Category: Top Tens

Top 12 Dictator’s Aircraft

Though rumours persist of a VVIP Petlyakov Pe-8, Stalin never used a Pe-8. The Soviet leader was terrified of flying and flew only twice – to Tehran and back. Both journeys were in a nicely fitted out Douglas C-47: not a Li-2 even but a proper US built Skytrain. The Pe-8 was the only Soviet heavy bomber of the war, and bombed Berlin.

You cannot be a world-class psychopathic narcissist unless you have your own aircraft. Now, while one man’s ‘strong leader’ is another’s dictator we can be certain that all the human entrants in this list are or were prize bell-ends. Stephen Caulfield chooses 12 infamous aeroplanes that have perfected despot delivery.

When the Italian government had Mussolini arrested in 1943, the Germans mounted a daring raid to rescue him. He was successfully extracted by Fieseler Fi 156 Storch, but this was not his aircraft of choice.

12. Fokker F28 Fellowship Kalayaan (Republic of the Philippines)

Autocrat or not, the leader of an archipelago nation has good reason to fly.  Hence, the Philippine people find themselves supporting the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing.  That unit operated a Fokker F28-3000 Fellowship for state executive purposes starting in the stupidly decadent days of the Marcos family.  The Fellowship was replaced only last year with a brand-new Gulfstream G280.  This new aircraft lends a much slicker, up-to-the-minute corporate look to the law-and-order strongman presiding over a nation where vast economic inequalities are entrenched in daily life.

Non-political technical point: F28s feature a split tail cone air brake like that on a Blackburn Buccaneer strike aircraft.

11. Hawker-Siddeley HS-121 Trident
People’s Republic of China

Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou-en-lai shared a British-built Trident airliner.  The Trident supplemented, and then replaced, an Ilyushin Il-18 Coot.  Zhou-en-lai was the first Premier of China and served as Mao Zedong’s right hand.  They were among the post-war world’s longest serving leaders, lasting from 1949 until the days of the Sex Pistols.  Considering the poverty and turmoil of China in these years the idea of leaders looking down at the put-upon masses from a private jet strikes one now as something Communism would have eradicated.  Or at least limited to really, really special occasions.  Oh well, plus ca change.  Though to be fair, the Trident was used as a domestic aircraft by the state owned airline CAAC who had a fleet of about 35. Having a British-made VVIP plane wasn’t entirely about looking down on the masses as China is a big country and the leadership needed to get around, but the optics were still far from perfect.

Once a common sight flying between the UK and western and southern Europe none remain in service anywhere.  China’s VIP transport example bounced around for a time after retiring.  Last word, the tired Trident was being dragged off from the shopping mall where it had been on display.  It was increasingly found to just be in the way of people parking their BMWs.  China’s all-business political elites now have access to Boeing 747s.

Non-political technical point: the Trident began life as a de Havilland design referred to as the DH.121 

10. Airbus A319 (Bolivarian State of Venezuela)

Does oil and gas wealth ever bring a country happiness? Ignoring the Black Swan of Norway, consider Venezuela.  In 2002 twelve protesters are gunned down by security forces loyal to President Hugo Chavez.  Days later, he takes delivery of an Airbus.  Apparently he’d seen one owned by an Emirati Sheik at some international conference.  One phone call and US$65 million later he has a replacement for the ageing Boeing 737 he’d been putting up with.  This and the massacre of his own citizens became twinned unforgivable moments for the majority of Venezuelans.  Many of whom live in utter poverty despite the country’s huge fossil fuel reserves.  The military then remove Senor Chavez from power.  Two days later he’s back in office.  He keeps the Airbus and some other privileges until his death from cancer in 2013.  George Orwell weeps.  So do a few others.

Non-political technical point: the A319/A320 program was a pioneer of commercial fly-by-wire and side stick control systems.

9. Airbus A340 (State of Libya)

Moammar Gadaffi typifies the classical career path of dozens of post-1945 liberationist revolutionaries who morphed into police-state despots.  While seemingly an eccentric individual he ruled the masses with the an unimaginative mix of bribery and deep brutality.  He relied on a privileged clique of family and close confidants to maintain power for forty-one years.  None of this nonsense ever ends well.  To wit, his last official plane has been rotting at an airport in southern France for years now.  Another thriftless monument to dictatorship in a world littered with them.  His choice of such a full on machine capable of transoceanic journeys seems a little off, too.  This guy was welcome in fewer and fewer places worth visiting until his death at the hands of angry rivals in 2011.  Grey leather sofas, a luxury suite with shower and a flat-screen TV should have made this jetliner a quick sell but post-coup legalities have complicated its disposal.

Non-political technical point: the A340 was the world’s longest airliner until the Boeing 747-8 appeared.     

8. Ilyushin Il-62 Classic Chammae-1
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

It’s unclear what level of interior customization Chairman Kim Jong-Un’s official aircraft has been given.  A safe bet is something superior to what you experienced on your last flight.  Kim Jong-Un’s father used this handsome plane, one of only three designs ever configured with four engines mounted in twin nacelles under a T-tail.  It seems everything in North Korea is subsumed into a military- and prison-industrial complex of the harshest kind.  So, planning for a new airplane for the dictator of North Korea is probably the least excessive thing on the go there at the moment.  North Korea is a hefty importer of cognac, luxury cars and pianos.  This suggests an epic hypocrisy by the elites behind an old school Stalinist facade.  Until a Prague Spring arrives in Pyongyang we won’t know the truth around this aircraft, it’s VIP passengers or the country employing it.  What an unfortunate use for a wonderful plane.  Bigger and faster than a Vickers VC-10 the Il-62 continues to impress. 

Non-political technical point: the Il-62’s first Aeroflot passenger run was in 1967 with a non-stop trip from Moscow to Montreal.

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7. Boeing 707
Socialist Republic of Romania

A dictator’s aircraft you could actually go online and buy this year!  You’d have had to outbid a private aerial refuelling contractor to get it.  In storage for years, this 707 was bought by Omega Air and converted to approximate a Boeing KC-135 aerial refuelling tanker.  The opportunity for this was, ahem, dictated by the underperformance of USAF programmes intended to replace their fast-ageing KC-135s.  Where to start with the ironies?  A long-time Marxist leader travelling about in a symbol of western privilege and consumerism from the heyday of mid-century air travel?  Now it’s a privately-owned gas truck for the Pentagon in its so-called ‘Forever Wars’.  As Ceausescu’s nepotistic regime became unpopular he imposed a ferocious austerity with a cruel rationing of daily essentials for the masses.  His cult of personality falters and collapses.  His own country is left an economic cripple and international pariah.  Even Moscow starts to find Ceausescu repellent and before long a coup sweeps him from power and into the next world with a bullet.  Unlike the Shah of Iran, Ceausescu, and his equally detested wife, were not able to flee in their luxury, long range airliner with a custom interior said to be equal to America’s Air Force One.   

Non-political technical point: the tube protruding forward from the top of the 707’s vertical tail is an HF radio antenna.      

6. Boeing 747
Imperial State of Iran

From 1953 until 1978 Iran was perhaps America’s single most important client state.  Washington took its management of the oil-rich, strategically-placed nation with extreme seriousness.  Braced by US patronage and unchecked police brutality, Shah Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran for a quarter century. 

Oil and gas export revenue let Iran spend lavishly on infrastructure and imported food and weapons from the west.  In such a reality a wide-bodied, twin-aisle, two-deck passenger jet would have seemed like a natural platform for conversion into a super-luxury air yacht for the Shah.

By 1978, he had done so much harm he managed to trigger an unstoppable Muslim fundamentalist counter attack.  The collapse of US-Iranian relations sent shock waves through the Middle East.  Indeed the world felt them and continues to watch the Persian Gulf with a weary geopolitical eye.  How bad had it all gone by 1978?  Well, the man who modelled his governance on the great Persian emperors had to flee for his life in that personal Jumbo Jet.  The one with gold toilet fittings.    

Non-political technical point:  maximum takeoff weight for -200 and -300 series 747s is equal to about 378 Jaguar E-type FHC sports cars.     

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5. Ilyushin Il-96-300PU
Russian Federation
Oil and gas revenue mixing with nationalist oligarchy results in some interesting privileges for the ones in charge.  Post-Communist Russia is no exception.  Rappers, Saudi Princes, upper echelon athletes, tech billionaires, hedge fund managers and even Donald Trump may have something to envy in Vladimir Putin’s executive airplane.  With its sheer size, long range and very shiny interiors this aircraft embodies concentrated political and economic power in the age of a fractious global economy gone hog wild.  Where a western lottery winner or mid-level celebrity gets an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom Vlad gets a flying five-star-plus hotel and command post.  Naturally enough, the top dog in a nuclear-armed country physically larger than all others should have a hot, thoroughly modern aircraft at his disposal.  This is absolutely what that looks like.  Mr. Putin was elected, yes, but Russia’s recent backsliding on democracy and the fact he embodies the deeply historical Russian preference for ultra-strong leaders earns this ex-KGB officer and his ride a place on our list. 

Non-political technical point: the long dorsal fairing on the 300PU model is not found on the commercial versions of the Il-96 and suggests an allocation of communications and protective electronic warfare systems deemed appropriate to Mr. Putin.

4. Mil Mi-8 Hip EW-001DA
Republic of Belarus


And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!  So goes the nursery rhyme in 1984, George Orwell’s chilling novel of totalitarian life.  Official news clips from Belarus this summer show us that novel will probably never be irrelevant.  In them, we see President Victor Lukashenko flying back to Minsk in a Mil Mi-8, AKS-74U at his knee.  Clad in a tactical vest we see the unsmiling leader of a nation in turmoil barking orders into a phone.  He surveys a highway jammed with protestors he has earlier that day referred to as vermin.  On the ground to oversee forceful countermeasures to a sustained democracy movement, Lukashenko stops to hail a squad of black-clad riot police.  Having rigged his country’s last election to appear to have given him an 80% majority the autocratic and corrupt Lukashenko must now cope with a massive populist backlash.  Delivering Eastern Europe’s equivalent of Tony Montana that day in August was an absolute classic of Soviet era helicopter development, a Mil Mi-8.  The one-time workhorse of the Warsaw Pact is a wonderful platform and in the case of Belarus case probably highly effective in all the wrong jobs.

Non-political technical point: the ‘Hip’ series made its first flight in 1961 and is still in production making it the most-produced helicopter in history.

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3. Dassault Aviation Falcon 900
Syrian Arab Republic

The brutal news from Syria’s civil war, amplified at every turn by foreign intervention, makes the presence of any luxury jet a bit of a mind-bender.  And what a toy for the man residing over such a heartbreaking mess, Bashar al-Assad.  At the factory gate in France a Falcon 900 is worth over US$40 million.  Adding a luxury master suite with full bathroom and then communications and security gear for someone with a serious penchant for control and this aircraft comes to symbolise high privilege wrapped in a cloak of evil.  Fast moving and capable of unrefuelled trips of many thousands of kilometres the Falcon is perfect for the diplomatic pouch and other high-level errands. Fleeing from disaster should also be easy in a Falcon.  As long as you had a place to go and could trust the crew and your security detail, that is.  Soon enough, neither may be a reasonable expectation for Mr. Assad.

Non-political technical point: the 900 series Falcons feed air to the centre engine via an S-duct like the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar did.   

2. Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor Immelman I
Third Reich

Hitler didn’t like flying.  As an aspiring European land emperor he would have been fine with luxurious working trips on a well-protected private train.  Before his ascension to power, Hitler overcame his fear to tap the time-saving economics of flying to rallies and appointments.  Nazi propaganda made strong use of imagery of Hitler rushing about the country in planes or coming down from the clouds to Nuremberg.  His rich sponsors supported his air travel at first.  Then official aircraft were available after 1933.  The Junkers Ju-52/3m, sensible and rugged with its corrugated metal skin and three engines, was just right for the hectic early days.  Later, the speed and altitude performance of a four-engined aircraft was recommended by his personal pilot, an SS officer named Hans Bauer.  Remembered for an early period of success in the Battle of the Atlantic, the elegant Condor was a natural choice of transport for Hitler.  Bauer was an important part of a retinue that catered to the führer. He carried the registration numbers two-six-zero-zero over to the Condor in deference to Hitler’s superstitiousness, for example.  He also saw to the aircraft’s meticulous inspections including Hitler’s comfy chair which had an armoured back plate half an inch thick.  Extreme secrecy and a flight of single-engine fighters usually saw to the Condor’s protection.

Non-political technical point: in 1938 a Condor prototype was the first aeroplane to fly from Berlin to New York City non-stop and did so fitted with two-bladed propellers. It was fitted with a fuselage full of temporary fuel tanks so wasn’t a standard flight. With passengers and baggage a more normal range would be Berlin to Athens, which was still quite good for the era.

1. Savoia-Marchetti S.M. 81 Pipistrello Tataruga
Fascist Italy

Of all the murderous idiots upending the world in the last century Mussolini is perhaps the one who most embodies the inextricable relationship between Fascism and aviation.  As a young journalist he was thrilled by the speed and dynamism of this new, new thing.  The conquest of the air meant a radical new world.  In power after 1922 Mussolini invested heavily in Italy’s civil and military aviation. 

Il Duce, thanks to Allied wartime propaganda, is remembered as a nasty clown with a case of Hitler envy.  He was a qualified pilot in his younger days, however.  Later, Mussolini’s personal enthusiasm for aviation informed his choice of executive aircraft.  For flights from Rome to Italy’s regions or countries neighbouring his own the Pipistrello was perfect.  A militarised version of an airliner of moderate performance it was given a special white paint job, too.  Mussolini’s Pipistrello was camouflage painted as the war ground on and notably it managed to survive Italy’s defeat.  

In service until the 1950s, the Pipistrello had an easier fate than its most privileged passenger.  When he was deposed and waiting for his execution by Communist partisans Mussolini must have looked back on his Pipistrello and so many life moments in the air with  fondness, even gratitude.  The hour he spent at the controls of Hitler’s Kondor perhaps cheered Il Duce a little before he was shot then hung up and mutilated in public.  Hitler had invited his ally to tour their diabolical handiwork in Russia and Ukraine.  On the way back, Mussolini asked to fly the big Condor.  Intra-dictator etiquette being what it was nobody could refuse.  Accounts of the flight record an increase in cabin tension as Mussolini  adjusted his seat straps and took the controls.  Hans Bauer remained in the cockpit as co-pilot.  Mussolini flew steadily westward asking Bauer to work the throttles as the Itailan dictator gently completed a half dozen wide banking turns because he could.  How many perished in the greatest war in human history during that single hour of airborne indulgence?              

Non-political technical point: the Pipistrello entered service before the S.M. 79 Sparviero the much more powerful bomber/torpedo bomber it closely resembles.

(Dishonourable mention: Erich Honecker’s An-26)

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Flying & fighting in the Gloster Javelin: Hot & humid in the ‘Flying Flat-iron’ – an interview with an RAF Javelin pilot

The Gloster Javelin was the world’s first twin-jet delta-wing fighter. It was the Royal Air Force’s best interceptor of the 1950s, and was almost brilliant. It did what it was asked to do. It was a large heavily armed (albeit subsonic), day-night all-weather fighter. Unfortunately, the opposition moved the goals by developing air-launched stand-off missiles, requiring the sort of high-speed interceptor performance that simply could not be delivered by the Javelin. We spoke to former Javelin pilot Peter Day to find out if it deserved its bad reputation.

“I joined the RAF Javelin ‘Force’ via an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) in 1965 as a very young pilot with 248 all jet flying hours, as was the habit in those days, and arrived on the frontline in 1966 with an additional 60 hours divided between Javelin T Mk 3 and FAW Mk 9. These recollections are from a frenetic first tour based in Singapore but with frequent detachments to Butterworth in Malaysia, Borneo and ultimately Hong Kong. The role was effectively ‘Colonial Policing’ in the Tropics which as I rapidly discovered was a million miles (5880 nautical miles actually) away from night/all-weather high level air defence as taught on the OCU. I had to immediately get to grips with ISA +15 operations* in 80% humidity at low level over jungle and sea, with the occasional medium level dissimilar combat flight or transit to outstations, not to mention the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Conversion Zone) which conspired to provide dense cloud, rain and lighting at the most inconvenient moments. Quite a first tour education. I eventually flew 565 hours on three Javelin variants.”

“With due regard to Top Gun who probably learnt it from the Javelin, the use of airbrakes to embarrass an opponent in close combat, force a fly through or past or at least negate a guns solution was a well know party trick.”

*15 degrees warmer than International Standard Atmosphere for a given altitude

60 Sqn over the Malacca Straits with the legendary ‘fish traps’ in the background. The fish traps look like the stars at night, which is very disorienting and cluttered the radar.

Which units were you with on the Javelin and when? 

“No 228 OCU RAF Leuchars Dec 1965 – Apr 1966. No 60 Squadron RAF Tengah Apr 1966 – May 1968.”

How would you describe the Javelin in 3 words? 

“Stable, controllable, effective.”

What was the best thing about it?

Peter Day today, standing next to a Folland Gnat.

“Relative simplicity, if it started it would fly and the systems were robust and would usually work, mostly due to the considerable efforts of the groundcrew.”

And the worst?

“1950s design e.g. Sapphire engine, a quaint starting system of electrically fired cartridge initiated AVPIN, Wellington ‘bomb slips’ as undercarriage uplocks, the relative inaccessibility of most aircraft components – Gloster must have had shares in the panel screw makers. Finally there were flight envelope peculiarities due to the ‘delta’ configuration.”

“A complete box of Tiger Beer would fit into each gun magazine and be perfectly cooled after flight”

 The Javelin has a bad reputation, is this deserved? 

“It was routinely developed in line with contemporary knowledge, modified and updated by Mark in service to compete with ‘Warsaw Pact’ aircraft development, but as a 1950s night/all-weather bomber destroyer it was very effective. If pilot’s took liberties with the flight envelope, which in fairness was not very well described, bad things would happen e.g. at very low speed the elevator artificial feel system would command nose-down pitch, reminiscent of a recent Boeing ‘safety’ device, which was unhelpful in vertical manoeuvring demanding a large increase in pilot stick input to overcome which lead to looping being banned for all the wrong reasons. The ‘rolling ‘g’ limit’ was eventually discovered to be +2g at full aileron deflection.”

How would you rate the weapons effectiveness?

“The four Aden cannon cross-harmonised for tail intercept were very effective indeed and provided a great surprise fired air-into-air at high level during the OCU course accompanied by gun clatter, cordite smell and a flame enveloped upper wing. Air-to air gunnery on the flag was very hit and miss as the ‘cold war’ gun harmonisation did you no favours with a calculated ‘in-range’ bracket of 10yds, one hit was a triumph. The air-to-ground ‘sniping’ carried out towards the end of it’s career was usually very enthusiastic and very inaccurate. 

The de Havilland Firestreak fitted from 1959 was an infra-red target seeker with an effective range of about 3km in a 30º tail cone in Northern Europe. In warmer climes the seeker head would follow anything but the desired target, sun, water reflection, moon on occasions but luckily the 4.5inch parachute flare which was the firing target for missile practice launches. My allocated Firestreak worked as advertised and the flare dropping Canberra crew didn’t get too excited but it did cost beer. 

How would you rate the radar’s effectiveness?

The airborne radar AI17 was basic having developed from wartime radar technology. B/C scopes (range+azimuth, range+elevation) without PPI so relatively poor situational awareness unless very experienced. Intercepts without Ground Control were not in any way guaranteed and reliance on scan with some height/range clues made for a lot of ‘seat of the pants’ intercept geometry. “A peep is worth several sweeps” came into play a lot. Fighter lane operations were planned in the UK in the event of total GCI outage.

 Operation at low level with ground clutter and high temperature/humidity rendered it a very fine art form indeed. Interestingly there was the capability to reproduce the ‘locked-on’ blip on the pilot’s collimator gunsight with an added horizon reference for close quarters identification operations. However, this could be inaccurate, misinterpreted and lead to some very unusual aircraft attitudes at very low level. Definitely used with enormous caution, mostly verbal from the back seat.”

What is the biggest myth/misunderstanding about the Javelin? 

“It couldn’t turn. Thrust/weight ratio was 0.79 with a relatively low wing loading of 34 lb/sq ft (170 kg/m2) so with 4+g available it could corner high or low but at altitude it was very effective with reheat engaged.”

Was it well made? 

“The airframe was pretty impervious – ‘boiler plate’ weighing 14 tonnes unfuelled. Some individual electrical components e.g. fuel contents sensors, radio aids and radar were frequently in need of attention due to poor waterproofing.”

Hunter versus Javelin: which cockpit would you choose to be in if they faced each other in a dogfight and why? 

“Assuming my Hunter had the ‘shiny switches mod’ and it was a clear air mass then turning performance should win the day. There is some HOTAS in my Javelin and two-person cockpit helps with radar ranging and missile lock but I would have to see first and sneak round to 6 o’clock, so night or weather (NAW) preferred. Hunter for day, Javelin for NAW.”


“Very moderate at low level as relatively low power, low ‘g’ could not take advantage of the low wing loading. At altitude increased power and sufficient ‘g’ would produce quite a good turn but speed would be sacrificed.”


“Quite respectable at low level as the factors combine to produce quite a small radius, likewise at altitude.”


“Low level the engines will fly the airframe beyond the speed limit quite quickly which incidentally roughly coincides with maximum available tailplane angle so level flight cannot be maintained. At altitude using reheat acceleration from .7M to .93M is seconds not minutes, but drag e.g. underwing tanks or missiles are a considerable disadvantage low or high.”


“High level pretty good, low level very good but thirsty.”


“5400fpm S/L ISA”


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“As a 1954 era night/all weather bomber destroyer very good. In the  colonial policing role it is difficult to answer as you’d have to interview the insurgents. But it certainly had loiter time and a heavy guns capability albeit inaccurate.

Quite what we were hoping to achieve with the aircraft in Hong Kong during the communist riots escapes me, but it was probably a statement of intent rather than a show of force against a particular threat.”


“It had a large cockpit with everything to hand and easy to operate EXCEPT the TMk3 emergency undercarriage release handle on the right sidewall behind your elbow. Considerable contortions were required to select down as happened one night on the OCU course much to the amusement of my ‘new’ navigator partner in the rear seat. The FAW Mk9 had no such secondary system hence the occasional asymmetric gear landing.”

What was your most notable mission? 

“At the risk of overindulgence – two. Well they won’t be as notable as Mandy weeing into a bottle over the desert.

Staging from Tengah, Singapore to Kai Tak, Hong Kong via Labuan, Malaysia and Clark Field, Manila with a point of no return over the South China Sea on the last leg.

The Hong Kong trip was notable in that it had a nightstop on Labuan Island, a nightstop at Clark Field, Manila and then just over an hour and a half to Kai Tak, Hong Kong with no credible destination alternate other than the other side or end of the main runway and ‘mind the airliners’. The only available ‘crash’ diversion if Kai Tak became unusable was Sek Kong airfield in the New Territories which was a disused WWII airfield with no aids in a bowl in the hills used for Gurkha field regiment driver training. It therefore became a ‘point of no return’ operation from Clark to Kai Tak and once you descended you were going to Hong Kong, no weather alternate and no sensible ‘crash diversion’. During the subsequent week long detachment ‘flag waving’ no-notice practice diversions and low approaches were flown through the hills and over Sek Kong much to the chagrin of the driving instructors and alleged discomfiture of the driver trainees who could be seen taking avoiding action in all directions although I couldn’t possibly comment. Reports were received!

