic and propulsion technology that even today is not appreciated. And it looks incomparably bad-ass, as if God designed a pterodactyl to go Mach 2.

Read about stealth in fact and fiction Here

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F-100 Super Sabre: a fighter pilot’s perspective

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Former fighter pilot Scotty Wilson gives you the low-down on flying the magnificent ‘Hun’.

1. What were you were first impressions of the F-100?

I transitioned to the Hun right out of UPT after flying the T-38. The T-38 was small, sleek, white and sexy. The Hun was, by comparison, huge, camouflaged, grimy and a workhorse. Best of all -it only had one engine and one seat. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen!

2.  When did you fly it? With which units?

I flew the Hun (C/D/F) from 1973 to 1979 for about 1500 hours, mostly with the 178 TFG (Ohio) and 131 TFW (Missouri) Air Guard units.

3. What was the best thing about it?

It was an “honest” airplane with excellent control harmony and good visibility. It was simple and reliable.

4. What was the worst thing about flying it?

Pilots like to say the Hun invented adverse yaw, and one did have to be careful with lateral stick input at high AOA. Final approach speeds were relatively high (166 KIAS + fuel in the D; higher in the C). It was underpowered – like a lot of the early Century-Series airplanes – and we had two power settings: “not enough” (military power); and “just okay” (afterburner). It was hard to fly really well.

5. Was it an effective weapon system?

I never flew the Hun in combat, so I’m not the best one to ask. I have several friends who flew as “Misty FACs” (Forward Air Controller, a very dangerous mission) in South East Asia; I never heard them say a bad thing about the plane. In training missions, it was a stable bomb and gun platform.

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6. Did you ever fly mock dogfights against any other types, what was this like and which types were the most challenging?

We were commonly called-upon to do duty as MiG-15/17/19 simulators and as training partners in DACT with more advanced fighters such as the F-4, F-14 and F-15. We often flew “canned” scenarios or profiles specific to another unit’s training requirements.

“Huge, camouflaged and grimy…the most beautiful thing I had ever seen!”

Occasionally, we’d get an opportunity to do anything we wanted. A “clean” Hun – even the heavier D model – could climb to above 45,000 and get up to Mach 1.3 in a shallow dive. No one looked for us up that high, and we could usually engage from above unseen – the first time. We could generally win a 1-vs-1 guns-only or rear-aspect missile fight against a hard-winged F-4 and break even against a slatted E, unless the Phantom pilot was very good (Ron Keys comes to mind) and didn’t fight our fight. Same with the F-14. Best tactic was to go single-circle, co-plane. We’d give up knots for angles and out-rate the other guy, who would honor your nose position and become defensive immediately. (I have 2000 hours in F-4C/D/E and know those airplanes pretty well.)

The F-15 was a superior airplane in every respect and it was rare you got the advantage on one unless the pilot was a doofus (and there were a few).

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7. What three words best describe the F-100?

Honest, reliable, predictable.

8. What was your most memorable flight in a F-100?

14 hours in the cockpit / 12 hours flight time during a winter-time redeployment from Ramstein AB Germany to Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri. We strapped in and started-up, then shut-down and waited in the cockpit while our tankers at RAF Mildenhall fixed a problem. After we got airborne and mid-way across the Atlantic both tankers lost their drogues (equipment, not pilot error). We found another tanker – this one scrambled out of Canada – using UHF-ADF and Air-to-Air TACAN while IMC in 1 NM visibility conditions. When we finally joined with two more tankers we flew…and flew…and continued flying westward because the weather at every AFB east of the Mississippi was below landing minimums. (The F-100D didn’t have ILS at the time.)

I don’t think we ever saw groundspeeds in excess of 360 knots the entire route. Only if you have worn the old-style poopy suit* can you appreciate how enjoyable the last four hours of that flight was like.

Scotty Wilson built a flyable Bugatti 100P. Tragically he died flying it in 2016.

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

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

HUSH-KIT EXCLUSIVE: THE ULTIMATE PISTON-ENGINED FIGHTER: FLYING THE HAWKER SEA FURY by TEST PILOT DAVE EAGLES

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Former BAe test pilot Dave Eagles has flown some of the greatest aircraft in history. Here he reveals what it was like to fly the ultimate piston-engined fighter, the Hawker Sea Fury.

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“I flew the Sea Fury in 1956 after having had 6 months or so on a Firefly Squadron and my impressions therefore were inevitably based on a comparison of the two.

..top marks for agility.”

