Category: The Ultimate What-If

Clash of the titans! Airbus A400M Versus Short Belfast

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Old Versus New: Round 3
Which of these would be more effective at conducting a humanitarian relief in a threat area?
CRISIS 2016 – A simmering conflict in a Central African nation has spread to a neighbouring country, with armed militias crossing the border and threatening the stability of a newly-elected government. With little notice, its Capital City comes under threat, and a plea is made to the international community for peacekeepers to help restore order.
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With historic ties to the region, France is quick off the mark, dispatching an A400M Atlas with a HQ contingent, pallets of equipment, and peacekeepers – 60 personnel in all, with 20 tonnes of cargo. Meanwhile, another Western European nation pledges its assistance, but must turn to the private sector for its airlift needs – they charter a Shorts Belfast to carry their contingent, which will consist of a similar force of 100 peacekeepers along with engineering equipment.
Both transports leave Europe within an hour of each other, however the faster Atlas is first to arrive in Capital City. Rolling blackouts mean the Atlas’ crew need to use Night-Vision Goggles to touch down on a pitch black runway. The slower Belfast meanwhile arrives by dawn, its crew making a VFR approach. By then, the Atlas has reversed itself onto a gravel apron to disgorge its load, and begun loading foreign citizens for evacuation. The Belfast meanwhile is unloaded on a taxiway – all available concrete aprons at Capital City’s airport are occupied by the hulks of 727s and Tu-134s abandoned by the previous regime. Fortunately, the Belfast has brought with it a bulldozer and tow, and by mid-morning, enough cleared space has been made on the concrete tarmac. By now, the Atlas has departed with a  full complement of 116 evacuees.
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At midday, a panicked message comes through to the peacekeepers – a contingent of 130 people (including an Al Jazeera correspondent and their cameraman) are stranded in a village on the country’s border, with militias cutting off all roads in and out. The Belfast has been unloaded and is ready, but there’s a problem – the village’s airstrip is unsurfaced, and too short for it to land there. Another French Atlas is heading for Capital City carrying a load of peacekeepers, and is re-directed inflight, touching down at the village airstrip after dark – again, with the crew utilising Night-Vision Goggles.
(Avro Vulcan Vs Northrop Grumman B-2 here)
It’ll take two trips to shuttle out the village evacuees by Atlas to the Capital City. The first flight is made without problem, but during the loading of passengers for the second flight, intelligence is received that the militias have enlisted a ‘sympathetic’ Air Force Colonel from their home country to the cause. MiG-23s have been observed sneaking over the border, and while French AWACS and Fighter Cover are on their way, the Atlas crew need to leave the airstrip – and fast. Wearing Night-Vision Goggles, the crew of the Atlas lifts off the runway but stays low, using terrain to mask the aircraft from detection.
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 The trip to Capital City is made without incident, and the evacuees cross the tarmac to the waiting Belfast. There’s just enough time for the Belfast’s crew to stroll over to the newer airlifter and give it a look over. They listen to the Atlas’ crew describe in (broad) detail the evacuation mission, and tour over the 21st century airlifter. The Belfast’s crew have their tour cut short however when their own aircraft, some 52 years old, has been loaded and is ready to fly out.
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Winner: A400M Atlas. It’s an unfair comparison – the Belfast was never intended to take payloads ‘to the foxhole’ – but rather, deliver loads to a bridgehead where they could either self-deploy or be loaded in to Beverleys or Argosies. On a strategic level, it’s a fairly even fight – the Belfast is roomier, the Atlas a lot faster. Both are easy to load. But the Atlas is built to land with its load to the fight, under whatever conditions.  Despite broadly similar planform and dimensions, it’s hard to compare two aircraft seperated by 40 years and two different roles. What is interesting however is that they are two aircraft united by a common ‘enemy’ – the C-130.
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It’s been suggested that had fate turned differently for the United Kingdom, 30 Belfasts would have been produced (instead of 10), and they would have served a full career (instead of retirement from the service in the mid-70s). A few soldiered on in to civil charter, but the Belfast’s race was over before it began. Twisting finances saw the C-130K – with its smaller cargo bay but far greater versatility on airfields – take precedence with the Royal Air Force.
(see the English Electric Lightning versus S-300 SAM here)
Some 40 years later, the Royal Air Force is on the cusp of introducing an aircraft which combines the best of both worlds – the Belfast’s strategic capacity (loading entire helicopters and armoured vehicles) with the Hercules’ access to semi-prepared airfields in tough conditions. The degree to which an Atlas can accomplish this in an operational theatre will become clear from 2015, when they arrive in to service with the Royal Air Force’s No. 70 Squadron. The Belfast will have been long gone (the last civil charter airframe sits at Cairns Airport), but an interesting contest will brew in the next decade as the Atlas faces off against C-130s (and C-17As, Antonovs and Embraers) for airlift surpremacy.
Payload: A400M 37 tonnes or 81,600lbs; Belfast 35 tonnes or 78,000lbs. 
Cargo ‘Box’: A400M: 17.7m long (plus 5.4m on ramp), 4m wide, 3.85m high (4m aft of wing); Belfast: 25.7m long, 4.9m wide, 4.06m high.
Cruise Speed: A400M 421kts; Belfast 292kts. 
Range with max payload: A400M 1781nm; Belfast 970nm.

Eamon Hamilton is the author of the Rubber-Band Powered Blog

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Avro Vulcan Versus Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

Thirty years after retirement, the once mighty Vulcan returns to duty for a dangerous new mission. The prehistoric Vulcan is to fight a long range campaign alongside the world’s worst most advanced bomber, the sinister B-2. But would the famous British bomber survive ‘Operation Somnium’?

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Its KC-135 fleet depleted by chronic serviceability issues and ongoing software integration problems delaying the KC-46, the USAF’s tanker fleet was overstretched supporting deployed forces fighting a coalition war in Southwest Asia and a recent intervention to put down terrorist factions threatening a Pacific state. A Middle Eastern earthquake had then eaten into the KC-135 and KC-10 tanker reserves, when humanitarian supplies and rescue equipment were rushed to the area from the US.

Similarly engaged in the coalition effort, the UK had Voyager tanker/transports deployed to support its Combat Air assets. The Voyagers were also flying the constant air bridge into and out of theatre, via Middle East bases. A considerable percentage of Voyager capacity was then diverted to humanitarian support in the earthquake zone.

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Indian Ocean Coup

The Indian Ocean coup attempt had been unexpected, arising through the rapid movement of terrorist-sponsored rogue military commanders against their previously stable government. The island was considered of strategic importance to the US and UK.

Rich in natural resources, the island state had traditionally maintained an effective air defence system, relying primarily on early warning radar and an integrated surface-to-air missile (SAM) chain. Defensive air power was minimal, based on rotating deployments of US and UK fighters, the coup coming during a gap in coverage when tanker support was temporarily unavailable to complete the incoming movement of USAF F-22 Raptors.

