Category: Top Tens

The 10 Worst French Aircraft

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

 

10. Blériot 125 ‘Verne Baby Verne’ 

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

The 10 sexiest French aircraft here

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Dassault Balzac/Mirage IIIV ‘Harrier Carrefour’

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

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

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

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

7. Airbus Helicopters Tigre ‘HAPless in Seattle’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Hubert Latham

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

3. Spad S.A ‘Free Spadicals’

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

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

It was not popular.

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

2. Bloch 150 (early) ‘Bloch Party’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Also check out: Top 11 cancelled French aircraft

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

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

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The top fighter aircraft of 2017 (BVR combat)

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Picture credit: Jamie Hunter

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

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

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

10. Lockheed Martin F-16E/F

joint-place with 

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

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

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

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

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

Read an exclusive interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.

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

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

9. Sukhoi Su-30MK

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

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

8. Shenyang J-11B

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

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

7. Mikoyan MiG-31BM

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

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

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

6. Sukhoi Su-35 

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

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

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

Singapore Airhow 2012

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

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

4. Dassault Rafale

Joint with

 Eurofighter Typhoon 

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

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

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

Eurofighter Typhoon

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

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

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3. Saab Gripen C/D

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

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

2. Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

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

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

1. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

F-22_-_Golden_Formation.jpg

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

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

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

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By Joe Coles &  Thomas Newdick (Airforces Monthly)

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

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

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

Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

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

 

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8. Mikoyan ‘MiG-41’

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

7. Dassault Mirage  (cancelled)

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

6. North American XF-108 Rapier (cancelled)

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

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

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

4. Republic XF-103 (cancelled)

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

3. Mikoyan MiG-25 (1964)

1259071601_image_114Yes yes- I

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

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

2. Mikoyan MiG-31 (1975)

MiG-31BM_2_SK_en.JPG

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

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

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

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1. Lockheed YF-12 (1963)

YF-12_in_flight.jpg

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

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You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airlinersTen incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  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

The 10 coolest cancelled airliners

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Every now and again, I get a pang of guilt for celebrating military aircraft and ignoring the world of commercial aviation. But as soon as I start reading about modern airliners I start remembering important tasks that need doing, like buying biros or cleaning my shoes. However, not all airliners are dull – the following would have been extremely beautiful, brutish or decadent- or in some cases all three.

 Unfortunately they were all destined to be discarded in the overhead locker of history.

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Choosing number 10 was particularly hard: one of the proposed Northrop flying-wings as seen in the picture above? Barnes Wallis’ supersonic swing-wing Swallow? The Ye-155 business jet variant based on the MiG-25? The Horten 70-ton transport? All would have been deserving aircraft but we could only have ten. I hope you enjoy our selection. 

10. Norman Bel Geddes Air Liner 4 (1929) ‘Steam-punk dream-liner’

BelGeddes_AirlinerPlan2.jpgDrawing inspiration from the Dornier X, the ‘4 would have been a flying ocean liner- complete with a crew of 155 to serve the 451 passengers. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes and Otto Kröller, this swept flying-wing design would have offered lucky passengers viewing verandas, baths, private suites and a stylish bar. Sadly nobody was crazy, or forward-looking, enough to build this wonderful machine and it remained firmly on the drawing board.

9. Tupolev Tu-244 ‘The lost Red hope’

tu244_3.jpg

Rarely discussed is the fact that from 1979-1993 Tupolev were working on a ‘super Concordski’, faster than Concorde and capable of carrying an additional 200 passengers. Building on experience with the Tu-144 and Tu-160, the Tu-244 would have been a remarkable aircraft to showcase the Soviet Union’s aeronautical prowess. Unfortunately for the project, the Soviet Union ceased to be from 1991, and Russia’s situation in the 1990s made the completion of the aircraft impossible. It was reported that it would have been powered by a hydrogen-powered variant of the engine that powered the Tu-160 and ‘144LL but this seems unlikely.

tu244-1.jpg

8. Fairey Rotodyne (1957) ‘The screaming commuter’

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

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

7. Bristol Brabazon ‘The Filton Stilton’

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On 4 November 1909, John-Moore Brabazon put a small pig in a bin tied to a wing-strut of his aeroplane, to prove that pigs could fly. He later headed the wartime Brabazon Committee, an effort to ensure Britain had a strong start in the postwar airliner industry. Though well-meaning, not all of the predictions of the committee would prove accurate. It imagined that transatlantic flights would largely be for exceptionally wealthy people requiring a (very) comfortable journey. The Brabazon would have made today’s A380-business class passengers green with envy: each passenger in luxury class would have had 270 ft³ (8 m³) of room, and access to a sleeping berth, a dining room, a 37-seat cinema, a promenade and a bar. This titan was to have a wingspan greater than that of the biggest 747 and was ten metres longer than a B-1B bomber. One demolished village later (levelled to make room for the runway) the vast Brabazon flew in 1949. It was a brilliant piece of engineering, with superb handling and an exceptionally smooth ride- however, an aircraft of this size would have to wait for the arrival of the high bypass turbofan engine (rather than eight radial engines driving four sets of contra-rotating propellers) to make economical sense. 

6. Tupolev Tu-344 ‘Twisted Backfire-starter’ 

344.jpg

I’m not sure a biz-jet counts as an airliner, but there’s no way I’m ignoring this one.

If you want to make an impression, travel to business meetings in a supersonic swing-wing converted soviet bomber – and make the owners of Gulfstreams look like a bunch of total arseholes. Hard to think of a way to burn more fuel for only 8-12 passengers, but this isn’t about being sensible. c0jyis9xcaafilh

Based as it was on the Tu-22M, it’s hard to imagine that the ‘334 would have offered similar ride quality and cabin noise levels to a Dassault Falcon, but who gives a shit- this aircraft would have been incredible. 

5. Saunders-Roe Princess ‘Maritime people’s Princess’

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Imagine an airline that put the magic realist writer Italo Calvino in charge of procurement and you can be sure they would have had a large fleet of Princesses. The aircraft was vast, gorgeous and could land on water. Sadly by 1952 (when it first flew) the days of flying boats were over. With innovative rocket fighters, jet-powered seaplane fighters and giant flying boats, Saunder-Roe’s remarkable designs were out of step with the rest of the world. The Princess was the last true aircraft they built, though they did make some hovercraft.

4. Republic RC-2 ‘Sequel to the Arsey One’

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In many ways, the XF-12 Rainbow was the most advanced piston-engined aircraft ever built, and it was also one the most beautiful. Disobeying comedians’ rule of threes- the Rainbow  ‘flew on all fours’: four engines, 400 mph cruise, 4,000 mile range, at 40,000 feet. It was the only four-engined piston-engined aircraft to achieve 450mph. Intended to serve in the high altitude reconnaissance role, Republic also envisioned an airliner variant. The RC-2, as it became known, would have been five feet longer than the spyplane and would have carried 46 passengers in style and comfort. But the radial-engined Rainbow first flew in ’46, in a world about to turn to turboprops and jet engines for high performance aircraft. USAF refused to buy the Rainbow, deciding instead to use the plentiful B-29s and ‘50s until the new generation jet B-47 entered service. Without military backing, the project died.

3. Tupolev Tu-404 ‘Aeroflot flapjack’

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As the Soviet Union chaotically disintegrated in 1991, designers at Tupolev escaped into happy fantasies of incredibly advanced concepts. The Tu-404 studies for an ultra-large long-range airliner included a flying-wing powered by six giant turboprops capable of carrying 1214 passengers over 13,000 kms. Tupolev remains interested in unconventional designs lacking a traditional tubular fuselage, as can be seen by the illustrations of the proposed PAK DA bomber, which may or may not enter service in the 2020s.

2. Avro Atlantic ‘Are you a Vul-can or Vul-can’t?’

AvroAirliner.jpg

There’s nothing that warms the cockles of a British aviation enthusiast more than the Avro Vulcan. Sure, it was designed to indiscriminately vaporise millions of Soviet civilians, but what a great noise! Exceptionally advanced for its time, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that an airliner variant was proposed.

The 1952 Avro Atlantic would have taken around 100 passengers over the Atlantic at Mach 0.9 (a smidgeon faster than modern airliners).The airliner lost out to a rival bid from Vickers, the V-1000. Delta wings for subsonic airliners would prove a non-starter. 

  1. Convair 58-9 SST ‘Hustler’s Unconvention’

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The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational bomber capable of Mach 2, so why not create an enlarged version (hypothetically) suitable for taking 52 brave passengers on holiday at Mach 2.4? General Dynamics promised they would be able to get a prototype into the air within three years of an order being placed- because everyone wants such an ambitious project to be rushed. An even more alarming idea can be seen below, this is a five person external pod- an ‘intermediate’ step toward the final supersonic airliner, and presumably toward five heart attacks.

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You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airliners, Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  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

70_ton_3.jpg

The 70-ton Horten just missed inclusion on this list.

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We had to share this biz-jet MiG-25 variant.

10 Incredible Soviet Fighter Aircraft that never entered service

Mikoyan-Gurevich-Ye-152M-Flipper.jpg

Faced with such a mouth-watering menu of Soviet fighter projects that never entered service, it was almost painful to select a mere ten. I won’t promise anything, but when the Hush-Kit writers are next sufficiently sober we may create a part two.

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10. Mikoyan MiG-33/35 “F-16ski”
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In the 1980s, the Mikoyan design bureau tinkered with a simple, single-engine warplane similar in concept to the original version of Lockheed’s F-16 lightweight fighter. That is, the new Soviet plane would be simple, manoeuvrable and inexpensive.
The Project 33 design, sometimes — and perhaps erroneously — referred to as the MiG-33 or MiG-35, featured a single Klimov RD-33/93 afterburning turbofan, two of which power the larger and more complex MiG-29. According to a 1988 report in Jane’s Defense Weekly, Project 33 was “seen as a complementary combat aircraft to the powerful MiG-29.” Where the MiG-29 boasts some multirole and beyond-visual-range capability, the Project 33 was a short-range, point-defence fighter. Here was a MiG-21 for the 1980s – an ideal fighter for friendly states on a budget.
Mikoyan didn’t get very far with Project 33, as Soviet leadership apparently preferred to devote the USSR’s resources to more sophisticated aircraft. But Project 33’s DNA might survive to some extent in the Chinese-made FC-1 export fighter.
Mikoyan reportedly sold the Project 33 design to China after it became clear there would be no Soviet market for the plane. China folded elements of Project 33 into the FC-1, which itself evolved from the joint U.S.-Chinese Super 7 light fighter, work on which collapsed following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. In a weird sort of aerospace-design convergence, the Super 7 had also drawn inspiration from the F-16.
Powered by a single RD-33/39-powered FC-1, the FC-1 (also known as the JF-17) today is one of Pakistan’s most important fighters, serving alongside — you guessed it — F-16s.
– David Axe  War is Boring
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 See the 11 worst soviet aircraft here

 

9. Nikitin-Shevchenko IS-4 (1941)
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Picture the scene: it’s the late thirties, you are aircraft designer Vasili Nikitin and you are puzzling out the future of the fighter aircraft whilst living in the terrifying day-to-day world of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Yakovlev came up with a nice little fighter and was given a car. Yet Polikarpov showed a bit too much cockiness and was thrown in jail. And right now everything is awkward: The speed of the monoplane seems to be pointing the way to the future yet the biplane still has superior manoeuvrability, short field performance and climb-rate. What the hell are you supposed to do? Suddenly up pops seemingly crazed test-pilot Vladimir Shevchenko who explains over a couple of cups of kvass how you could achieve both in the same airframe with a hare-brained scheme he dubs the ‘folding fighter’. Against all better judgement the entire lower biplane wing hinges and retracts into the fuselage side and upper wing, transforming the handy but slow biplane into a sleek monoplane at the flick of a switch. You wonder if the idea is insane – but after due consideration you decide it may well be the next big thing in aerospace technology

 

Somehow the approval of the Chief Directorate of the Aviation Industry was obtained, and a folding fighter was built: the IS-1. Amazingly for such a seemingly radical machine it performed excellently. A productionised version dubbed the IS-2 was quickly developed but its monoplane abilities were insufficiently competitive and Nikitin devised the considerably more formidable IS-4. The design of the wing(s) remained basically unchanged but this is where the similarity ended as the IS-4 was to be fitted with a bubble canopy, tricycle undercarriage and the M-120: a 16-cylinder X-configuration engine delivering 1650 hp. With the M-120 engine a top speed of 447 mph was forecast in monoplane configuration, heady stuff indeed for 1941, yet transformed into a biplane a landing speed of merely 66 mph was projected. An aircraft offering this astonishing breadth of performance would have been invaluable for the Soviet air force, especially early in the war when their fighters were required to operate from rough fields where the docility and inherent STOL capability of a biplane would have been greatly appreciated. It is also worth pondering what might have been had the design been known to the contemporary outside world, the folding fighter concept has obvious potential for carrier based aircraft for example. Likewise the inherent liabilities of the type were never to be operationally evaluated, what would happen if the lower wing deployed asymmetrically for example? Nikitin had designed a lock to prevent this from occurring yet who knows what would happen in combat. Similarly the undercarriage could not be lowered in monoplane configuration. Were the wing and wheels to stick ‘up’ for any reason the resulting forced landing would be highly dangerous and almost definitely result in the loss of the aircraft.