Leading a Diamond 9 formation as a junior pilot ‘lucky winner’.  

The Diamond 9 is a personal thing only and frankly not reportable as it was absolutely routine as a last flight of the month event and the lucky junior pilot got to lead.”

How combat effective do you think it would have been?   

“Very against Soviet era medium bombers at all altitudes Bison, Badger, Bear and Brewer where tail quarter missile attacks or ‘vis-ident’ to line astern guns were high probability kill options. More so in poor weather or at night when bomber awareness would be reduced.

In the Colonial Policing role it was fairly effective, the FAW 9(R) with 4 tanks had good range, heavy firepower and the afterburners lit with an audible bang which anecdotally frightened the dissidents.”

How did it compare with its Russian and American counterparts? 

A Gloster Javelin FAW.9R of No 23 Squadron banks away from the camera showing the missile complement of De Havilland Firestreak infra-red homing air-to-air missiles. IWM (RAF-T 2151)

“The USA was embarking on a whirlwind development of the Century series clear airmass day interceptors to replace the F-86 Sabre; the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-104 Starfighter, F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart and eventually the F-4 Phantom. The direct competition in age and role were the  Northrop F-89 Scorpion 1950 (2 crew, 2 engines, good radar, 6 cannon, A/A rockets and basic IR missiles) and F-101B Voodoo 1957 (2 crew, 2 engine, radar and data link GCI, 4 missiles).

The Scorpion was ‘clunky’, a very basic all-weather fighter with less performance than the Javelin but very similar radar and early IR missile performance. 

The Voodoo was the 2 crew derivative of the F101 ‘one-oh-wonder’ interceptor and had supersonic performance, slightly improved missiles but only fire-control radar relying on data-link for direct control of the aircraft during interception. Not a firm aircrew favourite.

The Soviet (Russian) air order of battle included MiG 17 Fresco, MiG 19 Farmer , MiG 21 Fishbed and Sukhoi Su-9 Fishpot . All relied on GCI and were clear air mass interceptors with GCI assistance. Direct competition was the Yakolev Yak-25 Flashlight ’A’ 1955 (2 crew, 2 engines, good radar, twin cannons, A/A rockets), Yakolev Yak-28P Firebar 1964 (2 crew, 2 engines, 2xAA-3 Anab missiles, one semi-active radar, one IR).

The NATO codename ‘Flashlight’ featured wing installed engines and a fairly aerodynamically efficient fuselage with room for a powerful radar and lots of fuel. On introduction to service only unguided A/A rockets and twin cannon were available, missile technology never caught up with the aircraft and it remained undeveloped. Similar speed as the Javelin but much lower ceiling. 

The ‘Firebar’ was faster and could climb higher than the Javelin with longer endurance. It carried an improved radar over ‘Flashlight’ and a choice of missile guidance but only 2 and no guns.”

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What equipment would you have liked to have seen added to the Javelin? 

“If the fuel control system could have been modified and fuel flow rates improved to allow for efficient reheat at low level the Javelin would have been quite a handful, but there was no identified fighter threat other than the Indonesian “Mad Major” in his Mustang at Medan staging a trophy raid. The usual plea from the back seat for a PPI radar or any range improvement would have had a significant effect.”

Tell me something I don’t know about the Javelin.

“FAW Mk 9(R) carried up to four underwing tanks on cranked pylons to avoid the main undercarriage doors, and a scaffolding pole bolted to the fuselage next to the cockpit canopy as a probe, extending some 5ft beyond the radar nose introducing ‘the sport of kings’ air-to-air refuelling or at least a new jousting  format.

A complete box of Tiger Beer would fit into each gun magazine and be perfectly cooled after flight.”

Did the aircraft have a nickname? 

“The flying flatiron.”

What was it designed to intercept / fight against?

“Soviet medium/heavy strategic bombers 1955-65.”

What was the operational concept?

“Parallel displaced, crossing or overtaking radar or visual interception to stern attack for either vis-ident followed by guns or a heat-seeking missile launch.”

Could it intercept a Victor, or Vulcan, or Canberra PR9 at max altitude?


How long did the gas last in afterburner?

“Not a simple answer but at low level a matter of a few  minutes. The Javelin had a 12% augmented reheat not afterburner so an unusual fuelling and control design.  It was On/Off, no modulation and had first usage of the FCU fuel available from the HP pumps reducing the feed to the hot core reducing engine rpm. Although 20,000ft and above was the design usage altitude, cross over was about 8000ft depending on entropy and below that it was a ‘local scaring’ fuel dumping device. Real performance improvement was achieved above 20,000ft but loss of RPM at low level could be 15%.”

How good / bad / reliable, etc was the radar?

“The AI17 was a development of the wartime MkIXC and as mentioned above was moderately low power, low definition and a less than desirable mix of presentations. It’s  performance was very yes it’s on or no it’s broken and temperature/humidity had much to do with that. If it switched on, at low level looking up and at medium and high level it was 20nm+ scan on a similar target but lock was unpredictable affecting missile usage, and level or look down at low level was non existent.”

What was it like to fly? Any major operational restrictions?

“It was very pleasant to fly with no heavy stick forces at all but as we eventually discovered it had a very low rolling ‘g’ limit with full aileron defection limited to +2g. This limit either was not included or was so well hidden in the Release to Service that no thought was given to that aspect of the performance envelope. Although night/all weather operations might not have required dynamic manoeuvring, Colonial Policing required more flexibility and it cost an airframe and lives.”

Anything it could do that would surprise an opponent?

“Specifically fitted for use during radar interceptions the ‘barn door’ airbrakes were designed to stop you immediately from your sensible overtake speed into a ‘visual’ position behind a hostile. With due regard to Top Gun who probably learnt it from the Javelin, the use of airbrakes to embarrass an opponent in close combat, force a fly through or past or at least negate a guns solution was a well know party trick. However it did leave you perilously short of energy but 4 Adens went a long way towards rectifying that disadvantage.”

It had an unhappy development history – any problem with stalling behaviour in service?

“No-one in their right mind would deliberately stall a Javelin. There were suitable warning systems in place and the elevator artificial feel system was designed to introduce nose-down pitch at very low speed assuming you had slowed beyond the light aerodynamic warning given by the vanes on the wing top surface. Incidentally these vanes were a serious threat to health on cockpit evacuation if you chose or were forced by water/fuel/ice to slide down the wing towards the tip on your rear. Immersion suits and other things were egg sliced during this manoeuvre.”

Was it reliable? Did it have maintenance bug-bears?

“Although the ground crew liked the aircraft in general there were individual system issues and many were very difficult to access for rectification. If there was an engine starting issue, particularly with the Mk9 and (R) electrically fired cartridge initiated AVPIN, things got out of hand very quickly and rapid evacuations were required upwind. The TMk3 relied on a large gas generating cartridge screwed into the starter motor and fired electrically, simple and effective but very heavy and tricky to change.

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Sapphire engine ‘centreline closure’ (CC) was a ‘thing’ and after several unexplained aircraft losses the problem was identified in 1962 as the compressor casing cooling faster than the drum when in cloud causing the fixed stator shrouds and blades to foul the rotating shrouds catastrophically. The problem had been present since the introduction of the more powerful engine but operations in the Tropics in the ITCZ with Cb penetration increased the severity and incidence. The “Rockide” abrasive compound solution caused the rotating blade tips to be ground down on the coated casing, coarse but effective.

This issue was to cause me, not to mention my ‘first tour’ navigator, several tense minutes during a post CC engine change flight test when half way through the schedule on the ‘new’ engine the existing engine exhibited CC symptoms and failed followed by our expeditious return to Butterworth single engine and retire to the bar.

Added to this, scheduled engine strip-down had discovered harmonic vibration fatigue and operation below 10,000ft other than for take-off or landing was banned in 1965. This was quite quickly rescinded but the the rpm band 86-92% was embargoed so low level operations were conducted one engine up, one engine back.

It was old, fairly fatigued due to enthusiastic low level operation and prone to water ingress issues from standing outside in monsoons. But unless it caught fire or exploded it flew very precisely if sedately and had a small bag of tricks for the unwary opponent.”

Was the Gloster Javelin Actually Terrible?

This FAW 9(R) is over Borneo escorting a Hastings airdrop.

By Jim Smith

What a fabulous, futuristic-looking aircraft was the Javelin. Flown for the first time on November 26 1951, the Javelin was described (admittedly in 1955) as ‘Structurally and aerodynamically, the Javelin night and all-weather interceptor fighter is perhaps the most impressive aircraft yet produced to fulfil this role’. While today one might regard this as a bit of an over-statement, there’s no denying that the Javelin is an impressive looking aircraft.

It is important to recognise that its contemporaries in this field in US service were the F-89 Scorpion, the F-94C Starfire, the F2H Banshee and the F3D Skyknight, all of which would have been easily out-performed by the Javelin. The three US aircraft were to be replaced in service by the F-101D Voodoo, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart and the F-4 Phantom, all much more capable aircraft. Meanwhile, the UK went down a different path leading to the Lightning point-defence interceptor, the F-4K Phantom, and the Tornado F3.

Context and Requirements

When assessing an aircraft, it is important to consider the requirements which drove the design, and consider how they affected the choices made in developing the aircraft. The Javelin was brought into service in an environment where there was intense competition between the US and its Allies, and Russia. The tension had been ramped up by the Russian blockade of Berlin, leading to the Berlin Air Lift, and it was clear that a new Cold War had replaced the conflict of the Second World War. The Korean War had started during the development of the aircraft, and had shown the capabilities of both Soviet and American combat aircraft.

In addition, aircraft and weapons technology was advancing at a furious pace, driven by this contest between Nations and ideologies, and by the opportunities presented by the availability of jet engine technology, allied with (largely) German aerodynamic knowledge. Furthermore, the lead in atomic weapons established by the explosion of the Trinity device on July 16, 1945, was rapidly evaporating, with Soviet  development of the A-Bomb and the H-Bomb following much more closely than expected.

The first Soviet Atomic bomb test had taken place in August 1949, followed by a Thermo-nuclear device in August 1957. With the rapid pace of aeronautical development, it was clear to Defence planners that air defence would soon be required capable of deterring and defeating jet bombers able to carry atomic weapons, and that in the event of an attack, interception of the bombers would need to be achieved before they could reach the UK to drop their weapons.

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Moreover, this new capability would be required at night, and in all weathers, meaning that the air defence aircraft would have to carry radar to allow interceptions to be carried out at night, and in poor visibility. This was not going to be possible in the single-seat fighter aircraft being developed in parallel, the Hunter and the Swift, and a specialised all-weather and night fighter was needed. This was to be the Javelin.

The aircraft was developed in response to specification F4/48, which called for a two-seat, twin-engine all-weather interceptor fighter, that would counter enemy aircraft at heights of up to at least 40,000 feet. It would also have to reach a maximum speed of at least 525 knots at this height, and be able to reach an altitude of 45,000 feet within ten minutes of engine ignition.

Additional requirements included a minimum flight endurance of two hours, a take-off distance of no more than 4500 ft, and the equipment of the aircraft with airborne interception radar, and communication and navigational aids.

The threat that the aircraft was expected to counter would have been nuclear armed jet bombers, with broadly the performance of the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan, which were being developed for RAF service. In practice, the Tupolev Tu-16 ‘Badger’ and Tu-20 ‘Bear’ would have been the main targets of interest. To counter these aircraft, the Javelin was initially armed with 4 30 mm Aden cannon, and later 2 cannon and 4 Firestreak air-to-air guided missiles.

Given the payload, performance and endurance requirements, the Javelin was always going to be a large aircraft. The delta wing configuration was selected to provide a big wing area to meet altitude performance requirements, and significant internal volume to meet endurance requirements. The trade-off here was that the relatively thick wing of the Javelin limited it to subsonic speeds – but that was OK because it was designed to combat a subsonic threat.

The choice of a tailed-delta configuration is of particular interest, and was driven by the requirement to operate off a relatively short 4500 ft runway. To take-off and land the relatively heavy aircraft, which had a loaded weight of up to 19.9 tonne, off such a runway would require some form of high lift system, something that is not normally possible on a pure delta, because of the difficulty of trimming the aircraft once flaps are deployed. The T-tail provided the necessary control authority to trim the aircraft with flaps deployed, and the flaps gave an added benefit for night operations, in avoiding the high angle-of-attack and poor forward visibility on the approach of a pure delta configuration. The relatively thick wing section not only allowed good internal volume for fuel, but would, with the flap system, have allowed a slower approach speed for landing.

The demanding requirement for endurance, heavy armament, two crew, and a large radar drove the size and weight of the design. When combined with equally demanding take-off and landing requirements, the tailed delta became a successful solution, with airbrakes and flaps minimising the approach speed, and improving forward visibility.


Development of the aircraft was a little problematic. The first issue to come to light was the loss of a prototype due to elevator flutter, both elevators being lost in flight, and the aircraft recovered with superb airmanship, using tail trim and engine throttle to  control the aircraft down to a forced landing. Eventually, the aircraft was fitted with an all-moving tailplane to resolve this issue. A second aircraft was lost due to a deep stall accident, and further aircraft were lost after failing to recover from spins. These accidents resulted in aerodynamic modifications, including the fitting of vortex generators to the wing and fitting a stall warning system. In addition, modifications were made to the rear fuselage and engines to cure buffeting of the rudder, and to increase thrust. Two alternative radar systems were also used, the British AI 17 radar, and the American AI 22.

While the development programme is sometimes referred to as protracted, the aircraft transitioned from first flight on 26 November 1951, to entry into service in February ’56, just over 4 years later. Delivery of the final FAW 8/9 variants started in 1957. The FAW 9 was essentially an FAW 7 brought up to a similar standard to the FAW 8. 6 years from first prototype to fully developed capability, with good endurance, and heavy armament really does not seem too bad an achievement.

So far, JSF development has taken 20 years to progress to the delivery of its baseline capability, albeit with a number of outstanding risks and issues. A modernisation program is now underway, albeit (according to the GAO) without a fully defined and costed business case, and FOC has yet to be achieved.

From a slightly later period than the Javelin, it is worth taking a look at the development of the Convair F-102. This was evolved from the less-than-successful XF-92A, which might be seen as a demonstrator aircraft. The first YF-102A flew on 24 October 1953, and the first fully developed aircraft flew in May 1957, in which time the aircraft had acquired a new fuselage, 11 ft longer than the YF-102A, a new canopy, new air intakes, a new larger fin, modified undercarriage and airbrakes, and a new cambered wing. This rather comprehensive development was followed by a modernisation program that added a datalink, changed the fire control system and added an IR tracker.

So, Was the Javelin Actually Terrible?

This sort of question should only be answered in the historical context. Of course, the Javelin’s performance looks pedestrian when you compare it with the Lightning. The P1B first flew in April 1957, and the first Lightning Squadron stood up in July 1960. The early Lightning offered double the speed, but about a quarter of the endurance, and half the armament of the Javelin. It really was a point-defence interceptor.

The Javelin was designed when the threat was essentially subsonic bombers, carrying gravity-drop nuclear weapons. Once the threat had changed to nuclear-armed stand-off weapons, requiring rapid reaction response from either Quick Reaction Alert or standing Combat Air Patrols supported by air-to-air refuelling tankers, the subsonic Javelin became largely irrelevant, at least in terms of the air defence of the UK.

At the time, however, the UK still maintained its interest in air policing the far-flung colonies, particularly those East of Suez or in the Tropics. In these arenas, particularly operating from Tengah, Singapore during Indonesia – Malaysia tensions in the early 60s; in Hong Kong during the Chinese Cultural revolution; and in Zambia during the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence crisis, the Javelin could still play a useful deterrent role.

So, was the Javelin actually terrible? Surprisingly, my answer is no. It did what it said on the packet. Large, heavily armed, with good endurance, and day-night all weather capability, it delivered the specified performance. The real problem was that the unsporting opposition had moved the goalposts. The emerging needs for eye-watering acceleration, climb rate, and dash speed to counter cruise-missile carriers, simply could not be met by the Javelin, with its thick wing.

Relaxation of the short runway requirement, and with the adoption of more powerful engines, a more sophisticated intake system, an area-ruled fuselage, and a thin wing, and the UK might have had a Mirage-like world-beater in the late-fifties. Given the 1957 Duncan Sandys death-blow, leading to an interregnum in manned fighter design, and the fact that the Lightning was already in development, the thin-wing Javelin was a non-starter. The Javelins were withdrawn from operational service in April 1968. A few remained serving the needs of the school of Air Traffic Control at RAF Shawbury for a while, with the very last flying aircraft remaining at Boscombe Down until 1975.

More of Peter Day’s exploits can be found in Gloster Javelin: an operational history by Michael Napier (Pen & Sword Aviation)

(RAF-T 4036)

10 Worst German aircraft


Ever since the Lilienthal brothers bird-like gliders of the 19th Century, Germany has been batshit crazy about flying machines. Rocket fighters, suicide pulse-jets and airships over three times longer than a 747; seemingly nothing was too crazy for the Germany aviation industry to try in the 20th century. Here is a kladderadatsch of unheimlich German aircraft that will make you spit out your Spätzle with profound fremdschämen. 

10. Messerschmitt Me 210 Hochgeschwindigkeits-Rufmörder’


If ever you wish to challenge the famed German stereotype of meticulous efficiency, then you need look no further than the Messerschmitt Me 210, an aircraft that looked great on paper but didn’t look so great anywhere else – in the sky for example.

It all started off well enough: As well as possessing aviation’s most emphatic forehead, Willy Messerschmitt had delivered the Bf 109, which by the outbreak of war was arguably the best single-seat fighter in the world. He had followed that up with the Bf 110 which was arguably the best twin-engine fighter in the world. Messerschmitt tried for many years to design a replacement for the 109 but any new aircraft he came up with was either inferior to its great rival the Focke Wulf Fw 190 or could offer nothing more than an updated model of 109 and as a result no new design proceeded past the prototype stage. By contrast there was no obvious rival in production to the 110 and a replacement would surely be needed (an opinion strengthened by the apparently poor showing of the 110 during the Battle of Britain – though this was arguably down to inadequate understanding of the tactical limitations of this class of aircraft rather than any particular intrinsic fault of the 110 itself. Thus the requirement for the 210 was born. Unfortunately for customer and designer, Messerschmitt’s reputation was riding high on the incredible and ongoing success of the 109 and 110 and apparently he could do no wrong. An order for 1000 of the new twin-engine fighter-bomber was placed, off the drawing board, before the new aircraft had even flown.


But fly it did and then the terrible mistake became apparent. The Me 210 was a purposefully good looking aircraft but that was about it. The new aircraft was underpowered and its handling was so bad that it was dangerous to fly, being prone to enter a sudden and vicious stall under the least provocation. The chief test pilot commented that the Me 210 had “all the least desirable attributes an aeroplane could possess.”  It took the ridiculous total of 16 prototypes and 94 pre-production models to iron out the worst of the problems that bedevilled the 210. To put this in context the Fw 190, a contemporary (but very successful) aircraft which also took considerable development to get ‘right’ went through five prototypes and 28 pre-production examples. And then, even after all this time and effort was expended the 210 was not an acceptable machine. Compared to the 110 it was replacing the 210 was slower and shorter-ranged as well as possessing appalling handling qualities. Even the undercarriage was lousy and kept failing on the 210. The 210s that had managed to make it into service, nearly three years after the first flight, were withdrawn after a month and superseded by the very aircraft they were supposed to replace. The production line was shut down and the Bf 110 was put back into production fitted with the 210’s better streamlined engine nacelles. Willy Messerschmitt’s reputation was in tatters and his resignation was officially demanded from the company that bore his name.

12 messerschmitt me 210 crash landed sandbox mediterrania luftwaffe plane aircraft 2.jpg

Worse was to come. Back when it still looked like the 210 might mature into a decent fighter, permission had been granted to Dunai Repülőgépgyár Rt. (Danubian Aircraft Plant) to build the 210 under licence and Hungarian authorities decided to continue development even after production in Germany was halted. The Hungarian aircraft utilised the more powerful DB 605 engine and a lengthened fuselage which transformed the aircraft into something generally acceptable. The colossal irony is that a lengthened fuselage was demanded by the test pilot on the Me 210’s first flight back in September 1939. Willy Messerschmitt had refused, pointing out that to alter the fuselage would require scrapping millions of Reichsmarks’ worth of production jigs. The Hungarian aircraft Me 210Ca was generally popular in service and proved that a lengthened fuselage would have solved literally years of painful development. And of course, that it took the Hungarians to solve the problems that the supposed finest designers of Germany apparently could not overcome was unbearable to the hyper-nationalistic Third Reich. Eventually a German redesign of the 210 with yet more powerful DB 603 engines was accepted into service but re-designated the Me 410 Hornisse to make it seem like it was a completely new design (it wasn’t). The Me 410 was a decent enough aircraft but was at least two years too late – had it been available when it should have, back in 1941, it would have been sensational.


9. Messerschmitt Me 321/Me 323 Gigant

Flugzeug Me 323 Gigant

The success of the Bf 109 should not obscure the story of the most calamitous aircraft to emerge from the Messerschmitt aircraft company, the ‘321/323. To invade England, the fast movement of tanks and artillery was essential. In the absence of a route by land, air transport was the obvious solution. Messerschmitt initially proposed towing winged battle tanks, a daft concept that proved bizarrely ubiquitous to World War II technical advisors. A less mad idea was the creation of large unpowered gliders, and by large I mean large: we are talking a wingspan of 55 metres… almost that of a Boeing 747! Junkers initially won the German Air Ministry contest with the Ju 322, but even a wartime assessment team couldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact a tank fell through the weak wooden floor of the ‘322. They went back to Messerschmitt, who created an aircraft too large to be launched. Even with 3280 horsepower, the Ju 90 airliner struggled to tow this behemoth sky-bound. So they tried tying it to three (yes three!) Bf 110 fighters to drag it into the sky (in a triangular ‘troika schlepp’ formation) which, of course, proved problematic. The next attempt to create an adequately powerful tow aircraft involved bolting two bombers together resulting in the conjoined He-111Z Zwilling — which was also far from ideal. Even strapping rockets to the machine wasn’t getting the desired results. While these slapstick endeavours had been taking place, Messerschmitt had been simultaneously working on a powered version – the Me 323. This worked, but was so slow and cumbersome that in contested airspace proved abysmally vulnerable. In 1943, in desperate need of resupply, General Rommel’s Afrika Korps was sent 300 tons of equipment in 16 Me 323s. Only two reached their destination, 14 had been shot down.


8. Dornier Do 31E


As with the Royal Air Force, in the early 1960s, the Luftwaffe became concerned about the vulnerability of aircraft operating from large air bases.  The British developed and eventually deployed the Harrier; the Germans, in a frenzy of innovation, developed and flew, but did not put into service, two potentially supersonic VTOL fast-jets, and a VTOL transport, the Do 31E. They also experimented with a zero-length launch system for the Starfighter, the ZELL (based on ideas from the rocket genius and occultist sex magician Jack Parsons). The Do 31, as a production aircraft, was envisaged as supplying tactical logistic support to the fast jets, itself using as forward operating bases the airstrips on which the ZELL Starfighters were expected to land using arrester gear.