With the joint US/UK base under siege, rapid action was required to destroy rebel forces threatening the facility, neutralise the SAM chain and deny access to the government’s military vehicle, fuel and ammunition depots, as rebel leaders marched on the capital. With naval forces five days to a week distant, immediate intervention by air was the only option for the combined forces.

Bomber Necessity

Overflight and basing rights were denied by those nations in nearest proximity to the island, obliging the joint strike force to operate from an austere forward-operating base some 2,500 miles away. A paucity of parking spots restricted aircraft numbers and even if a full tanker fleet had been available, there was space for just nine aircraft.

A force of five bombers was considered necessary to accomplish the required tasks in the five days before naval units arrived in-theatre. Ensuring that national interests were fairly met, the USAF deployed three B-2 Spirit aircraft. The RAF, relying on its Storm Shadow-equipped Tornado and Typhoon for strategic might, but with insufficient tankers available to support these essentially tactical warplanes, was forced to look for a longer-ranged alternative. The search quickly fell upon the final serviceable pair of Vulcans, latterly taken off heritage duties to plug part of the gaping whole left in the UK’s maritime patrol capabilities when Nimrod MRA4 was scrapped.

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Both aircraft were deployed, along with a pair of Voyager tankers, while the USAF included three KC-135s to support its B-2 package. A combined force of ten aircraft was despatched on the basis that at least one would be airborne for the duration of the operation, but rendered reinforcement impossible.

The B-2 sortie rate was envisaged as three times that of the Vulcan, with the American jet’s range and the USAF’s more numerous tankers allowing two B-2s to be airborne simultaneously, while both Voyagers would be needed to support a single Vulcan mission. There could be no sharing of tankers – the KC-135’s underwing hose pods were unsuitable for the Vulcan, while the Voyager was not equipped with the flying boom required to refuel the B-2.

Operations Begin

Shortly before midnight on the eve of the campaign’s first day, a B-2 launched with a load of GPS-guided JDAMs. Using coordinates provided by overhead systems and confirmed by its onboard targeting system, the aircraft successfully prosecuted air defence targets in a swathe from the coast, inland towards the combined base.

B2-JDAM

Meanwhile, a Vulcan was airborne and running in at low level. The old machine’s inadequate ECM system was no match for a modern air defence network, but a high-speed, low-level approach was seen as an entirely valid tactic against the integrated air defence system. As the Vulcan’s crew neared the coast, they executed a pop-up to 500ft, but remained undetected, thanks to clever tactics based on the supposed success of the B-2’s earlier strike.

Aligning their ingress route for an attack on rebel forces at the base perimeter, they flew through the ‘safe’ corridor created by the Spirit. At the same time, they carefully adjusted the Vulcan’s track; its engine compressor faces and radar antenna were never allowed to come close to being perpendicular to any radar source and the aircraft remained undetected until it released its weapons. Twenty-one unguided, retarded bombs fell in a line across the rebel formation, two damaging the objective, three falling on the base and the remainder exploding in open ground at the base perimeter.

sam

its low-level egress, the Vulcan attracted the attention of a shoulder-launched SAM. Unprotected against an IR threat, the aircraft was struck in its starboard outer engine, but through its shear bulk, survived to return on three engines. With considerable damage to its wing structure and defensive systems, the venerable bomber was out of the campaign.

Towards a Conclusion

As the damaged Vulcan returned to base, the second B-2 was airborne, striking further air defence targets and communications nodes. A third B-2 mission was deemed necessary before a second Vulcan raid was committed. This time the aircraft successfully scored three hits out of 21 bombs dropped on a rebel convoy moving towards the capital, halting its advance, before turning for home.

A severe hailstorm was clearing the area as the Vulcan approached to land. The B-2 crew ahead of it had been less fortunate. Forced to fly through the heart of the storm, they had badly compromised the stealthy finish of their bomber, even as similar, though less extensive havoc was wrought on the two bombers sitting on the ground. Without their dedicated support facilities, the B-2s were now committed to relying on their defensive aids suite for protection, since low-level operations were not within their remit.

vulcan_bomber_b2

Already compromised, the island’s defences were unable to counter the subsequent B-2 and Vulcan attacks. By now the force was down to a single B-2 and the remaining Vulcan, one B-2 airframe being too badly damaged to fly after recovering through the hailstorm and another entangled with a maintenance truck that skidded on the wet apron, wrapping itself around the aircraft’s port main undercarriage unit.

As the combined naval task force moved into position to retake the island by amphibious landing, a final combined strike by B-2 and Vulcan was launched to soften up defences around the landing sites. All five tankers launched in support, one KC-135 and a Voyager recovering as the bombers attacked. Egressing successfully, they searched for their remaining tankers, both taking fuel as they flew for home.

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Soon after, however, the B-2 began experiencing power surges. Rapid analysis by the bomber and KC-135 crew determined that locally sourced fuel might have been contaminated with water. Fearing the worst, all three airborne tankers made immediately for base.

Flying as economically as possible, the bombers followed, their crews relieved to hear the tankers returning safely one by one. When the final tanker, a 65-year old KC-135, suffered a nose gear collapse on the single runway, the stakes were immediately raised.

There was no prospect of jacking the aircraft, extending the failed leg and towing it off the runway. Immediate action was required to recover the bombers. Base construction vehicles – an ancient bulldozer and a semi-serviceable tractor – were put to work, pushing and dragging the tanker clear, but as both circling bombers called fuel emergencies, rapid decisions had to be made.

Ditching both aircraft offshore was a possibility, except for concerns that the Vulcan’s three-person rear crew might have difficulty escaping the floating aircraft and would have little or no chance if it sank or broke up. None of them were sitting on ejection seats. Priority was given to the Vulcan. Its crew had to land and clear the runway immediately, making way for the B-2 to land in their wake.

With a final mighty effort, the bulldozer and KC-135 wreak cleared the runway. Seconds later, the Vulcan’s mainwheels hit the concrete. The old bomber rolled to a stop and shut down, too low on fuel to taxi. The combined groundcrew scrambled to tow the British jet clear, but a small boat was already on its way out to retrieve the B-2 pilots. They had successfully tested their ejection seats, abandoning the aircraft two miles offshore.

By Paul E Eden

Paul E. Eden has been editing and writing for aerospace publications since 1996. He writes for Aircraft Cabin Management; Airliner World; Aerospace, the journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society; Aerospace Testing International; andBusiness Jet Interiors International. He also edits for Aviation News and several book publishers. Paul is contributing editor of the acclaimed Royal Air Force Official Annual Review and Royal Air Force Salute.