The Sea Fury was much more lively than the clunky old Firefly. It was lighter in pitch and roll and more responsive to power changes. It had spring-tab ailerons so  as speed built up its roll stick forces remained reasonably light up to close to its limiting indicated air speed (400 – 450 kts IAS) .

The spring tab aileron was so designed that when stick forces built above a certain level, a torque tube was allowed to twist and further stick movement activated the aileron tab which gave help in moving the ailerons.

It had an automatic prop pitch control so that you could pull the pitch control lever into an auto position and thereafter the pitch angle would automatically reduce to the maximum permitted for the amount of boost (manifold pressure) that the throttle was demanding. This was really only useful in the cruise but was useful nevertheless. It meant that you could control the engine with just the throttle lever, like a jet, and when you got the RPM back to minimum the noise level with the Centaurus was very low.

So it got top marks for agility.

It was certainly not unforgiving. It was very spin resistant–you could throw it about at low speed as in one to one fighting without fear of departing. We had a formation aerobatic team and found it very well behaved in close formation. And unlike the Spitfire, which I flew several years later, it was very easy to control on the ground. You could use full throttle on take off and easily control the swing, due to its wide landing gear, lockable tail wheel and effective rudder.

ImageWe did vic take-offs on a normal width runway at close to full power with firm directional control. The Spitfire — much lighter of course– has a wopping tendency to swing and needs care with the rate of throttle opening, at least when getting familiar with it.

And no, the Fury didn’t remind me of any other aircraft. Apart from the sedate Firefly I didn’t fly any of the other big piston tailwheels.”

Dave Eagles flew the Sea Fury with the Royal Australian Navy

Hush-kit is reminding the world of the beauty of flight.

follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Please donate so we can give you even more (donate buttons can be found on this page). 

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

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

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Before Typhoon: Flying the EAP, Britain’s last supersonic aircraft

In the early 1980s, air forces and manufacturers in Europe wanted a new fighter. Several studies, including the Agile Combat Aircraft, envisioned the aircraft as a canard delta design, specialising in air superiority. Collaboration between all the major nations seemed possible, but France split off on its own, to work on the ACX. France was now arch-rivals with its previous partners and leapt into the lead when its Rafale-A technology demonstrator flew on 4th July 1986, Britain soon fired back with the EAP.

The EAP first flew on 8th August 1986. The aircraft was built as a technology demonstrator for what would become the Eurofighter Typhoon. Though there was a small element of international collaboration in the EAP, it was essentially British, and as such was the last ever supersonic British aircraft. Its performance was very impressive, as one test pilot noted, “It goes like a ferret with a firework up its bum!”.

Hush-Kit interviewed EAP test pilot Dave Eagles to get the inside story.

What were you first impressions of flying EAP?

“First, delight at finally getting the aircraft into the air. We had had 3 days or so of delay due to gloomy weather. But then happiness with the control feel, — the response and harmonisation and the marked attitude stability — and the cockpit view.”

What was the best thing about flying EAP?

“The best thing was the realisation that, in spite of all the political odds, we had succeeded in producing this state of the art aircraft, in very short time from eventual order, and that it obviously had the makings of a superb fighter. See above on response and attitude stability.”

What was the worst thing about flying EAP?

“There was nothing about the aircraft that was disappointing. There were a couple of minor gripes involving nuisance warnings. When looking at individual engine handling – to confirm that there was no interference between engines due to that initially common intake – the system produced gear box drive warnings as one or other of the engines dropped away from driving the gear box. But this was explainable.  Another nuisance warning was a fuel pump warning that came on as attitude was increased during a slow down; and throttle friction was found to be too low. All of these minor points were quickly fixed.”

Typhoon has enjoyed an unprecedented safety record for a fighter, why do you think this is?

“I am not privy to current RAF ops, but I would add that reliability levels of components and systems on Typhoon was for the first time, part of the specification (this was also partly the case on Tornado ). As well, Typhoon design was subjected to much higher levels of system safety scrutiny than previous programmes.”

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

“It would have to be Tornado, because I spent so much of my career being deeply involved with it. But for sheer joy I must say that flying the Sea Fury with the Royal Australian Navy comes close.” Do you have a least favourite aircraft and if so, why?

“No. All pilots are in love with the aircraft they are currently flying. Even the Buccaneer Mk.1, which relied on the curvature of the earth to get airborne, was, at the time I flew it, delightful.”

The most repeated quote about EAP is that ‘it went like a ferret with a firework up its bum’, which is attributed to an ‘EAP test pilot’. Do you know the origin of this quote and would you agree with it?