The tactical and logistic support of forward air operations, it turns out, can be well supported by another aircraft which was in development at the time – the Fiat G222. This has now been developed into today’s C-27 Spartan, which offers similar payload-range performance to the Dornier 31E, albeit with STOL rather than VTOL capability, at a fraction of the cost, risk and complexity of a production Do 31.

The Do 31 was an impressive answer to a question that shouldn’t have been asked.  Technical progress and ambition had run ahead of operational analysis, resulting in flawed requirements.

More on the Do 31 here

—  Jim Smith had significant  roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. His latest book is available here.


7. Baade 152 Baade to the Bone 


That the wretched Baade ever got built says much for the charm of its designer Brunolf Baade. From 1936 he worked for Junkers and was involved in the design of the Ju 88Ju 188Ju 388 and Ju 287. Following defeat and partitioning, the Soviet Union took many German aerospace experts — including Baade—  to aid in the development of new military projects. The Soviets had a pressing need for a fast twin-engine jet bomber, and the German boffins set about designing one. The resultant EF 150 was conceived by Baade, Hans Wocke and other former Junkers staff. Hugely delayed by engine problems, the aircraft ended up having to compete and lose out to a greatly superior aircraft from a newer generation, the Tu-88 (which became the Tu-16 ‘Badger’).

Despite this, Baade may not have been having such a bad time. It is rumoured that Baade’s winning personality made him a favourite with his Russian masters, and that while his colleagues were enduring the biting 1947 Moscow winter he was enjoying a holiday in Crimea. In 1953 the Germans were sent back to East Germany, where some attempted to start an aviation industry for the new nation.

Flugzeugwerk Dresden, Flugzeug 152

A new jetliner was desired, and Baade initiated a project — dubbed the Type 152 — based on the EF 150. This was a terrible basic design for a jetliner. For a start, it had a bicycle undercarriage — meaning the aircraft could not rotate promptly on take-off and it required great precision to land precisely (something they attempted to rectify with a  later, somewhat bizarre, configuration). It also had terrible engines, Pirna 014s based on wartime technology, which offered a miserly 3:1 thrust-to-weight ratio (compare this to the 4.5: 1 of the Pratt & Whitney JT3D which first ran a year earlier than the Pirna) and a lousy specific fuel consumption. The wings were the wrong shape and in the wrong place: a low aspect ratio broad chord slab that was far from ideal for cruising efficiency. The high placing of the wings obstructed the cabin, while the space under the floor was occupied by the undercarriage.


The maiden flight of this aircraft took place on 4 December 1958. Four months later the aircraft took its second flight and crashed killing all on board. In mid-1961 the East German government stopped all aeronautical industry activities, as the Soviet Union did not want to buy any of these aircraft or support a potential rival to their own Tu-124. This mercifully put an end to what would have certainly been a horrible airliner.


6. Heinkel He 177


The eternally repeated adage, ‘if it looks right, it will fly right’ is proved by the giant Heinkel He 177, four-engined bomber; even before entering service it attracted the epitaphs of ‘widow maker’ and ‘flying coffin’. Göring called it a ‘misbegotten monster’.

Conceived as a long-range bomber to attack targets beyond the Soviet Urals or operate against convoys in the North Atlantic, it was too late to make a difference. It is the only example of a German design, equivalent of the American YB-17 design and the British plans, including R J Mitchell’s B16/36, for long-range strategic warfare. The Heinkel design was immediately beset by compromises, engine issues and top-level mind-changing.

Even in its development, Oberst Ernst Udet caused a fundamental re-design by requiring a dive-bombing capability. The engineers were in despair, the dive-bombing profile would require fuselage and wing strengthening, increasing the empty weight significantly. Then, in September 1942, after the work had been done, Göring rescinded the requirement.

So, it had a flawed operational requirement; an inadequate power plant with four engines, driving two huge propellers and surface evaporative cooling in place of conventional radiators. Engine fires were frequent during trials and by the time it came into service, the there was no fuel. Even so there was a plan to convert it into a rocket-carrying fighter! Final words to Winkle Brown: “it was one of the very few German aircraft I did not enjoy flying.”

Paul Beaver is the biographer of Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown

5. Siemens-Schuckert Forssman  Großernutzloser Ladenhüter


Virtually all First World War aircraft were, by modern standards, hopeless and awful. However Siemens-Schuckert’s first foray into the world of large bomber aircraft was a stand-out example of dreadful uselessness, an aircraft so woeful that it eventually collapsed in an act of overdue self-destructive embarrassment. The Forssman’s problems began before even the first wood was cut, canvas sewn or the workers got out of bed in the eponymous form of Villehad Forssman, the luckless aircraft’s Swedish designer. German aviation benefited immensely from at least one aircraft designer from a neutral nation in the form of Dutchman Antony Fokker, a notorious self-publicist but undeniably an engineer of talent. Sadly Forssman was no Fokker, and his engineering abilities would not prove equal to his Jules Verne-eque dreams of giant aircraft.

It would appear that the Forssman aircraft was ‘inspired’ (less sympathetic voices might say ‘a copy’) of Igor Sikorsky’s impressive Ilya Muromets, the world’s first four engine aircraft. A famous photograph depicts one of these aircraft in flight and the first thing one notices is the two stalwart Russian cavalry officers promenading on the roof of the aircraft as if taking a stroll on an aircraft during flight were the most normal thing in the world. One of the other things one may notice is that the pilot is shoving in downward elevator as though his life depended on it, as indeed it might. In other words it appears to be tail heavy. When Forssman designed his own aircraft for German cavalry officers to stroll on the roof of, he apparently decided being insanely tail heavy was also definitely the way to go, a situation that would prove almost fatal to the test pilot once the aircraft actually managed to fly. However, any proper idea of flight was a long way off yet as during taxi trials and minimal hops, many of the faults of Forssman’s creation became apparent. The structure was deemed to be too weak and was beefed up, not least by adding more wing struts, the first of an unprecedented five major, and ultimately futile, rebuilds and redesigns. There was insufficient tail area, so a second rudder was added and the wings were rigged with slight dihedral. At the same time an attempt to balance the tail-heaviness issue was made by crudely adding a tub-like gunner’s position on the nose.

Further short hops revealed that the modifications had not made the aircraft anywhere near acceptable. Any reasonable manufacturer would have cut their losses, dumped this hopeless aircraft and moved on but Siemens-Schuckert were determined that they should get some kind of return for their investment and besides, Vilehad Forssman had by now severed connections with the company so, they reasoned, a different (better) engineer should be able to rework the aircraft into something acceptable. Harald Wolff, who would later design Siemens-Schuckert’s excellent fighter aircraft, was the man chosen for this unenviable task. Wolff Added more powerful Mercedes engines in the inboard positons, leaving the outer engines as they were. All the engines received streamlined and strengthened mountings and the whole nose of the aircraft was reworked into a pointed shape with massive round windows. The pilot now sat in comfort under a fully enclosed cockpit, an incongrously advanced feature. Unfortunately the designated test pilot, after some ground runs and despite his comfortable enclosed cockpit, refused (wisely) to fly the aircraft.  Siemens-Schuckert managed to persuade air-ace and pre-war test pilot Walter Hohndorf to perform the first flight but in September 1915, whilst completing another test hop, something went awry, the aircraft turned onto its back and was partially wrecked.


Siemens-Schuckert, who were nothing if not persistent, mended the wings of the aircraft and fitted another new nose. Now desperate to get something – anything – for their hopeless machine, Dr Reichel the technical director of Siemens-Schuckert persuaded the Army to lower the specification the aircraft was required to achieve before they would buy it in return for a reduction in the purchase price. The new specification required the aircraft to reach 2000 meters in 30 minutes carrying a useful load of 1000 kg and enough fuel for 4 hours. Meanwhile he offered Bruno Steffen, himself a successful aircraft designer, 10% of the sale price if he could make the acceptance flight which was scheduled for October. Despite warnings from friends regarding the structural safety of the aircraft, Bruno decided after inspecting factory drawings and the aircraft itself that it was strong enough. However he was concerned that he would lack the strength necessary to operate the massive tail surfaces. On the day of the flight Steffen invited five passengers to accompany him, including members of the Army acceptance commission but all politely declined.

On take off Steffen found that the Forssman’s tail-heaviness meant that he had to push the control column fully forward to maintain level flight. To make turns he had to pull it back to the neutral position, turn the wheel as quickly as he could, and immediately return it to the fully-forward position to avoid a stall. The aircraft was virtually uncontrollable. Nonetheless it achieved the required 2000 metres in 30 minutes and the Army agreed in April 1916 to buy it as a trainer, despite its total unsuitability for that or any other task. Luckily for everyone however the rear fuselage collapsed when the engines were run up on the ground and no one else had to risk life and limb in Forssman’s pathetic aircraft.

And that would have been that except for one strange coda – in 1918 a truly gigantic ten-engine triplane named ‘Poll’ after the town of its construction was designed. It was structurally weak, of unprecedented size and ludicrously tail-heavy, which sounds oddly familiar. It was intended to bomb New York but construction was halted due to the armistice. Its designer was Villehad Forssman and one wonders how he managed to persuade anyone to build this new ridiculous aircraft. A single giant wheel from the Poll survives to this day in the collection of the Imperial War Museum to remind the world of Forssman’s folly.

4. Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet Wie Ein Floh, Aber Oho!’


Although it was a horrific death trap with a litany of flaws, no one could deny the Komet was amazingly impressive. The fastest aircraft of the second world war, Messerschmitt’s rocket plane also possessed the best climb rate of any aircraft in the world until the supersonic (and strictly research) Bell X-1. Its vertical performance could not be bettered by any combat aircraft until the mid-1950s. In every other respect of course the Komet was totally appalling:

The first problem, and worst when looked at from a tactical point of view was its endurance. The Walter HWK 509 rocket motor that imparted the Komet with its blistering performance was colossally thirsty and only eight minutes of fuel could be carried. The engine was either on or off, there was no ability to cruise or throttle back which led inexorably to its second major flaw – the closing speed between it and its target was so great that it was extremely difficult to aim and fire with any hope of success. This problem was compounded by the powerful MK 108 cannon. The low muzzle velocity of this weapon meant it was only effective at close range and this was difficult to achieve as the Me 163 flashed past its intended target. Thirdly, once the rocket fuel was expended the aircraft had to glide home. Totally immune from fighter attack while under power, the Komet was vulnerable as a glider. True, it was fast and handled nicely but eventually it would have to land, and, unable to move, could be destroyed at will by any pursuing aircraft.


Its woeful endurance led to the Komet employing the weight-saving feature of jettisoning undercarriage. The wheels were attached to a dolly that was dropped as the aircraft climbed away from the airfield. If dropped too high, they would be destroyed. However if dropped too low there was a danger that they would bounce off the ground and into the aircraft with disastrous results. On occasion the wheels got stuck: test pilot Hanna Reitsch was nearly killed attempting to land a Komet with its wheels still attached. Even if the take-off was successful, landing the Komet was fraught with danger. Landings were unpowered so there was no option to go around if something went wrong and the aircraft landed on a retractable sprung skid which had to be lowered to provide shock absorbing, if it stuck up or the pilot forgot to lower it the result was often a fractured spine.


But absolutely the worst aspect for the pilot was the fuel. The Komet was propelled by two toxic liquids called C-stoff and T-stoff that explode when brought into contact. Indeed, T-stoff would cause virtually any organic material such as leather or cloth to spontaneously combust, furthermore it would dissolve human flesh. When the luckless Joschi Pöhs crashed an early Komet on landing in 1943 he was covered in T-stoff and, despite wearing a protective suit, “his entire right arm had been dissolved by T-stoff. It simply wasn’t there. The other arm, as well as the head, was nothing more than a mass of soft jelly.” Regular aviation fuel is dangerous enough but this was nightmarish. Even if the landing were successful, the shock of landing could rupture a fuel line or slosh any residual propellants into contact with each other and a catastrophic explosion would be the near inevitable result. So volatile were the fuels that there are accounts of Komets spontaneously exploding for no apparent reason whilst simply sitting on the ground.

But if the pilot survived the take-off, the landing, the fuels, and prowling enemy fighters the Komet had one final trick up its sleeve. Despite having generally exemplary handling characteristics the Me 163 entered an unrecoverable condition known as the ‘graveyard dive’ if its speed exceeded Mach 0.84, which was not difficult in a Komet, and the results were invariably fatal.


Despite all these horrific issues combat operations were maintained from May 1944 to spring 1945. During this time, there were nine confirmed kills, with 14 Me 163s lost. Feldwebel Siegfried Schubert was the most successful pilot, with three bombers to his credit but he was killed when his Komet exploded on take off. Despite, or perhaps because of, its obvious catastrophic flaws, the Komet remains one of the most charismatic aircraft in history.

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3. DFW T.28 Floh Lustiger kleiner knuddliger Kerl

Back in 1915 people still didn’t know what aeroplanes were supposed to look like. At least that’s the only explanation I can think of to explain the delightfully chunky appearance of DFW’s T.28, cheerily named Floh (flea), the cuddliest combat aircraft ever built. There seems to no other reason for building this tiny yet simultaneously weirdly massive machine. Despite being reputedly very fast, because of its daft shape the Floh was never a serious contender for fighter operations. The main problem was visibility, which was excellent so long as you only wanted to look upwards. The pilot’s view forwards for take off and landing was non-existent and the massive triangular tail surfaces conspired with the biplane wings to obscure the view of more or less anything below the aircraft. With all that fuselage side area and only a relatively modest rudder, one can only assume that directional control was not the aircraft’s strong suit. Add to that a perversely narrow undercarriage and it should come us no surprise that the Floh crashed on landing after its first test flight. On the upside the arrangement of intakes on the aircraft’s nose gives it the appearance of a jolly smiling face – always a major boon for an aircraft intended for the deadly skies over the Western front. Just to prove that he wasn’t insane or obsessed with giving aircraft a Rubens-esque profile, Herman Dorner, who designed the Floh, went on to produce the outstanding Hannover CL series of two-seat fighters which were boringly slender by comparison, did not feature a jolly smiling face, and proved highly successful.

2. Zeppelin L 2 Wasserstoffbrennstoff Feueranzünder


Zeppelins are preposterous. That such a ludicrous vehicle could inspire such panic from people on the ground (which it did) seems, with the benefit of hindsight, insane. Of course no one had experienced a sustained strategic bombing campaign back then and facing such attacks for the first time was and is a scary prospect, The sheer inexorable massiveness of the rigid airship is also certainly compelling. Back in the first couple of years of the First World War they were the only aerial vehicle with a useful disposable loaded the range necessary to mount meaningful bombing attacks deep behind enemy lines. But the fact is that the Zeppelins of World War One consisted of a fabric bag filled with between about one and two million cubic feet of hydrogen, the most flammable element in the universe. Zeppelins are huge and inflammable, present an unmissably massive target, are slow and susceptible to bad weather. Bizarrely, despite having more than enough carrying capacity to reasonably carry them, German airship crews chose not to bother taking parachutes on missions. Presumably being able to escape having to choose between plummeting to one’s death or being incinerated in a hydrogen-fuelled inferno was just too namby-pamby for the stalwart Zeppelin men of the Imperial German Navy. And that was a choice that became increasingly commonplace after the first Zeppelin was shot down over Belgium in June 1915.

That the Navy persisted in using these giant airships for bombing raids was largely down to the insistence of one dangerously psychopathic zealot, Kapitän zur See Peter Strasser. Despite ever-increasing evidence of the ever-decreasing effectiveness of the Zeppelin as a bombing aircraft, Strasser continued to demand his crews fly strategic raids over London with ever greater losses. “We who strike the enemy where his heart beats have been slandered as ‘baby killers’ … Nowadays, there is no such animal as a noncombatant. Modern warfare is total warfare.” he said in answer to criticism of the morality of strategic bombing.  This may have been true but does not exactly paint a glowing picture of Strasser’s character. It feels like a there was a certain poetic justice at work when, after this particular baby-killer had chosen to ride along with Zeppelin L 70 on what would be the last airship bombing raid attempted against Britain, Strasser’s Zeppelin was intercepted by a DH-4 piloted by Egbert Cadbury (of the noted chocolate making family) and shot down in an example of the afore-mentioned hydrogen-fuelled inferno. The crew did not have parachutes.


But all this was in the future in 1913 when Navy Zeppelin L 2 chugged its way over Berlin and into the somewhat obscure history books. That the Zeppelin was a bizarrely horrific weapon of war for all concerned is not in doubt but the L 2 was probably the most hopeless of them all. Not content with being an impractical and dangerous vehicle when under attack by a determined enemy, L 2 showed the world that Zeppelins were dangerous and impractical when there were literally no threats present at all, unless you consider a warm day or the aircraft itself a ‘threat’. First off the engines wouldn’t start, which caused a delay in take off which allowed the hydrogen to expand in the gas bags due to the warm sun. Once the engines were persuaded into life the Zeppelin shot into the sky due to the hydrogen expansion. The normal cure for this is to release some of the gas and stop the aircraft rising. Unfortunately the hydrogen vented from L 2’s gasbags was sucked into the forward engine and exploded, which caused a fire and further explosions resulting in the destruction of L 2 along with the death of all 28 people on board (in a hydrogen-fuelled inferno). That this occurred only six weeks after the navy’s other Zeppelin, L 1, had been caused to crash (with 14 fatalities) by cold rain causing the gas to contract makes one wonder why the German Navy persisted in the development of large airships at all. Zeppelin eventually delivered over 100 large rigid airships during the First World War, with Schütte-Lanz delivering about 20 more.

— Ed Ward


  1. Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenbergreichenberg_1945

Imagine yourself as a plucky young Luftwaffe pilot in 1944. You have a talent for flying, and the Nazi propaganda machine has filled you with a mad zeal to fight. You leap at the chance to fly an experimental aircraft—a futuristic aeroplane that could turn the tide and save your nation. You are shown a sleek, sexy, jet-propelled Wunderwaffe that makes the latest Fw 190 look positively ancient. Or perhaps you’re a bewildered child pushed into a moribund hell that was not of your making. Either way you’re absolutely fucked, because your new steed is essentially a V-1 flying bomb with a human guidance mechanism. Say ‘guten morgen’ to the Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg.

The Reichenberg had a quick development period, probably too quick. The German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight started development in mid-1944, and had a prototype ready for testing within days. A cramped cockpit with a jettisonable canopy was placed just under the pulse-jets air intake, and flight controls were rudimentary, although straightforward. After release from a carrier aircraft, the Reichenberg was meant to be piloted towards a target and put into a dive, following which the pilot baled out. Pilot survival was optimistically rated as being “most unlikely” (it was estimated at a terrifying 1% due to the proximity of the pulsejet’s intake to the cockpit)


Tricky landing controls ensured that two test articles crashed during developmental trials, and although the designers claimed a distinction between their Selbstopfermänner and the Japanese Kamikaze, to the pilot there was little difference. Thankfully for the young men expected to fly this screaming tomb, it was quickly abandoned after Albert Speer and Werner Baumbach pleaded with Hitler that suicide was not in the German warrior tradition.

Mihir Shah

Neu Tramm, US-Soldaten mit V4

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Top ten fighters of 1969

AIRPOWER16_-_Air_to_Air_SK35C_Draken_(29366239356).jpgTwenty years prior to 1969 most air forces had been flying piston-engined fighters essentially no different from those of World War II. In the following twenty years, top speeds almost quadrupled and cannons were complemented with guided missiles capable of destroying an enemy thirty miles away. To survive the carnage of the Middle East and Vietnam air wars, aircraft became ever more potent and by 1969 had become extraordinarily sophisticated killing machines. The fighters of this time were also far more demanding and dangerous to their own pilots than today’s generation of digital fighters, and these brutish machines were unforgiving of mistakes. Here are the 10 best fighters of 1969. 

10. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 ‘The Fighting Farmer’


Like most MiG fighters, the ’19 was a rough and ready hotrod. Agile, powerful and capable of gut-wrenching acceleration— it was also ill-equipped, unforgiving and brutal. Armed with three cannon and two K-13 missiles,  a well flown MiG-19 remained an opponent to be respected in 1969, however its lack of a modern radar and modest top speed of mach 1.22 put it at a distinct disadvantage. Pakistan Air Force MiG-19 pilot Wg. Cdr. Irfan Masum told Hush-Kit, “We did not fear fighting any opposing aircraft. The Intel, at the time, was that we were most likely to face the Hunter in the war as that was the aircraft which was to cross over the border to do battlefield air-interdiction and airfield strikes. The Hunter was a manoeuvrable aircraft like the F-86, and we had gained valuable experience during DACT with our F-86s. So we pretty much knew what tactics to employ. Firstly, force the Hunter to get into a vertical plane combat where our superior thrust-to-weight ratio would give us a distinct advantage. Secondly, allow the Hunter to exit and then catch him with the MiG-19’s excellent acceleration and let the heat-seeking Sidewinder do the rest.”  The type served in several air wars including Vietnam; Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) received their first MiG-19 at the end of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1968. Relatively small numbers of MiG-19s were involved in extensive combat during Operations Linebacker and Linebacker 2. The aircraft could easily outturn the Phantom (and out accelerate it up to Mach 1.2) and VPAF MiG-19 downed seven F-4 Phantom IIs.  Among its failings were its endurance, which was exceptionally poor.

Armament: 3 x 30-mm cannon (type dependent on variant), up to four short range air-to-air missiles (K-5 or AIM-9) (note: VPAF aircraft were cannon only)

9. Folland/HAL Gnat ‘Petter’s Pocket Rocket’


Though highly specialised as a short range dogfighter, the tiny and viciously manoeuvrable, Gnat developed a fierce reputation in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war— earning the  nickname ‘Sabre-slayer‘. The Gnat shot down seven Pakistani Canadair Sabres, though two Gnats were downed by PAF fighters. During the the Battle of Boyra, the Indian Air Force (IAF) Gnats downed two PAF Canadair Sabres in minutes and badly damaged another. Another notable dogfight over Srinagar airfield saw a lone Indian pilot hold out against six Sabres scoring hits on two of the Sabres in the process before himself being shot down. The lighter, more modern, Gnat with its higher thrust-to-weight ratio had an advantage against the Sabre in the vertical plane.

Designed by W. E. W. Petter, who also created the EE Lightning, this subsonic British pugilist punched well about its weight, but in a world of supersonic radar-equipped fighters it is questionable how effectively it would have performed against a well-equipped enemy. The Gnat was the smallest jet fighter to ever see service and may well have been the tightest turning — it also had a climb rate twice that of the Sabre.

(Note: The Gnat has knocked the F-86 out of our top ten, but the Sabre was still a respectable fighter in ’69, notably where it was armed with Sidewinders.)

Armament: 2 x 30-mm ADEN cannon

ims-scan-tele-01325174-f-1000x10008. Joint place: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17/Dassault Super Mystère/ Lockheed F-104 Starfighter ‘The Outsiders’


These fighters each had huge advantages and disadvantages and were the hardest to place in the top 10.