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The Ultimate What-if: British Aerospace Super Lightning

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Following the cancellation of the Tornado ADV, BAe proposed an enhanced Lightning as an interim fighter/interceptor for the RAF until a longer term solution was found. The initial proposal included the replacement of the AI.23 radar with the notional AI.25 based on the Sea Harrier’s Blue Fox, and the integration of AIM-9L Sidewinder and Sky Flash missile capability. Encouraged by trials of the ECL (Enhanced Capability Lightning) test aircraft (XL629), BAe proposed a far more radical upgrade. The greatest limitation of the Lightning was its fuel-thirsty Avon engines, replacing these with modern engines would have two major advantages. Firstly, new engines would be far more efficient and use less fuel, secondly, they would be smaller and create plenty of new internal volume for extra fuel or avionics. By moving the engines air intake location from the nose to below the wings, room was created for a larger radar, and the obvious candidate was the AI.24 Foxhunter that had been conceived for the aborted Tornado ADV. The Turbo Union RB.199 was fitted to the ECL in 1984, but results were discouraging.

General Electric proposed an uprated version of the F404 (the engine used by the F/A-18 Hornet). This engine, named the Wye, was tested on a modified F/A-18 and later on ECL-2 (XR763). Integration of the Tye into ECL-2 proved harder than anticipated, but once fitted the results were remarkably good. The project received a great deal of criticism, with many asking why the project was happening when a modern off the shelf system (such as the F-15) would be cheaper, superior and have a longer service life. But by this time, as the Royal Saudi Air Force was to a large degree funding the project, it grew more and more ambitious (this included a greatly improved wing and ECM suite). The first production aircraft flew from Warton in 1988, and deliveries to the RAF and RSAF began in 1990.

Such was the RAF’s confidence in the type that it deployed a combat evaluation detachment to Saudi Arabia during Operation Granby (Desert Storm). During this operation a  lone Super Lightning destroyed two Iraqi air force MiG-21s (one with Sky Flash, and one with AIM-9L).

The 25-mm Aden cannon proved unreliable and were replaced by 27-mm Mausers, giving commonality with the Tornado force.

Like to know about the MiG-37 and Russian stealth? Click here.

Specifications

British Aerospace Super Lightning F.Mk 1

Type: Single-seat fighter/ interceptor
Crew: 1
Length: 55 ft 3 in (16.8 m)
Wingspan: 34 ft 10 in (10.6 m)
Height: 19 ft 7 in (5.97 m)
Wing area: 551 sq ft, 51.2 m²
Empty weight: 31,068 lb (14092 kg)
Max. take-off weight: 61,700 lb (28000 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × General Electric/Rolls-Royce  F414-RR545 Wye turbofans,
maximum thrust: 13,000 lbf (62.3 kN) in mil power, 22,000 lbf (97.9 kN) (with reheat)
Performance:
Maximum speed: High altitude: Mach 2.5+ (1,650+ mph, 2665+ km/h)
Low altitude: Mach 1.2 (900 mph, 1450 km/h)
Standard armament: One 25- mm Aden cannon with 140 rounds,
four Sky Flash and two AIM-9L Sidewinder

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How the Mitsubishi Zero won the Battle of Britain

In this subjunctive history, we look at how the Luftwaffe’s Mitsubishi A6M ‘Zero’s were a decisive weapon in the Battle of Britain.

In the Messerschmitt Bf 109 the Luftwaffe possessed possibly the World’s finest fighter aircraft at the beginning of the Second World War. It was superlative in all regards save one: range. Given the Luftwaffe’s primary role as a tactical force, operating in support of the Army in a Blitzkrieg attack, this was not seen as a major problem. Despite this, some consideration was given by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) to the problem of bomber escort over longer ranges and the initial response to this requirement was Messerschmitt’s Bf 110 which seemed to offer a fine solution and was, in its way, a fine aircraft. It was, however, a large twin-engined machine and a small but vocal group of officers within the Luftwaffe remained unconvinced by its ability to combat the latest single-engined fighters that were being constructed in ever-greater numbers in France and the United Kingdom – aircraft that would however be hard pressed to deal with a machine in the class of the 109.

In early 1939 the RLM began to look around for a suitable single-engined fighter to operate in concert with the 109 over greater distances. One Italian aircraft appeared to fit the bill admirably, the Reggiane Re.2000. Unfortunately for the Germans the Reggiane fighter had already been ordered in quantity by the RAF and the Reggiane factory had no spare capacity nor were they particularly keen on the prospect of granting a production licence to a German manufacturer as Germany represented the likeliest opponent for any RAF fighter in the near future. Thus the Germans looked further afield and their attention became drawn to a small fighter newly produced by Japan and barely noticed by the International community, the Mitsubishi A6M, first flown in the Imperial Japanese year 2600 and thus known as Type 00 ‘Reisen’, the Zero.

After signing the 1936 Anti-Comintern pact, Japan was keen to foster good relations with Germany and following wildly enthusiastic reports from German test-pilots flying pre-series machines a production licence was sought and gained. Additionally a small number of Japanese-built aircraft were despatched to Germany. The first German-built aircraft was completed by Arado in record time and, amazingly, Zeros entered Luftwaffe service before they appeared in the ranks of the Imperial Japanese Navy. By the time the Zero was available in numbers the Polish and French campaigns were over and some began to regard the Japanese fighter as a needless extravagance in the light of the Luftwaffe’s dominance over any opposition so far encountered by it. The upcoming Battle of Britain would see that opinion reversed in the most dramatic fashion.

The initial forays by the Luftwaffe over Britain produced mixed-results. The airfields attacked in the early stages were within range of the 109s and bomber losses were not excessive. By contrast both the Stukas and the Bf 110s suffered appalling losses at the hands of Fighter Command’s Spitfires and Hurricanes and were quickly withdrawn from combat. Lacking the desire to commit a non-German aircraft to the fray, the Zeros were initially lightly used but with the shift of the attack towards London they would became the saviours of the German forces. The 109s could operate for barely ten minutes over London before their fuel level compelled them to return to base.

No such problem for the Zero, with triple the range (more with a drop tank), it could not only escort the bombers to and from France but could also protect the aircraft of Luftflotte 5 on their attacks from Norway. So outstanding was the Zero’s combat persistence that Spitfire pilots sent to intercept them found that they had to break off combat to refuel.  This endurance would have counted for naught had it been an inferior combat aircraft but the Zero was truly exceptional. The A6M2 as committed to combat over Britain was better armed than any contemporary fighter (with the exception of the flawed Messerschmitt 110) mounting two machine guns and two 20-mm cannon. Its manoeuvrability was legendary and it could easily out turn any European monoplane fighter.

It is true that both the 109 and Spitfire were faster but the Zero could sustain a much higher angle of attack forcing an attacking fighter to break off or stall. Its only real flaw was its light construction and lack of armour but with the rifle-calibre machine guns mounted by the British fighters this was not so much of a problem as it would later prove when the Zero was required to deal with a later generation of American fighters in the Pacific. Nonetheless many Zeros were lost to damage that any British (or indeed German) fighter would have survived.