 

But this was all to remain academic as fate intervened (as for so many other hopeful Soviet armament projects) in the form of a massive German invasion curtailing work on promising new aircraft to concentrate on existing types. To be fair, things had already begun to unravel somewhat for the IS-4 when the M-120 engine was cancelled and the lower-powered Mikulin AM-37 (as fitted to the less than spectacular MiG-3) had to be substituted as the only alternative inline power unit available. Nonetheless the IS-4 was apparently flown in the summer of 1941 but records of what flight testing was done were lost when the design bureau and workshop were evacuated ahead of the advancing German forces.

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An engine, yesterday.

Despite the recorded completion and flight of the IS-4, I have searched online for nearly five whole minutes and not been able to find a single photograph of the complete aircraft. There’s three-views and an oft-reproduced drawing of the aircraft in its M-120 engined form hurtling skyward in dramatic fashion but that’s about it. Given that every other obscure fighter I can think of has at least turned up in at least one photograph (even the long lost PZL.50 Jastrząb) it does seem to cast doubt on the flight claims of this amazing aircraft. Or maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. However the cancellation of the IS-4, whether or not it actually flew, brought to an end the development of the world’s first serious attempt at a variable-geometry fighter, closing the door on a conceptually unique aircraft that appeared to have a great deal of potential.

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The less than stellar MiG-3.

 

8 ‘Article 468’

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No-one but the Soviet Union could name things as well without naming them. Just take the satellite planned to be the first manmade device in space that was given the mundane and yet somehow awesome moniker ‘Object D’. Another example of this minimalist naming policy was a rocket-powered interceptor developed by the research institution OKB-2 in the late 1940s, ‘izdeliya (article) 468’. The 468 was somewhat ambitious for the late 1940s, an era when the major military nations expected fleets of supersonic bombers penetrating their airspace at high altitude would be the main threat in the immediate future. The Soviet Union had been working on rocket-powered research aircraft since the early 1930s, and work on a rocket interceptor, the B1, began in earnest in 1940. In many ways, the 468 was the culmination of this effort – a slender dart with surprisingly small delta wings and a surprisingly huge tail fin, aided by large fins under the wings that also housed the landing skids.

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It is not known if stolen Soviet plans aided the design of Roger Ramjet’s aircraft.

 The Soviet space programme proved there was nothing wrong with its rocket technology. In truly Dan Dare fashion, the 468 would take off using a rocket-powered dolly, before using its multi-chamber, four-nozzle liquid rocket motor to climb 72,000 feet in two and a half minutes, guided to its target at up to Mach 2 by radar in the nose. The design was expected to be impressively stable in flight but would have been interesting to land, given that its wing loading was more than double that of standard contemporary fighters. It’s a shame that none of the many pure-rocket interceptors of the late 40s and early 50s made it into the air, especially the 468, which made aircraft appearing 20 years later look a bit staid. All that remains of the 468, following its cancellation in 1951, is a wind-tunnel model at the museum of technology at Dubna.

-Matt Willis Naval Air History

7. Polikarpov I-185
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Nikolai Polikarpov’s I-185 was an excellent aircraft stymied by engine trouble, politics, timing, and outright bad luck. It should have been the finest fighter the USSR fielded during the Great Patriotic war with 2000hp on tap, slightly smaller than a Grumman Bearcat but weighing 1900 lb less in normal loaded condition, faster than the contemporary Bf 109F at all altitudes up to 20,000 feet, its handling was immeasurably better and it was recommended for immediate production in the Autumn of 1942. Yet it ended up merely an also-ran. The problems began way back in 1937 when Polikarpov’s incredibly successful I-16 was fighting in the Spanish Civil war. Republican forces captured a Messerschmitt Bf 109B which was evaluated thoroughly by a team of Soviet experts. The consensus was that the 109 was inferior in virtually every regard to the latest I-16 Type 10. Whilst this was true, it was unfortunate that the Soviets failed to envisage the incredible rate of development of the 109; had they captured one of the considerably better 109Es that were fielded in Spain in the latter stages of the Civil war it might have encouraged greater urgency in developing a successor to the I-16. As it was, work on an I-16 replacement proceeded in a somewhat leisurely fashion and aimed for rather conservative performance improvement.

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The early Bf 109s were considered inferior to the Soviet I-16 Type 10s in almost all regards.

The fighter that emerged was the named I-180 and looked very much like stretched I-16. Development seemed to be going well until December 1938 when the test pilot Valeri Chkalov was killed in the prototype. Unfortunately for Polikarpov, Chkalov was a bona fide national hero of immense popularity. Whilst his body lay in state and was visited by all the principal military and civil dignitaries, the NKVD started arresting members of the design team on suspicion of sabotage. It is said that only the personal intervention of Stalin prevented Polikarpov himself being packed off to the gulag. Work continued on the new fighter, though the programme was somewhat under a cloud. Meanwhile Chkalov’s home town was renamed in his honour and in 1941 a biopic of his life was made entitled ‘Red Flyer’.

After Chkalov’s death a major redesign was implemented and the resulting I-180S looked a lot less like the I-16 which had spawned it. Unfortunately for the new fighter two prototypes were lost in spins in quick succession resulting in the death of another test pilot, Tomass Susy. Although 10 pre-series examples were built during 1940 the performance of the aircraft was tacitly admitted to be lagging behind world-class and a further redesign was undertaken. The resulting aircraft was the I-185 and it was intended for either the M-90 or M-71 engine offering nearly double the power of the M-88 fitted to the I-180S. Both engines were troubled but the M-90 particularly so and it was abandoned. The M-71 eventually achieved sufficient reliability to power the first I-185 to fly in February 1942. The aircraft flew beautifully and the M-71 was getting over its teething troubles, when it functioned properly the performance was spectacular (a speed of 426 mph was ultimately to be recorded) and the future finally should have looked rosy for Polikarpov’s purposeful fighter.

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Chkalov meeting one of the Mario Brothers.

However, by this time everything had been thrown into chaos by the Germans having invaded and begun their headlong rush towards Moscow. The Soviets needed lots of fighters immediately and didn’t have the luxury of waiting for promising prototypes. Unpopular but available fighters were produced in their thousands and gradual evolution rather than completely new types ultimately yielded the two major Soviet fighter series from Lavochkin and Yakovlev. Yet the I-185 was so good that it refused to die. In November 1942, the three prototypes were sent to the front to be evaluated under operational conditions. The report was unambiguously favourable: “The I-185 outclasses both Soviet and foreign aircraft in level speed. It performs aerobatic manoeuvres easily, rapidly and vigorously. The I-185 is the best current fighter from the point of control simplicity, speed, manoeuvrability (especially in climb), armament and survivability.” Plans were begun to start production forthwith and a ‘production standard’ aircraft was completed. Unfortunately the engine failed and it crashed. Development continued with the original three prototypes, one of which crashed and killed its pilot after another engine failure in January 1943. The M-71 was rapidly being considered a dead end.Plans to produce the I-185 with the reliable but lower-powered M-82 were eventually abandoned as the M-82 was required for the inferior (but good enough) La-5 that, crucially, was already in production and the I-185 programme was formally cancelled in April 1943, finally depriving the Soviet Union of its finest piston-engined fighter. A little over a year later Nikolai Polikarpov was dead and his design bureau was eventually absorbed into Sukhoi.

–Ed Ward

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In 1939 Nikolai Polikarpov was ordered to take a work trip to Germany. While he was away, all his mates fucked him over. His plant director, chief engineer, and the design engineer Mikhail Gurevich suggested a new fighter (the I-200) and got the go-ahead from Artem Mikoyan (whose brother was a senior politician- just saying). On his return, poor Polikarpov found that his bureau no longer existed, with his engineers at the new MiG bureau. Just goes to show, never go on holiday if you work with knobs.

 6. Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut

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While the US was entranced by stealth, Russia was seduced by super-manoeuvrability. A fighter based on the Su-47 Berkut would have been incredibly agile.

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In some parallel universe where Salamander’s Future Fighters is an aviation history book, crowds at airshows today are wowed by weird-looking fighters performing impossible manoeuvres, with their wings seemingly stuck on back-to-front. Here production versions of the Grumman X-29, British Aerospace P.1214 rub shoulder-pads with Russia’s Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut – a forward-swept wing (FSW) experimental heavy fighter from the 1980s. Like shoulder-pads, FSWs were briefly fashionable in the 1980s, as they promised enhanced agility, lower take-off and landing distances and better controllability at high angles-of attack.

While Russia had toyed with a captured Ju-287  bomber after the war and tested their own Tsybin LL-3 in 1948, the concept had to wait for fly-by-wire technology and composite materials for designers to be able to create a practical aircraft – because of the extreme instability and the strong wings needed.

Enter Sukhoi, which in 1983, was given the go-ahead to develop the Su-47 (originally Su-37) demonstrator – based on the Flanker family but with fly-by-wire, forward swept wings and canards.

The Su-47’s development was disrupted by the end of the Cold War and it didn’t get into the air until 1997, a dark time for Russian aviation (though Sukhoi was in a better position than most thanks to Flanker export sales)  Technology, too, had moved on.

 

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The truly extraordinary Belyayev DB-LK swept-forward wing bomber of 1940 will be covered in our forthcoming article on cancelled Soviet bombers.

 

 

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Another company interested in forward-swept wing was Northrop. This advanced tactical fighter concept is from the 1980s, and it bears interesting comparison with the Berkut.The Su-47’s development was disrupted by the end of the Cold War and it didn’t get into the air until 1997,

While its fly-by-wire controls and composite structure undoubtedly fed into Sukhoi’s Su-35 and PAK-FA programmes – its radical forward swept wings did not. FBW and thrust-vectoring means the Su-35 today can perform jaw-dropping aerobatics without needing canards or FSWs. Stealth too, where the alignment of edges is the first step in lowering RCS, would also present a unique problem for anyone designing a FSW fighter now. While only one was made, the Su-47 still looks unbelievable cool.

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Tim Robinson, Editor-in-Chief. AEROSPACE magazine @RAeSTimR

 

5. Sukhoi Su-37/S-37 

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As the Cold War was reaching its thankfully low key climax, the craze across the fighter houses of Europe was for canard-deltas. Soviet designers had been studying canard foreplanes on jet fighters since the 1950s, and re-awakened to the idea by both advances in flight control software and the Western trend, Sukhoi set to work on particularly potent fighter-bomber.

The Sukhoi bureau developed plans for the Su-37 (this designation was later recycled for a ‘Flanker’ variant, which is unrelated to this project) a single engine single seat fighter that, if it had been built, would today be regularly being used as a stock photo of a Gripen. Learning from experience in Afghanistan the ’37 was designed to replace Soviet Aviation’s ‘Fitters’, Floggers and Frogfoots (Or is it Frogfeet?). Again echoing the West the plan was to combine the ground attack and air-to-air roles with the emphasis on dropping things on stuff. Consequently it had an excessive 18 external hard points able to carry 8300kg of stores together with an internal 30mm gun. Of contemporary Western aircraft only Tornado could lug more around and they’re not as pretty. To assist the pilot in carrying out these disparate roles an ambitious avionics package was planned with multi-mode radar capable of terrain following and simultaneous tracking of up to 10 targets against background clutter.

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An integrated electro-optical system and defensive aids suite (DAS) were also planned, today technologies found on the F-35. Unlike the F-35 it also had 800kg of armour plate for the pilot and other sensitive areas. To reduce vulnerability on the ground it also, oddly for a non-naval aircraft, had folding wingtips allowing more to be packed into a HAS. Alas with the ending of the Cold War funding for this supersonic Sturmovik was not to be and instead we enthusiasts of Russian metal must be content with endless tedious Flanker derivatives.