“I don’t know where the ferret quote came from; I hadn’t heard it before. But I certainly agree with it! The EAP of course was quite light (17,000kg), and 2 x Mk 104 RB 199s gave it an impressive push. I see that in my report of the first take-off I described the acceleration as “brisk”! The Typhoon of course has the more powerful EJ200 and basically isn’t that much heavier. So I guess that is ‘very brisk’ ”

Which modern aircraft would you most like to fly and why?

“I would very much like to fly the Typhoon, to see how it eventually turned out. I would love to fly a Tornado again, purely to feed nostalgia and one aircraft I have always longed to fly is the SR-71. An American friend of mine who flew them with NASA said, “You ain’t never been lost ’til you’ve been lost at Mach 3!”

How important was EAP for the development of EFA/Typhoon?

“The research work done on EAP was enormously important to Eurofighter in developing Typhoon, in spite of the change in wing planform, which I believe was made in the interests of productionising.”

Did the actual EAP aircraft have a nickname, what did people on the project refer to it as?

“Not that I’m aware of. But I was pleased that it’s first few flights were made with ‘FLY NAVY’ stickers just behind the cockpit!”

Typhoon’s handling characteristics and cockpit receive a lot of praise, do you feel a sense of pride knowing that you directly contributed to this?

“Yes- I feel a great sense of pride in knowing I was involved in the build up to Typhoon, but I have to say that a very great deal of the handling characteristic tuning was done by test pilots like Pete Orme and Chris Yeo after I left Warton. The cockpit, too, was of course much changed in layout as Typhoon’s complicated weapon system was added, but I will claim some involvement. I make a much stronger claim to the Tornado cockpit design “.

Hush-Kit would like to express its thanks to Dave Eagles.

EAP: A photo-journal

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The Agile Combat Aircraft (ACA) was a fighter concept from MBB, BAe and Aeritalia, displayed as mock-up in 1982-1983. It featured canted twin-tails and cranked delta. It is likely that the tail configuration would have offered a lower frontal radar cross section than the single fin adopted by Typhoon. It would, however, have been heavier.

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Clear in this artist’s impression of EAP is the differences it has from today’s Typhoon. The intake, missile carriage arrangement and tail would all change. Neither EAP or Typhoon actually had tip-mounted Sidewinders.

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

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

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

The new European aircraft would choose the best features of the US teen fighters, improve them and add the canard delta arrangement. Both the ACA and the French ACX were originally schemed with compound-sweep wings. The advantages of a compound sweep were described by Ray Whitford:

“The high degree of inboard sweep promotes strong vortex formation at high AOA, and low wave drag at supersonic speed. The lower sweep of the outboard panels maximise manoeuvrability by lowering the span loading to reduce the induced drag which has been the drawback of simple deltas. Both projects (ACA and ACX) were designed with automatic leading-edge slats, those on the outboard panels being particularly powerful as a result of the lower sweep.”

EAP was built using carbon fibre composites and aluminium lithium alloy. The advanced construction techniques and materials kept the aircraft light and strong. The canopy is noticeably heavier in its use of framing, compared to the F-16 and F/A-18.

EAP enjoyed a shabazz public roll-out. BAe was keen to see show the aircraft off, partly as the rival Rafale-A was not only revealed earlier, but appeared to be closer to a production aircraft than the EAP.

EAP blasts off under the power of two Turbo-Union RB199 Mk 104D. As anyone who has ever flown a Tornado ADV above 30,000 ft will testify, the ‘199, with its high bypass ratio, is far from being a decent fighter engine.

EAP leads a formation of BAe’s 1980s aircraft. Behind it can be seen a Tornado ADV, then a Tornado GR.1, flanking it are the Hawk 100 and 200, and riding outboard are the Harrier GR.5 and Sea Harrier. Today only one of these types is in RAF service (the Tornado GR), though all of the others (barring EAP and the Tornado ADV) remain in service with other air forces (albeit in modified forms).

One of the technologies Europe the EAP inherited from the late teen fighters was the glass MFD (multi-functional displays) cockpit. The cockpit was clearly heavily influenced by the F/A-18 Hornet, which had entered service in 1983. Europe’s first ‘modern’ fighter cockpit came when the Rafale entered service in 2000. Prior to this both the British Sea Harrier FA.2 and French Mirage 2000-5 had received MFDs. The wide angle HUD had first been seen on the F-16, which entered service in 1978. One genuine innovation was voice control, known as DVI (Direct Voice Input) which came with the Eurofighter Typhoon, and was first used operationally in 2005. Though a similar system was tested on the US F-16AFTI, the F-35 will be the first US fighter with DVI to enter service. The Hands On Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) configuration was seen in proto form on the English Electric Lightning, but was first seen in its modern form on the F-16. Unlike the F-16 the stick was centre-mounted on EAP, the relative merits of side- versus central-stick remain a matter of opinion.