It was not invincible but, out-manoeuvred and out-gunned, the RAF fighters needed a height advantage to have a reasonable chance of success. Scrambled to intercept incoming formations with limited notice, height was an advantage the British aircraft seldom possessed. The Spitfire with its superior speed could break off combat at will but the Hurricane was slower, less manoeuvrable and less well armed than the Zero. German pilots were generally veterans of Poland and France or Spain and this experience, coupled with the dominant technical superiority of their Japanese equipment resulted in the gradual erosion of Fighter Command until an effective defence could no longer be maintained and the Heinkel 111s and Junkers 88s could bomb virtually at will and the Battle of Britain was effectively won for Germany.

Desperate measures would be needed to avoid invasion and defeat.

Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown evaluated a Zero at the A&AEE and said later of the aircraft “the Zero had ruled the roost totally and was the finest fighter in the world until mid-1943”. It is a compelling irony that this invader from the land of the Rising Sun led to the twilight of the British Empire.

The illustration depicts the Mitsubishi A6M Model 22 ‘White 13’ of Feldwebel Heinz Bar 1./JG 51, September 1940. By this time Bar had scored 12 victories. His final total was 220 confirmed kills in over 1000 combat sorties.

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By Ed Ward, from an original idea by Joe Coles
Ed Ward is an illustrator, writer, historian and regular Hush-Kit contributor

Sixties Superfighters: The Original JSF- the Italian V/STOL FIAT G.95 ‘Resistenza’

An Italian air force Fiat G.95/4 blasts off from a dispersal site. In the event of war, the G.95 would have left vulnerable, fixed runways to hide out in the countryside.

Giuseppe Gabrielli (1903-87) was the undisputed master of Italian aeronautical engineering. He designed over 140 aircraft, including the G.55 Centauro, one of the finest fighters of World War II. His designs carried a G-prefix, and included the G.222, the basis of today’s superb C-27J Spartan ‘mini-Hercules’. In the 1950s, his G.91 design won a 1950s competition to provide NATO with a cheap, tactical support fighter. Following this victory, it was only natural that Italy would enter the next NATO fast jet competition. An epic contest began to equip NATO with a ‘resistance’ fighter, one that could bring the fight to the enemy on day two of a nuclear war.

 

In the early 1960s, NATO put out a requirement for a common ‘jump-jet’ (though the term was yet to be coined) fighter-bomber. With a strong possibility of all member nations buying the fighter, it became the biggest international design contest that had been ever held. Whichever company won the competition stood the chance to make an enormous profit and become the world’s dominant defence contractor. It was a tough brief, demanding a supersonic jet aircraft able to take-off and land vertically. The requirement, NATO Military Basic Requirement (NMBR) 3, did not specify a technical solution to the problem of V/STOL and the many bidders adopted different solutions.


The very beautiful G.55 Centauro was a very potent fighter aircraft. The Luftwaffe were very impressed by the aircraft and a German version was planned (the G55/II), it would have been fitted with the DB 603 engine, five 20-mm cannons and a pressurised cockpit.

Fiat’s first stab at NMBR-3 was the baseline G.95 concept. This was relatively small and showed some G.91 ancestry. It was powered by one forward flight engine and two small auxiliary engines with vectored thrust. It had shoulder-mounted intakes and a conventional tail.

Fiat then began studying the use of lift-jets. Lift-jets were auxiliary engines fitted vertically inside the aircraft, which propelled the aircraft during vertical take-offs and landings. Once the aircraft was in forward flight they were switched off. The concept had been around at least as far back as the 1940s and has been attributed to both German propulsion engineers and the British jet genius Alan Arnold Griffith (he had been the Air Ministry’s advisor that had dismissed Whittle’s 1930 turbine thesis, he later led the Conway and Avon engine projects). The rather dainty G.95 was followed by a more butch study, the G.95/3. The handsome G.95/3, which would have resembled the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, had two widely-spaced forward flight engines and four lift engines and a high T-tail.

G.95-3

G95-4

The G.95/6: The ‘Supersonique Salsiccia’

This was followed by the G.95/6, an enormously elongated fighter with tiny wings. With its high performance, tiny wing area and dependence on eight engines, the fighter would have been unforgiving and likely to have had a terrifying attrition rate. The /6 concept had two forward flight engines and no less than six lift jets. Eight engines would have presented the G.95/6 with several challenges if it had entered service. The complexity of the design would have made it maintenance heavy and would have reduced fleet availability. The six lift engines would have been a dead weight during normal flight, reducing the range or payload or both. However, if it had been built made it would have certainly been an awe-inspiring machine- combining noisy vertical take-offs (fuel and thrust allowing) with predatorial good looks.

Any ‘jump-jet’ is by nature a compromise and is inferior to its conventional equivalent. Was it worth accepting these limitations? Developing a supersonic jump-jet would have been expensive, risky and led to a less capable aircraft. Was War World Three likely enough to merit this? If tactical nuclear warfare had happened would these doomsday fighters have been able to fight on? The NMBR-3 winner would be expected to operated from dispersed temporary airbases during periods of chaos. A vast logistical feat, which as the RAF found out with the Harrier proved costly and difficult.

By early 1962, the NMBR-3 project was in crisis. The NATO planning group in charge of selecting a design was finding out that no one aircraft type could meet all the nations’ differing requirements, and even if one did, there was no obligation for the air arms to purchase the type. The committee gave up.

However, by now so much time and money had been put into the each NMBR-3 candidate that they carried a momentum of their own. The two strongest projects were Britain’s P.1154 (which was expected to replace RAF Hunters and to a less-likely extent Royal Navy Sea Vixens) and France’s Dassault Mirage IIIV which was getting solid government backing. The G.95/6 was a wild outsider, and seemed to have little chance of reaching the flying stage as it had yet to receive government funding.

By June 1963, this had all changed. Fiat Aviazone had received a contract from the Italian air force for a new strike aircraft (and a transport aircraft to support it). Fiat was given a sum equivalent to £600,000 (at a 1963 exchange rate), today this would be worth around £15 million. This was enough to fund a flying test rig, powered by RB.108s.

G.95-4

The G.95/4’s purposeful lines would have made it a very attractive fighter.

G.91/4

At the time the Italian Government as well as many at Fiat saw that dream of a Mach 2 VTOL fighter was pushing the limit of the current technology (even in 2012 it’s far from easy). They suggested a simpler interim aircraft capable of replacing the G.91. The aircraft, designated G.95/4, would have a top speed of between Mach 1 and 1.3. It was faster than Britain’s P.1127, and was likely to have a longer range. As well as being a sensible idea, the /4 was a tacit acknowledgement that Fiat was unlikely to have the /6 ready any time soon and was even less likely to achieve export orders against stronger international competitors. Lift for the /4 was from four RB.162-31 jets each with more than 2,000 lbs of thrust. Forward thrust was expected to come from two Rolls-Royce/MAN RB.153s. West Germany and Italy joined together to develop a V/STOL G.91 replacement on April 9, 1964. The competitors for VAK-191, were:

  1. The British VAK-191, based on the Hawker P.1170
  2. The West German VAK-191B, the Focke-Wulf 1262
  3. The VAK-191C (also West German) was the EWR-340 (VJ-101D)
  4. The VAK-191D, Italy’s Fiat G.95/4

The G.95/4 testbed provided much valuable data.