— Bing Chandler, former Lynx helicopter Observer (now works in flight safety)

4 Yakovlev Yak-43

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Russia (and the Soviet Union) is often accused of stealing US aircraft concepts and technologies. In reality there has been give and take (as well as similar design solutions resulting from parallel teams working to solve similar problems).

That Lockheed bought research from Yakovlev on the STOVL propulsion system of the Yak-41 (or 141 if you prefer) is pretty notable. The Yak-41, impressive though it was, was merely a stepping stone to the formidable Yak-43 fighter. The Yak-43 would have been far faster and versatile than the Harrier, with a performance comparable to the MiG-29. The tumultuous transitional period that made the collaboration with Lockheed possible also killed the Yak-43, but its DNA lives on today in the F-35B.

Ten best fighters radars here

 

Analysis of latest fighter aircraft news here

3. Grokhovsky G-38

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Source: Deviant Art

In the mid-1930s, the concept of the ‘cruiser fighter’/ ‘Zerstörer’ was very popular in design and planning circles. The Grokhovsky G-38 was one of many examples of this class of fighter that never left the drawing board. It was a twin-boom, multi-seat heavy fighter comparable in concept to the Dutch Fokker G.1 or American Lockheed P-58 ‘Chain Lightning’. The G-38, however, was remarkable in a number of respects, most significant of which was the execution of the twin-book concept. The Fokker and the Lockheed were large, bulky, even clumsy aircraft, as was the original take on the G-38. When Grokhovsky hired the young Pavel Ivensen to work on the project, however, the aircraft was transformed into something rather exciting. Ivensen started from a clean sheet. The new G-38 was tiny for a three-seat aircraft, with a wingspan of 13.4 m (compared with 16 m for the P-38 and 17 m for the Fokker G.1) and ultra-neat packaging. The crew were contained in a torpedo-shaped pod faired into the broad wing centre-section, and the two Gnome-Rhone radial engines tapered to super-slender booms. It had an incredibly low frontal area for an aircraft of its class, and a high wing loading for the time, and it’s safe to say that it would have been fast. Most remarkable of all was the fact that the preliminary designs were approved in 1934, making the highly modern looking G-38 contemporary with the Hawker Hurricane and Curtiss P-36. Had it not been cancelled (for ‘unknown reasons’, around the time of the major Stalinist purges), it is intriguing to consider what the aircraft might have done for the otherwise lacklustre heavy fighter class.

2. Grokhovsky 39
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On 8 September 1914, the Russian Imperial Air Service pilot Pyotr Nesterov performed the first aerial ramming aircraft attack, using his aircraft itself as an offensive weapon. Though very dangerous, the use of ramming as a last ditch tactic proved popular with Soviet pilots.

In 1932, the Soviet air force began a classified project to produce a purpose-built ramming fighter. This effort, dubbed Project ‘Taran’ (battering ram) considered various manned and unmanned solutions before settling on Grokhovsky’s G-39 project. Grokhovsky was a highly-skilled pilot, aircraft designer and inventor; he created the world’s first cotton parachutes, and designed items as varied as cargo containers for airborne troops, rocket artillery, armoured hovercraft and even a weaponised snowmobile (it is not known whether the Saatchi artist Katya Grokhovsky, below, is a descendant). 3.jpg

The G-39 design was a monoplane pusher with rudders on the outer sections of the wing instead of a conventional tail unit. The most unusual feature of the G-39 was its weapon: two steel wires running from a boom on the nose to the wingtips, intended to slice through enemy aircraft. In case the wires snapped, the wing’s leading edges were made exceptionally strong. The exceptionally brave (or unfortunate) G-39 pilots would have had a degree of protection from a retractable bullet-proof windscreen. This extremely strange machine was readied for flight in 1935, but refused to take-off. With its 100hp engine, the G-39 was woefully underpowered. Work on the G-39 was discontinued. Like many others, he would was crushed by Stalin’s brutal state- Grokhovsky was arrested in 1942 and died in prison four years later.

  1. Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-150 family

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Ye-150 series were wildly high performance heavy interceptors. They could out-drag and out-climb any fighter in the world, and they also looked exceptionally mean. Despite taking its first flight in 1959, the Ye-150 could reach an astonishing Mach 2.65 (some sources claim even higher speeds) and could reach altitudes above 69,000 feet (remarkably all of this was achieved with the same installed thrust as today’s rather more pedestrian Gripen). This series of four experimental fighter prototypes were built in the effort to create a new, highly automated fighter to defend the Soviet union against a proliferating Western threat (including the supersonic bombers like the B-58- then in development). To catch and destroy these fast high-flying intruders the interceptor was to be automatically steered under the guidance of ground radars before engaging its own cutting-edge detection and weapons system. But it was a case of too much too soon; the ferociously exacting requirements on the electronics, missile and powerplant were too demanding, and each suffered severe delays and development problems. What could have been the best intercepter in the world was cancelled in 1962.

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 hereFollow my vapour trail on Twitter@Hush_kit

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Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate with the donate  button (at the top and button of this apge)– it doesn’t have to be a large amount, every pound is gratefully received. Suggested donation £10. 

At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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. 

The 10 worst US aircraft

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Choosing a mere ten types was hard. The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin, like so many other types, narrowly missed inclusion in our list.

 

Abraham Lincoln noted that America will never be destroyed from the outside. Likewise the most serious threats to the US aircraft industry have always come from within, as demonstrated by the following inglorious parade of folly and nincompoopery. No nation has created as many aircraft types – or types that so comprehensively occupy the spectrum from superb to shit. 
(You can see the 11 worst Soviet aircraft here)

To keep this blog going- allowing us to create new articles- we need donations. We’re trying to do something different with Hush-Kit: give aviation fans something that is both entertaining, surprising and well-informed. Please do help us and click on the donate button above – you can really make a difference (suggested donation £10). You will keep us impartial and without advertisers – and allow us to carry on being naughty. Once you’ve done that we hope you enjoy 10 Incredible Soviet fighter Aircraft that never entered service. A big thank you to all of our readers.

 

10. Fisher P-75 Eagle
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Long before the F-15 was even thought of, its illustrious namesake was the physical embodiment of audacious corporate fraud. The original Eagle was a poor aircraft built by General Motors with an ulterior motive that sucked in over $50 million in the middle of the most destructive war in history. Great things were expected of the Eagle, its designation P-75 had been specially allocated, P-73 and P-74 having been missed out, to allude to the French 75-mm gun of the Great war – regarded as a symbol of victory. The appellation “Eagle’ boasted of American greatness and nobility – and extensive media interest surrounded the programme. It was trumpeted as a ‘wonder plane’ before its first flight (less so afterwards) however the Eagle itself was a Frankenstein’s Monster of an interceptor, cobbled together out of bits of other, better, aircraft. The Eagle’s wings were taken from the P-40, its undercarriage from the F4U Corsair and the tail was appropriated from the SBD Dauntless. This approach appeared to yield distinct advantages: the aircraft could be built quickly as all these parts were already in production and (most attractively) the new fighter should be cheap as so much of it already existed. Unfortunately the design also employed the Allison (itself a division of General Motors) V-3420, a 24-cylinder engine that promised much but delivered considerably less, not least its rated horsepower and the Eagle’s performance was underwhelming. That aside, the XP-75 suffered from poor handling, dreadful spin characteristics and inadequate engine cooling. To further muddle an already problematic programme the Army decided it required not an interceptor but a long-range escort fighter. The XP-75 was redesigned, negating the advantage of using the pre-existing elements of its original design and emerged as a broadly acceptable aircraft in late 1944, by which time P-51s were proving spectacularly successful in the escort role rendering the Eagle superfluous, production terminated at the sixth airframe and that appeared to be that.
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However all was not as it seemed, General Motors, who designed and built the P-75 at its Fisher Body Division, were tied up in a great many wartime programmes and believed they were overcommitted. When the USAAF came calling to try to get them to build B-29s, GM were desperate not to join in. With the knowledge that USAAF Materiel Command had the power to compel GM to build B-29s, they (allegedly) came up with an alternative and overriding commitment: development of the war-winning P-75! The USAAF bought it (in both senses) and GM never built a Single Superfortress. Looked on in this way, the P-75 was a resounding success.
9. Bell FM-1 Airacuda ‘Francis Ford Cuppola’ 
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Bell were a new player on the scene in 1937 and their first aircraft design combined futuristic looks with unconventional features but its striking looks concealed a litany of flaws, questionable design choices and unsatisfactory performance in its designed roles. Firstly, the FM-1’s combined engine nacelle/gun positions gave the 37-mm weapons mounted therein a good field of fire for intercepting bomber formations but the pusher engines constantly overheated and the rear mounted propellors rendered death inevitable for any gunner who attempted to bail out. Actually firing the guns caused the gunner’s station to fill with choking smoke. Sensibly the aircraft was usually flown with the nacelles unoccupied. Accepting that the gunners were best left behind, their guns could be operated remotely from the cockpit but the aircraft was too draggy and slow to stand much chance of intercepting any modern bomber. Its manoeuvrability was also poor, had it ever faced contemporary fighters it would have been cut to pieces.