The EAP was fitted with a modified Tornado fin, for the sake of cost and risk reduction. The gun muzzle position is different to Typhoon’s, which is in the wing-root.

EAP was designed without considerations of RCS-reduction. In 1986, stealth was still a highly classified area. Germany had built a stealth demonstrator, the MBB Lampyridae in 1980, but this was quickly hushed up and canned, when the US, world leaders in stealth got wind of it.

Though advanced in aerodynamics and materials, EAP was clearly behind the technology curve of the Advanced Tactical Fighter concepts being explored by US fighter companies of the time. EAP emphasised agility at high speeds, good man-machine interface and high combat persistence to excel in beyond-visual range and close-in combat. It was intended to outfight the emerging threat of ‘Flanker’s and ‘Fulcrum’s. Despite Eurofighter’s claims that it was designed from the outset as a multi-role fighter, ground attack was very much a secondary consideration. Some early artworks of EFA showed it armed with BL775 cluster bombs, a weapon that was banned before Typhoon entered service. The Typhoon was first used in anger in the air-to-ground role, in Libya in 2011.

There is surprisingly little footage of EAP online, but some scouting around revealed this:

The boxy intake of EAP gave way to the ‘smiling’ curved intake of Typhoon. Dummy ASRAAMS are carried.

Thanks to Nick Stroud from The Aviation Historian.

HUSHKIT EXCLUSIVE! MCLAREN F1 SUPERCAR DESIGNER TALKS PLANES

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird- Impossible to describe in conventional terms.

Peter Stevens designed the beautiful curves of the Mclaren F1, which has been described as the finest car in history. The F1 was the fastest production car for an incredible twelve years (1993-2005) and clocked an insane 231 mph in 1993 (seventy years earlier, the Nieuport-Delage aircraft had surpassed the 230 mph barrier in the air). As visiting professor of car design for the Royal College of Art and a lover of aviation, Hush-kit decided to grill Stevens on planes, beauty… and flying-cars!

 
From where does your love of aviation stem?

Principally from my Godfather who was a Wing Commander in a Lancaster squadron, I built him an Airfix model of one when I was about 12 years old, and as a scientist he then built a scale wind tunnel at Birkbeck College so that he could demonstrate the principals of flight to me. He lived just at the back of Duxford air field and we would often sneak in there.

What was your most notable flying experience?

When I first discovered what ‘wake turbulence’ meant! Not long after qualifying for my PPL I was taking off from Leavesden air strip near Watford and was instructed by the tower to depart right after an HS 125, at about 250 feet the little Grumman Tiger that I was flying, just about fell out of the sky. I will be forever grateful to my instructor Keith who had drilled in to me ‘lower the nose, level the wings and then regain control’, it worked, hence these replies to your questions. Or maybe the idiot who flew in on finals at Elstree beneath me and never even saw me. He was excellently roasted by the tower after I had gone round again!

What is your favourite aircraft and why?

No question, the SR-71 Blackbird! When you consider that the project was underway back in 1955 and that part of the brief was to make an aircraft that would be almost impossible to describe in conventional terms at that time, in order to protect the secret nature of the project, it put all forward thinking into perspective. For any designer this is a crucial thing, the ability to think beyond contemporary norms is very difficult but it is what you have to do if you want to make progress.

Witness the fitness! Without doubt the most beautiful aircraft ever built, the Supermarine Spitfire.

What do you consider the most beautiful aircraft (if different from above)?

It sounds so easy to say the Spitfire but for me it’s true. Most summer weekends a couple of Spitfires fly low over our house, either on their way to or from air displays. They come from a strip just a bit North of where we live in Suffolk. And the reason they still look (and sound!) so beautiful is part of a personal theory that I have. The Hurricane is a fabulous aircraft but I suspect that the draughtsmen who would have drawn the full-size lines of the ‘plane would have been local to Hatfield and would most probably have had amongst their drawing kit ‘railway curves’. These are very large radius curves used during the laying out of railway tracks. If you then connect these very big radius lines, often almost straight lines, with regular corner radii you get a Hurricane. The Spitfire, on the other hand was drawn up in Southampton where the draughtsmen would have come from the boat building industry, and they would have amongst their drawing kit ‘ships curves’, these are transitional curves that slowly tighten or flatten over their lengths. Hence the more sensuous lines of the Spitfire. Despite the arrival of CAD I still use ships curves for the most important lines on a car. These curves are sometimes call ‘French curves’ and are some of my most valued studio possessions.