The official statement by the German Defence Ministry named the Focke-Wulf 1262 (VAK-191) as the chosen aircraft; though it hadn’t been announced, it was clear that the G.91/4 was dead. Having already been funded by the air force, it would stagger on as research project, but the writing was on the wall for Italy’s doomsday fighter. The G.91/4’s status at this time is nebulous, but appears to be associated with the VAK-191 project. It also seems to have been a project to keep an advanced aerospace skills set in Italy as by 1965, Fiat had almost finished licence-building the F-104Gs it had been contracted for and was desperate to secure follow-on work. The /6 had disappeared by now and the duplication of efforts of working on the VAK-191B as well as the G.95/4 was clearly wasteful, by 1968 the /4 was officially abandoned as anything other than a research project.

The curse of V/STOL would eventually kill the VAK-191 too. In the end, despite all the thousands of millions of dollars invested in fast jump-jets, led to only two entering service, the British (later Anglo-American) Harrier and the barely supersonic (and very limited) Soviet Yak-38.

B is for Bevilaqua

No nations were willing to accept the compromises and risks involved in procuring a truly supersonic jump-jet. The technical challenge continued to fascinate aircraft designers, but many hard-headed military thinkers saw it as folly. The Royal Navy, USMC and Soviet Navy carried the flame through the 1970s. The US Navy took an uncharacteristic foray into ‘flat-risers’ with the Rockwell XFV-12, which proved utterly useless and further cemented the service’s anti-STOVL sentiments. The Soviet Navy, with no conventional carrier experience, was the last nation to pursue this Cold War dream. The Soviet Yakovlev Yak-41 (141) was a remarkable aircraft, with unique capabilities. It first flew in 1987, but a long development meant it was not in service by the time the Soviet Union was collapsing. Yakovlev embraced a changing world and did the unthinkable, it looked for foreign investors. America, which until a couple of years ago had been the arch-enemy, stepped forward. Lockheed (later Lockheed Martin) was then developing a candidate for the Joint Strike Fighter, the X-35, and cleverly absorbed all of Yakovlev’s relevant research data. The propulsion system of the STOVL X-35 differed from the Yak in one key respect; whereas the Russian aircraft augmented the vertical thrust from a swivelling ‘lobster’ back nozzle with a separate lift engine, the X-35 employed a lift-fan driven by shaft from the main engine. The X-35 won the JSF contest, leading to the F-35 now in development. The STOVL version of the F-35 is the B variant.

The graveyard of aborted aircraft projects is littered with dozens of jump-jet projects; will the F-35B overcome this curse?

STOVL tomorrow

Whereas ‘survivability’ had been the word used to force through the jump-jet concept in the 1960s, today the catchword is ‘expeditionary’, but is it worthwhile? With the F-35B set to enter service with the USMC, the British RAF/RN and the Italian Navy in the next ten years, some still question the sense of STOVL. In November 2012 the first F-35Bs were delivered for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 of the USMC. This event is largely for show as there is still a great deal of work to do before the F-35B will be anywhere near combat-ready. Time will tell if the Holy Grail was worth the long search.

 

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

The Hawker Siddeley P.1154: BRITAIN’S SUPERSONIC JUMP-JET

The dream of a supersonic STOVL (Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing) fighter has been striven toward for over half of the history of heavier-than-air flight. When the F-35B reaches real operational readiness with the USMC, it will be a very significant event. Lockheed Martin will have succeeded where dozens of the world’s greatest aircraft design houses have failed. The tortuous road which led, via the Harrier, to the F-35B started with NATO requirement NBMR-3 of 1961. This almost led to a British superfighter, the Hawker P.1154.

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The author of Catch-22, Joseph Heller, fought with the 340th Bomb Group in Italy as a bombardier on B-25s. His commander was one Colonel Willis Chapman. Following the war Chapman set up USAF’s first jet bomber force. In 1956, Chapman was sent to Paris as part of the Pentagon’s Mutual Weapons Development Plan (MWDP) field office. His mission was to source and help develop new military technologies from European sources and strengthen Europe’s contribution to NATO.

Chapman was commander of the ‘Catch-22’ bomber group. Chapman’s daughter’s excellent book revealed that the characters in the book were barely different to those in reality.

Chapman was soon approached by Michel Wibault, a visionary French aircraft designer (he had been an early exponent of the use of metal in aircraft exhibiting a very advanced metal wing years earlier, at the 1921 Paris air show).

The basic principle of Wibault’s concept was that the thrust of an engine could be directed through four swiveling nozzles. The thrust could then be directed downwards to allow an aircraft to take-off vertically or swiveled back to facilitate forward flight. Wibault had designed a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) fighter incorporating this principle.

Wibault’s concept.

Doomsday fighters

Why VTOL? By the mid-1950s it was obvious to many western military planners that, in the event of war, Warsaw Pact forces would quickly obliterate NATO airbases. For NATO aircraft to mount counter- attacks (some with tactical nuclear weapons), they would need to be able to operate from rough unprepared airstrips. These capability could turn air arms into survivable, ‘guerrilla’ forces able to fight on after the apocalypse. VTOL was also tempting to many navies; it could eliminate the traditional hazards of carrier landing. If an aircraft could ‘stop’ before it landed, the task of landing on a tiny, pitching deck would be far easier. Likewise, it could liberate ships from the need to carry enormously heavy catapult launch systems; it could even allow small ships to carry their own, high performance, escort aircraft.

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Hooker’s expertise

Chapman was very impressed and brought the idea to the attention of Dr. Stanley Hooker, director of the British Bristol Aero Engine Company. At this time Bristol were at the forefront of jet technology.

Hooker was also impressed. The VTOL research aircraft then flying used a series of batty principles which either involved rotating the whole fuselage (the tail-sitters), the engine of the aircraft (sometimes with the whole wing) or carried a battery of auxiliary lift-jets which once in flight were dead weight. All were complex and involved very large design compromises. Contrary to this, Wibault’s principle was simplicity itself; it involved a single fixed-engine, and would allow for the precise control of the vectored thrust.

How the P.1154 would have looked in RAF service. This aircraft is seen in the colours of No.29 Squadron.

Hooker led a team to develop the BE.53, a vectored thrust engine based on the first two- stages of the Olympus engine. Hooker teamed up with the designer of the Hawker Hurricane, Sydney Camm, to develop a light fighter concept powered by the BE.53.