As if this wasn’t enough the Airacuda was expected to be able to perform ground-attack missions as well, its bombload of a mere 600lb would have been acceptable in 1918 but on the eve of the Second World War it was pathetic. To add considerable injury to insult the electrical system of the aircraft was extensive, complicated and unreliable. The FM-1 was the only aircraft to require a full-time supercharged auxiliary engine to power its own electrics as well as the fuel pumps. In the event of this engine failing (and it frequently did) the crew lost the use of the undercarriage, flaps and most importantly, the engines. Amazingly the FM-1 did enter limited operational service, equipping one squadron from 1938 to 1940. With only one recorded fatality whilst flying the Airacuda, the US Army got off surprisingly lightly.
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8. Convair NB-36 ‘Atomic wait’
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Of all the starkly insane ideas of the 1950s, the idea of putting an operating nuclear reactor in an aircraft remains particularly chilling. Yet both the Soviet Union and the USA did exactly that. The NB-36 ‘Crusader’ was a massive, terrifying ecological disaster waiting to happen every time it took to the sky. Yet take to the sky it did on no less than 47 occasions. Intended merely to test the feasibility of operating a nuclear reactor in flight prior to the development of a true atomic-powered aircraft, the NB-36 hauled a three megawatt reactor aloft. As a result of the shielding required to keep its crew alive, it remains by far the aircraft with the greatest amount of lead in its airframe: the rubber and lead-lined cockpit area alone weighed eleven tons.
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A measure of its frightening potential can be gleaned from the fact that every time it flew it was accompanied by a team of support aircraft including a C-97 filled with a platoon of Marines who, in the event of a crash, or the reactor being jettisoned, were to parachute down, secure the site and attempt immediate clean-up, a task that would probably have cost them their lives. The NB-36 was also the only aircraft fitted with a hotline to the President’s office to be used in case of impending or actual disaster. This hotline was actually used when a smoke marker exploded in the reactor compartment (harmlessly as it turned out). Imagine taking that call.
As it turned out, the reactor was switched on for a total of 89 hours in flight and all was well, the NB-36 survived to be scrapped and the radioactive parts of the airframe were buried. However when one considers that 32 standard B-36s were written-off in accidents from 1949 to 1957 and even though this was a very good safety record for the time, it does make one wonder about the responsibility (or lack of it) of combining 1940s aeronautical technology with a potential Chernobyl.
7. Wright Flyer
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Just because an aircraft is epoch-making doesn’t make it any good. The Wright Flyer was, according to the Smithsonian Institution, “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard” and they should know as they spent a great deal of time and money trying to prove that it wasn’t. However it should be pointed out that this sustained flight lasted an absolute maximum of 59 seconds, was more or less out of control, and covered a mere 852 feet. It flew four times on December 17 1903 but never again because the Flyer was essentially uncontrollable – and it should be noted that the Wright’s had plenty of experience flying gliders of the same configuration over long distances for years before they attempted powered flight. With the elevator mounted at the wrong end of the aircraft and too close to the centre of gravity, wing-warping rather than ailerons, and a rudder that was too small, the Flyer was dangerously unstable about all three axes, particularly longitudinally – in all four flights the Flyer undulated violently. Added to this was its inability to take off under its own power without the aid of a launching rail, visible in the famous photograph above (some deluded groups, almost exclusively Brazilian, believe this feature makes it ineligible as the world’s first aircraft and favour Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis, which flew without the need for a launch rail in 1906. The fact that Santos-Dumont was also Brazilian obviously having no bearing on their opinion whatsoever). The one undeniably decent aspect of its design was its engine, which the brothers designed themselves and was remarkably powerful for its size – though not nearly as good as the Manly-Balzer radial fitted to Langley’s Aerodrome (of which more later). The Wrights themselves held the Flyer in no great esteem, after storing it for nine years, Wilbur was asked what they intended to do with it and replied that they ‘would most likely burn it’. It was a dreadful, dangerous, flawed aircraft but it was the first.
6. Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel ‘King Arthur Daly’
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From a purely aeronautical point of view there is nothing wrong with the VH-71 Kestrel, yet it is not in service and as an example of eye-watering cost overruns it is without parallel, and that’s including the F-35 programme. It’s not even as if it were a new aircraft but instead a version of the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin, a successful (-ish) medium-lift helicopter first flown in 1987 and serving in the air arms of 13 nations. Unit cost for the Merlin is approximately $21 million. In 2002 Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland agreed to jointly develop and market the helicopter in the US. In 2005 this aircraft won the competition to replace the fleet of helicopters operated by the Marines as Presidential transport. By 2009, the contract had ballooned from its original allocation of $6.1Billion to over $11.2 billion. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was dragged to go to Congress for a review of the project. The price continued happily rising. Some blame the rises on additional requested equipment that was not in the original brief, others point to improper lobbyist ties or erratic asset management. Its pretty hard to run a US military aircraft project so badly that it is killed (the A-12 being an notable exception) – the F-35 and C-5 proving the point, but this was a during a recession. Some pointed out, not entirely in jest, that this huge sum would do more to safeguard the President if it were spent on stabilising the economies of the world’s poorest countries.
President Obama doomed the Kestrel to cancellation with an injection of fiscal rationality in 2009 with the mild words “the helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me.” The nine Kestrels that had been built ended up being sold to Canada as spare parts for their AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant fleet (a somewhat more successful Merlin variant) for a mere $164 million, only $2.84 billion less than had already been inexplicably spent on their construction. Seven of these remain airworthy and there is the possibility that Canada may yet put these into service, an intriguing possibility for an aircraft that literally cost more than its weight in gold.
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5. The Langley ‘Aerodrome’ ‘Pierpont Zero’
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Samuel Pierpont Langley was a brilliant inventor, astronomer and scientist who happened to be secretary of the Smithsonian institution. He had built an excellent model aircraft that flew over a mile in 1901 and decided, reasonably, to scale it up and make the world’s first manned, powered flight. The Aerodrome was beautifully made and its 52hp radial had the best power-to-weight ratio of any engine, a record it held until 1919(!) – but it couldn’t fly. Twice the Aerodrome was flung off its catapult and plunged into the Potomac River. Nine days later the Wright brothers flew their aircraft into the history books, Langley died in 1906, and that should really have been that for the Aerodrome but fate decreed its story was not yet over.
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The Wrights were as litigious as they were diligent and busily sued anyone who built a successful aircraft. In 1914 this included the talented pioneer Glenn Curtiss who came up with a brilliant scheme to flip the litigation on its head. If he could prove that the Aerodrome was capable of flight then the Wright’s patent would be invalid and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like the fact that it wasn’t stand in his way. After extensive modification including a new V-8 engine, approved by the Smithsonian who despised the Wrights for beating them into the air, Curtiss managed to coax it aloft for an awe-inspiring five seconds. Modifications removed, the Aerodrome was fraudulently placed on show as ‘the first man-carrying aeroplane in the history of the world capable of sustained free flight’. Thus began an ignoble tradition of deception, foul-play and skulduggery that has sustained the US aviation industry for well over a century.
4. Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon ‘Salmon fishing in no man’
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The US military was full of bizarre ideas throughout the fifties, and luckily for us they were so prudence-crushingly rich that many of them actually got built. One of the craziest was the XFV-1 and its superior competitor the Convair XFY-1 ‘Pogo’, the last two airscrew-powered aircraft designed for the fighter role. Inspired, like all the best aviation ideas of the 1950s, by the flights of fantasy of the dying Third Reich (a regime not well known for rationality and good sense) the Pogo and Salmon were loosely derived from a Focke-Wulf design study for a fighter called the Triebflugel. This was to have a mid-mounted rotor/propellor powered by ramjets and the whole point of the idea was that it could take off vertically, ideal for a point-defence interceptor. The downside for the pilot of this and the subsequent Pogo and Salmon was that they had to land vertically – backwards – the pilot inching the aircraft back down onto to its tail. Nonetheless the US Navy couldn’t ignore the utility of a fighter aircraft that could be based on any ship large enough to mount a helipad, two prototypes were ordered, and a production contract was expected for whichever proved the better design. Quite apart from the landing problem, both programmes were condemned to employ the Allison XT-40 turboprop, a desultory engine with a disarming tendency to rip itself to pieces which was to prove the kiss of death to several other more conventional aircraft. Engine failure is not to be taken lightly in any aircraft but when one is hovering, nose vertical, a hundred or so feet above the ground, the prospect of that engine ceasing to work is a sobering one. Nevertheless Convair managed a few vertical take-offs and landings with their Pogo but the poor Salmon was not so lucky, a ton heavier than the Pogo, it was decided that it lacked necessary power for its weight to attempt either.
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3. Rockwell XFV-12 ‘The Rockwell tart’
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Generally, by the 1970s, it was a fairly safe bet that prototype fighter aircraft emerging from the world’s biggest, richest, and most successful aviation industry would be capable of flight. Yet in 1977 the Rockwell XFV-12 ingloriously proved that such assumptions are not always as safe as one might imagine. Rockwell’s XFV-12 certainly looked exciting with its canard layout and wingtip tail surfaces cunningly obscuring the parts that had been lifted off other, existing, aircraft – the intakes were from the F-4 and the whole cockpit and landing gear had been nicked from the Skyhawk. The concept of the XFV-12 was intriguing, a system known as a ‘thrust augmentor wing’ channelled engine exhaust downwards to enable vertical flight. Unfortunately someone at Rockwell had augmented the maths: thrust ‘augmentation’ from the system was 30% less than expected and as a result the engine was capable of lifting only three-quarters of the aircraft and the aircraft never flew. Despite this, tethered trials were carried out but with the obvious inability of the aircraft to support itself in the air the whole programme was terminated in 1981. After the expenditure of an estimated billion dollars on the programme the Navy stated that it had ‘learned all it could’ from the XFV-12 i.e. nothing.
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2. De Lackner DH-4 Heli-Vector/HZ-1 Aero-cycle/YHO-2 ‘The Devil’s Hoverbike’
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In the 1950s the US Army decided that only snow-eating Commies walk into battle and that having their infantrymen hover into action like elves or fairies on dangerous one-man helicopters was much more appropriate for the modern battlefield. The De Lackner DH-4 was the worst of the prospective designs to answer this idiotic request and one of the most terrifying machines ever to grace the sky. The true horror of this vehicle becomes clear when one studies a photograph of the DH-4 in flight and realises that the contra-rotating rotor blades are mounted approximately four inches under the feet of its luckless pilot, who was not provided with a seat and was compelled instead to balance on a tiny platform directly over the rotor hub. Standing above the whirling, unprotected rotors the infantryman of the future was required simply to lean in the direction he wished to go, much like a modern Segway. The difference being that a Segway is unlikely to chop one’s body into small pieces should you fall off. Eventually the realisation that the DH-4 was capable only of rendering the modern soldier a better target by raising him, terrified, a few feet above the ground, very noisily and at great expense, caused the programme’s demise. To be fair to the DH-4, it was at least relatively fast, being capable of a horrifying 75mph. This compared well to the rival Hiller Pawnee which at 16mph could be outrun by a not-particularly vigorously ridden bicycle.
1. Christmas Bullet ‘Unhappy Christmas’
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Quite likely the Worst Aircraft Ever Built, and the only aircraft on this list that can be justifiably said to have been designed by a psychopath, the Christmas Bullet was a scandalous mockery of an aeroplane capable only of climbing high enough to guarantee the death of its pilot. Dr William Whitney Christmas MD was a seemingly respectable physician who had some unconventional ideas about aircraft development and coupled them with a plethora of lies both about his own achievements – he claimed for example to have invented the aileron – and his designs: he stated that he had received an offer of a million dollars to ‘take over’ Germany’s air force, and was swamped with orders for Bullets from Europe. Luckily for everyone, only one of his designs was to be built, less fortunately, and for no good reason, it was built twice. The Bullet was a stubbily purposeful looking aircraft and the US Army had gamely yet inexplicably (this was wartime and Armies seldom lend prototype military equipment to private individuals) loaned Christmas the prototype of its new Liberty L-6 engine, though they stated that they were to inspect the new aircraft before its first flight, a proviso Dr Christmas ignored.
On first inspection the Bullet appeared quite conventional until one noticed the paper-thin wing unbraced by struts or wires, that was free to flap (‘like a bird’) rather than remain rigid – this being Dr Christmas’s great idea.
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Despite the fact that even a cursory glance at the wings makes it plain that they are going to fall off, Christmas managed to persuade an out-of-work pilot named Cuthbert Mills to take the Bullet up. In a twist of fate reminiscent of the worst kind of melodrama, the doomed Mills even invited his mother along to watch him fly the new fighter. The Bullet took off, the wings twisted and folded, and the Bullet crashed, killing its pilot. Undeterred, unrepentant and un-prosecuted Christmas built a new Bullet. It took off, the wings twisted and folded, and the Bullet crashed, killing its pilot. At least this time his mother wasn’t present. A mere month earlier this second Bullet had been on (static) display at the New York Air Show, where it was billed as the ‘safest, easiest controlled plane in the world’. Whilst showing no remorse for losing the lives of two pilots, nor apparently any concern about destroying the Army’s precious new L-6 engine against the their specific instructions, Christmas billed the Army $100,000 for his ‘revolutionary’ wing design. His gifts of persuasion must have been better than his skill as a designer for they duly paid up.
In a final ironic twist the chief designer for the Continental Aircraft company – who had actually built the Bullet for Dr Christmas – was one Vincent Burnelli, who dedicated the remainder of his working life to designing lifting-body aircraft of immense strength and safety. One cannot help but wonder if the horror of the Christmas Bullet inspired this brilliant designer to devote his considerable talent to making aviation safer. Google_Books_Christmas_Bullet_4-210x300.jpgWilliam Christmas died in 1964 ‘with money in his pockets and blood on his hands’. As the historian Bill Yenne put it, ‘his was the kind of tale they used to write folk songs about‘.

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To keep this blog going- allowing us to create new articles- we need donations. We’re trying to do something different with Hush-Kit: give aviation fans something that is both entertaining, surprising and well-informed. Please do help us and click on the donate button above – you can really make a difference (suggested donation £10). You will keep us impartial and without advertisers – and allow us to carry on being naughty.  A big thank you to all of our readers.

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? 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

 Edward Ward’s world of mechanical whimsy and tomfoolery can be enjoyed here.

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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The 11 worst Soviet aircraft

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The Soviet Union lasted a mere sixty-nine years (the Spitfire has been flying longer), but in that time produced some of the largest, fastest, toughest and most agile aircraft. Even now, 25 years after its collapse, almost all Russian and Ukrainian aircraft have their roots in the communist super state.  Favouring clever robust design over high technology and refinement, the Soviet approach enabled the mass production of cheap machines. Many of these were outstanding, but some – for reasons of politics, bad luck or incompetence – were diabolical. Let’s pack beer and vobla, and take a walk through the rusting graveyard of the eleven worst Soviet aircraft.

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11. Tupolev Tu-116

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With the death of Stalin, the Khrushchev Thaw left the Soviet Union in the tricky position of wanting to engage with the wider world but with no indigenous way of getting there.  Fearing that mating an airliner fuselage to the wings of a Tu-95, to make the Tu-114, would take more time than was available before a 1959 state visit to the USA, a less ambitious back up plan was made. The Tu-116 replaced the Tu-95’s bomb bays with a passenger compartment for the head of state and his entourage, in a prescient nod to post-9/11 security arrangements it was impossible to access the cockpit from the passenger compartment, messages being passed by pneumatic tube. While no one appeared to think arriving on a diplomatic mission in something that looked exactly like a strategic bomber might be a bad idea, the nail in the coffin of the Tu-116 was actually the 737 style air stair that allowed the First Secretary of the Communist Party to emerge from the bowels of the aircraft, something he deemed beneath his standing. Deprived of their raison d’être the two aircraft served out their miserable lives flying technicians to the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, presumably to ensure the Franken-liner was hidden from public view.  The Tu-116 was a poor idea and implemented badly. It was mercifully left to wallow in obscurity, somewhat like the Miss Havisham of Soviet aviation.