Any enemy foolish or ignorant enough opponent to fight the MiG-17 in the 300-330 knot regime was likely to learn a particularly nasty one-off lesson, as many did in Vietnam. Above 450 knots however, it was a pig — and its equipment was primitive; without hydraulic assistance much of the MiG-17’s manoeuvrability depended on the physical strength of its pilot! The MiG-17 was very tough and extremely reliable, but by 1969 was verging on obsolescence.

smysterThe French Super Mystère was Europe’s first supersonic fighter, but by 1969 was also showing its age, despite its good performance in the Middle East. It was liked by Israeli pilots and fought in the 1967 Six-Day War and it was said to be a decent counter to the MiG-19. During this conflict, Super Mystères achieved a number of air victories: two IL-14, one MiG-17 and two MiG-21s.


Many would argue the Mach 2 F-104 Starfighter deserves a higher ranking, but the fact USAF did not use it as a fighter is revealing.  That most operators used the aircraft in the fighter-bomber or maritime attack role point to the type’s limitation as a pure fighter, notably its infamously poor agility. It speed was exceptional, its armament decent and it had a large cockpit with excellent visibility for the pilot. Its combat record was at best mediocre: on 6 September 1965, a Pakistani F-104 may have shot down an IAF Dassault Mystère IV and damaged another (though this claim is disputed). The PAF lost one F-104 Starfighter during the 1965 operations, and achieved two kills (however, one of the F-104 Starfighter’s victims was a portly Breguet Alize of the Indian Navy, hardly the most challenging opponent). Later, in the 1971 war, it was trounced by the MiG-21.

On 13 January 1967, four Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force F-104G aircraft engaged 12 MiG-19s of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force over the disputed island of Kinmen. Two MiG-19s were destroyed, one of the F-104s did not return to base and its pilot was claimed as MIA.

7. Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter Schmued’s Switchblade’

Northrop F-5E

Though relegated to the fighter-bomber role in US hands, the F-5 was an extremely capable air-to-air fighter, in which role it served with several air forces in 1969 (including Taiwan).  In this role it is closely comparable, and in some ways superior, to the MiG-21. Later Soviet studies of captured F-5s  revealed the type to have superior manoeuvrability to the MiG-21, and more benign low speed and high angle of attack handling characteristics.

Armament: Two Pontiac M39A2 20-mm cannon


6. English Electric Lightning ‘The Double Decker’

The fastest climbing and one of the most agile fighters on this list, the Lightning also boasted the best acceleration and highest service ceiling. The Lightning was a rocketship; everything was sacrificed for performance, notably endurance and the number of missiles. Though it is the received wisdom that the F2A was the best model, former Lightning pilot Ian Black noted to HushKit that this is maybe a myth, and though the F2A was the best for low level air defence over Germany, the best all-rounder was probably the F6. In an interview with Hush-Kit, pilot Ian Black noted the following aspects of life in the Lightning, “Lack of fuel was the obvious one. From a handling point of view it was gloriously over-powered, something few aircraft have. With its highly swept wing and lack of any manoeuvre /combat flaps or slats the aircraft was often flown in the ‘light- heavy buffet’ which masked any seat-of-the pants feeling of an impending stall. It actually had few of the traditional ‘vices’ but could be a handful on landing with its big fin and drag chute, which made the aircraft weathercock on a strong crosswind landing. Tyres were also by necessity very thin to fit into the wing and high pressure, so didn’t last long.”

The Lightning was superior to the F-4 in dogfight, a British Phantom pilot we spoke to opined that “You have to take advantage of the things that work for you and don’t work for him. He can out-turn you, he can out-climb you, but he ain’t going to be able to do it for very long. You can see him from a long distance, so you can get your shots off without him even seeing you. If that failed, it would be best to remain unseen. You wouldn’t voluntarily get into a turning gunfight with a Lightning, as you’re probably going to lose. Then whoever runs out of fuel first – and it’s probably him- has lost the fight. He’s got to bug out. As I said, take advantage of your own strengths and exploit the weaknesses of your opponent.”

The Lightning was never proven in combat.

Armament: Two Redtop or Firestreak missiles and/or 2/4 30-mm ADEN cannon (variant dependent)


5. Saab Draken J-35 Draken ‘Delta Berserker’


Delta wings, a data-link, a Mach 2 top speed, the ability to operate from short runways and an infra-red search and track sensor are common features for 21st century fighters but the Swedish J-35F(2) was boasting these back in 1969. It was also rumoured to have the lowest radar cross section of its generation (the MiG-21 is another likely contender for this title). The Draken was a sneak preview into the future, remarkably it did all this with half the thrust of the Lightning (the Draken had one Avon, the British aircraft two). The Draken was neither combat proven nor very agile, though uncoupling the flight control could allow pilots to perform what would later be known as the ‘Cobra’, a dramatic manoeuvre in which the nose is raised momentarily beyond the vertical position, before dropping back to normal flight. One F-15 pilot we spoke to was not impressed by the Draken, and after ‘fighting’ against it in training described it as an “underpowered MiG-21”.

Whereas the Falcon missile had a bad reputation in US service it is believed that the Swedish version, the Rb 28 with its unique seeker-head, was a superior weapon. The J-35F(2) variant was the most capable Draken in 1969.

Armament: 4 x Rb 28 Falcon or 4 x Sidewinder + 1 x 30-mm ADEN (some variants 2 x 30-mm ADEN) cannon

4. Mikoyan MiG-21 ‘Fishbed‘ – ‘Soviet switchblade’


This particular MiG-21 shot down 14 aircraft during the Vietnam War

Fast, agile, tough and small – the MiG-21 was an excellent dogfighter and the most numerous supersonic jet fighter in history, with a staggering 11,000 produced in total. The mainstay of the Warsaw Pact air forces, it served with an unparalleled 56 air arms. The lightweight Mach 2 MiG fought in Vietnam and the Middle Eastern wars. In 1969 the most capable ’21 was the SM, a comprehensively upgraded (M = Modernizirovannyy ) MiG-21S using the R13-300 engine and with a built-in GSh-23L cannon, as well as a considerably updated avionics package. The type’s greatest weaknesses were a poor endurance and lack of a medium-range weapon. When ex-MiG-21 pilot Air Marshal M Matheswaran (retd) spoke to Hush-Kit he noted the type’s fantastic acceleration, electric instantaneous turn rate and tiny radar cross section. The Soviet Union had produced a small, cheap and rugged type that could take on the best fighters of the West, a remarkable achievement.

Armament: 1 x  GSh-23L cannon, two K-3 or K-13 missiles

3. Dassault Mirage III ‘Le Triangle Fantastique’


The Mirage III proved itself devastatingly effective in Israeli hands in the 1960s. The French fighter was a dependable jack of all trades, according to Mirage III pilot Gonzalo O’Kelly,   The Snecma Atar 9C was a very reliable engine, very resistant to compressor stalls and almost immune to flame out in flight. It was very easy to fly if you had enough speed, and stable around its envelope. We always flew with two supersonic fuel tanks but the aircraft behaviour was very docile. It was also very strong. It had a landing gear that would have been strong enough for carrier landings and it wasn’t unusual to see 30 people over the wings and fuselage posing for a photo. We didn’t need any ground support to start the engine, which was very good for detachments. It was very good at accelerating in a dive, no aircraft of that time could follow us. The aerodynamics were excellent but designed for high speed.” Counting against the Mirage were its relative lack of power, claustrophobic & cluttered cockpit and limited armament. According to Israeli sources, during the Six Day War of 1967, a mere twelve Mirage IIIs shot down 48 Arab aircraft. 

Armament: 2 x 30-mm DEFA cannon, 2 x Matra R.550 Magic AAMs plus 1× Matra R.530 AAM

2. Vought F-8 Crusader ‘The Last Gunfighter’


Perhaps the best dogfighting variant was F-8 was the D/H, because it did not have the additional weight of the J. However, it did not have the excellent radar of the E/J, so it was more of a day/VFR fighter. The E/J was probably the best-equipped version (the L were re-worked Bs).

The US Navy adage, “When you’re out of Crusaders, you’re out of fighters” speaks volumes. The Crusader was an agile, responsive hotrod beloved by its pilots. Unencumbered by the weight that the long range fleet defence origins had imposed on its service rival the F-4, the Crusader was a superior dogfighter. Vought wrapped the smallest lightest airframe around the most powerful engine, gave the pilot excellent visibility and created a machine that was a delight to fly and devilishly hard to beat in a dogfight. The Crusader also carried internal guns throughout its career, a dangerous omission on earlier Phantoms, which earned the F-8 the nickname, ‘The Last Gunfighter’. According to its pilots it was ‘simply unbeatable’ in the merge, though the Crusader had an inferior armament and radar to the larger F-4. Aerodynamically the French F-8E(FN) was superior to other variants, with significantly increased wing lift due to greater slat and flap deflection and the addition of a boundary layer control — and enlarged stabilators.  The US F-8L was probably the best equipped variant at this time.

Armament: 4 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Colt Mk 12 cannons in lower fuselage, 125 rpg, 2 × side fuselage mounted Y-pylons for mounting AIM-9 Sidewinders


  1. McDonnell Douglas Phantom II ‘Big Ugly’

No surprises for the top spot, the fabulous Phantom was a vast ugly battleship of a fighter, quite unlike anything else flying. The Phantom had twice the air–to-air weapon load of any other aircraft on this list, and as the F-4J, had a radar that was far superior to anything else. The Phantom also had an excellent range, was exceptionally tough and had the benefit of a two-man crew. It was the most powerful fighter on the list, with almost 36,000Ib of reheated thrust. Choosing the most formidable Phantom variant of the time is trickier — it’s a toss-up between the F-4J with its (at the time) unique ability to ‘look down’ and ‘shoot down’ (its new fangled pulse doppler radar denied opponents the liberty of hiding from radar by flying low) and the internal gun toting F-4E. Though the  F-4J and F-4E were technically the most formidable Phantoms of ’69, they had yet to score a kill — and both would have to wait to be blooded in air combat (the former scored its first kill in 1970, the latter in ’72).

(It should be noted that the Royal Navy’s F-4K was also well-equipped.)

Disadvantages of the Phantom included a large size and smoky engines that made the aircraft easy to acquire visually, in this interview Gonzalo O’Kelly noted, “it was very easy to spot Phantoms from 6 or 7 miles because that huge black smoke trail that their engines left behind (except in afterburner) and because it was a big bird.” Flown and fought carefully by well-trained battle-hardened crews the Phantom was devastatingly effective and was certainly the best fighter in the world in the last year of the 1960s. The Phantom was responsible for 147 aerial victories in the Vietnam War, far more than any other US type.

USAF (not including other US arms) F4 Summary for Vietnam War action
Aircraft Weapons/Tactics MiG17 MiG19 MiG21 Total
F4C AIM7 Sparrow 4 0 10 14
AIM9 Sidewinder 12 0 10 22
20 mm gun 3 0 1 4
Maneuvering tactics 2 0 0 2
F4D AIM4 Falcon 4 0 1 5
AIM7 Sparrow 4 2 20 26
AIM9 Sidewinder 0 2 3 5
20-mm gun 4.5 0 2 6.5
Manoeuvring tactics 0 0 2 2
F4E AIM7 Sparrow 0 2 8 10
AIM9 Sidewinder 0 0 4 4
AIM9+20-mm gun 0 0 1 1
20-mm gun 0 1 4 5
Manoeuvring tactics 0 1 0 1
Total 33.5 8 66 107.5

Armament: 1x 20-mm M61 rotary cannon (F-4E) + 4 AIM-9C + 4 AIM-7E2



Thank to the following people who kindly offered advice and valuable opinions in the creation of this article: Former Lightning pilot Ian Black, Jon Lake, Dave Donald, Steve Trimble, Thomas Lovegrove, former F-15 pilot Paul Woodford and Mihir Shah. 

Top fighters of 1985 here. Top fighters of 1946 here. Top fighters of 2018 here. Top fighters of 1918 here

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(Reality does not confirm to a top ten, so while our panel has taken considerable consideration in choosing the rankings the type’s relative position are to some extent arbitrary with each excelling in certain ways and lacking in others. Dedicated interceptors, such as the F-106, Su-15 and MiG-25 were excluded from selection. The Hunter, F-100 and F-86 were very close to making this list. The A-4 was disqualified on role allocation, likewise the F-105, despite 27.5 kills)

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Top Combat Aircraft of 2030


Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked him to predict the top combat aircraft of 2030. This paper speculates about the future in the air combat domain. It draws on available open-source information about current aircraft and projects, and adds a healthy dose of pure speculation about the nature and objectives of possible future systems.

Looking ahead 10 years from today, what are the key trends for future combat aircraft?

In considering this, I assume continued proliferation of highly-capable long-range ground-based missile systems, coupled with continuing advances in radars, electro-optic sensor systems, long-range air-to-air missiles, and the emergence of operational hypersonic weapons.

How does this affect the design and/or development of future air combat systems?

To me, one emergent feature is a tendency to convergence in future technical solutions. The hostile air and ground counter-air environment is likely to ensure all future combat aircraft will seek to be stealthy, certainly in radar signature, but also as far as possible in the IR. There is already a detectable trend towards larger, longer-range platforms, capable either of wide area response to counter air threats, or the long-range delivery of strike and area-denial weapons at significant stand-off ranges, at least for those operators with large geography to protect or control.

Additionally, the range, and hence size of air-launched weapons is increasing, again promoting a trend towards larger platforms. When this is coupled with a need to carry powerful sensors, and to be, as far as possible, stealthy, it is likely that platform agility will become less of a driver. Propulsion technologies continue to advance, and may, in some instances pace airframe development.

So what form does this convergence in platform design take? At present there appear to be three favoured configurations:

  1. Large, twin-engine, closely-coupled, tailed near-delta configuration. Exemplified by the F-22 and the Su-57, this configuration appears to be aimed at the manoeuvrable, air-superiority role, with an additional emphasis on all-aspect stealth. It is expected to be used to control and deny contested airspace, and to create local air superiority to enable other missions.
  2. Smaller, single or twin-engine, close-coupled, tailed near-delta configuration. Exemplified by the F-35 (single engine) and J-31 (twin-engine), this configuration appears to be primarily aimed at multi-role missions delivering strike, with an organic air combat capability. Penetration of contested airspace will be required to deliver the strike role, but supersonic performance and energy manoeuvrability will not be as great as the F-22/Su-57 class.
  3. Large, twin-engine, long-coupled canard, near-delta. Exemplified by the J-20, this class of aircraft appears to maximise payload-range and weapons flexibility, with some potential compromise to signature and manoeuvre capability. One key, and new, role could be as Area Access Denial systems, using long range weapons to engage (or deter) not only threat combat aircraft, but enablers such as tankers and AEW platforms.

Notwithstanding this convergence in high-end air combat capabilities, small Nations seeking to deter and defend against aggression, rather than to dominate outside their borders, are likely to continue to need an agile, rapid response, interception capability, probably supplemented by the best available ground-based systems. Some older platforms, with suitable long-range weapons and system upgrades, will still have capability in this role, and some emerging projects exist that appear to be adopting J-31-like (twin-engine F-35) configurations.

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It is important to realise that the delivery of air capability will be dependent not only on platform capabilities, but much more critically, on the total air combat system. In the end, any of the future combat aircraft discussed below will also rely on the performance of on-board and off-board sensors; command and control, communications, networking and datalinks; weapons capabilities; organic and off-board electronic warfare and protection systems, and so on. Material on US projects suggests the use of cooperative autonomous systems to enable strike operations,  including targeting, deception, communications relay and electronic attack.

Consequently, the trend for further integration and networking of air and ground-based sensors, and on-board and off-board electronic warfare systems will continue, in an effort to gain a situational awareness advantage, and to deny situational awareness to threats. This itself, is likely to increase pressure to further develop cyber and deception capabilities, to degrade and dis-integrate opposition air defences. It is also possible that future efforts by the three big players (US, Russia and China) may seek to exploit some space-based capabilities, beyond the current pervasive use of GPS.

This piece is speculative. It does not draw on any special knowledge. Instead, I consider what might be likely responses to the developing environment. As guesses about the future are notoriously unreliable, I expect many will disagree with my assessments. That’s OK – I don’t pretend to know the future, but I’m happy to provoke a bit of debate.

Air combat systems – 2030

At the end of the next decade, the mature and emergent systems are likely to be:

US mature US emergent

F-22 F/A-XX

F-35 F-X

Russia mature Russia emergent

Su-57 Mig 41

Su-35 derivatives

China mature



Europe mature Europe emergent

Typhoon Tempest

Rafale Airbus-Dassault FCAS

Gripen E

Other emergent

TFX Korea

F3 Japan

India ?

Brief comments on these systems follow, indicating my view of the current state of play, and expressing some views on capability in the 2030 timeframe, program aspects etc. starting with the those that are likely to be mature in 2030.

2030 Mature Systems

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor 


Role: Air Superiority (Penetrating Air Combat)

Configuration: A

2018 Status: Mature

2030 Status: At life-of-type

The aircraft is successful in service, but has poor availability, and is (by US standards) small in numbers. As a result, F-22 presence is often in the form of small deployed detachments rather than significant numbers.

The enigma about the F-22 is that there has been continued resistance to proposed upgrade programs. This suggests that US plans for a replacement are already in hand and perhaps proceeding in the Black world. While the F/A-XX program is examining replacements for the F-18 E/F, there is little visibility of the USAF F-X program intended to replace the F-22.

If a future program fails to mature in time, an upgrade may be required. This would be likely to address electronic obsolescence, and bring radar, EW and other systems up to the state-of-the-art. A desirable, but unlikely, upgrade would be a fuselage stretch to increase fuel capacity and increase weapons-bay length, increasing mission flexibility.

Breaking news, as this article was being prepared, is a pitch from Lockheed-Martin to the DoD (and possibly Japan), to upgrade F-22 with elements of the F-35 mission system, as well as some changes to structure and coatings.

Lockheed F-35 Lightning II 


Role: Multi-Role (Strike, plus Air Defence, plus Situational awareness node)

Configuration: B (single engine)

2018 Status: In development, and in service

2030 Status: Mature

The F-35 is set to be the mainstay of many Nations’ air capability for the next two decades. At present, although the aircraft is in service, the development program continues.

The initial challenges in the program were seen to lie in developing a common configuration meeting Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps needs, with stealth, good supersonic and manoeuvre performance, and, where required ASTOVL and carrier capability. In practice, the real challenge has turned out to be software integration and qualification, for the many diverse systems incorporated in the aircraft.

By 2030, the aircraft and its systems should be fully mature, and at the peak of its capability. In USAF service, the aircraft is seen as a strike adjunct to the F-22, but is perhaps increasing in importance as the availability of the F-22 has been relatively poor. The enabling aspects of JSF in providing and distributing situational awareness within and across the force is a key, and perhaps under-appreciated capability.

Sukhoi Su-35 derivatives


Image Credit: Jacek Siminski

Role: Air Combat (with numerous other variants)

Configuration: Conventional

2018 Status: Mature

2030 Status: Obsolescent

I would not consider the Su-35 to be a major capability in 2030, except, perhaps in the Air Defence role, where its long range, high speed, large radar, and ability to carry large numbers of long-range AAMs, should continue to provide significant deterrence against all but the highest-end threats.

Sukhoi Su-57


Role: Air Superiority (Penetrating Air Combat)

Configuration: A

2018 Status: In development, just entering service

2030 Status: Mature

The Su-57 could turn out to be an enduring and significant air combat capability. In 2018, the type has just been operationally deployed for the first time, and, assuming development continues, the aircraft should eventually provide a significant air superiority capability, with low signature, good performance and range.

How successful the program will be in delivering a well-integrated, well-armed, highly capable low signature fighter remains to be seen. With good program outcomes, this could be the Su-27 for the 2020s and beyond. At the time of writing, limited production is in progress, and there is some suggestion that the pace of the program has been slowed, either to await the readiness of the production standard engine, or in response to economic conditions.

There is a potential for large numbers of aircraft to be produced to replace both the MiG-29 and Su-35 in Russian service, and a somewhat variable prospect that the Su-57 might be co-produced in India to meet their future heavy fighter requirements. While the aircraft is still in development, final program outcomes are unknown, but I would expect Su-57 to emerge as a highly capable, well-equipped and mature capability by 2030.

Chengdu J-20


Role: Multi-Role (Air Defence, Area Denial, Precision Strike)

Configuration: C

2018 Status: In development, just entering service

2030 Status: Mature

The J-20 represents the first of what is, in my view, a new class of combat aircraft. While the aircraft could easily deliver a MiG-31-like large area air defence capability, I believe it has a broader remit, dependent on the availability of large, long-range, and possibly hypersonic weapons.

The long-coupled canard near-delta configuration should deliver a broad centre of gravity range. When this is coupled with the large size of the aircraft, its high fuel capacity and large weapons bays, I suggest that the J-10 would be well suited to what we used to call in the UK the Control and Denial of Theatre Airspace, over very large geographic areas.

The aircraft has just entered service, and has attracted recent attention as it has been seen carrying an external targeting pod. Future roles are going to be dependent on weapons integration, but long-range air defence, including access denial to not just combat aircraft, but AWACS, tankers and ships is not beyond the realms of possibility. Currently, China seems to have the ability to develop and field complex systems with remarkable speed. The J-20 is likely to be a significant player within a decade.


Shenyang J-31

Role: Multi-Role (Strike, plus Air Defence, plus Carrier Air Defence)

Configuration: B (twin engine)

2018 Status: In development

2030 Status: Mature

The J-31 is a twin-engine F-35 look-alike, and appear to have been designed to deliver similar roles, although it is not entirely clear whether the primary Chinese role will be as a carrier-borne aircraft or not.

The configuration is very similar to the F-35, but it is suggested that the aircraft may carry the PL-15 missile, which is similar to the MBDA Meteor.

By 2030, the J-31 should be mature and in service, presumably with the Chinese Navy carriers, but possibly also with other Nations, as the system appears to be being offered for export. However, the likely customers are perhaps limited (Pakistan, Egypt?). Much will depend on how well integrated and networked the J-31 turns out to be.

That said, as a carrier-based strike aircraft, with the additional capability of carrying effective and long-range AAMs, the J-31 could still fill a useful niche in tactical control, for example, of South China Sea airspace.

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Eurofighter Typhoon/Dassault Rafale


Role: Multi-Role (Air Superiority, Air Defence, Strike)

Configuration: Close-coupled canard-delta

2018 Status: Mature, but in spiral development

2030 Status: Mature

Typhoon and Rafale represent high-end 4th generation capability. Equipped with a wide range of weapons systems, their capabilities continue to be enhanced. The introduction of Meteor on both aircraft, and active e-scan radar on Typhoon, should ensure that these capable aircraft remain effective for some time to come.

Both aircraft have some signature reduction measures in place, but are not considered stealthy. As a result, over time, their ability to deliver Air Superiority may diminish somewhat. That said, the long-range of the Meteor AAM should mean their effectiveness is retained against all but the most challenging threats. In permissive environments, their flexibility in the strike role should ensure their continued effectiveness out to 2030.