The architect Norman Foster has a model of the Northrop YB-49 flying wing in his studio, do you have a model aircraft in yours? 

Two little models, a Gee Bee (such outrageous proportions), a DC-3 (first plane I flew in with my Godfather), and a BIG model of a Bleriot Monoplane (those first days of flight were just so romantic).

The bananas Gee Bee racing plane

What effect has aviation had on car design, if any? For instance has the faceted, angular stealth shape of modern aircraft influenced any designs?

In aircraft term all cars can be described as being reliant on ‘low speed aerodynamics’ but the actual shapes are often taken from very high speed aircraft. This could be considered dishonest but designers are so often looking for the ‘next new thing’. When designing a fast road-car the whole aero thing is so different from that to be considered when designing a race car. On a road car you do not want lift but you also do not want much downforce at all, otherwise the springs will need to be so stiff to avoid scraping the ground at high speeds that the thing will ride like a truck at low speeds. I do think that designers are looking at things like the F-117 stealth fighter for inspiration, the Lamborghini Aventador is a good example of this trend.

Lamborghini meets the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk. Painting by Upshaw.

What was the most beautiful era for aircraft design?

It’s easy to get carried away with the romantic notions of early aircraft and see Golden Eras in the past, or to use the daft old adage used in race car design that ‘if it works well and wins it’s automatically beautiful’, but that is just not true. There are aircraft from all eras that are beautiful and many that are not.

Do you have any thoughts about the crossover (if any) between the purely aesthetic design fields and that of applied design (like in aviation).

I suppose that in the past designer were more inclined to be just surface decorators, this was particularly true in the Victorian age. But as popular ideas of design focused on simpler forms the designer took charge of both the form and the surface decoration. Whether this time line followed or preceded that of painters and sculptors, I am not sure (subject by a PhD I think). What I have observed is that some pure engineers have a very real sensitivity towards the difference between a ‘good line’ and a ‘poor line’, Both Patrick Head and John Barnard, ex Formula One designers, were very aware of the importance of a ‘good line’ to them. This comes back to the Spitfire and Hurricane debate.

Like the Spitfire, the Bloodhound yacht was born in 1936; Did the boatyard influence the shape of the famous British fighter?

A related point – cars and aircraft that are designed apparently for purely aerodynamic concerns are often very beautiful, indeed often the most beautiful examples of their kind. Why should this be?

I think that a sensitivity for what airflow wants to do is an unusual trait, these days CFD (Computational fluid dynamics) can produce technically correct solutions that lack any degree of harmony in the resultant forms. You can push the airflow around but you cannot force it to do what it does not want to do, I see the air as being lazy and wanting to take the least stressful path and it is the same for your hand when passing over a form. Natural transitions as seen in nature almost always have something to tell us about the best aerodynamic shapes. A good example in car design is the Jaguar XJ 13 of 1966/67; Designer Malcolm Sayer was an aerodynamicist at Jaguar but also a superb designer and the car exudes style.

What will be the next technology to move from aviation to motoring or vice versa, for example have F1 drivers used helmet mounted displays or have any advanced materials recently passed into cars from the aerospace world?

I think that more specialised carbon composites, particularly penetration resistant ones could find their way into race cars. The head-up display thing (the HUD) or the much more complex Apache helmet mounted system is now not needed in F1 cars because (unfortunately) there is an army of guys monitoring all the systems in the car and making strategy calls from the back of the pit garage, or even in some cases monitoring stuff back at the factory.

Nice chassis! Auto-genius Peter Stevens in his studio.

What will aeroplanes look like in 100 or even 1000 years time?

In 100 years I suspect that military aircraft will be pilotless but I think that private flying will remain popular but the machines will be so much more efficient and ‘drama’ proof. The huge amount of progress made in automated systems for cars, like stability control etc will find their way into aircraft in the near future. In a 1000 years we will without doubt travel virtually or maybe in person, very rarely, using our rare and expensive carbon/energy credits that we will have to earn by our ultra low energy personal lifestyles. How grim is that!

A soviet vision of the future from 1966

Will flying cars ever become popular?

As popular as amphibious cars. Who would want a crap car that is also a very poor aircraft? Just like who wants a miserable car that is also a thoroughly poor boat?

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Crap cars that are also very poor aircraft