— Bing Chandler, former Lynx helicopter Observer (now works in flight safety)

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10. Tupolev Tu-22 ‘Blind John the man-eater’

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The Tu-22 medium bomber, first flown in 1962, was a dangerous hotrod with a litany of design flaws. Its VD-7M engines were unreliable and caused a spate of lethal accidents. The aircraft was also very hard to handle, according to one pilot “..two flights with no autopilot drained all strength“. Tu-22 pilots had to be physically strong and keep both hands on the control yoke at all times. The landing speed was perhaps the worst of any operational aircraft: it was forbidden for pilots to go under 180 mph. The ejection seats ejected downward, a sobering prospect for low-level escapes. Pre-flight preparations took at least 3 hours, and other common procedures required 24 hours of maintenance. The high-mounted engines were exceptionally inconvenient for maintenance crew to reach. Its abysmal visibility from the cockpit resulted in one of its nicknames – Blind John (Слепой Джон). Another less than flattering nickname was ‘the man-eater’ (Людоед).

– Vasily Kuznetsov, Aviation photographer and lawyer

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Eleven wonderfully weird cancelled aeroplanes here

9. Sukhoi Su-7

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For the first two decades after World War II the Soviet Union wasn’t great at building ground-attack aircraft. Ilyushin’s classic wartime Shturmovik soldiered on for a while, but in the era of atomic weapons, the use of aircraft for battlefield close support fell out of favour within the Red Army. If Soviet troops were to need firepower, they could call upon artillery. And nuclear-tipped battlefield missiles. And more artillery.

With the explosion of counter-insurgency and brushfire conflicts in the mid-1960s, it was time to reassess the ground-attack aircraft. One quick fix was to add bombs and rockets to MiG fighters. But the USSR’s first purpose-designed, jet-powered ground-attacker to reach service was the Sukhoi Su-7. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great. The Soviets never took it into battle. The Arabs did, and were not impressed.

In July 1967 Egyptian pilot Tahsin Zaki was in a formation of 12 Su-7s that was to attack Israeli forces opposite the Suez Canal. Loaded with four 500kg bombs each, the jets suffered so much drag that they couldn’t accelerate beyond 600km/h. They also proved very difficult to control. ‘The Su-7 was never a very stable aircraft at such slow speeds’, Zaki reflected in Arab MiGs Volume 4.

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Provided it made it over the battlefield unscathed, the Su-7 was hampered by dismal range, meaning it was unable to loiter where it was needed. The powerful Lyulka AL-7F1 turbojet took up so much space that there was little room left for fuel tanks. It was vulnerable to foreign object damage (FOD) and, without air-to-air missile capability, was unable to protect itself other than with its two NR-30 cannon. Were it unfortunate enough to get into a dogfight with an Israeli Mirage, Arab pilots found that its fuel was quickly expended.

A final word goes to Egyptian pilot Gabr Ali Gabr: ‘The Su-7 was a totally bloody useless aircraft. It had a feeble bomb load and ineffective rockets only. The only Sukhoi that really showed an improvement over the MiG-17 was the Su-20, which we received only years later.

—  Thomas Newdick, Editor at Harpia Publishing and Assistant Editor of Combat Aircraft

8. Lavochkin LaGG-3 

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A pathetic climb rate, sluggish top speed, poor build quality, the inability to pull out of a dive or even to perform a sharp turn are among the many failings of the lamentable LaGG. The designers intended the aircraft (which started development as the LaGG-1) to use the 1,350 hp inline Klimov VK-106 engine, but when this engine failed to mature, it was replaced with the Klimov M-105 – a weedy powerplant with around 300 less horsepower. The result was an exceptionally underpowered fighter hated by its crews and mauled by its enemies. Other than an exceptional ability to withstand battle damage (something it received in abundance) -the aircraft’s only saving grace was that it sired the magnificent LaGG-5.

— Joe Coles, Hush-Kit

Something strange about Denmark’s F-35 order? Full story here

7. Silvanskii IS

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Silvanskii is a name synonymous with Russian fighters..oh, wait – no it’s not. And there is a very good reason that it’s not. In the midst of Stalin’s muddled and oppressive USSR, one A.V. Silvanskii secured state funding to create a new fighter in 1937. The concept seemed sound- it was a low-winged monoplane with a 1,000 horsepower radial engine, armed with two heavy machine guns. As development began it soon became apparent that Silvanskii was a reckless bodger. By 1938 the prototype aircraft was virtually complete. Initial tests of the undercarriage revealed that the wheel wells were too small- the undercarriage did not fit into the wing in the retracted position. How this elementary mistake had been made is hard to understand, but the solution was simple- the undercarriage legs were shortened. Now the undercarriage could be retracted it was realised that the wheel bays were too shallow so the undercarriage would stick out into the airstream producing drag. Deciding not to rectify this issue, the team then fitted the propeller. Though the aircraft now had a shorter undercarriage than originally designed, no-one saw fit to think through the consequences of this modification; the propeller was now too large and would smash against the ground on take-off. Ever the master of methodical engineering, Silvanskii took a saw to the offending propeller and lopped four inches off each blade. The manager of the GAZ state aircraft factory watched this slapstick affair with dismay and growing alarm. He quite sensibly refused Silvanskii permission to fly from the factory airfield. The persistent Silvanskii looked for an alternative airfield for his fighter and charmed the State Flight Research Institute (LII) in Moscow into providing a runway and a test pilot for the maiden flight. One cold morning in early 1939, the LII test pilot strapped himself into the aircraft, known simply as the IS or ‘Istrebitel’ (fighter) and prepared to fly. The machine had other ideas, but thanks to a combination of full throttle and extremely dense cold air the machine was coaxed into taking off for one hair-raising circuit flown dangerously close to the stall. On landing the pilot damned the aircraft as unflyable. The Silvanskii bureau was bankrupted and the hapless designer was banned from working in aeronautical design.

— Joe Coles, Hush-Kit

What was the ultimate piston-engined fighter? Answer here

6. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23MS 

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Arab MiG-21 pilots were excited by the prospect of a new advanced fighter, but early MiG-23s provided a huge disappointment. The Soviet Union generally offered client nations inferior versions of their fighters, but the MiG-23MS was one of the cruelest examples – and they were supplied when the air forces of Syria and Egypt were at war with a well-equipped enemy. Because of delays with the R-23 (a Sparrow equivalent), the ’23 carried only the K-13 (comparable with an early Sidewinder). The weapon system, with its very basic Sapfir-21, was completely mismatched to the aircraft’s performance – the aircraft was designed for fast long range engagements – something it couldn’t do with the K-13. The former MiG-21 pilots now had an aircraft with greatly inferior agility to the previous mounts and nastier handling characteristics. The aircraft also lacked vital equipment, including radar warning receivers. The MiG-23MS force suffered terrible losses to the Israeli Air Force, and encouraged Egypt and Libya to turn away from the use Soviet equipment, and instead favour US F-4s and French Mirages respectively. The MiG-23 was later developed into the formidable ML, but the MS was a dreadful machine hated by many of its pilots.

— Joe Coles & Thomas Newdick

Love warplanes but hate war? You may enjoy this article then. 

5. Antonov An-10 ‘Bulgakov’s magic catflap’ 

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The An-10 was terrible. It’s almost as if the Ministry of Aircraft Production gave the brief to Antonov to make flying more unpleasant and dangerous. If this was the brief then Antonov succeeded with aplomb and this aircraft shouldn’t have made this list. Initial test flights revealed stability issues, leading to the ungainly ventral fins. But even these didn’t fix the problem, and further stabilizing devices (quasi winglets) were added to the horizontal tails. Which was great, apart from making the aircraft wickedly uncomfortable – it shook like a paint mixer, perhaps even worse. Then there was the insufficient amount of windows causing nausea in those prone to air sickness. There was also a  lack of a real baggage hold (the low floor took up this space). An almost criminal deficiency for any aircraft, let alone one based in the USSR, was the faulty anti-icing system; two aircraft were lost in its first winter resulting in the deaths of 72 people.
A paltry 104 An-10’s were produced, but of these at least twelve were lost – most with fatalities. The straw that broke the camel’s back? After a mere 13 years in service, metal fatigue made the wings fall off. It wasn’t all bad- at least you could ride to your likely doom in a large comfortable seat.

– Bernie Leighton, helicopter pilot and Managing Correspondent at Airline Reporter

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4. Tupolev Tu-144

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Its chief designer, its passengers and its launch customer were all less than enamoured with Tupolev Tu-144 – the Soviet ‘Concordski’ – and for many valid reasons.

On the last day of 1968, the Tu-144 became the first supersonic airliner to fly. It was two months ahead of Concorde’s maiden flight, but in the rush to achieve this symbolic victory, Tupolev had made a dog. The first flight was misleading – the production machine was virtually a complete redesign, most notably in the critical relationship between the wing and the engine.

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Which website am I looking at now? About Hush-Kit

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Its design was aided by a huge national effort. Even its chief designer Alexei Tupolev thought it was given too great a priority. Almost all state funding for civil aviation went into the Tu-144, at the detriment of more conservative (and more useful) designs, such as the Il-86.

As well as huge centralised effort, darker methods were used to collect useful data: Sergei Pavlov, a senior Aeroflot representative in France, was banished by a personal dictate from French President de Gaulle in 1965. Pavlov had made a concerted effort to extract information from the programme, and had employed two French communists to spy at Toulouse. At the 1973 Paris Air Show, the two rival airliners were competing for foreign orders, and the second prototype was to be displayed. Its pilot, Mikhail Kozlov, had boasted that he would give a better display than Concorde: “Just wait until you see us fly. Then you’ll see something.” His words proved tragically prescient. The aircraft disintegrated in the air, killing Kozlov and his crew. Following this, the launch customer Aeroflot decided not to put the aircraft on international passenger routes. When Tu-144 entered service in December 1975, it was assigned the less-than-glamorous task of transporting cargo. In late 1977, politicians decided that the Tu-144 should begin passenger services, against the advice of Aeroflot and safety inspectors. Despite it being seven years from its first flight, the aircraft was still unreliable. It was only able to perform one of its first six scheduled passenger flights. In 180 flight hours, the first sixteen Tu-144s suffered more than 226 failures of various kinds – many of them significant. Passengers were shocked by the cabin noise, with one declassified CIA report saying “the cacophony of rushing air, engine noise and air conditioners meant conversations in the rear of the aircraft had to be shouted”. The terrible Kuznetsov NK-144 turbofans were replaced by Kolesov RD-36-51s, to produce the marginally improved Tu-144D. Whereas the cabin noise was unbearable, cabin depressurisation was potentially lethal. There was also faulty de-icing equipment for the air intakes, poor fireproof paint, substandard navigation equipment and a panoply of other failings. In 1977 Tupolev took the unprecedented step of asking the West for technical assistance – hardly a propaganda coup. The British Government declined these requests. Handing technology to the designer of your enemy’s nuclear bombers was too much to ask, even for the nation that had already given the USSR a great step up by giving them the world’s best jet engines).
It can hardly inspire confidence among passengers when no aircraft is allowed to take off without an inspection by its chief designer, yet that was the extraordinary situation for this terrible machine. In May 1978 another Tu-144 crashed. This was too much for Aeroflot, and passenger flights were cancelled. In a twist that nobody would have predicted in the 1960s, the Tu-144 ended its life as ‘supersonic flying laboratory’ for NASA.