Saab Gripen E/F


Role: Multi-Role (Air Defence, Strike, Situational Awareness)

Configuration: Close-coupled canard-delta

2018 Status: Completing development

2030 Status: Mature

The Gripen E is a highly integrated agile air defence aircraft, with a robust and flexible strike capability. The E/F-model, particularly when operating in a networked environment, will remain a capable air defence aircraft out to 2030 and beyond. Although not a stealth aircraft, its ability to use and share networked information allows third-party targeting and high situational awareness. Armed with Meteor and IRIS-T, and with an active e-scan radar, Gripen E/F will remain a capable air defence aircraft in the 2030s environment.

However, it is likely that by the 2030s, the proliferation of highly capable surface-to-air systems and stealthy air defence platforms will increasingly challenge Gripen in the air superiority and strike roles. Gripen has been quite widely exported, and should retain significant capability as a regional air defence and strike system against all but the most capable threat systems.

Speculation – Developmental Systems

The systems discussed below are those about which little is known at present, and, in some cases, are just conjecture. For convenience, I’ll consider the known or likely needs of the key players – the US, Russia, China, Europe and other nations.

US – future systems

As we have seen from the earlier discussion, there is an emerging capability gap around USAF air superiority systems, given the lack of a program for a capability upgrade to the F-22. A replacement program, F-X, is in existence, but little hard information is available. There is also a lack of clarity about future US Navy plans to replace the F/A-18 E/F/G under the F/A-XX program.

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USAF 6th Generation Fighter F-X


Role: Air Superiority (Penetrating Air Combat)

Configuration: Unknown

2018 Status: In development (?)

2030 Status: Entry to service

The limited information available suggests that the USAF is seeking a system-of-systems approach, where a range of sensor, communications, electronic, cyber, platform(s) and weapons would deliver its future capability. There is an indication that the platform element of this would gave significantly greater range and payload than the current F-22, while retaining the ability to be both stealthy and supersonic.

One enabler for this is seen as the use of variable cycle propulsion systems, offering modes at higher bypass ratio for the cruise, and lower bypass ration for take-off, acceleration and dash. Adjunct systems are likely, and might include long-range ground-based air defence systems; stand-off, and possibly space-based, sensor systems; and, speculatively, some autonomous systems which might deliver targeting, communications relay or EW capabilities.

Given US conviction of its superiority in LO technologies, this aspect is likely to be emphasised. Consequently, I would not anticipate a J-10 style solution as the US believe canards too much of a compromise in this area. There has been substantial research in unconventional control devices for LO systems, and there is a US desire to avoid vertical tail surfaces if possible.

Based on all this – a large highly swept delta, with minimal tail surfaces, and active use of innovative control systems appears likely. To be effective, such a platform would need to carry highly effective and long-range AAMs, and would be supported by networked detection, tracking and targeting systems, as well as stand-off electronic warfare and cyber capabilities.

Prototyping, technology development and risk reduction activities are likely to be taking place, possibly as Black programs.



Role: Multi-role (Air Defence, Strike, EW)

Configuration: Unknown

2018 Status: In development (?)

2030 Status: Entry to service

The F/A-XX program reflects a US Navy need to replace the F/A-18 E, F, and G in the mid-2020s as these platforms reach their service lives. Compared to the USAF requirement for a 6th gen fighter, the future F/A-XX is likely to constrained by carrier deck size and possible weight constraints, and also by the necessity to operate within the deployed environment of the carrier battle group.

The available material discussing the project expresses similar aspirations to F-X in terms of the system being networked and integrated with other components in order to achieve the required capability effects. That said, there are suggestions that the US Navy may seek a somewhat more agile system that that proposed for the USAF.

There are some interesting programmatic issues, not least the question as to why the Navy doesn’t simply acquire more F-35C to replace the Super Hornets. My guess is that the Navy will seek to have a program which draws on the technologies being developed for F-X and F/A-XX, but will seek to acquire a Navy-specific solution rather than a common system.

On configuration, I think a Navy F/A-XX would be smaller and more agile than the Air Force F-X. It will also need compromises to be made to achieve the deck landing and take-off requirements, and these may result in a somewhat less stealthy solution than the F-X.

Prototyping, technology development and risk reduction activities are likely to be taking place, possibly as Black programs.

Russia – future systems

RAC MiG MiG-41


Role: Air Defence (Area Denial?)

Configuration: Unknown (A?)

2018 Status: In Development

2030 Status: Entry to service

The MiG 41 is a replacement for the MiG 31 interceptor, currently in service with the Russian Air Force. Very little information is available, and what is available appears contradictory and unlikely.

There is discussion of an aircraft capable of Mach 4+; reference is made to the MiG 41 being a totally new design; but other sources suggest it will draw heavily on the in-service MiG 31.

What can be said is that the MiG-41 will be large, fast and heavy. All these attributes are driven by the geography of Russia and the consequential vast area of airspace that the interceptor force would seek to control. We can also say that the aircraft will carry high powered electronically scanned radars, will have good electronic attack and protection systems, and will deploy large, long-range, and probably hypersonic air-to-air missiles.

Although I would expect some efforts to be made to reduce the signature of the aircraft compared to the MiG 31, I doubt this will dominate, because the interception mission is likely to involve high-speed and high-power operations, resulting in a significant IR signature. Also, I would expect the Russians to seek to out-gun their threats by using very long-range high-speed weapons, enabling the carrier aircraft to stay out of harm’s way.

A possible configuration would be a twin-engine, close-coupled tailed near-delta, significantly larger than the F-22. I’d expect a more shaped and slender appearance than the current MiG 31, and large internal weapons bays to support long-range hypersonic AAMs and area denial weapons.

European – future systems

Team Tempest Tempest

Team Tempest infographic CREDIT BAE SYSTEMS

Role: Multi-role (Air Superiority, Strike, EW)

Configuration: Unknown (A?)

2018 Status: Concept Development

2030 Status: Nearing entry to service

At this stage, not too much should be read into the configuration shown at the recent Farnborough Show. The general shape and size, however, and the associated presentation material, are well-aligned with the hypothesis that the future direction for air combat systems is towards large, stealthy, very flexible platforms, operating in a highly cooperative networked system-of-systems.

The final form of Tempest will depend on which Nations come on board to participate in the project. In essence, the choice here is a bit limited, as France and Germany have announced their own project and are thus ruled out, at least for the moment. In addition, Tempest would be competitive with future US systems, and there are strong disincentives for BAE to collaborate on this project with the US, as this would result in significant constraints due to US International Traffic in Arms Regulation legislation, and might also impact on its desire for design leadership.

Who else might become involved? Possibilities would appear to include Italy, Sweden and Turkey, all of which are not strongly aligned with the US, and are likely to have future air combat needs. Japan can be ruled out, due to its close ties with the US, and India is also unlikely, due to its recent technical alignment being with Russia rather than the West.

Whatever partners are involved, alignment of requirements will be the key. This might just be a problem for Sweden, which despite strong past industrial cooperation between SAAB and BAE Systems, might just prefer a smaller, more agile local air defence solution rather than the ambitious air superiority and penetrating strike capabilities at which Tempest appears to be directed.

Airbus-Dassault FCAS


Role: Multi-role (Air Superiority, Strike)

Configuration: Unknown

2018 Status: Concept development

2030 Status: Nearing entry to service

Airbus Defence and Space of Germany, and Dassault of France, have agreed to cooperate on the FCAS project to develop a future European combat aircraft. The information available on this project is very slight, but follows the familiar themes of being stealthy and operating as part of a networked system-of-systems.

Material from Airbus includes a twin-engine, tailed, near-delta configuration with twin vertical fins. Dassault material includes a significantly more challenging twin-engine tailless delta, with no vertical surfaces. Both concepts appear somewhat smaller than the BAE Systems Tempest configuration shown at Farnborough, and may thus be aimed at the fighter mission with a secondary strike capability, rather than a true multi-role platform.

Key issue for this program will be alignment with potential customer requirements, workshare, and whether Europe can sustain two ambitious combat aircraft development programs.

Other future systems



Role: Multi-Role (Air Defence, plus Strike)

Configuration: B (twin engine)

2018 Status: Proposed development

2030 Status: Uncertain

The KFX and TFX are similar twin-engine F-35 look-alikes. Both Nations expect to operate the F-35, although this currently looks a bit uncertain for Turkey. Consequently, the rationale for developing a similar configuration and size of aircraft appears questionable. My interpretation is that both Nations are seeking to enhance their Industrial capability in the aerospace sector, and the FX projects provide a way of achieving this.

I would expect both aircraft to focus on the Air Defence role,  because this would provide an opportunity to supplement rather than simply duplicate F-35 capability. It is not clear whether a secondary strike role for the aircraft is envisaged.

The KFX is slightly smaller than the otherwise similar TFX, and is likely to be powered by two (probably license-built) GE F414 engines. The TFX is the subject of a technical agreement with BAE, and interestingly two EJ200 engines are proposed.

Both programs are to some extent at political risk. It is far from clear how the relationship between South Korea and North Korea will develop, and this, together with the relationship between South Korea and the USA, is likely to have a strong influence on the KFX. Equally, Turkey’s aspiration to operate the F-35 is at substantial risk because of the poor current relationship with the USA. If that situation is not resolved, Turkey may follow a different path, resulting also in a change in direction for the TFX program.

Minor update for the TFX: It has recently been reported that GE F110 (probably the -129 version) was selected for the prototype(s)

Indian AMCA


Role: Air Superiority (Penetrating Air Combat)

Configuration: A

2018 Status: Immature concept development

2030 Status: Unlikely

The AMCA is an attempt to leap from the much-delayed Tejas to a high-end Indian F-22. On the face of it the design appears to be immature. There would need to be significant advances in Indian capabilities to field the engine, develop and refine a true stealth configuration, and integrate the aircraft and weapons system.

The only way I could see this aircraft being realised in the supposed time-scale would be with very significant assistance from a third party. India has had talks with Russia about the Su-57 for this role, and the very existence of the AMCA project suggests that these have not been successful.

I’m calling this one improbable at this stage. The project is possibly a fall-back option should the Su-57 approach fail, but in that event, it is unclear who might be approach to assist in development.

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All the major air combat players appear to be taking the view that Air Superiority and Strike in the 2030s will be delivered by a networked system-of-systems. The air platforms will be generally large, stealthy, and capable of delivering Air Superiority and Strike capabilities. It is likely that long-range AAMs and strike weapons will be used, and the platform capabilities will be supplemented by adjunct systems, which might include targeting, electronic attack, decoy, communications and cyber capabilities. China and Russia are likely to deploy long-range hypersonic weapons with the intent of creating an Area Denial capability.

It would be surprising if the US were not to follow suit, and given the time required to develop complex air combat systems, it would be surprising if substantial F-X and F/A-XX related activities were not underway in the Black Project world. The recent floating by Lockheed-Martin of a proposal to upgrade the F-22, using the systems developed for the F-35, may indicate an emerging need for a capability sustainment program to keep the F-22 in service longer, while awaiting the outcome of a replacement program.

The most significant air combat systems in 2030 would appear likely to be:

Air Superiority


Russia: Su-57

Access Denial

Russia: MiG-41

China: J-20

Air Defence

France/Germany: FCAS

Sweden: Gripen E/F

China: J-31


UK & partners: Tempest

Or a joint program with Airbus-Dassault and BAE Systems

US: F-35

What else could be out there?

This paper does not consider purely Strike systems. It is, however likely that all the major parties will continue the development of stealthy autonomous strike systems. In the US this might be the Lockheed SR-91, or its Boeing competitor.

All the major parties are also focussed on hypersonic weapons systems. Not only are such systems hard to defeat, they almost inevitably have long-range. Applications are likely in area denial, and in countering high-value assets. Boost-glide vehicles are a possibility, offering the prospect of rapid (non-nuclear) strategic strike capability.

Autonomous vehicle applications are already extending beyond strike and reconnaissance, into tankers, communications relay, and electronic warfare, and this trend will continue.

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The Ultimate World War I Fighters

“Biplanes are soooo 1918”

A hundred years ago the armistice of November 11th 1918 ended the fighting on the Western Front and largely brought to a close four years of continuous frenetic aviation development. Had the fighting continued into 1919 these are the types that would have been in the front line; Snarks and Rumplers would have been as well known today as Camels and Fokkers. 

Mehr davon bitte! The SPAD 13 was amongst the best fighters of 1918, what would take the top spot in 1919?

This group represents the ultimate development in Great War fighter aircraft yet despite their potential, none of these aircraft saw operational service before the end of hostilities and chances are you’ve never heard of any of them (unless you’re over 100 years old and happened to be employed in the aviation sector in the early interwar period).

In 1918 aircraft designs were churned out at an astounding rate, for example the Fokker V20 of early 1918 was allegedly designed and built in six and a half days. As a result the aircraft below are limited to single seat, single engine aircraft only to limit the potential entries and help maintain the sanity of the compiler.

Honourable Mention: Orenco-Curtiss Model D

“I am quite attractive and historically significant, why did not they save me from the scrapman?”

Be an American Eagle! (fly a French plane)

Despite being the first nation to actually fly an aeroplane, US aviation lagged behind the European powers when they entered the conflict in 1917. All the combat aircraft operated by the American Expeditionary Force over the Western front were either French or British. In 1919 however the first indigenous American fighter design to enter production (though still equipped with a French engine) took to the air in the form of the Orenco Model D.

The aircraft was apparently excellent, test pilot Clarence Coombs (who gained second place in the inaugural Pulitzer Trophy the following year in the Curtiss Kitten) reporting “This aircraft performs better than the Sopwith Camel and Snipe, the Thomas-Morse, the Nieuport and Morane Parasol, the Spad and S.V.A.” which was praise indeed, and thus the Army ordered a batch of fifty production aircraft. So why is Orenco virtually unknown today? Well it turned out that the US Army had bought the rights to the design from Orenco and then offered a tender to companies to actually build the production aircraft. In a cruel twist, the winning (i.e. cheapest) bid came not from Orenco themselves but from the aviation giant Curtiss. Curtiss tinkered with the design a little and duly manufactured the fifty fighters.

Orenco meanwhile folded shortly afterwards and became largely forgotten by history. 

10. Sopwith Snark

“Do you like Lewis Carroll?” “Not really, no”

Likely possessing the coolest name ever applied to an aircraft, the Sopwith Snark was a crazy blend of the somewhat old-fashioned and incredibly futuristic. The Snark’s triplane format was generally considered passé by the end of the war but its revival by Sopwith (whose Triplane of 1916 was one of the greatest successes of the conflict) was not simply an exercise in nostalgia. One of two fighters proposed by Sopwith (the other being a run-of-the-mill biplane named the Snapper) in 1918 to replace its own Snipe, which was then entering service, the Snark was intended to operate at high altitude and the low wing loading offered by the triplane layout was seen as ideal to maintain manoeuvrability at height. It also conferred upon the Snark a prodigious weight-lifting capacity which was employed to carry the Snark’s unprecedented armament of six machine guns. This installed armament made it the most heavily armed fighter of the Great war period and would not be equalled until the prototype Gloster Gauntlet took to the skies in 1932 with the same arrangement of four wing-mounted Lewis and two fuselage Vickers gun installation. Even then the Gauntlet reverted to just the twin Vickers armament in its production guise. 

The four square patches visible on the lower wing provided access to the ammunition drums of the Lewis guns. The firepower of the Snark would not be surpassed by a British fighter until the prototype Hawker Hurricane was fitted with eight Brownings in August 1936.

Similarly forward-looking was its construction, the Snark featured a wooden monocoque fuselage that conferred high strength for low weight. It would be the last RAF fighter, experimental or otherwise, to fly with such a fuselage until the prototype Mosquito fighter W4052 of 1941. The Snark appeared in public on just one occasion and it was noted that it ‘chucked stunts’ and seemed ‘uncommonly fast’. Upon landing out popped test pilot Harry Hawker, who was flying without a coat, though ‘everybody else was cold enough though well wrapped up.” 

Massive cuts to the armed forces at the end of the war meant that there would be no production order for the forward-looking, stunt-chucking and demonstrably warm Snark, thus depriving aviation writers the opportunity to use the phrase ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ in articles and features for evermore. A cruel blow.

Despite a nearly-successful entry into the motorcycle manufacturing business (Under the name ABC motors), Sopwith was saddled with insurmountable tax debts from its massive wartime production and was wound up in 1920. Though Tom Sopwith, Harry Hawker and three others immediately bought the assets of Sopwith as the H.G. Hawker Engineering company which would ultimately become a giant of the British aviation industry. 

9. Zeppelin D.I

In 1918, Germany’s strict Irony laws (die Ironiegesetze) decreed that all metal aircraft had to be photographed in front of trees.

Designed by Claude Dornier, the Zeppelin D.I was one of very few truly revolutionary aircraft in aviation history. The first aircraft to be built and flown with a stressed-skin metal construction throughout, the Zeppelin was the progenitor of virtually all modern fixed wing aircraft but never entered service and today is obscure in the extreme. 

Zeppelin sold two D.Is to the US in 1921. One was evaluated by the Navy and this one by the Army Air Service. Despite being earmarked for preservation it was scrapped in 1926.

Zeppelin’s name is inextricably linked with airships but the company were (and indeed still are) specialists in more general aluminium engineering so it was hardly surprising that they would seek to apply this material to aircraft construction. In the case of the D.I, construction was of duralumin (an alloy of aluminium and copper) throughout. This alloy would later be used to build the ill-fated Hindenburg passenger airship. 

Zeppelin’s D.I was present, though not an official entry, at the second fighter competition at Adlershof but was struck by incredible ill-fortune. Despite being grounded at the factory’s behest pending fitment of the correct wing attachment, the Zeppelin was flown anyway and fatally crashed when the upper wing departed from the aircraft, killing ace Wilhelm Reinhard. Curiously The D.I had been flown minutes earlier by Herman Goering and one wonders how history would have changed had he been the victim rather than the luckless Reinhard. This accident, though seemingly the result of ill-luck rather than any flaw in the aircraft inevitably coloured opinions. Whether or not this had an effect when the Zeppelin appeared at the next fighter contest is open to question but despite its promise the metal aircraft did not put up a particularly good showing, even when fitted with Germany’s best inline engine, the 185 hp BMW. “Does not possess characteristics of a modern fighter. Ailerons too heavy.” noted  Heinrich Bongartz, commander of the Aircraft Test Centre at Aldershof in a remarkably succinct but damning report. Had fighting continued it is likely that a developed version would have addressed the shortcomings this aircraft possessed.

Too advanced for you: Dornier Do H Falke

Unlike so many other hopeful German types, work on this fighter did not cease with the treaty of Versailles so we are granted a tangible glimpse of how this machine would have evolved if the conflict had continued. Dornier developed the design into the monoplane Dornier Do H ‘Falke’ (Falcon) of 1922, five examples of which were built in Switzerland and Italy. The Falke demonstrated a terrific turn of speed but never entered production, being apparently just too ahead of its time. The US Navy for example declared it was ‘too advanced’ for their needs after evaluating the aircraft in 1923.

8. Pfalz D.XV

“Am I not a looker?”

Recipient of a major production order exactly one week before the end of hostilities, the Pfalz D.XV bid fair to reverse the prevailing attitude that Pfalz fighters were invariably inferior to their Fokker rivals. An unusual design, the fuselage of the Pfalz was placed halfway between upper and lower wing and attached to both by complex struts, resulting in a distinctly ungainly look. The D.XV was notable also for its complete absence of bracing wires as both wings were cantilever units. Despite its clumsy appearance, the new Pfalz was an impressive performer. When both were fitted with the same BMW engine, it was slightly faster than the Fokker D.VII and the new Pfalz matched its rival for rate of climb.

Entered into the third fighter trial at Adlershof, the performance of the D.XV was sufficient to warrant an order despite issues of tail-heaviness (which should have been relatively easy to cure) and being difficult to land – neither seen as particularly serious when weighed against the aircraft’s excellent performance. It was also noted that Pfalz’s production capacity was superior to Fokker and for this reason alone, the new fighter, at least as good as the D.VII but available quickly in great numbers made the Pfalz an extremely attractive machine to the Inspektion der Fliegertruppen (Idflieg).

“No, I am not”

The D.XV immediately entered production but time was not on Pfalz’s side and not a single example of the D.XV was to reach the front. It is not definitely known how many complete aircraft were built, probably no more than four, but in 1919, when Allied officials inspected Pfalz’s Speyer factory, they found 74 complete fuselages on the production line. Curiously, two D.XVs were exported to Italy for evaluation as late as 1920, presumably licence production there was being considered. The ultimate fate of both these aircraft sadly remains unknown.

Despite never again building a complete aircraft, Pfalz Flugzeugwerke still exists today, as a component subcontractor to both Airbus and Boeing amongst others.

7. Nieuport Nighthawk / Gloster Mars

“Tonight I’m going to party like I’m Negative no.1999”

Had the war continued into 1919 the British would have had a serious problem as virtually all their future aircraft types were designed around the ABC Dragonfly, a radial engine that promised much but delivered little. One such was the outstanding Nieuport Nighthawk, the design of which would set the standard for British fighters for the next twenty years. Despite its name, the Nieuport and General Company, often referred to as ‘British Nieuport’, was a completely separate entity to Nieuport in France. It had been set up to construct Nieuport aircraft under licence, hence the name, but by 1918 was building Sopwith Camels and eventually set up its own design office under Henry Folland, who had earlier designed the superlative SE5a. 

A Nighthawk demonstrating that it really can fly. This one has sensibly been re-engined with an Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar.

When the Dragonfly engine was running properly, the Nighthawk demonstrated superior characteristics to the Sopwith Snipe, and was the first of an array of radial-engined biplane fighters that formed the backbone of the RAF and Fleet Air Arm’s fighter force until the arrival of the Hurricane and Spitfire in the late 1930s. Despite being the ancestor of virtually all British inter-war fighters, the Nighthawk itself was plagued by the hopelessness of its engine. The Dragonfly never developed its advertised power, was prone to colossal overheating – Nighthawks under test were recorded landing with charred propellor hubs – and most seriously of all the engine had been inadvertently designed to run at its own resonance frequency, meaning that simply switching the engine on caused it to shake itself apart. 

Marketing a fighter aircraft to the public as a ‘sporting plane’ on the basis of compartments for ‘compact load’ suggests an air of desperation on the part of Nieuport and General.

The Nieuport and General Company closed down in 1920 but all was not lost for their seemingly unlucky aircraft. The Nighthawk was known to be an excellent design let down solely by its unreliable engine and production was continued by the Gloucestershire Aircraft company (later to be known as Gloster) who snapped up both development rights and designer Folland. At Gloster the Nighthawk was renamed the Mars, re-engined with a selection of motors that actually worked, and then developed into a confusing swathe of broadly similar types that served with distinction in many air arms across the globe. Examples included the Gloster Nightjar, essentially a Nighthawk with a Bentley rotary, which served operationally as a carrier fighter, and the similar Gloster Sparrowhawk, the first fighter operated by the Japanese Navy. Meanwhile on land a Nighthawk had been fitted with a Napier Lion and shorter wings, inexplicably named the Bamel, and became for a brief period the fastest aircraft in the world. Folland’s designs at Gloster progressed by a process of evolution by way of the Grebe, Gamecock and Gauntlet, to the famous Gladiator, the last fighter biplane of the RAF and a direct descendant of the Nighthawk.