At the 1957 Farnborough air show Hooker and Camm met Chapman. They showed him the design for P.1127. By early 1958 the MWDP were funding the BE.53 engine. The P.1127 fighter was struggling to get funding, as Britain’s Ministry of Defence believed that there would be no future manned bombers or fighters. This belief was expressed in the 1957 White Paper on Defence (Cmnd. 124) by Duncan Sandys- the most hated document in British aviation history.

Sandys- inventor of a helmet. Hated by many.

Duncan Sandys had been Chairman of a War Cabinet Committee for defence against German flying bombs and rockets during World War II, and during this tenure he had accidentally revealed information about where the V1s and V2s were landing. This was a shocking error, allowing the Germans to accurately calibrate their weapons trajectories and endangering British lives. It also threatened to uncover Agent Zig-Zag, the famed double-agent, who at the time was feeding German intelligence false reports of bomb damage in London. His wartime experiences may have informed his belief in the late 1950s that missiles could take over from manned aircraft.

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Success

His 1957 report was also ill-judged, as 55 years later the UK is about to receive a new manned fighter (the F-35B) that is expected to remain in service for the next forty years.

As there was little official support in the UK, Hawker decided to fund building two prototypes itself, with some research support from NASA (who noted that, unlike rival VTOL aircraft, the P.1127 would not need a complex auto-stabilisation system). By the time Hawker had started building the prototypes, the MoD was interested and funded the building of four more. The P.1127 first flew on 19 November 1960 and proved very successful. It could take-off and land vertically with ease, something dozens of research aircraft around the world had failed to do. But, it shared a deficiency with its rivals; an aircraft with a high enough thrust-to-weight ratio to lift vertically could carry little in the way of fuel or payload. This is where the P.1127 really came into its own. It was discovered that by putting the exhaust nozzle into an interim position (45 degrees) the aircraft could take-off in very short distances at very low speeds (60 knots, around half the taking-off or ‘rotation’ speed of a Hawker Hunter). At this point VTOL gave way to V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing).

Designs for the Spey-engined P.1179, a development of the P.1154 concept.

The MoD was now warming to the idea of a P.1127-based type and the RAF prepared a draft requirement (OR345) for a new V/STOL fighter of modest capabilities.

In 1961 NATO Basic Military Requirement 3 (NBMR-3) was issued. This followed on from the 1953 NBMR-1 (for a light weight tactical strike fighter, which was won by the Fiat G.91 and the Breguet Taon – though the Taon never entered service). The NBMR-2 was for a maritime patrol aircraft, and was won by the Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic.

NBMR-3 specification called for a single-seat tactical close-support and reconnaissance V/STOL fighter. The requirement demanded a combat radius of 250 nautical miles at a minimum sea level speed of Mach 0.92, and 500 ft altitude, while carrying a 2,000 lb store. This was a doomsday fighter-bomber, able to launch a retaliatory tactical nuclear strike from whatever improvised airstrips were available – even including selected motorway sections, heavily cratered main runways or worse.

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A P.1154 as it would have appeared in Royal Navy service.

The prospect of providing NATO with a common fighter soon attracted most major Western aircraft companies. NBMR-3 became the biggest international design competition ever held. Two months later NBMR-3 was split into two; AC 169a would cover a F-104G replacement, and kept the original demands: AC 169b was to be a Fiat G.91 replacement. AC 169b differed to AC 169a in calling for a lower payload-range requirement of 180 nautical mile range with 1,000 lb store.

Enter P.1154

At this point OR345 was dropped in favour of NBMR-3. Hawker Siddeley’s bid was the monstrous P.1154 powered by the insanely powerful Bristol Siddeley BS.100 engine.

The BS.100 was designed to produce a mighty 33,000 lb of thrust in reheat, around twice the power of the most powerful fighter engine then in service. The only engine with more power at the time was the Pratt & Whitney J58, which had yet to fly. The J58 was being developed for the top-secret Lockheed A-12 spy plane, which evolved into the SR-71 Blackbird. However, unlike the BS.100, at the speeds the J58 produced its maximum thrust, it was effectively a ramjet. As another example of how powerful the BS.100 was, the first fighter engine with greater power did not enter service until 2005 (44 years later). The engine was the Pratt & Whitney F119 and the aircraft was the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The potent BS.100 would have given the P.1154 a Mach 1.7 top speed, an unprecedented thrust-to-weight ratio and a scorching rate-of-climb. The aircraft was to be far more than just a brutish hot-rod, it was to be equipped with some very advanced avionics. Ferranti would provide the P.1154 with a radar which was at least a generation ahead of any other. The radar would feature both air-to-air and terrain-following modes. This was a true multi-mode radar, planned at a time when the world’s best fighters were carrying crude air interception radars with tiny ranges. The P.1154 would have one of the world’s first Head-Up Displays (HUD). The HUD is a piece of glass in front of the pilot with vital flight information projected onto it, which allows the pilot to keep his eyes up and looking ‘out’ and not to be distracted by looking down at instruments in the cockpit. The aircraft would also be fitted with another piece of innovative equipment, Inertial Navigation System (INS), a technology first seen in the V2 rockets that Sandys’ had accidentally aided!

But Hawker Siddeley was not the only company to be lured in by the big bucks promised by NBMR-3. Italy had been fucked over by NBMR-1. The contest had declared Fiat’s G.91 the winner, but nationalism got in the way. National governments which had been more than happy to support their own bids to the contest, grew shy when Italy won the contest, and the G.91 did not receive orders on the scale that could have been expected.

This time Fiat entered the handsome G.95: https://hushkit.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/sixties-superfighters-the-original-jsf-the-italian-vstol-g-95-resistenza/. France, Germany, and even the Netherlands, submitted designs. The Netherlands’ Fokker D.24 Alliance, to be produced with help from US’ company Republic was also powered by the BS.100. The very ambitious D.24 was also variable sweep (swing-wing).

A notional RAF No.111 Squadron P.1154. The Paveway IVs are not a representative weapon-load, as the type would have probably been retired prior to this weapon’s service entry.

Victory and conflicting demands

Hawker and Bristol’s P.1154 was declared the winner, but history repeated itself. Though nobody was tied to buying the winners of NBMR contests, it still seems unfair that no country outside of Britain was forthcoming in wanting to invest in P.1154. Hawker had been stitched-up far worse than Fiat had been. Still, at least Hawker still had a generous MoD budget to work with, and the type was elected to replace RAF Hunters and RN Sea Vixens- what else could go wrong? Two things. The first was the differing needs of the Royal Navy and the RAF. The RAF wanted a single-engined, single seater. The Navy wanted a two-seat, twin-engined aircraft. To some degree both the Navy’s wants may have been driven by safety regulations regarding nuclear-armed aircraft (though the single-seat Scimitar carried the Red Beard tactical nuclear bomb). The Royal Navy was also impressed by the McDonnell (later MD) F-4 Phantom II, and there were some within the Admiralty which considering this a safer option. Giving the P.1154 twin engines would involve a complex modification of the design. The BS.100 was too big, so Rolls-Royce Speys were selected. To stop a twin-engined P.1154 flipping over in the event of a single engine failure, a complicated twin-ducting concept was added (comparable to the V-22 Osprey’s transmission system). The Royal Navy also wanted a larger radar.