– Joe Coles & Glen Towler

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3. Yakovlev Yak-38 20090915141759!Yak-38_on_Novorossijsk_deck.jpg

Were it not for two factors, the Yakovlev Yak-38 ‘Forger’ would probably be regarded as a success. Putting a vertical take-off and landing  fighter into operational service was no mean feat. Of the profusion of concepts and designs that plastered drawing boards (in the US, France, West Germany and in every other aircraft producing nation) in the 1960s, the vast majority never reached even prototype stage – and only two types entered service, so on that basis, the Yak-38 did well. The first of its reputation-killing problems was the lack of any more capable follow-on. The second was the existence of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier.
Expectations of the Yak-38 should have been low. It was intended more as a concept-proving vehicle than a frontline aircraft in its own right. Unfortunately, the planned replacement – the much larger, supersonic Yak-41 ‘Freestyle’ – was cancelled, leaving the Forger to fight its own corner as an operational VTOL fighter rather than an analogue to the pre-production Hawker Siddeley Kestrel (the earlier Yak-36 could be compared to the P.1127 or Short SC.1).
The problem was the Yak-38’s lack of combat capability. Yes, it could take off and land vertically, and transition between vertical to horizontal flight, a significant achievement. Unfortunately, its payload was derisory and its range pathetic, its air-to-air capability virtually non-existent. One reason was the Forger’s VTOL concept – while the Harrier had a single engine and could use all its thrust for horizontal or vertical flight, the Yak-38 had to lug two lift engines, dead weight at all other times than in vertical flight. In hot and high conditions (such as the combat evaluation it endured in Afghanistan), the Forger could carry less than 500lb of munitions. As a proof of concept vehicle, the Yak-38 only managed to ‘prove’ that VTOL combat aircraft were impractical. If only the Harrier had not disproved the point over the Falklands, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan…

– Matthew Willis is a writer and journalist specialising in naval aviation. He is the biographer of A&AEE and Fairey test pilot Duncan Menzies. His book on the Fairey Flycatcher is due out imminently

More on the Yak-38 in The ten worst carrier aircraft

2. Sukhoi Su-2 ‘A Soviet Battle’1437523175_su-2.jpgThe rather unassuming Su-2 is historically significant in being the first creation of Pavel Sukhoi. The Su-2, both by design and unfortunate circumstances, did not anticipate any of this greatness. Designed at a time when metal was a strategically limited resource, the Su-2 was one of the last frontline aircraft that are not all metal construction (prior to today’s composite age), other examples of mixed construction being the famously excellent ‘Mossie’ and the spectacularly atrocious LaGG-3 series. Armed with a meagre four fixed 7.62 light machine guns and a notoriously unwieldy turret armed with a single Shkas. The unfortunate Su-2 was thrown into the meat grinder of Operation Barbarossa where, to the surprise of no-one, it racked up tremendous losses. While faster than its much more famous replacement, the Il-2, it had much lower survivability, armament and payload (not that the marginal difference in speed would make much difference when being chased down by the far faster Bf-109F). The toughness of the Ilyushin competitor – as well as its enormous production figures – explain why the name Il-2 still resonates to this day while the Su-2 is known nowadays mostly for being one of the least useful planes in War Thunder. The first of the Sukhoi’s was a little more than a footnote in aviation history though and, much like other designs of the era, it went from design to obsolescence in the space of 3 years.

– Matthew Wilks, Witch Doctor

  1. Kalinin K-7

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This is what you get if you cross a Spitfire with Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Water’ house (emphasis on the ‘falling’) then enlarge the resulting mutant to the size of Stalin’s ego. The 1930s USSR was in love with big things. Their big locomotives hauled big trains over massive distances, their enormous factories churned out terrific amounts of Fordson tractors and in the air the Kalinin K-7 was to display the triumph of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to a disbelieving world. Their other big aeroplane, the Tupolev ANT-20, was impractically large but wasn’t a bad aircraft considering. The Kalinin K-7 on the other hand was ridiculous. Konstantin Kalinin had already produced the USSR’s most successful airliner to date and he had some interest in flying wing development. The K-7was, more or less, a seven engine flying wing with a fuselage pod and a couple of tail booms and no one seemed entirely sure whether it was an enormous bomber or a massive airliner. Nonetheless, the mighty K-7 could fly but its first brief flight revealed terrible instability and appalling vibration. Applying stereotypical Soviet engineering principles, two massive slabs of steel were welded to the tailbooms to keep them rigid. Unfortunately its structure was resonating with the engine frequency and the ‘strengthening’ had no effect: on its eighth flight the K-7 shook its right tailboom off at 350 feet, killing 14 on board and one on the ground.
-Ed Ward

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You can find out more about the Kalinin K-7 here.

 

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– it doesn’t have to be a large amount, every pound is gratefully received. Suggested donation £10. 

 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.

 

Latest analysis of the F-35 here

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You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? 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 LightningThose feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US. 

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

Top ten fighter radars

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The primary sensor of the modern fighter remains the radar. Up until the 1980s operating a radar effectively required a great degree of skill; today’s digital radars are simple to use, long-ranged and harder to jam than ever. As well as detection, modern sets can be used to jam, communicate and collect information about enemy sensors and communications. In the future AESAs will even be able to ‘fry’ enemy radars by overloading them with radio energy. That aircraft like the Rafale and Super Hornet are equally adept at the air superiority and ground attack missions has a great deal to do with the extreme versatility of the contemporary radar, which can simultaneously scan the air for fighters as it looks for ground targets. There are two types of fighter radar, mechanical- and electronically scanning. The latter can be divided into three categories: passive scanning, active scanning and ‘hybrid tilters’. The passive electronically scanning array radar (PESA) have a single radio source that sends energy to multiple receive/transmit modules. The PESA is relatively simple to create, but not as versatile as the AESA. The first PESA fighter radar was carried by the MiG-31, which entered service in 1981. The active electronically scanned array (AESA) also uses multiple modules but each can send a different radio signal (different in frequency or direction) allowing a greater degree of versatility, and making the radar harder to jam. The first frontline fighter to carry an AESA was the Mitsubishi F-2, though the Raytheon APG-63(V)2 for the US’ F-15C beat the type into full operational service in 2000. One of the limitations of AESA in the fighter role is that the signal is weaker at extreme fields of regard – a AESA can only see well at up to 60 degrees to the side. This issue will be addressed in the new hybrid tilting radars for the Typhoon and Gripen E/F which are AESAs mounted on tiltable plates. Russia’s PAK FA will also address the ‘field of regard’ issue with cheek-mounted arrays (additional to the AESA in the nose). However- neither the new Gripen E/F, Typhoon or PAK FA radar have entered service so do not make this list.

Radar performance is an extremely sensitive subject with security implications, so most of the important data is classified- but a broad understanding of capabilities can be described from open sources. The order is meaningful, but certainly not definitive: adhering to the top 10 format always requires a simplification. Much is open to interpretation so I am happy to receive corrections and additional information from reputable sources. 

 

10. FGM29 Zhuk-ME/FGM129 Zhuk-M1E joint place with PS-05/A Mk 3
The baseline MiG-29’s radar proved surprisingly capable when it was assessed by Western observers in the 1990s, despite its poor pilot interface. But this is positively prehistoric compared to the radar of the most advanced MiG-29s in service today. The MiG-29SMT (in service with the air forces of Russia and Yemen) carries the impressive FGM29 Zhuk-ME which boasts a search range of around 120 km against fighter-size targets. This mechanically scanning slotted aerial array radar is soon to receive software updates and additional modes in Russian air force service to further enhance its already impressive abilities. The FGM129 Zhuk-M1E, carried by the MiG-29K (used by the Russian and Indian Navies) is even better, detecting fighter-sized targets a full 10 km further away. It can also simultaneously engage four aerial targets with active-radar missiles.

 

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The Gripen‘s Saab EDS PS-05/A is an extremely reliable, easy to maintain and mature radar carried by the Saab Gripen. It boasts a large amount of effective modes and is said to have a high degree of immunity against jamming. It is however let down by its small size and age (which is compensated by Gripen’s excellent datalinks). According to the leaked Swiss fighter evaluation the Gripen trailed behind both the larger Rafale and Typhoon in terms of detection and acquisition. The latest version, the Mark 3, offers a significant increase in range and sensitivity over the earlier variants. The Mark 4 promises even greater performance, especially against stealthy targets (see below)- which Aviation Week believes “points to the use of multi-hypothesis or track-before-detect algorithms to pull targets out of clutter” – but has yet to receive a firm order. The set is mechanical scanning, but Saab has chosen to stick with this technology as an AESA would demand significant changes to the aircraft to provide sufficient cooling (though conversely an AESA upgrade has been offered). The combination of the Mk 4 and Meteor would be particularly effective.
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Saab has made dramatic claims about improvements to the PS-05’s performance. The most advanced version in service is the Mk 3. (Graphic from Saab)

 

9.NIIP N011M Bars and RP-31M Zaslon

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The BARS is unusual in being designed with a hybrid array arrangement, sitting between Passive ESAs (PESA) and contemporary AESAs. This design solution may have come from the absence of the notoriously tricky to master Gallium Arsenide power transistors (even Western European companies, with their incresed emphasis on high technology, found this hard).

N011M Bars.png

Design maximum search range for an F-16 target was said to be 140-160km, and an early lower-power version is said to have detected a Su-27 at over 320km. It is carried by all Su-30M and until recently was the best radar in service on a Russian fighter. The enormous power is a mixed blessing: it endows it with an impressive detection range, but also makes it detectable to hostile sensors from huge distances.

RP-31M

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The MiG-31’s RP-31 was the first ever operational electronically-scanned phased array fighter radar. The M variant can track up to 24 targets and simultaneously engage four well-spaced targets flying at altitude 50 m to 30 km and with a speed of 3,700 km/h (head-on). Claimed search ranges for the earlier variants are 280 km for the E-3 Sentry, 200 km for SR-71 flying at over 25 km altitude, 180 km for B-1B, 120 km for F-16 and 65 km for low-flying AGM-86B cruise missiles, all head-on (tail-on ranges are about 40-50% of the above). Search angles are 70° each side in azimuth, and +70°, -60° in elevation. The RP-31M has even greater search ranges- in 1994 it was claimed that a MiG-31 destroyed a target 300km away using the R-33 missile.

BT017 with Paveway IV (Zhuk-MFS r)-1

Photo credit: Jamie Hunter/Eurofighter

8. Euroradar Captor The Last Swinging Disc in Town and RP-31 Zaslon-A pulse-Doppler radar

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That Typhoon still does not have an AESA, is something of an embarrassment to Eurofighter, who could be said to fudge the facts in their literature to imply that Captor-E is in service: it is not. But at least the existing Captor-M is the best mechanically-scanning radar in the world, with twice the power output of the APG-65, the ability to track 20 air targets simultaneously and automatically identify and prioritise them. It is a coherent I / J-band (8-12 GHz) pulse Doppler, radar with a 70cm diameter antenna. Even though it features a mechanically steered array, the low inertia non-counterbalanced antenna combined with four high torque, samarium-cobalt drive motors is capable of extremely high scanning speeds. The most remarkable achievement for the Captor is its ability to interleave different operations (such as air and ground mapping), something few if any other mechanically scanning radars can match to the same degree. It is unique in having a separate data channel exclusively for screening ECM, claiming to offer a robust protection from enemy interference (though a mechanical radar is still more vulnerable to jamming than an AESA set). Released figures state that the Captor can detect MiG-29-sized targets at 160 km and C-160s at over 320 km. The electronically scanned Captor-E that will probably replace the Captor is expected to be an exceptional device, in some respects (field of regard and possibly range) superior to even the F-22’s APG-77. Eurofighter have commented that during evaluations by potential customers looking at Typhoon and Rafale, that Typhoon consistently detected targets at longer ranges than did the PESA RBE2. In the Swiss evaluation (below) Typhoon scored worse than Rafale for acquisition but better for engagement.

An evaluation of the Typhoon versus the Su-35, can be found here.

 

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7. N135 Irbis7_04_09_813

The Su-35 is now in operational service with the Russian air force and according to some analysts is an effective counter to Europe’s Typhoon and Rafale. The primary sensor of its integrated suite is the monstrously powerful N135 Irbis, a passively scanning electronic array radar (in some respects it is a PESA/mechanically scanning hybrid). Compared to the Bars radar of earlier ‘Flanker’s it has a wider range of operational frequencies, greater angular search zone of up to +/-125° (due to better aerial and double-step drive), longer range and better resistance to jamming, finer resolution. TWS for up to 30 air targets, eight of which can be simultaneously engaged them by active-radar AAMs. At peak power  (limited to narrow sector) it can see a fighter-sized target from 217-249 miles (350-400 km) in head-on or 93 miles (150 km) in tail-on position.