6. Fokker V29

“Where the hell is my lower wing?! …Oh yeah, my mistake”

Similar but not the same: the Fokker D.X of 1921.

Fokker built the best fighting monoplane and biplane to serve the Central powers in significant numbers during the war, the V.29 prototype sought to combine the best of both worlds by marrying the fuselage of the biplane D.VII to the cantilever parasol wing of the D.VIII. This simple scheme resulted in an excellent aircraft that shared top place at the third Adlershof fighter competition in 1918 with the Rumpler D.I (of which more later). Pilots universally adjudged the V29 to have the best handling of all aircraft at the competition. If the war had continued the new fighter would have entered service as the Fokker D.IX and would likely have proved formidable. As it was, the amazing and continuing success of Fokker’s D.VII meant that there was no great rush to put the new monoplane into production and only the prototype was ever built. Some years later Fokker, by now operating once more in his native country of the Netherlands, built eleven of the D.X, a Hispano-Suiza powered development of the D.VIII which saw service in Spain and Finland and bore more than a passing resemblance to the earlier V29.

Unlike nearly every other manufacturer on this list, Fokker enjoyed great success producing both civil and military aircraft for many years until finally ceasing aircraft manufacture in 1996.

5. Rumpler D.I

Air ace Ernst Udet (left) chats with Edmund Rumpler in front of a D.I. Both survived the First World War only to die during the Second.

The height at which aircraft were compelled to operate had inexorably risen throughout the war and the tubby Rumpler D.I possessed unmatched high altitude performance. Described as ‘perhaps the best fighter Germany never had in 1918’, the D.I appeared in ever more developed form at three of the Adlershof fighter competitions and was declared joint winner of the third in concert with the lash-up Fokker V29.

Spot the difference: this earlier iteration of the D.I sports a more rounded rudder and different ailerons. Rumpler fiddled with the same basic design for over a year.

The Rumplertropfen was aerodynamic, refined and a massive flop. Several can be seen in Fritz Lang’s epic ‘Metropolis’.

Both were fitted with the exceptional BMW 185hp engine, specifically designed for high altitude performance and the results were impressive. During the competition the Rumpler was the only aircraft able to gain an altitude of 8200 metres, which was spectacular stuff indeed for 1918. Despite immediately placing an order for 50 however, not a single machine made it to the front, though a total of 22, including prototypes, appears to have been built before fighting ceased. The cause for the delay seems to have been teething problems that Rumpler engineers could never quite overcome before the armistice; the D.I was a complicated aircraft fitted with such luxuries as cockpit heating, oxygen and radio equipment, and a monocoque fuselage and as such pointed the way forward not only to future fighters of greater sophistication but also ever-greater design and development timescales. Engineers at Rumpler had been tinkering with the design of what would become the D.I since mid 1917, a stark contrast to the rapid turnaround of designs at Fokker. 

Rumpler Flugzeugwerke was liquidated in 1920, though Edmund Rumpler went on to design the remarkable Rumplertropfen car which was a technical triumph but a commercial failure. Only 100 were built of which two survive today. Rumpler himself, being Jewish, had his career ruined after the Nazis gained power and was briefly imprisoned. He died in 1940.

4. Gordou-Leseurre Type B (later GL-2)

Flash Gordou: the world’s sole surviving Gordou-Leseurre is this Finnish GL.22 at the Finnish Air Force Museum.

Probably the best aircraft designed and built by brothers-in-law, the Gordou-Leseurre Type B was just beginning deliveries when the conflict ceased. The French were less monoplane-averse than their British allies and the Type B was the best of the numerous ‘parasol’ types built by the French during the war. As you may have guessed, the Type B was preceded by the Type A which was very fast indeed (in tests it was nudging 250 km/h which made it unofficially the fastest aircraft in the world) but doubts over the structural integrity of the wing mounting led to a modest redesign with a generally lightened structure and heavily reinforced wing. This process delayed service entry of the new aircraft, now named Type B, and as a result this extremely promising high speed monoplane missed the war, a mere 20 examples being manufactured of the initial 1918 version. 

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The first French ‘arresting gear’ consisted of cables weighed down with sandbags. It didn’t work very well.

This was not the end of the story as developed versions saw limited production for the Aeronavale first as a fighter and then as an advanced trainer. This latter version conducted carrier trials aboard France’s first aircraft carrier Bearn and was adapted for use as a carrier reconnaissance aircraft.

Handfuls were produced for the air arms of Yugoslavia, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia and Finland and ultimately around 130 aircraft were built. The final three off the production line were civilian versions constructed in the early 1930s for use in competition aerobatics.

As is invariably the case with in-laws, relations between Gordou and Leseurre became strained and after producing a few modestly successful designs the company closed down in 1934.

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3. Siemens-Schuckert D.VI

The D.VI demonstrates its ability to levitate its tail using only the power of ‘the Force’.

As everyone knows, the First World War ended in 1918. Except, of course, that it didn’t. It is true that the fighting ceased (mostly) in November 1918 but that was only an armistice. The war was actually brought to a close on the 28th June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In the intervening seven months, the German military had somewhat cheekily, but undeniably prudently, maintained aviation development work and even held a competition for new fighter aircraft at Adlershof between February and March 1919. Likewise Siemens-Schuckert flew the D.VI, their final aircraft design, in 1919.

The stubby D.VI was fast and agile but no one would call it pretty. This in-flight photograph is a fake.

Essentially a monoplane version of the earlier Siemens-Schuckert D.IV, the D.VI retained the exceptional rate of climb that had made its progenitor probably the best interceptor of the war and conferred upon it a useful increase in speed. The D.VI is also notable for being the only aircraft on this list powered by a rotary engine. Rotaries had been dominant as fighter powerplants in the mid-war period but had reached the limits of their development potential by 1919. The eleven cylinder Siemens-Halske Sh.III fitted to the D.VI represented the zenith of this engine type and its choice was no doubt influenced by its being built by the same parent company that made the airframe. By dint of an ingenious crank and gearing system, the torque that proved so deadly on other rotary powered aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel had been virtually eliminated and the high compression ratio meant that the Sh.III maintained an impressively high power output at altitude. As a straightforward development of a proven and formidable aircraft there is every chance the D.VI would have made for a potent fighter. As it turned out one of the prototypes was lost during testing and the other was unceremoniously burned to avoid it falling into Allied hands.

Germany had been notably more interested in the safety of their pilots than any of the other fighting powers – German fighter pilots were unique by the end of the war in that they were provided with parachutes. The D.VI continued this trend, its fuel tank was mounted externally and could be jettisoned if set on fire, giving the pilot a fighting chance to bring the aircraft safely down. Meanwhile pilots of all other nationalities could expect to burn to death in the event of their aircraft catching fire.  

2. Martinsyde F.4 Buzzard

Any British equipment associated with the First World War was contractually obliged to be photographed surrounded by mud.

The best British fighter aircraft of the war was doomed by bad timing to remain little more than a footnote in aviation history. Its success seemed assured with an order for 1450 from the RAF and several thousand more planned to be obtained or licence built by the US and France. A development of the earlier F.3, which despite excellent performance had been cursed by the non-availability of its preferred Rolls-Royce Falcon engine (which was required for the highly successful two-seat Bristol F.2b), the F.4 featured a modest redesign and mounted a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 8 delivering 300 hp. Thoroughly conventional, the Buzzard was well designed and sturdily built and its principle advantages lay in its colossal speed and exceptional rate of climb, both superior to any other British fighter.    

Spanish F.4 showing off. Airshows were more fun in 1928.

Delays in engine availability resulted in a mere 48 (or 57, depending on which source you believe) being delivered by the armistice, none of which made it to an operational squadron, though a handful were used by the Central Flying School. With the incredibly savage cutbacks to the RAF in the immediate postwar period, the Sopwith Snipe, an inferior aircraft in nearly every measurable performance parameter was selected as the RAF’s standard fighter, mainly because it was cheaper but also because it wasn’t powered by a foreign engine. Although, given the horrific debacle of the ABC Dragonfly, the fact that it was powered by a Hispano-Suiza rather than the benighted British radial would have counted massively in the Martinsyde’s favour if operational flying had continued into 1919. However all was not totally lost for Martinsyde, as the Buzzard enjoyed modest export success, ultimately flying in small numbers with the air forces of thirteen nations. Major users included Finland, Spain and the Soviet Union and eventually the creditable total of about 370 aircraft was built. 

This Buzzard is flying in the King’s Cup air race of 1922. It didn’t win.

Despite never serving its home nation operationally, it did see action with pro-treaty Free State forces during the Irish Civil war and despite being completely outdated performed limited operations during 1936 with the Republic Air force in the early stages of the Spanish Civil war. Amazingly Buzzards were used for training by Finland as late as 1940. Belgium was another potential export customer, the Belgian Air Force extensively tested an F.4 Buzzard as part of a competition to select a fighter to supplement their Fokker D.VIIs. The Buzzard lost out to the aircraft detailed below.

Like Sopwith, Martinsyde attempted to stave off postwar bankruptcy by manufacturing motorcycles. The motorcycles were excellent and quite successful but a factory fire in 1922 forced the company into liquidation. 

1. Nieuport 29 (later Nieuport-Delage Nid.29)

The best fighter in service anywhere in the world 1922.

Winner of an exhaustive competition to select a replacement for the outstanding SPAD XIII, the Nieuport-Delage NiD-29 would have been built in enormous numbers had war continued. Even with the outbreak of peace over 1500 of these excellent machines were built, roughly half by Nieuport, 600 of them under licence by Nakajima in Japan with SABCA in Belgium and Macchi and Caproni in Italy building a few hundred more.

Nieuport’s chief designer Gustave Delage was the fighter king in 1916 and 17, with thousands of his diminutive sesquiplane fighters swarming through the skies. Nieuports were operated by all the Allied nations and built under licence in most of them. Captured examples even served the Central powers in significant numbers. By 1918 however SPAD had stolen the top spot; in November 1918 literally every operational single-seat fighter in the French air force was a SPAD. The competing Nieuport 28 had to suffer the ignominy of being rejected for service by its home nation and palmed off on the Americans. Delage and Nieuport had to come up with something special to regain their ascendency and the magnificent Nieuport 29, an aircraft that would prove to be the fastest and highest flying in the world, was the result. 

To emphasise its inherent Frenchness Gustave Delage made sure the new Nieuport 29 was always photographed near a major French landmark.

By the spring of 1918 Monsieur Delage had been tinkering with a succession of prototype fighters to replace the Nieuport 28 on the production line. When specifications were announced for a new fighter by the Section Technique de l’aéronautique (STAé) Delage took what the best of these prototypes and modified it further. First flown in mid-1918 (sources differ on the date) the Nieuport 29 competed with the SPAD XXI, the Martinsyde Buzzard, and the Sopwith Dolphin (in its Mk II form developed and built by SACA in France) to fulfil the new fighter requirement. All four aircraft were equipped with the same Hispano-Suiza 8fb 300 hp engine and all were impressive performers. At this stage the 29 proved the fastest of the competitors but the Buzzard demonstrated the best rate of climb. The Nieuport also failed to attain the altitude required in the original specification. Delage quickly increased the span of the new fighter and lightened the structure resulting in a significant increase in both ceiling and climb rate and in this form the Nieuport 29 was considered the best of the competing types.

Major users of the NiD.29 included France, Japan, Italy, Siam (later Thailand) and, as seen here, Belgium.

Prudently the French ordered large production of all the entries except the poorest performer, the SPAD XXI. However the continuing success of the earlier SPAD XIII in service lent no great urgency to the development of the new aircraft types. Concurrent delays in production of the all-important Hispano-Suiza 8fb engine meant that by the armistice not a single Martinsyde nor Nieuport 29 had been delivered to the Armee de l’air Français, and only 20 or so Dolphins had been completed by SACA. The coming of peace led to an immediate wind-down of French aircraft requirements, orders for the British designed Buzzard and Dolphin were cancelled and development of the new Nieuport proceeded at a more leisurely pace.

Sadi-Lecointe on his way to winning the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe for fastest moustache.

And so the best French fighter to fly during the Great war finally entered service in 1922 as the Nieuport-Delage NiD-29, the change of name being considered necessary to distinguish the French company from its British offshoot Nieuport and General. It was the fastest fighter aircraft in service anywhere in the world.

In the intervening three years Nieuport-Delage had been far from idle, developing versions of the NiD.29 for both speed and altitude. The NiD.29V was the high-speed variant and was distinguishable from the standard NiD29 by its shortened wings. It set the first post-war official speed record with pilot  Joseph Sadi-Lecointe on February 7 1920 and later became the first aircraft to exceed 300 km/h in level flight. NiD.29Vs also won both the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe and Gordon Bennett cup air races in 1920. Meanwhile the NiD.40R, an extended span version with a Rateau turbocharger was piloted by Sadi-Lecointe to ever-greater heights culminating in a record of 11,145 m (36,565 ft) on October 30 1923. 

The high-altitude NiD.40R shows off its natty extended span wings. All aircraft are best observed whilst reclining in the long grass.

The military NiD.29s gave excellent, reliable service in France throughout the 1920s, equipping some 25 squadrons of the French air force, and three examples were used in combat during the Rif war in Morocco in 1925. The only other nation to use the NiD.29 operationally was Japan. Despite beginning withdrawal of their licence built version (the Nakajima Ko.4) in 1933, many were still in service when the Sino-Japanese conflict erupted in 1937 and saw brief service over Shanghai and Manchuria. A remarkable longevity of front-line service for a 1918 design.

Nakajima Ko.4: The Japanese were keen to make the NiD.29 look like it was from the 19th century for some reason.

Nieuport dropped the Delage name in 1932 after Gustave Delage’s retirement when it merged with the Loire aircraft company. Loire-Nieuport became a component part of the nationalised SNCAO concern in 1936.


If you want to see any of these aircraft in real life your best bet at present is to go to the Finnish Air Force Museum (Suomen Ilmavoimamuseo). There the sole remaining examples of the Martinsyde Buzzard and Gordou-Leseurre Type B are exhibited not just in the same location but the same room. The last surviving Nieuport-Delage NiD-29 is in the collection of the Musée de l’air in Paris but is not apparently on display at the moment. Sadly, not a single example of any of the other aircraft in this fascinating list has survived to the present day.

10 Incredible Soviet Fighter Aircraft that never entered service


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”
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. Like the F-16A, 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 fighter built for export.
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
 See the 11 worst soviet aircraft here
9. Nikitin-Shevchenko IS-4 (1941)

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.


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.


The less than stellar MiG-3.

8 ‘Article 468’

IMG_20160825_0001 (2).jpg

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.


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

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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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

5. Sukhoi Su-37/S-37 


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 were re-awakened to the idea by both advances in flight control software and the Western trend. It was at this time, in the late 1980s, that Sukhoi was considered a new ground attack aircraft. It was planned that it would combine the canard delta configuration with several unusual features.

The Sukhoi bureau developed plans for what was dubbed ‘Su-37’ or ‘S-37’ (this designation was later recycled for a ‘Flanker’ variant, which is unrelated to this project) as a single-engined single-seat fighter. Learning from experience in Afghanistan the ’37 was designed to replace Soviet Aviation’s ‘Fitters’, Floggers and Frogfoots (or is it Frogfeet?). Again echoing trends in West defence planning, the Su-37 was intended to combine the ground attack and air-to-air role, with an emphasis on the first role. Consequently, it had 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.


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 hardened air shelter 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


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


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
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


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.

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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. a


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

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


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

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

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.


        • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
        • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
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The 11 worst Soviet aircraft


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


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’


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


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.


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 


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


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 


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. 

 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.

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


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

Secret British stealth aircraft project-full story here

4. Tupolev Tu-144


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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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


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


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


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. 


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

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


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

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

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.


  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
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The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

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The ten best-looking US Navy airplanes


The US Navy has had such a dazzling selection of beautiful airplanes, that we must accept that there has to be omissions in this list. Despite this, we hope you enjoy our choice- the following ten are certainly all extremely handsome machines. 

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10. Grumman Panther

F9F attached to the USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA31) flies over task force 77 engaged in 3 carrier operations against North Korean targets.  The carriers are USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA31) USS ESSEX (CVA9) and the USS PRINCETON (CVA37). NARA FILE #:  80-G-480645

9. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 HornetWorld-Cockpit-Blue-Angels-F-18-Hornet-Fresh-New-Hd-Wallpaper

8. Vought F7U Cutlass

Tail Hook JM low rez7. F2D Banshee

A F2H-2 "Banshee" is serviced aboard the USS ESSEX (CV-9), for a strike on Communist targets in Korea, by crewmen of the 27,000 ton aircraft carrier.  A "Banshee" is hauled to the flightdeck of the carrier on the forward elevator. NARA FILE #:  80-G-432627

6. Vought F4U Corsair


5. Wright XF3W Apache


4. North American A-5 VigilanteDN-SC-04-09229 3. Douglas A-4 Skyhawk


2. Grumman F-14 Tomcat


1. Grumman F7F Tigercat fighter2ws_1680sx

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Note: This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Thank you.

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft,and10 worst British aircraft

You may also enjoy 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

OCTOBER 23, 2016

The secret life of aircraft


Looking up at an aeroplane in the sky, have you ever wondered where it originally came from- and where it will end its life? We take a fascinating look at the secret life of aeroplanes. 

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  1. Conception


As with most vehicles, aeroplane copulation involves the male mounting the female from above (or in some cases behind). When a male aeroplane is interested in mounting a female, he waggles his wings and activate his foglights. If the female is receptive, she will either extend her drogue, sometimes called a basket, or in the case of many inland aeroplanes species, the male will extend his boom. Once coupled, the aircraft will exchange vital liquids that contain the blueprint for a new aircraft. If fertilisation is successful, the female aircraft will gestate for between ten and twenty years.

2. Birth


Birth traditionally took place at 25,000 feet, but modern birthing techniques can be as low as 500 or as high as 30,000 feet. The process takes place at great speeds to avoid Predators or other Unmanned Air Vehicles. Litters vary in size, this F-111 is giving birth to four young (young F-111s are known as piglets). Note that the young have yet to develop full-size wings.

3. Childhood

11390h.jpgAs can be seen in this photograph of a young Bell X-1, young aeroplanes seldom stray far from their protective mothers. Note that the mother has four visible engines, whereas the X-1 has none. Engines are developed during puberty. A young aircraft often has neither the software, weapons integration or spare parts to make it in the world by itself.

4. Adolescence 


After sexual maturation aeroplanes are forced to leave their family nests. Badly tempered- and highly hormonal male aeroplanes often form gangs (as seen above).

5. Sexual orientation 

Though these terms are now highly contentious, traditionally three types of aeroplane sexual orientation were understood:

A. Monocoque


A monocoque aircraft relationship involves at least one mailplane in a monogamous relationship.

B. Biplane


Biplanes are more versatile than monocoque aircraft, but some (especially in the monocoque community) have expressed doubt on their existence.

C. Triplane


Very popular in the hedonistic 1910s, especially in German aristocratic circles – today there are few self-designated ‘triplanes’. Triplanes were famous for their flamboyant ‘drag culture’ – later replaced by the Lift-to-Drag culture.

6. Finding a job


Though originally it was considered enough that aeroplanes could fly -today they are forced to earn their keep. Some are employed by budget airlines to act as prisons for humans, the hapless detainees are not allowed to leave until they have bought a thirty Euro teddy bear and a four-Euro Coke. Other aircraft are forced to perform in circuses flying unnaturally low or to fight to the death for the entertainment of national leaders.

7. Middle Age

post-1698-066799700 1298258609.jpg

During middle-age, aircraft become more emotionally maintenance heavy. Aware that they are half way through their service life many, like this German Tornado ECR, start to wear gaudy costumes in an attempt to recapture the ghost of their youth.


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8. Old Age 


The average aeroplane lives to around 7,000 flight hours. By 6,500, the aeroplane will be suffering from embarrassing coolant leaks, a general feeling of fatigue and appalling unreliability. Belts, hoses and gaskets — and anything else that rubs against something else — will need frequent attention. On the positive side, most elderly aeroplanes are thoroughly loved by both humans and other ‘planes. Particularly charismatic geriatrics may even become stars, performing before millions of spectators.

9. Death 1461203297783321.jpg

One day an aeroplane will die. Its turbines or pistons will splutter and give up, and it will be hauled away, melted down and turned into sporks. Many aeroplanes, as Zoroastrians, request an open ground-level burial. A ‘tower of silence’ is built – where the bodies are left exposed so their aluminium can be picked from their bones by Vulture UAVs. 



Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit
Note: This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Thank you.

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft,and10 worst British aircraft

You may also enjoy 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

OCTOBER 13, 2016

Mirage 2000 pilot interview: Cutting it in the ‘Electric Cakeslice’


After mastering the Lightning  and Tornado, the RAF’s Ian Black volunteered to fly France’s hottest fighter, the superb Mirage 2000. Black explains what is was like to fly the ultimate Mirage, and how it fared in dogfights against the most formidable fighters of the 1980s. 

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How did you end up flying Mirage 2000s?

“I’d flown Air Defence for around 12 years and converted from back to front seat. I’d reached a point in my career where i had to expand my horizons. I could go down the staff Officer route, apply to the Red Arrows, Test Pilot School or try for an exchange posting. I opted for the exchange option as i wanted to fly an aircraft the RAF didn’t have as well as the opportunity to learn a foreign language appealed – At the time the RAF had exchange postings for Air Defence pilots on the F-15C/ F-16/ F-18 F-4F and Mirage 2000 – I wanted the French Exchange because it was based in Provence and the Mirage is a unique airframe.”

Which variant?

“I flew the Mirage 2000C – RDI – at the time the FAF had the Mirage 2000C RDM ( pulse radar ) and the RDI Pulse doppler radar. They also operated the Mirage 2000D and 2000N – Eventually a Tornado GR1 pilot flew the Mirage 2000D, but the N’s Nuclear role meant no foreign pilots were allowed to operate it.”

“I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating”

What were your first impressions of the cockpit?

” Slightly disappointing at first – I’d come from the Tornado F3 which was painted grey – then blacked out for NVG work – and was very spacious and well laid out. The Mirage 2000 is more like a fighter from the 70s with a lot of analogue displays. The rear view was not as good as an F-16 and it was pretty cramped. On the plus side it was not overly complex.”

Is it easy to fly?

“Yes and no- It’s easy to fly once you get the hang of it but the delta wing takes a unique approach to flying – Its not like a conventional wing – It generates huge amounts of lift but also an enormous amount of drag – great for a ‘Bat Turn’ but you always end low on energy afterwards. Landing is pretty straightforward. The view is good. Air-to-air refuelling is easy. It has very well balanced controls and gives you great seat of the pants type senses – I’d almost say it was the perfect blend of old and new – great feedback to the pilot using its early fly-by-wire controls without feeling like a computer game.”


What is the hardest thing about flying the Mirage 2000- any quirks?

“As mentioned, the delta wing could catch you out, it would give you 9G+ performance but at a penalty; flying in the circuit could be a challenge, turning finals required quite a lot of pulling on the stick -which loaded the wing up as the drag built. Once you rolled wings level it was imperative to take the power off or you would accelerate quickly.”