On top of this, P.1154 threatened the existence of the Navy’s big carriers, if these new machines could take-off in next to no distance, why did the navy need massive expensive carriers? It should be noted that the Navy intended to catapult-launch their P.1154s, using an US style of operation. The Navy’s self-preservation instinct was kicking in. While the RAF P.1154s could have been made to work (with limitations), many, even at Hawker, doubted the viability of the naval variant.A Royal Navy P.1154. It is likely the aircraft would have been very potent in the air-to-air arena.

Technical problems

If the first major problem facing the P.1154 was inter-service differences, the second set were technical. The P.1154 would be firing hot, after-burning exhaust from its front nozzles down onto runways or carrier decks. The temperature was great enough to melt asphalt or distort steel- this was a big problem (the Yak-141 would later encounter similar problems). It would also churn up a potentially dangerous cloud of any present dirt.

Added to this was hot gas re-ingestion (HGR). The aircraft would be ‘breathing in’ its own hot exhausts on landing. This re-circulating hot air would raise the temperature in the engine to more than it liked, a very serious problem.

A possible export operator?

On 2 February 1965, the incoming Labour government, led by Harold Wilson, cancelled the P.1154 on cost grounds. Was this to be the end of V/STOL fighters? Well, fortunately not. While the P.1154 was being designed, Hawker had been busy developing the P.1127 into the Kestrel, with the help of funds from Britain, West Germany and the USA (initially from the US Army). This of course led to the Harrier, the famous jump-jet which today remains in service with the United States, Spain, Italy and India.

Hush-Kit would like to thank: Chris Sandham-Bailey from inkworm.com for his wonderful profiles, and Nick Stroud for providing access to his photographic archive.

If you enjoyed this, check out our article on the BAC TSR.2: https://hushkit.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/the-bac-tsr-2-bombing-the-myth/ and the FIAT G.95: https://hushkit.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/sixties-superfighters-the-original-jsf-the-italian-vstol-g-95-resistenza/

The later P.1179G was schemed around two Turbo-Union RB199s.

How British company Airspeed designed the Predator & Reaper

There are many things that the US Military Industrial Complex don’t want you to know. One of the things it doesn’t want you to know is that two of its much vaunted drones are developments of a rather peculiar line of British aircraft development dating from the late 1950s.
In 1955 the BBC approached the struggling aircraft company Airspeed Ltd to provide it with a dedicated aerial camera platform. It was to have excellent low speed handling and exceptional endurance to enable its crew to film sporting events or appropriate news items with maximum efficiency. A crew of three was envisaged: pilot, camera operator and director/producer. For such items as football matches it was intended that a commentator might be carried in the place of the director and the capability for live audio transfer from the aircraft was a requirement from the very beginning. A helicopter design was considered but rejected due to endurance and noise concerns.

Peeper
The Airspeed AS66 ‘Peeper’ was the result. Powered by a small and quiet Turbomeca turboprop derived from the Astazou, the Peeper made its first flight on the 6th July 1962 and proved an immediate success. BBC cutbacks meant that the initial order was cut from 126 to 4 but this quartet of aircraft would provide sterling service for the next forty years. Amazingly, according to a BBC correspondent, one is retained in mothballed condition at Brooklands aerodrome in Surrey ‘just in case’.
Despite its great success the Peeper did present its pilots with some rather peculiar handling characteristics so a training version was developed. This, the piston-engined AS67 ‘Editor’ was much cheaper to operate but effectively mimicked the larger aircraft’s characteristics. The economical Editor was a charming aircraft to fly and cheap to operate but the asking price was high and, despite a herculean sales effort, Airspeed managed to sell a mere five examples, two going to the BBC.

Looking back without a man

Fast forward thirty odd years and General Atomics is charged with developing a reliable, quiet unmanned aircraft with a good loiter time to spy on America’s enemies. Unwilling to bother developing a new airframe from scratch for a requirement that might turn out to be a dead end, General Atomics looked around for a suitable base airframe for its UAV. By this time Airspeed was long since defunct, having initially merged with de Havilland which in turn was absorbed into Hawker Siddeley and thus ultimately becoming part of British Aerospace. To cut a long story short General Atomics approached BAe with their requirements, BAe dug out Airspeed’s drawings for an aircraft designed to carry cameras with a great loiter time and the rest is history. The prototype General Atomics MQ-1 ‘Predator’, an unmanned Airspeed Editor took to the sky from Brooklands aerodrome in July 1994 followed by the larger turboprop MQ-9 ‘Reaper’ in 2001. Both have proved of great worth to US forces and are despised and feared by all manner of people the world over.

In a curious footnote to this tale it was discovered in 2005 that Neville Shute, Director of Airspeed, had postulated a radio controlled ‘Queen Peeper’ in 1961 when a lost notebook of the designer/author turned up at an auction in Devon. His idea was that it could be used to film newsworthy events where a human crew would be put at risk – his example being a tactical nuclear battlefield situation. Available technology at the time simply could not provide the necessary remote control for such a vehicle but thirty years of radio and TV improvement have resulted in the ‘Queen Peeper’ becoming a reality, though not (thankfully) in a nuclear war.

No. 39 Squadron RAF currently operates the MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan, they will be joined by No. 13 squadron during 2012.

If you enjoyed this, you may like our other ULTIMATE WHAT-IF AIRCRAFT, like this one: https://hushkit.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/the-ultimate-what-if-fighter-the-griffon-powered-hawker-hurricane-mk-xiv/

THE ULTIMATE WHAT-IF: Siamese Supermarine- The Twin Spitfire

Image

Initially intended as a very long-range escort fighter, the Twin Spitfire was designed to escort ‘Tiger Force’ Avro Lincoln bombers to Japan, missions beyond the range of any conventional RAF fighter. It was also seen as an alternative to the de Havilland Hornet should that aircraft prove unsatisfactory for its intended role in an ‘island-hopping’ campaign in the Pacific theatre.

Supermarine’s design team under Joe Smith developed a remarkably simple conversion consisting of two standard late production Spitfire Mk 22 fuselages and wings joined by a constant chord centre section and tailplane and with the cockpit removed from the right hand fuselage. Unlike its American counterpart, the P-82 Twin Mustang, the Twin Spitfire was a single seat aircraft, reflecting a peculiar British meanness with personnel and maximisation of offensive potential. The absence of the second cockpit and associated equipment made for a very great increase in fuel capacity and the range capability of the new aircraft was unprecedented. When external fuel tanks were added (the wings were equipped for drop tanks) the aircraft’s endurance effectively exceeded that of the average pilot.