6. Raytheon AN/APG-79 (Super Hornet) The Unreliable Witness of the Fleet 

150530-N-TP834-647 PACIFIC OCEAN (May 31, 2015) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Sunliners of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 launches from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during an air-power demonstration. Carl Vinson and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17, are in the 3rd Fleet area of operations returning to homeport after a Middle East and Western Pacific Deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner, Jr./Released)

The Super Hornet‘s AESA radar, with 1100 (it may actually be as high as 1368)  transmitter/receiver modules, is very impressive on paper, but reports from the DOT&E indicated less than glowing reviews from the real world: a 2007 report assessed as not operationally effective or suitable due to significant deficiencies in tactical performance, reliability, and BIT functionality. The Navy conducted APG-79 radar FOT&E [follow-on test and evaluation] in 2009 and reported that significant deficiencies remained for both APG-79 AESA performance and suitability; DOT&E concurred with this assessment. Since then there have been some improvements however, “operational testing does not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in mission accomplishment between F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those equipped with the legacy radar“. A report released in 2013 cited ‘The radar’s failure to meet reliability requirements and poor built-in test (BIT) performance remain as shortfalls from previous test and evaluation periods. Despite this many pilots have expressed delight with the abilities of the radar, especially its power to perform two tasks (A2A + A2G) at once. In 2015 Raytheon has flight tested the APG-79(V) X, a scaled down version intended for the legacy (C/D) Hornet fleet.

THALES / Ecrans du cockpit du Rafale, à Dassault Aviation (HM1) sur la base aérienne d'Istres, le 11/12/2008.

THALES / Ecrans du cockpit du Rafale, à Dassault Aviation (HM1) sur la base aérienne d’Istres, le 11/12/2008.

5. Thales RBE2 AESA

Though the AESA variant of the RBE2 may be one of the smallest radars on this list it should not be underestimated. When the Rafale entered service in 2001 it carried the RBE 2 radar, the first electronically scanning fighter radar in Western Europe. The radar has greatly impressed pilots, with many commenting on the excellent situational awareness it provides, and how easy it is to use on combat missions. The original RBE 2 is a passively scanned radar (the first of this type was the MiG-31’s Zaslon of 1981), something many consider a technological cul-de-sac. PESA’s have a single critical failure point, a risky proposition in a combat radar. But the PESA was a stepping stone to AESA development. It was a huge publicity coup for Thales, when the RBE 2 AESA became the first European AESA radar to enter operational service. The AESA has a field of regard of 70° on either side of the aircraft axis and between 800-1100 T/R modules. According to Thales, the radar offers an impressive improvement over the earlier passive-scanned RBE 2; in terms of performance, detection range is increased by more than fifty per cent and the radar’s ability to ‘look’ in many directions simultaneously offers enhanced tracking capabilities. Angular coverage in azimuth is improved and targets with lower radar cross section can also be detected. While understandably cagey in discussing such a sensitive subject, Thales acknowledges multiple Rafales with AESA could work together to detect stealthy targets. It is expected that electronic attack capabilities will be impressive and work hand-in-hand with the widely respected SPECTRA suite, though Thales also refuses to comment on this sensitive subject. Unlike the Raven and Captor E, the RBE 2 AESA is a conventional fixed AESA. The decision not to include a repositioner was made in the mid-1990s after a detailed study. The conclusion was drawn that though a repositioner is a good solution when the combat situation is simple, it becomes absolutely irrelevant when it the battlespace becomes more complex due to a high quantity of targets spread in space. The repositioned solution was also considered irrelevant for the majority of the missions. Cynical observers have questioned whether a repositioner could have been fitted in the petite nose of the Rafale, though the success of the Gripen’s Raven suggests this need not be an issue.Converting a Rafale to the new radar is reportedly very easy: it takes less than two hours to remove the PESA and to ‘plug and play’ the AESA antenna. The RBE 2 AESA is the same weight as the baseline radar and uses the same interface. Sixty RBE 2 AESA were ordered for Batch 4 Rafales; there are currently no plans to reequip the rest of the air force and navy fleet. T/R Modules: 800-1100 T/R modules (est).

4. AN/APG-80 1450976

The F-16E/Fs radar was said to be the first example of export customers receiving superior kit to USAF. It has a higher reliability and twice the range of older, mechanically-scanned AN/APG-68 radar systems. It has around 1000 T/R Modules and is considered by pilots both reliable and mature (think George Clooney).

3. Raytheon AN/APG-63(V)3 (F-15C/F-15SG)

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Building on the experience with the APG-79 but with the capacious nosecone and huge electrical power of the F-15 allowed Raytheon to create a radar that is both sophisticated and extremely powerful. The APG-63 has come on leaps and bounds from the rather primitive and ineffective set fitted to the original F-15As – in fact the new radar features little of the original mechanical set. Raytheon is the most experienced manufacturer and designer of AESA radars in the world- the company dominates the AESA market, according to the company’s promotional material it has produced 500 of the 780 AESAs in service worldwide – and the creation of an active ’63 has given the old Eagle a formidable improvement. The APG-63(V)3 radar is an update of the (V)2of the APG-63(V)2, applying the same AESA technology utilised in Raytheon’s APG-79. The (V)3 is designed for retrofit into F-15C/D and deployed in Singapore’s new F-15SG aircraft. Those F-15s fitted with the V3 are a match for any potential adversary in the beyond-visual-range fight.

2. Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 Eye of the blighted 150115-F-JB386-037 Though the F-35 has endured a horrific development, one success story from this blighted programme is the radar which is by most accounts excellent. It is likely that its offensive jamming capabilities (using the AESA) will be a significant development in the history of aircraft radar. The complexity of the F-35 sensor and weapon system is such that the potential (and an acceptable level of reliability) is unlikely to be reached for some years. Much of the F-35’s unprecedented level of situational awareness is thanks to the highly automated and extremely sophisticated ’81.

Type: AESA T/R Modules 1200

  1. Northrop Grumman APG-77(V)1 American SniperWaiting in the wings No expense was spared in creating the F-22‘s main sensor. Large, powerful and sophisticated, the APG-77 is also beneficiary to almost unlimited funding to keep it at the top of its game. The APG-77 is an active electronically scanning radar and has an impressive 1500 transmitter receiver modules. The relationship between performance and the amount of T/R modules is such that manufacturers are very cagey about sharing specifics (though observers with obsessive tenacity can count the amount visible from photographs). One disadvantage of the ’77 its is use of old-fashioned CPUs, which are tricky to maintain.The degree of sensor fusion in the F-22 is very high- in particular the relationship between the F-22’s radar and EW suite, further enhances the APG-77’s effectiveness. One of the main advantages of this radar is the Low Probability of Intercept (it is designed to not be conspicuous to enemy radar warning receivers), if this works in combat it will be a major boon. Some wonder the degree to which modern AESA-based RWRs would be able to detect it even a LPI radar, but international training exercises show that LPI does work, with feckless opponents having little warning of an impending Raptor attack.

 

 

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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 Top Ten fighter aircraft: 1985

An air-to-air right side view of a 50th Tactical Fighter Wing F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft in formation with a 36th Tactical Fighter Wing F-15D Eagle aircraft during a dissimilar aircraft combat tactics exercise.

An air-to-air right side view of a 50th Tactical Fighter Wing F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft in formation with a 36th Tactical Fighter Wing F-15D Eagle aircraft during a dissimilar aircraft combat tactics exercise.

The 1980s was the last decade to witness air-to-air combat on a large scale, and the fighters of this age were impressively capable machines. Advances in radar, missile and man-machine interface technology produced extremely potent machines that were far easier to fly and fight in than their 1960s forebears. In the past, enemy aircraft had been safe hiding in the clutter of ground returns, but by the mid-80s many fighters had a look-down/shoot down capability making the sky a far more dangerous place. 

In producing a top ten, I don’t hesitate to add all the normal disclaimers: each aircraft has strengths and weaknesses at different heights, speeds and in different situations; pilot quality and tactics are more important than hardware. The ordering one to ten has involved consideration, but is ultimately arbitrary. Aircraft considered that failed to make the grade included the Kfir C2, which deserves an honourable mention, but was pipped to the number ten slot by the Sea Harrier. The RAF’s Phantom FGR.2s were also capable machines, despite the airframe being passed its prime. The RAF’s Tornado F.Mk 2/3 were flying in late 1985 but were grossly immature- lacking as they were a functional radar or even the provision for chaff and flares. Though at a push the Tornado ADV and F-14 interceptors can be described as ‘fighters’, the MiG-31 seems a trifle too specialised to be featured but was certainly an impressive machine that is worth a mention. Upgraded MiG-21s would have given half the aircraft on this list a run for their money in the ‘merge’, but were too poorly equipped to make selection.

Here are the ten most potent fighters of 1985:

10. BAe Sea Harrier FRS.Mk 1

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The Sea Harrier is the oddest aircraft on this list: its top speed was half that of the other aircraft, it could only carry half the amount of missiles and its radar had half the detection range. Yet, it managed to perform well in the air-to-air mission in the Falklands War of 1982. Its virtues were its high thrust-to-weight ratio and that it was small and smokeless, but the main reasons for its success were its highly-trained pilots and the excellent AIM-9L missile. It could also operate in weather conditions that would have kept any other carrier fighters on or under the deck. The Harrier family pioneered the use of vectored thrust for abrupt decelerations and unexpected manoeuvres in the dogfight, though these have not been used in actual air combat.

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See the top ten jump-jets here 

9. Dassault Mirage F1

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The Dassault Mirage F1 proved itself a formidable fighter in the Iran-Iraq War: one jet alone got a dozen kills. In this long bloody war, the F1 also downed several F-14s, making it the first type to bring down the mighty Tomcat. In service with the South African Air Force it was fitted with a helmet-cueing system and the respected Kukri air-to-air missile.

8.  Saab JA37 Viggen

JA37

Though not the highest performance airframe, the JA37 was one of the world’s best-equipped fighters in 1985. At this time the Viggen had just received a secure datalink allowing the sharing of encrypted information. This innovation, years ahead of other nations gave the fighter an enormous edge in situational awareness. Its electronic warfare equipment was also world-class. The Skyflash, that armed the JA37, was the best medium range missile in the world. The Viggen’s agility was inferior to the new generation of Soviet, US and French fighters.

Click here for the Top Ten Swedish aircraft.

7. Dassault-Breguet Mirage 2000C

1984

Described by many that have flown it as a perfect machine, the ultimate Mirage was an absolute thoroughbred. Fast, agile and easy to fly, it was a well-balanced design. The fly-by-wire system cured most of the worst vices associated with the delta wing. In 1985 the Mirage was fitted with the unimpressive Thomson-CSF RDM (Radar Doppler Multifunction) which had a limited look down/shoot capability and the Matra Super 530F semi-active radar guided missile. Though a capable fighter- the design was not close to the formidable machine it would become later in its life.

Top Ten French aircraft here

6. General Dynamics F-16C 

F-16C_86th_TFW_F-4D_148th_FG_in_flight_over_Germany_1987

The F-16 did not have a beyond-visual-range weapon until the Sparrow-capable Block 25 of mid-1984; but in 1985, it was still an immature model riddled with software problems. Despite this, the F-16C was an extremely agile, long-ranged aircraft and a worthy opponent for any fighter in the world in the close-range dogfight. Like the F-15, the F-16s first saw combat with the Israeli air force; a Syrian Mi-8 and MiG-21 were shot down in 1981. In the 1982 Lebanon War, Israel claimed 44 kills for the F-16 for no losses (a large number of the aircraft destroyed were Syrian MiG-21 and ‘23s).

Top Ten fighter aircraft at the outbreak of World War II here

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5. Mikoyan MiG-29

Soviet_MiG-29_over_Alaska_1989_side_view

The MiG-29 of 1985 would have been able to destroy most F-16s at arm’s length, armed as it was with medium range R-27 missiles. Opponents that got closer to the MiG-29 would face an almost unbeatable fighter capable of firing the world’s best short range air-to-air missile, with an unprecedented off-boreshot capability cued by a helmet ‘look, shoot’ system (something the West would not have until the 1990s). Its manoeuvrability was breath-taking due to extremely powerful and tolerant engines, and advanced aerodynamics. Its weaknesses were short-range, poor man-machine interface and smoky engines. Remarkably, early MiG-29s did not include a fly-by-wire system.

4. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet

F-18A_Hornet_of_VFA-161_launches_AIM-7_Sparrow_c1987

In 1985 the F/A-18 had the most user-friendly cockpit in the world, the best multi-mode radar and the best low-speed manoeuvrability of any western fighter. Unlike the F-16, it had a mature Sparrow capability. The F/A-18 set new standards for a multirole fighter that Europe and Russia could only follow. Its weaknesses lay in its disappointing range and its poor performance at high speed and high altitude.

Click here to see how things have changed in 2015 (Top Fighters of 2015).