How does the acceleration and climb compare to a Lightning?

“The Lightning had two massive Rolls Royce Avon engines – The Mirage 2000 had one – but it was still pretty potent.”

Did you fly dissimilar air combat training (DACT) flights on the Mirage 2000? If so, against which types and what did you learn from each type?

 “An interesting question – I must have flown against the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, Tornado F3, F-8 Crusader and the F-104 Starfighter in combat. The older generation didn’t stand a chance, but the F-16 block 50 was very good. One of the drawbacks of the Mirage 2000 being unique was that as we did a lot of 1vs 1 and 2vs 2 Mirage vs Mirage combat – you developed tactics and handling skills to fight Mirage vs Mirage. This actually was counter productive as these tactics -and the way you handled the aircraft – didn’t cross over to fighting other types. I got beaten by an F-16 by fighting him like a Mirage and learnt a painful lesson.”


“DACT was interesting in the M2000 – if your opponent was new to fighting a delta it could make his eyes water! At the merge the initial 9G+ turn was eye-watering, despite having a single engine it could still reach heights other fighters like the F-16 couldn’t. It also possessed, in my opinion, a far more sophisticated fly-by-wire system – it was in effect limitless. I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating ! As we hit Zero the aircraft began to slide backwards and the ‘burner blew out. My heart-rate increased. As the aircraft went beyond its design envelope, the nose simply flopped over pointing earthwards – with a few small turns the airspeed picked up. As I hit 200 knots I simply flew the aircraft back to straight and level. I admit that my opponent did shoot me down, but he did say it looked spectacular. This sort of carefree handling gave pilots huge confidence in the aircraft”

What was the most challenging fighter you faced while flying the Mirage?

“Probably the F-15C as AMRAAM was just coming into service which totally outclassed us – They had amazing SA and the way they operated was impressive.”

How would you rate the M2000 in the following:

 Instantaneous turn rates (at low/medium and high altitudes)

“Stunning – at all altitudes – with its big wing even at 50,000 feet using the leading edge slats it could still turn well.”

Sustained turn rates (at low/medium and high altitudes)

“Sustained turn was still good, especially at low level where you had sufficient energy to maintain speed.”

High Alpha

“The Mirage 2000 was legendary at its low speed high Alpha Passes -120 knots was pretty easy to fly.”

Weapon system

“As a weapons system the Mirage 2000 is a great ‘package’ with a good radar , onboard electronic countermeasures and radar warning receiver. It also packs a good array of weapons – with air-to-air refuelling its a formidable fighter. “


Which three words best describe the M2000?

 “Vive La France !  It’s Sexy. It’s French – Dassault make fine aircraft and apart from the ejector seat it pretty much is 100%. Future-Proofed – The M2000 first flew in 1978 and it’s still in service in 2016 – despite its sleek frame it’s built like a tank and can pull 9G all day long.”

How would you compare the aircraft to an F-16?

“I’d say the F-16 has the edge – whilst the M2000 evolved from the RDM – RDi to RDY versions they were pretty small upgrades in terms of airframe performance – The latest Block F16s are a world apart from the original F-16As. Part of the Mirage 2000’s problem was the arrival of Rafale, which pretty much stopped any further development.”


How does it compare to the other aircraft you have flown?

“The Mirage 2000 is a fourth generation fighter – and extremely capable in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles – as well as being highly manoeuvrable even when loaded up. The Tornado was extremely competent at the role of interceptor, but lacked the agility of Dassault’s masterpiece.”

What was your most notable flight on the Mirage 2000?

“When you fly a Mach 2.0+ 9 G fighter trust me they are pretty notable. A few stick out: night missions with air-to-air refuelling over Bosnia or live missions protecting High Value assets over Iraq were pretty noteworthy. Flying in another Air Forces aircraft is a real honour – the trust they have on you is humbling. “

Ian flew the Mirage from 1993-97. Even after flying the mighty Lightning, the Mirage 2000 remains Ian’s favourite aeroplane. 


Buy Ian Black’s Lightning: volume 2, as it is a beautiful tribute to a very exciting aircraft- it is available directly from Ian on Twitter and will soon be available via Firestreak Books


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Guide to surviving aviation forums here

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 aircraft






OCTOBER 11, 2016

Revolution! Interview with USMC Osprey pilot


The most radical, and controversial, aircraft in frontline service is the V-22 Osprey. Far faster and longer-ranged than a helicopter yet with the same ability to take-off and land vertically, the Osprey is unique. But its critics describe it as vulnerable, costly and dangerous. So what is the view of those who have taken the aircraft into combat? We spoke to Carleton Forsling who flew MV-22s for the United States Marines Corps to find out more.

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“From a commander’s perspective, the speed and range of the Osprey are complete game-changers. Fixed-wing aircraft have always travelled long distances at high speed, but they require airfields to operate. That has always implied a chicken-or-egg scenario–you can’t get troops in without an airfield, but you can’t take an airfield without troops. Before the Osprey, that meant fighting one’s way to get an airfield or other facilities close to the fight or using airborne troops, which have always been incapable of sustaining themselves. Helicopters are notoriously short-ranged and slow. They provided tactical mobility, not operational or strategic mobility. Today, an Osprey can deliver troops hundreds of miles at high speed. It completely changes that paradigm.

From a pilot’s perspective, that is still impressive. For example, when I flew CH-46E Sea Knights, usually called the “Battlephrog,” it took the better part of a week to move helicopters from North Carolina to California for an exercise. With the V-22, it was just a long day. I flew a CH-46E from a ship in the Arabian Sea to Afghanistan in 2001. It was a fairly harrowing trip – at the limits of the machine. When I delivered one of the first V-22s from a ship to Afghanistan in 2009, it was as uneventful as taking a commuter flight from Des Moines to Chicago.

Still, what I most enjoyed about the Osprey was the way it made many of the most demanding tasks in traditional helicopters easy. In a helicopter, especially an older helicopter like a CH-46E, instrument flight was practically an emergency procedure. It was something you avoided. The V-22 was such a good IFR platform we could fly formations through bad weather routinely. In the -46, landing in a brownout was tempting fate each and every time–you just set your deceleration and attitude as best you could and tried to time your landing. In a V-22, you have several options in automation–you can use the electronic display to hand-fly the aircraft to the deck, showing your drift all the way to the ground even if you can’t see it. You can also use it to set up in an automatically stabilized high hover, or HOGE, then let yourself down under computer stabilization. Your choice depends on the tactical situation. It makes the most demanding task in all of military aviation, the brownout landing, into a routine one.


I always expressed my frustration with the Osprey as something along the lines of “We bought a Lamborghini, but didn’t spring for the power locks or a decent stereo.” It was things that the engineers forgot, like making the latches on maintenance panels sturdy enough for the demands of a high-performance machine, or having a GPS not certified for IFR use, or an icing system not up to commercial standards. The big-ticket technology, like the tiltrotor part, worked great. It was the ancillary systems that drove me crazy sometimes.”


“The biggest myth is that it’s unsafe. I did many tours, airshows, and public-relations appearances with the aircraft. Some people acted as if I was a professional stuntman or something and asked if I felt like I was in danger flying it. Historically, the Osprey suffered greatly, reputation-wise, because senior leaders mishandled its introduction, both in engineering and in aircrew training. In its mature form, it is statistically one of the safest combat aircraft in military service. It has double and sometimes triple redundancy in most of its critical systems. In the event of an engine failure, it can fly all day in airplane mode. In many helicopters, the second engine just takes you to the scene of the crash. I had my share of emergencies in the V-22, just as I did in the Phrog (CH-46), but I was always confident in the airframe to do its job.”


What were your first impressions of the Osprey?

“The first time I saw it was as a CH-46E pilot flying around MCAS New River. It was still in developmental test at the time, and it was something like seeing a pink elephant or something. It was cool-looking, but I never thought much of it. Then I heard about the much-publicized mishaps and disparaged it, just like some of my compatriots.

The programme stopped flying for a couple of years, but when it stood up, some of the lead pilots did a road-show to tell fleet pilots where the program was going. I was an instructor in HT-18, the helicopter training squadron. When I saw their presentation, I was impressed. When the message came out asking for applications to fly it, I jumped right on it.”

Is it reliable?

“I won’t lie and say it isn’t a bit finicky. I like to say it’s a Lamborghini, but perhaps it’s best likened to a Porsche Panamera. It ain’t a Honda Accord. It takes more to keep it going, but it gives a lot more too. It’s a much more avionics-intensive machine. In fact, one of the problems we encountered early on is that the squadrons were structured very much like an old helicopter squadron in terms of the numbers of airframes mechanics, power line (or “flight line” in Marine-speak) mechanics, and avionics technicians assigned. In reality, most problems with the Osprey came down to electronics, and gradually the Corps readjusted to that.”


“It does have the complexities of both a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopters have a lot of hour-limited components, as does the Osprey. It does take a lot of work, I won’t lie about that. Many maintainers who switch to the Osprey aren’t pleased at first, but eventually most grow to love it, just like any other aircraft.

Another thing to remember is that the aircraft is incredibly self-aware. Whereas in a traditional aircraft, the first indication of a system degradation is an in-flight emergency, in the Osprey almost every parameter is recorded every flight. That means that problems are spotted before they affect the safety of flight and can be fixed before a system fails, not after. That’s a huge step up from legacy aircraft”

Is it too fast to be used to its greatest potential with helicopters?

“That depends. It’s a mistake to treat it like a legacy aircraft, and during the fleet introduction, a lot of pilots were frustrated by senior leaders who treated it like just a slightly faster version of the CH-46. During exercises, we’d park the amphibious ships just a couple of miles from the beach, so that the V-22s barely had a chance to transition from helicopter, or “VTOL,” mode, before touching down in an LZ. If we employ it that way, then it is truly just an overly-expensive rotorcraft.

If we employ it they way it was designed, though, it can achieve things that no helicopter can. There are a variety of ways to achieve that synergy. If I had (several) billion dollars, I’d invest in high-speed escorts, perhaps even in heavily-armed V-22s to achieve that. In today’s world, though, there are still many ways to exploit the Osprey’s assets while still supporting troops in an LZ. That can come from using armed rotorcraft from FARPs (Forward Arming and Refueling Points). It can come from synchronizing V-22s with fixed-wing escorts. And it can be done by using V-22s to land where the enemy isn’t, because he can’t be anywhere, and the V-22 gives commanders the opportunity to “hit him where he ain’t.”

Have a look at 10 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 humourous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

Is it particularly vulnerable to ground-fire?

“Like any rotorcraft, it’s not invulnerable. Movies sometimes give the impression that some helicopters can be rendered invulnerable to small-arms fire. Other than critical systems, it’s impossible to protect helicopters from holes being punched in them if they’re hit.

The biggest defense against battle damage is to avoid being hit in the first place. The Osprey is unique among assault aircraft in this regard. Enroute, it flies faster than helicopters, making it harder to hit. It also can fly either a low altitude or high altitude profile, depending on the MANPAD threat.

It is also far more maneuverable than traditional rotorcraft. Some people mistake being able to shake the controls around for maneuverability. Maneuverability means being able to move an aircraft’s velocity vector quickly in multiple axes. That’s something the Osprey can do better than any helicopter I’m familiar with. The Osprey can displace from a threat vertically and horizontally. In helicopters, the solution is just to fly lower, and there’s certainly a lower limit on altitude!”


150715-M-TT095-119.JPG“If it does get hit, the Osprey has multiple redundant systems. That’s true for its engines, hydraulics, and key electronics. Its fuel tanks are self-sealing and fill with inert nitrogen as they empty to prevent fires. The pilots’ control inputs are transmitted to the control surfaces by electrons, not rods and cables. The troop seats stroke to reduce the impact in the event of a crash. Those features are what truly help troops survive in combat.”

What is your most memorable flight on the aircraft, what is it like to fly?

“Most memorable? Well, there was this time when I flew though the wake of my lead aircraft while turning and descending on a base leg and it nearly flipped us over. We recovered at 47′. That phenomenon has to do with the strong rotorwash due to the high disk loading of the V-22, which leaves disturbed air behind a lead aircraft and the way the fly-by-wire system holds an attitude for the dash two. After this incident, the Marine Corps changed the parameters for where the dash two aircraft should be relative to the lead aircraft while descending in conversion (helicopter) mode. In my personal opinion, this wake interaction was what caused the Marana mishap, not the infamous “Vortex Ring State.

As far as what it’s like to fly, it’s like nothing else. It accelerates and decelerates incredibly quickly and is extremely maneuverable for a big aircraft at both high and low speeds. It’s also remarkably stable. Hovering is a breeze–to the point that fixed wing pilots transitioning to the V-22 ask what the big deal is when helicopter pilots talk about hovering. It’s also an amazing instrument platform.”


What do you believe is the future for the V-22 and tilt-rotors in general?

“I think that tiltrotors have a very bright future. When I look at the information on the upcoming Bell V-280, it really looks as if they taken the lessons of the V-22 and taken it to the next level.”


“As long the military has a need for crisis response, there will continue to be a need for tiltrotors.

The biggest challenge will be whether tiltrotors are accepted in commercial aviation. The operating cost will have to come down for it to become viable in EMS, petroleum, and executive transport. The military doesn’t have to turn a profit. Civilian operators do.”

Does it have a nickname?

“The Osprey hasn’t gotten a cool second nickname like some other aircraft, like the CH-46 SeaKnight, which became the ‘Phrog,’ or the CH-53, which became the ‘Shitter.’ Occasionally you’ll hear someone call it the ‘Plopter’, but it really hasn’t caught on, except as an occasional joke.”

Any advice to those working with the Osprey?

“Try to keep up. Seriously, though, my guidance for those planning to fly with the Osprey is to begin your mission planning with a clean sheet of paper. The Osprey isn’t a helicopter that flies fast. It’s an airplane that can land vertically.

The biggest mistake you can make is to treat it like just another rotorcraft. Whether that means you fly unescorted and use operational surprise, whether you coordinate a time-on-target CAS or artillery strike, use detached escort, etc…that’s all situationally dependent.  The flexibility of the Osprey is one of its biggest assets, but it’s also a challenge for planners who’ve worked under the same paradigm for a long time.”


What equipment would you like to see fitted to the MV-22?

“I’m not even as creative as the Bell-Boeing developers right now. Anything that could be installed on a light cargo aircraft can be put on an Osprey. Of course, the vertical landing capability means that those capabilities can be brought to environments that didn’t have them before, e.g. off amphibious ships and out of remote forward operating bases.

I think the MV-22 is capable of doing many of the tasks the Air Force AC-130 and the Marine Corps Harvest Hawk KC-130 aircraft are doing. It is definitely capable of providing close air support and other fires, especially in a low-threat environment.

Additionally, it’s supremely well-suited for other utility missions, e.g. command and control, surveillance, electronic warfare, and aerial refueling. The sky is the limit. It could be a drone mothership, an AWACs or E-2 type battle manager, whatever you want.

The big issue is not the technical feasibility of these, but investing in the resources to train pilots and aircrew in not just their primary assault support missions, but also the additional missions the Osprey is capable of.”


How did the MV-22 do in Afghanistan- what were the biggest challenges and most notable missions?

“The V-22 built on the lessons learned in Iraq when it went to Afghanistan. It became more of a mainstay of Marine Corps assault support in Afghanistan, vice just a sideshow.

To be honest, neither conflict  was one at which the Osprey was really going to demonstrate decisive advantages over helicopters. When there’s already a network of forward operating bases and the distances involved are relatively short, the Osprey’s advantage over traditional rotorcraft is reduced when compared to an amphibious assault or long-range crisis response scenario.

However as the war in Afghanistan wound down, the Osprey became a great platform for casualty evacuation. As the Marine Corps started to shut down FOBs, and the distances to medical facilities became greater, the “golden hour” could still be maintained. Helicopters couldn’t do that.”

Carl is the Senior Columnist for Task and Purpose


More about Carleton Forsling:
USMC major (retired), now flight officer (EC-120 pilot) with Baltimore Police Department, Served in several billets, including Executive Officer of VMMT-204 (joint V-22 training squadron), Executive Officer of Border Advisor Team 2/6 (working with Afghan Border Police), Maintenance Officer of VMM-165 (fleet Osprey squadron), flight school instructor pilot in TH-57s, NATOPS evaluator (check pilot) in CH-46E and MV-22B, several others
Aircraft: T-34C, TH-57B/C, CH-46E, MV-22B, EC-120
Major operations: Kosovo/Albania 1999 flying the CH-46E (Allied Force, Joint Guardian, Noble Anvil, Avid Response)
Afghanistan 2001 in CH-46E, delivered first MV-22Bs to country in 2009. Served as advisor with Afghan Police in 2012-2013.


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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 guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and10 worst British aircraft







OCTOBER 6, 2016

A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters


 Keith Shiban flew the B-52 in the nuclear deterrent role, and in combat missions over Iraq. We asked for his assessment of a bomber pilot’s nightmare, the latest generation of fighter aircraft. His conclusion? He’s glad he’s retired! Over to Keith: 

“As an old bomber guy, I write about fighter planes the same way I would about grizzly bears, biker gangs, and mafia hit-men. I’m no expert on any of them. I just know I wouldn’t want one coming after me. So here is one aviation geek’s look at what’s out there today and what’s coming in the near future.”

Fifth Generation

“What sets these apart is that they all use some degree of “low observable” technology to enhance survivability. Other features include advanced engines with vectored thrust, the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without afterburner, advanced radars that are hard to detect and advanced sensors and electronics to improve the pilot’s situational awareness. By this criteria, the only operational 5th Generation fighter is the F-22 Raptor.”

F-22 Raptor


“This thing’s been in service for 11 years now? Damn, I’m getting old.

I’ll admit I was at first a bit skeptical of the F-22. Having talked to people that worked on the programme as well as people who have actually flown it has brought me around. Apparently it really is as good as they say it is.

I am told that four F-22s, if they are fully data-linked, can take on as many F-15s as you care to throw at them until they simply run out of missiles and go home. Yeah, it’s that good. It will see you long before you see it and your first indication that it’s in the neighborhood might be an AMRAAM missile in your face. Nasty.

F-22 tactics seem to involve flying at high speed at high altitude, which adds a lot of extra oomph to its missiles when they’re launched. The technical term is “kinematic advantage”. Think of it as giving the missile a big head-start on its way to the target. For example, the AMRAAM missile gets about a 40% range bonus when launched in this manner.

Ironically, this is how we thought air combat would be back in the 50s and 60s with supersonic jets firing radar-guided missiles from beyond visual range. It just took technology a while to catch up. Mind you the F-22 can still dogfight, but I would venture that if a Raptor finds itself in a visual dogfight something has gone very wrong.”



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“The only drawbacks that I know of are that the F-22 is expensive to operate and it is limited by how many missiles it can carry internally. To correct the second issue, there is talk of having other platforms carry missiles that the F-22 could target and launch remotely. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Today everything is data linked together and newer missiles can be fired first and then locked on to a target.”

Other weaknesses of the Raptor include: a poor range for its weight, absence of a helmet-cueing system and the use of rare and obsolete electronic components. Though cutting edge at the time, the man-machine is inferior to the F-35 and the Gripen E/F.


Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA


Gone are the days when Russia cranked out relatively cheap fighters like the MiG-21 in huge numbers. Today the T-50 is every  bit as complex and expensive as its Western counterparts.

So expensive, in fact, that Russia is jointly developing it with India to defray some of the costs. This is similar to how Western fighters like the Typhoon have been developed.

The T-50 has some cool features. The engines will have vectored nozzles, similar to the F-22, but which can move in both axis. This will let them use vectored thrust for yaw and roll, unlike the on the F-22 which can only affect pitch axis.


On paper the T-50/PAK FA looks impressive but it’s still not an F-22. It has a radar cross section several orders of magnitude larger than the F-22. It’s stealthier than a 4th Generation fighter, but calling it a true 5th Generation fighter might be a stretch.


The engines, always a problem in fighter development, are apparently giving them some difficulty. The T-50 will initially fly with a variation of the Su-35’s engine, which is itself a derivative of the Su-27’s engine that has been around for a long time.

The Russian economy being what it is these days, they now plan on only building an even dozen of these between now and 2020. That’s way down from the initial plan of 52.

In summary, it’s a very expensive aircraft that may not live up to expectations. Where have I heard that before? Still, the fact that they’re even building something like this shows just how far they’ve come.

Chengdu J-20


“Gone are the days when China could only build copies of Soviet designs. They’re now building some pretty cutting-edge stuff of their own. The J-20 is one of them and could be operational around 2018.

The J-20 “Black Eagle” is a bit of an enigma. We’re not exactly sure what its intended role is. Or if we do we’re not saying. China certainly isn’t.

It’s big, stealthy and appears to have been built with range and payload in mind. That leads some to think that it’s primarily a long-range strike aircraft. However, it also appears to be built for maneuverability due to the canards and vectored nozzles. So perhaps it’s more of a heavy air-superiority fighter.  Or maybe it’s both.

The big question seems to be, will the Chinese be able to develop a suitable engine for it? Currently it is powered by the WS-10 engine, derived from the commercial CFM-56. The production model is supposed to get the much more powerful WS-15 engine, assuming they get it working. In order to compete as an air-superiority fighter it will need the more powerful engine.

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I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the “Black Eagle” (cool name) probably won’t be a match for the F-22, but would definitely be a threat to US and allied fourth generation fighters in the Pacific Rim.

Its combination of range, speed and stealth would also make it a major threat to high value assets like tankers and AWACS. Without tankers, short-ranged fighters like the F-22 and F-35 would have a tough time operating over the vast distances of the Pacific.

Lockheed F-35 Lightning II


The F-35, depending on who you ask, is either the latest and greatest in fighter technology or an overweight, over cost, poorly performing testament to a bloated defence industry. If you’re looking for the definitive answer I’m afraid I don’t have it. One thing that everyone can agree on is that it’s expensive, behind schedule and very controversial.

I can safely say that it’s trying to do an awful lot with one aircraft. The F-35 will be built in three flavours to replace the Air Force F-16 and A-10, the Navy’s F/A-18 and the Marine’s AV-8B Harrier. That’s a pretty tall order.

Why are we doing this? The main reason is that air defences are getting to be really good. So good, that anything without stealth may be tactically obsolete in a few years, at least in a high-intensity conflict.

I would say that the most important feature of the F-35 is the electronics. Sensor integration on the F-35 is said to be even more advanced than the F-22.


F-35 detractors say it’s too expensive, too slow and can’t beat a ‘legacy’ fighter in a visual dogfight. An F-35 proponent would say that if an F-35 ever finds itself in a dogfight something has gone horribly wrong.

Keep in mind that the F-35 is not meant to be an air superiority fighter. It’s a multi-role aircraft. Perhaps a better description would be a strike aircraft that can protect itself if need be.

I can remember being told back in the 1980s that the F-15 and F-16 ‘wouldn’t work’ because they were too expensive and too complicated. That obviously hasn’t been the case. I think the same may someday be said of the F-35, but only time will tell.”

 Generation 4.5


“Sometimes these are described as Generation 4.5 or ‘Fourth Generation Plus’ aircraft. That means they have most of the cool features of the Fifth Generation aircraft minus the stealth.