Performance

With double the available power of a standard late-model Spitfire but less drag and lighter weight the performance of the new aircraft was outstanding. Maximum speed was 495 mph at 21,000 feet and the rate of climb and acceleration were similarly impressive. Although agility was not in the same league as the standard Spitfire, the aircraft was considered nimble for its size. A less desirable quality was the amount of torque generated by the two Griffons. With less wing area per engine relative to a standard Spitfire; the Twin Spitfire was infamous for swing on take off. Both the F-82 and the Hornet were equipped with ‘handed’ engines to negate torque effects but the Twin Spitfire was never so-equipped and pilots were required to apply full opposite rudder (even with the larger vertical surfaces developed for the Spiteful) and refrain from using full throttle until the aircraft was safely in the air.

Armament

Armament was, surprisingly, reduced in comparison to the Mk 22 Spitfire. Three 20mm cannon were mounted in the centre section of the wing, it being considered that the concentration of these weapons on the centre line of the aircraft increased the effectiveness over the standard four cannon dispersed outboard in the wings. This also allowed for a useful increase in ammunition capacity for each weapon. Later marks were developed to carry underwing ordnance for the strike role.

Operational History

The atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima occurred as the first two Twin Spitfire squadrons were working up. Tiger Force was never deployed and the aircraft did not see operational service during World War Two. Orders for the type were slashed, though its relative ease of production due to the large levels of commonality with the Spitfire combined with the obvious merits of its performance (the aircraft was superior in speed, range and disposable load to the Gloster Meteor) meant that production did go ahead though in relatively modest numbers. The first Twin Spitfire F.Mk 1 squadron, was declared operational on the 1st of December 1945 and was deployed to Germany as part of the occupation forces in the spring of 1946, two more squadrons working up on the type throughout that year. Notwithstanding its handling quirks, the aircraft was generally popular with pilots as its blistering performance made it more or less the most potent aircraft in service in the immediate post war era. It is said that ex-Beaufighter pilots were particularly fond of it as the handling problems of both aircraft were similar but the Twin Spitfire’s levels of performance and agility were markedly superior.

Later marks adapted for the night fighter, ground attack and reconnaissance roles were speedily developed and produced.

An early problem with regard to the operational employment of the aircraft was identified almost as soon as it entered service. The pilot, sat in the left hand fuselage, had a largely unobstructed view to the left but his view to the right was severely compromised by the second fuselage and broad chord centre section of the aircraft. A few individual aircraft were modified at unit level to swap the fuselages and produce a ‘right hand drive’ version, which would invariably be detailed to fly on the right flank of any formation. Eventually right handed Twin Spitfires entered series production alongside their left handed brethren, though they were always something of a rarity. Similarly aircraft with a cockpit in both fuselages were produced, allowing for a radar operator to be carried in the Night Fighter version, a student in the training variant, and a winch operator for the target tug.

 Korea

Seeking a presence for itself over Korea during the escalating conflict, the RAF deployed a squadron of Twin Spitfire FB Mk 2s to Kimpo airfield (shared with RAAF Meteors) in 1951. The spectacular range and loitering capability of the aircraft was intensely attractive for close air support purposes and though no longer competitive in pure speed terms when compared to the latest jet fighters, the Twin Spitfire could still compare fairly favourably with the F-80 Shooting Star and was expected to be able to outmaneouvre any North Korean fighters that might be encountered. As it turned out this was to be the Twin Spitfire’s moment of glory. On the 4th of August 1952, Twin Spitfires dove on two Mig-15s and destroyed them both. A fortnight later they repeated the feat and the Twin Spitfire became one of the very few piston engined types to destroy a jet fighter in air to air combat.

Later Service 

For most of its operational life the Twin Spitfire was regarded as a tactical aircraft for strike and ground attack tasks. It operated in concert with Hornets over Malaya and appeared briefly over Suez in a single photographic sortie from a base on Cyprus. Long after this the aircraft served as a target tug, the drogue and winch being carried in a large fairing under the centre section. A few drone controller aircraft were in use until 1962.

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Variants

Supermarine Type 493:   Prototype, 2 constructed.

Twin Spitfire F Mk 1:  Initial production version, long range escort fighter, 134 built.

Twin Spitfire F Mk 1(r):  As above but produced with cockpit in right hand fuselage, 32 built.

Twin Spitfire FB Mk 2:  Equipped for underwing ordnance and epitomised for the ground attack role, 203 built.

Twin Spitfire PR 3:

Reconnaissance version, 8 built, 15 converted from F Mk 1.

Twin Spitfire NF 4:  Night fighter, 58 built.

Twin Spitfire TF Mk 5:

Trainer variant, 35 built, 30 conversions from FB Mk 2.

Twin Spitfire TT Mk 6:

Target tug, 90 produced – all conversions from FB Mk 2.

THE ULTIMATE WHAT-IF: The cancelled SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE progenitor

Image

 Just as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was derived from the civil Bf 108 Taifun so the Spitfire was derived from the four seat cabin monoplane Supermarine Typhoon. First flown in 1935 the Gypsy Major powered Typhoon achieved a remarkable performance due to its fine aerodynamics. The sole example was written off barely two months after the first flight when chief test pilot ‘Mutt’ Summers forgot to lower the undercarriage on landing. The projected high price and complicated construction coupled with Supermarine’s increasing preoccupation with Spitfire development doomed the project and the attractive Typhoon was destined to remain an intriguing example of what might have been had war clouds not threatened.

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoyhttps://hushkit.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/the-ultimate-what-if-the-supermarine-jetfire/

What-if: The Griffon-engined Hawker Hurricane Mk XIV

Following Vickers decision to rationalise its aviation interests and close the Supermarine design office in 1936, the RAF’s high performance fighter needs were served purely by the Hawker Hurricane. The Mk XIV was developed as a matter of urgency following the cancellation of the Typhoon programme in 1942 due to insuperable aerodynamic problems and the simultaneous failure of the Napier Sabre to mature into a viable powerplant.

Hawker had no choice but to look to the proven Hurricane airframe and the Rolls-Royce Griffon. The Centaurus was considered but marriage of the radial engine to the slender Hurricane fuselage was rejected as too complicated. Along with the engine change, aerodynamic and practical improvements were made to the airframe. Cutting down the rear fuselage proved relatively simple due to its steel tube and fabric construction, stability was retained by use of a large fin fillet. The tailwheel was arranged to retract into the ventral fin and the large radio mast was replaced with a simple whip aerial, further reducing drag.

Armament was unchanged from the Merlin Hurricane though the new aircraft benefited from a cleaner gun barrel fairing for its four 20 mm Hispanos.

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