3. Grumman F-14A Tomcat

F-14A_VF-142_Ghostriders_Jan_1985

The F-14 flew with both the US Navy and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. The F-14’s most notable weapon was the ultra-long range AIM-54 Phoenix missile, capable of destroying hostile aircraft 100 miles away (at least in theory). The main problem with the F-14A was its unreliable Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines, which were prone to stalling, and were insufficiently powerful to get the most out the airframe. The F-14, designed as a fleet air defence interceptor was also not as agile as the F-15 or Su-27. The F-14 proved devastatingly effective in the Iran/Iraq War. By 1985, the most successful F-14 pilot, Jalil Zandi of the IRIAF, had downed seven Iraqi aircraft including Mirage F1s, Su-22s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s. The F-14 was the elite fighter of the IRIAF and it is claimed that it destroyed 160 enemy aircraft including 58 MiG-23s, 23 MiG-21s, nine MiG-25s, 33 Dassault Mirage F1s, 23 Su-17s and five Tu-22s.

Check out the ten worst carrier aircraft here.

2. Sukhoi Su-27

Su-27_05

After a problematic development, the Su-27 began entering service with the VVS in 1985. In kinematic terms, the Su-27 was the best fighter of 1985, with superior manoeuvrability to the F-15, especially at lower speeds. Its manoeuvrability was unbeatable, and combined as it was with the same helmet/R-73 missile combination as the MiG-29, it would have proved almost invincible in the close-range dogfight.It had an impressive range, though at maximum weights it was not a particularly agile aircraft. It also had a large weapon load, normally consisting of six R-27 medium-ranged missiles and two R-73s, backed up by a 30-mm cannon. Another system it shared with the MiG-29 was a combined infra-red search and track/laser range finder sensor.  At this time IRSTs were out of vogue with western air forces and offered Soviet fighters an advantage in ‘silent’ passive detection. In 1985 the Su-27 was just bedding into frontline service and just misses the top spot through a lack of maturity.

  1. McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle
An air-to-air underside view of an F-15 Eagle aircraft from the 555th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, 405th Tactical Training Wing, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, banking to the left. The aircraft is equipped with four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on the wing pylons and four fuselage-mounted AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.

An air-to-air underside view of an F-15 Eagle aircraft from the 555th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, 405th Tactical Training Wing, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, banking to the left. The aircraft is equipped with four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on the wing pylons and four fuselage-mounted AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.

The earlier F-15A, though excellent in many ways, suffered from an immature radar and disappointing endurance. The F-15C, which entered service in 1979 rectified these problems and demonstrated McDonnell Douglas’ mastery of fighter design. The Eagle’s air superiority was achieved through a mixture of unprecedented manoeuvrability and acceleration, and advanced avionics, making it the benchmark of 1980s fighters. The F-15 was an uncompromised air superiority fighter, designed to excel in both within- and beyond visual range engagements. For the first time, USAF had a fighter with a thrust-to-weight ratio that exceeded unity at combat weight. The brute force of its large APG-63 radar gave it excellent detection range and a hearty resilience to electronic countermeasures. The aircraft was fast, and armed with up to eight air-to-air missiles and a M61 rotary cannon with 940 rounds. The first production Multistage Improvement Program (MSIP) F-15C was produced in 1985, which carried an upgraded central computer, the Programmable Armament Control Set, allowing for advanced versions of the AIM-7, AIM-9, as well as provision for the forthcoming AIM-120A missiles. In 1985 the Su-27 was still finding its legs, but the F-15 was combat proven; Israeli F-15s had scored multiple kills with no reported losses.

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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. 

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Top Ten Fighters at the outbreak of World War II

Flugzeuge Messerschmitt Me 109 auf Flugplatz

The fighter aircraft was never more important than it was during the global calamity that began in 1939. However, at this time of need, the fighter types available were pretty limited to say the least.  If you were an air force leader choosing a fighter to defend your nation, your choice (if you were lucky and appropriately aligned politically) would be from this pack of misfits and immature thoroughbreds.

Here are the top ten operational fighter available on September 1st 1939. 

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10. Mitsubishi A5M Cheeky Claude

Akagi_Type_96_fighter

There may have been a few better land-based fighters in 1939 but if you wanted a carrier fighter then this is it. None of the classics had entered service yet, no Wildcat, no Zero even the Brewster Buffalo didn’t appear till December. If you want a monoplane it’s either this or a Blackburn Skua, and let’s face it, no-one wants a Skua. Manoeuvrable, well armed, fairly fast and long ranged, the A5M was dominant over China and was first carrier aircraft to demonstrably prove to be as good as its land-based contemporaries.

9. Fokker G.1 Dutch Courage

1_Fokker_G1-C

Resembling an unholy union between a P-38 Lightning and a Morris Traveller the G.1 caused a sensation when it was first revealed in Paris. The twin boom design was radical but effective (and influential), and was dubbed La Faucheur (the Reaper) by the French press due to its unheard of armament of eight nose-mounted machine guns. Tasked with policing the Netherlands’ neutrality, the G.1’s first ‘kill’ was an RAF Whitley. When the Germans invaded in May 1940 the G.1 had only five days of action to prove its worth during which it operated effectively, despite being massively outnumbered, in both the ground attack, and air to air role, scoring at least 14 kills. In 1941 two Dutch test pilots escaped to the UK in one which, despite its exciting history was left outside to test the effects of the climate on a wooden airframe and then scrapped in 1945. Bah.

8. Messerschmitt Bf 110C Achtung Zerstorer!

Me110-129cf+s

The best twin-engined fighter of 1939 looked like an invincible force when first committed to action. It was fast, powerful, had a massive range and terrific firepower. It was also the first aircraft to be painted to resemble a shark thus exponentially increasing its effectiveness. Unfortunately it was very large for a fighter and lacked manoeuvrability. Having said that, the 110 could outclimb any other European fighter in 1940. Supremely successful over Poland, France, Norway and the low countries, its subsequent mauling when faced with modern, well organised single-engined fighters has diminished its postwar reputation. This is unfair as it was the tactical employment of the aircraft that was at fault rather than the aircraft which was more or less as good as it was possible to be in 1939.

7. Bloch MB.152 lente mais brutale

Bloch_MB152_1

Despite being the best French fighter available in 1939, the prototype of what would become the MB.152 actually failed to fly, as a result the fact that this aircraft makes it onto the list at all is nothing short of amazing. No one would call it a looker, in fact the whole nose was canted off to one side to counteract propellor torque – an ingenious if mildly hideous solution – and it wasn’t particularly fast but the MB.152 was amazingly resilient (one once returned to base with over 360 bullet holes), and unusually well-armed for a single-seat fighter of this era with two 20-mm cannon.

6. Curtiss P-36/Hawk 75/Mohawk The Quiet American

curtiss-p36-hawk

By far the best American fighter of 1939, and by far the shiniest aircraft on this list, the Hawk 75A scored the first aerial victory on the Western front of the Second World War. Two years later the Curtiss made history again by scoring the first aerial victory for the US over Pearl Harbor. Despite seeing very little service with US forces the Hawk 75 flew successfully over France, scoring a third of all French victories though making up only 12 per cent of the fighter force. Survivors were then used to great effect by Finland. In the RAF Mohawks fought the Japanese until the end of 1944 and Argentina only withdrew theirs in 1954. The Hawk 75 was tough, nimble – notably more manoeuvrable than a Spitfire or Hurricane at high speed, well armed but never quite fast enough.

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5. Polikarpov I-16 Stalin’s Fat Falcon

PI29490-hr

Due to its primary mission being to become the fighter with the greatest number of nicknames in aviation history (Yastrebok: ‘Hawk’, Ishak: ‘Donkey’, Rata: ‘Rat’, Boeing: ‘Boeing’, Mosca: ‘Fly’, Super Mosca: ‘Super Fly’, Dientsjager: ‘Duty Fighter’, Siipiorava: ‘Flying Squirrel’, Abu: ‘Gadfly’), by 1939 the I-16 was no longer at the cutting edge of combat aircraft technology but it was still a force to be reckoned with. Despite looking like a barrel it was easily the most advanced fighter in the World when it entered service in 1934, the aesthetically abrupt I-16 cut a dash over Spain and was master of all aircraft that opposed it – except, tellingly, one. Faster than nearly all contemporary fighters, it was jaw-droppingly manoeuvrable but difficult to fly. Interestingly Mark Hanna, possibly the only Western pilot to fly both the Hurricane and I-16 (though neither in combat) said ‘I had just flown a Hurricane for the first time, a week before the Rata … I felt that you’d be better off fighting in a Rata. At any rate I felt quickly far more comfortable in it. In air combat against early low-powered 109s, I would suspect that the two aircraft were very comparable’. Which leads us neatly on to:

4. Hawker Hurricane I Slow but steady wins the race

Hurricane_mk1_r4118_fairford_arp

The Hurricane was available in large numbers in September 1939 which was its principal advantage over its great rival the Spitfire. Later its relative simplicity and great sturdiness would prove invaluable but when war broke out these were not great concerns and it was simply one of the world’s best fighters. Hurricanes saw the most action of any British type over France and it acquitted itself well before historically proving its worth in the Battle of Britain. Not particularly fast, the Hurricane was very well-armed by the standards of the day, able to withstand battle damage to a greater degree than any other British fighter, though horrifically prone to catching fire in the vicinity of the pilot, in tests at 15000 feet the cockpit went from room temperature to 3000 degrees Celsius in ten seconds when the fuel tank caught fire. It was supremely responsive and easy to fly – a great boon at a time when very few pilots had experienced combat.

3. Macchi MC.200 Saetta Chunky Italian Lightning

090611-F-1234K-006

Saetta Entering service a mere month before the outbreak of World War Two the Macchi MC 200 was for several years Italy’s premier fighter. Despite its slight rotundity and anachronistic open cockpit the Saetta was an excellent flying machine, being pretty quick with viceless handling and sprightly manoeuvrability. Later it would fly rings around Hurricanes over the Mediterranean. Sadly for the Italians it never had the sort of engine power that was becoming de rigeur by 1939 and its armament was pitiful, so the afore-mentioned Hurricanes largely got away. Despite its shortcomings it established a surprisingly good kill ratio against later designs over Russia, where it operated until early 1943. Fitted with a decent engine it became arguably Italy’s best all-round fighter of the war (the Folgore). Of course all this was academic in 1939 because Italy was neutral and probably should have stayed that way.

2. Supermarine Spitfire I The Usual Suspect

SpitI19a

What is surprising about the Spitfire is just how early it was available. When most of the world was still operating biplanes that would not have looked out of place in 1918 (including the RAF) the Spitfire looked sensational and pointed the way to the future. Despite being the fastest aircraft in service anywhere it was still an underdeveloped aircraft in 1939, the rate of climb particularly suffered due to its being fitted with a fixed pitch wooden airscrew. Well armed by contemporary standards, it was considered easy to fly though not as forgiving as the Hurricane. On the downside it was woefully short-ranged and the engine was prone to overheat virtually as soon as it was started. In combat the Spitfire was not able to withstand the same levels of damage as the Hurricane and it could not perform some of the manoeuvres possible with the 109 because the engine would conk out.

1. Messerschmitt Bf 109E Emil the Great

bf109e1

Today Messerschmitt is just a teensy part of the Airbus group, the prime German contractor for the Eurofighter Typhoon, an aircraft that has virtually the same wingspan as the Bf 109 but is ten tonnes heavier and over 1000 mph faster. It is one of the best fighter aircraft in the world in 2015. Back in 1939 the Bf 109E had proved to be the most formidable aircraft of the Spanish civil war and it was the finest fighter in service at the outbreak of World War II.

The best fighter in the World was not without its flaws, Willy Messerschmitt was a noted glider designer before he turned his hand to fighters and aspects of its design were somewhat flimsy for a combat machine, a tail supported by struts was pretty weedy by the late thirties and the occasional catastrophic total structural failure kept the Luftwaffe pilot of 1939 on his toes. Nonetheless in September 1939 it was a more mature combat aircraft than its great opponent and nearest rival, the Spitfire and at the outbreak of war over 2000 Bf 109s had been built as opposed to barely 300 Spitfires. It had been refined with experience garnered in Spain, it was cannon armed and its fuel injection system was better able to cope with combat manoeuvres than the British aircraft. It was fitted with a constant speed airscrew which was a great boost to engine efficiency and pilot workload. In addition it had marginally better range which was to be greatly improved by a drop tank. Within hours of the outbreak of hostilities it was sweeping all aerial opposition aside and appeared unstoppable. It was decidedly more difficult to fly than most of its enemies but Germany entered the war confident (correctly) that its premier fighter aircraft was the world’s finest.

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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.