Depending on your point of view, that makes these either a more cost effective choice than the expensive stealth aircraft or they’ll just have really great situational awareness of the thing that kills them.

Dassault Rafale


“I admit I’m a bit of a Francophile, so that’s reason enough for me to like the Rafale. Plus it’s also a good looking jet and that’s got to count for something.

The Rafale came to be when the French pulled out of the Eurofighter programme and decided to go their own way. That sounds very French.

The Rafale frequently gets compared to the Eurofighter Typhoon, especially since both are heavily competing for export sales. Which one is better? I guess that’s kind of like asking which is the best car. It depends on what you want it to do.

From what I can gather, the Rafale is better than the Typhoon at the air-to-ground mission. It reportedly has a very good ECM package that lets it operate in places that might otherwise require stealth or a SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) package.

Conversely the Typhoon is reportedly better in the air-to-air role due to its superior radar (editor notes: probably not true of AESA-equipped Rafales) and data-link capabilities. The Typhoon currently has better air-to-air missiles, but the French will soon equip the Rafale with the same missile (MBDA Meteor). For now the Rafale has to get by with the relatively short-ranged MICA.”

Eurofighter Typhoon


“The Typhoon is a joint venture between the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. This shows just how expensive modern jet fighters are. It would have been prohibitively expensive for any one European country to develop this aircraft on their own.

I don’t think the Typhoon is a pretty as the Rafale but it has a very futuristic look to it. Something about those squared off intakes and the downward canted canards.

I’m surprised that Germany bought off on the name ‘Typhoon’, since that was a British WWII fighter.(Ed: They haven’t really for just that reason, in Luftwaffe service it’s known as the Eurofighter). 


Obviously I haven’t flown one of these, however if anyone wants to give me a ride in one I’m available. I’ll try not to throw up in it, honest.

The Typhoon’s list of features reads like an F-22 minus the stealth. Supercruise capability, extremely maneuverable, advanced radar (it is effective even though it is mechanically scanning) and sensors, advanced data-link. It even has voice recognition, like my phone, except I don’t use it because I’m old. Other than being expensive (and what isn’t these days) it sounds very impressive.

Certainly a number of countries have decided to purchase these. If you’re into the whole Anglo-French rivalry that’s been going on since the beginning of time, the Typhoon is outselling the Rafale by a sizeable margin.

Sukhoi Su-35 


“It used to be that Russia built cheap, relatively unsophisticated fighters in large numbers. ‘Quantity has its own quality’ as the saying goes.

Today they are building very advanced (and expensive) aircraft that are close in capability to their Western counterparts.

The Su-35 is the latest variation on the tried and proven Su-27 Flanker. When the Russians build something that works they like to stick with it. Performance wise it stacks up very well against aircraft like the Typhoon and Rafale. Its avionics, while an improvement over older Russian aircraft, probably aren’t a match for the latest Western systems.

“The Su-35 makes me makes me glad I retired.”

While it boasts exceptional maneuverability, especially at low speeds, what really impresses me about the Su-35 is the number of missiles it carries. With a load of up to 12 (count ‘em) air to air missiles of various types, it can present a serious threat.

One probable Su-35 tactic would be to send a salvo of missiles at you with different seeker heads. Light your afterburners to manoeuvre against the radar-guided missile? Guess what, there’s a heat-seeker right there with it. Turn on a jammer? Here comes the anti-radiation missile to home in your signal. Makes me glad I retired.


The other drawback to the Su-35 is that Russian aircraft really aren’t as reliable as you think they are. That at least has been the experience of the Indian Air Force, which operates both Russian and Western aircraft.”

Saab JAS-39 Gripen


“Sweden may be officially neutral, but don’t confuse that with weakness. It’s more the ‘poke your nose in here and we’ll bite it off’ kind of neutrality. As such they’ve always maintained a very capable air force.

Saab has built some impressive fighters over the years and the Gripen is certainly impressive. Think of it as the “poor man’s Typhoon”. It can do most of what the Typhoon or Rafale can do for about half the cost. It’s cheaper to operate than even the ‘low-cost’ F-16.

It also has the advantage of being able to operate from roads and austere airfields.

In a ‘bang for the buck’ competition the Gripen seems to be the clear winner. Would you rather have three Gripens or a single Typhoon or Rafale?”

Chengdu J-10


The ‘Vigorous Dragon’ (sounds like a superhero) is China’s first home-grown fourth generation fighter.

Just how home-grown it is depends on who you ask. Some claim it has its roots in the Israeli Lavi and US F-16. The Chinese claim it grew out of their own cancelled J-9 project. Who knows? It does look a bit like the Lavi, but different countries often reach the same conclusion on their own. It’s not like we’re the only smart people in the world.

It’s hard to guess just how capable the J-10 is since the Chinese are pretty secretive about their systems. On paper it seems to be in roughly the same class as an F-16C.”

The Legacy Fighters


“The F-15/16/18 and A-10 have been around a long time, yet continuous upgrades have kept them relevant. It’s amazing just how good the F-15 has been for such a long time. We’re talking about a plane that first flew in 1972!

The question is, can these aircraft be kept relevant against the threats we’re likely to face? It all comes down to what you think we’ll be doing in the next ten years or so.

The stated case for the F-22 and F-35 is that something like an F-16, as good as it is, just won’t be able to operate in a future high-intensity conflict. Even if it was fully upgraded with the latest electronics, the argument goes, the lack of stealth would still render it vulnerable to modern air defences.

The opposing case would be: we’re not fighting a high-intensity conflict today, we’re bombing terrorists in the Middle East. An F-16 or an A-10 is almost overkill for that scenario.

Even in a future conflict the legacy fighters might be able to operate behind a “wall” of Fifth Generation aircraft. Once the defenses are neutralized an F-16 or F/A-18 is still a perfectly good strike aircraft.”


“These comparisons tend to leave out one very important factor. It’s not just a battle between Fighter A and Fighter B, it’s a fight between two forces. You might read that Fighter A once beat Fighter B in some exercise but that doesn’t tell the whole tale.

Who has the better training? Who has the better tactics? How many hours a month do their pilots get to train? Who has the better Command-Control and Intelligence? What about AWACS and tanker support? Who has the better logistics? The best jet in the world won’t do much without spare parts to keep it flying. None of that is as sexy as dogfighting but it’s very important.”

Creating Hush-Kit takes time and resources, if you would like to help us continue please hit the donate button on this page (we are unfortunately well behind on our fundraising efforts). 

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

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. 

SEPTEMBER 20, 2016

10 most insane aircraft


As can be witnessed in popular political movements, insanity is very ‘hot’ this season. Stephen Caulfield from Suburban Poverty decided to leap on the bandwagon with this collection of 11 deplorables. Such was the quality of the entrants, even the remotely controlled stuffed cat pictured failed to make the grade.

10. Piaggio P.7


This is not a picture of a crashed aircraft waiting for a hoist out of Lake Como. The P.7 is seen here in pre-take-off position. The waterproof fuselage would lift up on hydroplanes as it moved forward. Pilots refused to fly it – the man who did try couldn’t get it to fly. Some things don’t really need to be explained.


9. Fu-Go/Outward
Fu-Go balloons & Operation Outward


Women and schoolchildren built a large number of incendiary-carrying balloons entrusted by the Japanese army to the jet streams over the Pacific Ocean for delivery to North America. Such are the schemes of a dying empire. Over 9,000 were released, and they did kill people picnicking in Oregon. Fu-Gos were made from less strategic materials, including layers of mulberry-based paper squares secured with an edible glue (this programme was hampered by war-deprived workers stealing and eating said glue). This programme’s sheer insanity has brought it a certain legendary status. No, the Fu-Go bombs did not enter the dishonour roll of insane aircraft because they succeeded in burning down the forests of North America. They arrived as far away from Japan as Saskatchewan and Mexico, making them the first ever intercontinental strategic instrument of air power. They are insane in their own right.



Did you know that Britain mounted a far greater balloon campaign against Germany during the middle of World War II? No, you didn’t. It was ten times bigger, and a lot more effective, but also insane. Both programmes offer proof that science is no guarantee against insanity.

The Royal Canadian Navy had to go out and blow up the last one of these things in 2014. 



8. Chyeranovskii BICh-21


Here is an entry from that Fordist font of high function, the Soviet Union. Life is hard, da. Hence the expression ‘life’s a bitch’ (note from Editor: Jesus, I hoped you were going to avoid that pun). With any luck, and maybe a residential treatment programme, it might turn out to be a BICh-21 tailless racer from the 1930s. Being easy on the eyes and being insane don’t necessarily exclude one another. For further evidence of this phenomenon, enrol in a free online dating service immediately.

 7. Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg


Among the sorrowful artefacts and moments of the Third Reich, the manned version of the FZG-76/V-1 barely registers. It was really just another ersatz outburst (note: were Ersatz Outburst a Prog Rock band?) on the fanatical road to ruin, rubble and regret. That is to say, it was insane. Shades of the modern Middle East here – suicide as a tactical approach to lavishly equipped and larger opponents with all the advantages. Contemporary accounts rehashed for the digital era claim “it flew fairly well”. There was an apparently mirthless notion that the pilot would aim his Reichenburg and bail out. But isn’t the round thing above the cockpit a pulse jet intake? Never used in action, but WTF?



6. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II ‘Joint Sunk-cost Fallacy’


Take a little bit from each of these entries and add eighty zillion lines of computer code. Seriously, it’s getting a little late in the day for the human race to be concentrating so much on high-tech weapons. Even if this flying laptop has a belly full of super secret weapons, that doesn’t mean it isn’t insane. Though in the last couple of years the general mood of the press has become more supportive of the F-35, the following quote from the US GAO should be considered: “DOD plans to begin increasing production and expects to spend more than $14 billion annually for nearly a decade on procurement of F-35 aircraft.”

There are two ways you can look at the F-35: if you believe high-intensity war against an advanced enemy is a possibility, you may want to consider the fact that the Lightning II was conceived to be supported in war by large numbers of high-end F-22s to protect them from enemy fighters – but the Raptors weren’t ordered in large numbers. Or if you believe that low-intensity war against irregular forces in poor countries is the more likely, you may wish to question the use of aircraft of this level of expense and sophistication. And although programme supporters have been citing the sunk cost fallacy forever, there are at least three more questions you should ask:

1. Could the high levels of situational awareness and connectivity (neither of which the F-35 currently has, reliably) be retrofitted to older platforms?

2. How long have potential adversaries had to think about countering aircraft with reduced conspicuousness in the x-bandwidth?

3. Which threats could not be handled adequately by non-stealthy aircraft with stand-off munitions?

And we’re not being all loony-tunes Russia Today in asking these questions – there is certainly more than one high-ranking member of the US Navy that has come up with answers that would discomfort Lockheed Martin.

More cynical observers might note that nobody can afford, or needs, large numbers of stealthy tactical aircraft.

5. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ‘Dr Strangehate’


No plane spotter or other type of aero enthusiast should ever be totally comfortable with their interest. There needs to be a little psychological ‘something’ present to remind them that expressions of military might are rooted in corporate power and abuse – and are a disaster for the human race. What can we label that little something? Label it insanity. Take a wild guess how many people this eight-engine monster has killed or hurt in the last 60 or so years. B-52s have killed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Afghanistan. Over twelve days during the Vietnam War, B-52s dropped 15,237 tons of bombs.


In 1961 a B-52 broke up in mid-air over North Carolina. The aircraft was carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, information declassified in 2013 revealed that one of the bombs came very close to detonating.

The list of accidents involving B-52s carrying nuclear weapons is also extremely scary. In 1961, a B-52 accidentally dropped a 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bomb on North Carolina! According to a bomb disposal expert who took part in the Goldsboro incident- “We came damn close to having a Bay of North Carolina”. The destruction would have been greater than that of every explosive ever detonated in history combined and would have killed everyone in a 14 mile radius – with many more being killed by radiation and secondary fires. Fortunately the weapon did not explode. Nuclear warfare remains the most insane idea of all time. The concept of nuclear deterrence is equally whacko, and rests on the premise that a leader who deems genocide acceptable can be deterred by the threat of genocide. Thanks to the nuclear deterrent, the Cold War was a period of peace, completely free of proxy wars.

At this very moment the B-52 remains an instrument of nuclear annihilation by accident and intention, and for perpetual police actions. Insanity is nothing if not durable and easily scaled up.

4. Heinkel He-177 Greif

he177 Beispiel.jpg

One risk with a list like this is a tendency to drift towards late Third Reich prototypes like the Natter and its ilk. Nonetheless, from this set of German wings, we just cannot look away. You see, when engineers and other technical adepts are yes-men locked in a military-industrial complex throwing big money at ill-advised, immoral aggressions, you better go to the basement and stay there.



What a waste. A silly collection of specifications (including the expectation of an ability to dive bomb with over twenty-five tons of aircraft) resulted in major structural failures and fire-prone powerplants. The Greif typifies a couple of hundred completely whacked wartime crash programmes, and illustrates exactly why they are called that to this day. The Greif killed a huge chunk of the Luftwaffe’s test pilot cadre, probably some of the era’s best pilots. Also, it never really looked right from any angle. Insanity is a matter of perspective.


3. Piasecki PA-97 Helistat


Kiss your loved ones before you leave the house tomorrow morning. If they ask why you are crying, mumble ‘Helistat’ before turning your back on them for the last time. The Helistat concept was to combine the lifting abilities of four helicopters with a giant sausage (in fact a 1950s naval airship) full of helium to allow the transport of massively heavy payloads. Test flights were made from the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, using the ancient airship hangars. At 343 feet (104.54 metres) long, it was the largest aircraft in the world when it first flew in 1986.

On 1 July 1986, a gust of wind rocked the test aircraft, causing it to move across the ground. This in turn caused the undercarriage to shimmy uncontrollably, which led to ground resonance (an unwanted phenomenon whereby the helicopter rotors oscillate in phase with the frequency of the helicopter shaking on its undercarriage – Wiki rather neatly compares this to when clothes get stuck in one part of a washing machine during the spinning cycle). This shook one of the helicopters off its mounting, whereupon its rotors slashed the gasbag, causing the remaining three helicopters to break free. One pilot was killed, and the project was scrapped. Today, Piasecki is interested in returning to the concept with an even bigger helistat.

See the ten coolest cancelled helicopters here

2 . Fly-powered art aircraft ‘Wasp Factory-build’

Sometimes life finds us riding a bus at night, crying and laughing simultaneously. Other times, we stay in and build powered model aeroplanes. Animals are put on this Earth for our entertainment, apparently. You can see the aircraft here.

At least no death is involved here, unless you count the flies.

1 – Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka ‘cherry blossom’


A ‘manned bomb’ with three solid fuel rockets, and yet so much more. Let the term ‘manned-bomb’ term sink in a little, maybe even say it out loud to yourself if there’s no-one else in the room. The ‘cherry blossom’ looks a bit like a spritely orange prop reject from a Star Wars movie. Cute, yes – but thoroughly insane. These desperate things actually entered service and rearranged several United States Navy vessels (there was over a ton of explosives inside each one). It flies straight into its target.

It’s hard to know the exact calculus involved in determining the difference between a heroic dangerous assignment in war and an inhuman act of forced martyrdom – however you do the maths, being an Ohka pilot was a shitty posting.

Stephen Caulfield cleans limousines around the corner from what was once the Avro Canada plant.  He appreciates writing, art, aeroplanes and the tragic nature of modernity in pretty much equal parts these days. His contributions to have included the very tasteless The top popstar-killing aircraft manufacturer of all time, the bizarre Top ten most-whacked undercarriage, the widely discredited Bermuda Triangle  and this lovely ode to the C.102 jetliner. 

Keep this blog alive!

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’s entertaining, surprising and well informed in equal parts. 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 our readers.


You may also enjoy 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


SEPTEMBER 19, 2016

Generation Xbox may kill you: Why you SHOULD be afraid of flying


Do commercial pilots know what they’re doing? Flight Safety expert Philip Chandler believes many airline pilots have lost basic skills that save lives in emergencies.

“In the final few days of 2014 an A320 of Air Asia flew into the Java Sea killing all 162 on board.  What had been a perfectly airworthy jet with a minor system fault had fallen in a stalled condition from 28,000 feet with the Captain pushing the stick forward to regain airspeed and the Co-Pilot pulling back; the aircraft’s flight control system had detected conflicting signals, and taken the democratic decision to let them cancel each other out- the result was none of the aircraft’s control surfaces (the flaps and assorted moving parts that steer the aircraft) moved.  If this seems familiar, it’s because only five and a half years earlier Air France 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris had plummeted in to the Atlantic with the same confusion in the cockpit.  Although both accidents had their roots in minor technical faults, the aircraft flew into the seas as a result of crews’ dependence on automation – and ignorance of what to do if things go wrong. The crew failed to carry out correct actions that even the private pilot of a light aircraft would be expected to get right.



As isolated incidents these two events would be bad enough, however Loss Of Control Inflight (known as LOC-I ) is now the leading cause of fatalities on modern airliners. Since 2006 43% of fatal incidents on airliners have been due to the inability of the aircrew to operate the aircraft.  Nor is it an Airbus issue, Asiana managed to bounce a 777 along San Francisco airport after the crew, including a training captain, failed to understand the autopilot logic and stalled on short finals.  Three of the 307 aboard were killed, two of whom were notably not wearing their seat-belts and were flung clear of the wreckage suffering blunt force trauma, possibly from being run over by a fire tender.

Nor does it only affect fixed wing aircraft, in August 2013 a Super Puma of the CHC Helicopter Corporationcrashed just short of Sumburgh Airport after entering a vortex ring state, where the aircraft is trapped in a column of descending air of its own making.  In that case the crew had again failed to fully understand the workings of the automatic pilot and had allowed the aircraft to get too slow with too little power available to maintain height.  This of course being only one of many possible ways to suffer a fatal accident in a Super Puma the numerous technical failings the type has suffered in the last decade being worthy of an article on their own.  Hint hint (OK Philip, go for it. Ed)

Although accidents can happen at any stage of the flight only around 24% of fatal accidents occur while an aircraft is cruising, the time to really worry is during the final approach and landing.  During this phase of the flight 49% of fatal accidents take place, accounting for 47% of the 3191 deaths that have occurred since 2006. Just to prove that you can’t relax once the aircraft is on the ground 20% of deaths occur because the aircraft runs off the runway, lands abnormally or the pilots just miss the big ass piece of tarmac they’re supposed to land on.  As recently as 5 August 2016, a Boeing 737-400 of ASL Airlines failed to stop on Bergamo’s 9209 foot runway and instead ended up straddling a dual carriageway another 900 feet further on.  Fortunately it was a freighter operating for DHL so there were no passengers to worry about and both crew survived (the aircraft on the other hand may need a bit of a polish before re-entering service).  Slightly further back in April 2013, a Lion Air 737 landed in the water 0.6 nautical miles short of the seawall that protects the runway threshold.  In that case the crew continued to descend below the minimum safe altitude despite not being in sight of the runway.  When they finally made the decision to go around they were far too low and only the shallowness of the water prevented any fatalities.


Is too much automation to blame?  Probably not, aircraft accident rates in commercial aviation have been decreasing as automation has allowed aircraft to be operated more efficiently than ever before.  However, this has removed the onus on aircrew to maintain core flying skills with the so called ‘Children of the Magenta’ blithely following the lines presented to them on the in cockpit displays and successfully completing hundreds of flights.  But when something does go wrong many lack the basic skills required to fly the aircraft and make the wrong decision when faced with the unexpected.  The miracle on the Hudson and the successful end to QF32, an A380 that suffered an uncontained engine failure, were in no small part due to the training and experience the crews had that allowed them to Aviate, Navigate and Communicate when things started to go wrong. Unfortunately, although many fine websites exist that allow you to determine the best seat to choose for any flight, the author has yet to find one that gives you a detailed breakdown of the flight decks experience levels.

Current trends since 1999 indicate that on average there are 4.14 hull loss accidents per million departures, leading to 32 fatalities per million departures.  With nearly 38 million scheduled flights per year that’s a decent line in revenue for Boeing and Airbus in replacing lost aircraft.  With an annual average of 1233 deaths in commercial accidents it is however fair to say that no matter how terrifying the flight may seem, you’re significantly more likely to die on the drive to the airport than on the actual flight.  In the UK alone there are an average of 2500 road traffic deaths a year.  So maybe catch the train to the airport next time.”

Since working in Flight Safety, Philip Chandler regularly Googles airline safety records before booking flights.

Keep this blog alive!

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 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

Air Asia Accident Report


Air France Accident Report

Asiana Accident Summary

CHC Accident Report

ASL Accident Details

Lion Air Accident Report

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not

SEPTEMBER 13, 2016

Shocking revelation in Indian Rafale fighter jet deal


NEW DELHI:  Long rumoured to be imminent, the Indian Air Force’s attempt to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from French aerospace giant Dassault has been rocked by a revelatory press conference held this morning in New Delhi.

According to a Government  spokesperson, “The contract and the inter-governmental agreement have dragged on for so long – and have been quoted as imminent as so long- that we started to suspect foul play. An investigation revealed that negotiations were partly led by a company known as Vasdu Holdings.” Investigation of this shadowy firm’s involvement in the Rs 55,000 crore (7.3 billion Euros) deal led members of Indian’s Procurement Supervisory Board to Hollywood. It is here that the Managing Director of Vasdu Holdings lives – but who is he? One C.A Kutcher. If that name is familiar it is because it is that of Christopher Ashton Kutcher, the film star and famous prankster.


During today’s press conference the 38-year-old hunk revealed that the Indian Rafale deal was a prank, one that went wildly out of control: “The medium fighter contest was started as a joke to conceal David Hasselhoff’s motorcycle, but it spiralled out of control. Soon we had the biggest arms manufacturers in the world queuing up try and sell us their planes. I was like, ‘dude- this is literally off the hook crazy- but man let’s ride it out’.”

The first the 64-year old actor and singer David Hasslehoff knew of the joke was when representatives of Russian aircraft manufacturer RSK MiG were found in his garage trying to integrate R-77 missiles onto his Harley-Davidson Roadster. Kutcher was now in hot water, and the situation was only getting worse – as Heads of state flocked to Indian to woo the Government with grand promises in an attempt to seal the deal, he knew he had to do something. Indian’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition hit big delays in 2007 as Kutcher was busy filming romantic comedy ‘What Happens in Vegas’ with Cameron Diaz. On 31 January 2012, it was announced that the Dassault Rafale had won the contest, defeating the Eurofighter Typhoon (the Gripen NG, MiG-35, F/A-18 and F-16E had already been dismissed from the evaluation).


“Shit was now real, and I felt like I couldn’t back down. I knew if I kept a poker-face Hasselhoff would look like a total dick. To buy time- I’d already added like a million delays- I scrapped the MMRCA last year citing deadlock over Dassault’s refusal to take responsibility for the 108 jets to be made in India. I said that the Government had decided to go instead for direct purchase of 36 Rafales during the Modi-Hollande summit in Paris. I have managed to delay and delay the deal but now feel I must confess that the whole deal was a joke that got out of hand. I sincerely hope that India taxpayers, the French Government and David Hasslehoff have the good grace and sense of humour to forgive me my greatest prank.” 


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 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











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