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Africa’s top fighter aircraft

The technology and status of African air forces is underreported in Western media, so in an effort to redress this we will look at the continent’s most deadly combat aircraft. The cliche of African air arms being universally equipped with antiquated, badly maintained fighters is now a myth. 

 African air power is a subject full of surprises and contradictions. In a dramatic reversal of the world of the past, today many of the continent’s air forces are equipped with some of the most potent machines in the world, including the extraordinary Dassault Rafale and updated variants of the Russian heavyweight ‘Flanker’. Though as elsewhere, the air-to-air mission has become rarer, it remains a more pressing consideration than it is for Europe and the US.

What is the best fighter aircraft in Africa?

There are several candidates for this title. In judging this, it is important to look at pilot quality, training and the aircraft’s weapon systems. In determining which warplanes are the most effective in the air-to-air mission we must (for the sake of brevity) put several significant factors aside, but be aware of them. Fighter aircraft operate as part of a system, and require a network of surveillance, C3I and infrastructure. For example the Sudanese MiG-29SEh is a well armed, well-equipped fighter, but Sudan has next to no radar surveillance. A fighter in the defensive role, without the benefits of decent ground radar or AWACS, is severely limited in its effectiveness.

Fighters are complicated machines that require exhaustive overhauls, something very few African nations can do without foreign support (we shall see that there is one very significant example of independent ‘deep overhauls’). This means, that most countries must maintain a good relationship with the nation/s providing spares and technical support, this is something that can be very restrictive, considering the high incidence of wars and sanctions in the region.

One important element in a fighter’s effectiveness is the quality of its electronic warfare (EW) suite. Though most details of this aspect are kept secret, some information is in the public domain. The Swiss air force’s 2008 evaluation report of the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon was leaked, revealing that the Saab aircraft has ‘strong’ electronic warfare capabilities.

The Block 52 F-16s of the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) and Egyptian Air Force (EAF) contain very modern equipment, though they are not the highest specification F-16s. Whereas the most advanced F-16s, the Block 60s of the UAE, are fitted with an AESA (the AN/APG-80) radar, RMAF and EAF make do with the capable, but inferior, mechanically scanning APG-68v9. But this will change with the likely advent of the F-16V. Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars are now an entry level technology for a modern air force. Egypt was the first African nation to get membership to the AESA club  with the arrival of its French Rafale fighter-bombers. 

One of the biggest game-changers in African air power has been the appearance of the ‘Flanker’ heavy fighter series on the export market. This has been followed by the appearance of sophisticated Western aircraft. Let’s take a look at the most formidable fighter aircraft in Africa.

 Egyptian Air Force: Lockheed Martin Block 52 F-16/Early F-16/ Dassault Mirage 2000/Dassault Rafale/Sukhoi Su-35/RAC MiG-29M/M2

That the decision to supply Morsi’s new Egypt with advanced F-16s has been the subject of such fierce debate, gives an idea of the capabilities late Block ‘Vipers’ have.

The bulk of Egypt’s fast-jet force is made up of around 200 early F-16s. These aircraft, from Blocks 15/32/40, are excellent dogfighters (and have been subject to upgrades) but are limited in the BVR arena by both weapons and radar types. They are usually employed in the air-to-ground role. Egypt is a very experienced operator of the F-16, having received its first aircraft in the 1980s.

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The F-16s are not armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM (nor will even the Block 52s) but AIM-7P Sparrows (assuming they have not exceeded their shelf lives). This is due to Israeli insistence that Egypt should receive the weapon. Sparrow is a virtually obsolete weapon and puts the aircraft at a large disadvantage against potential threat aircraft like Israel’s AMRAAM armed F-15s and F-16s (RAF Tornado F.Mk 3s, armed with semi-active Skyflash missiles learnt this harsh lesson in exercises against AMRAAM-equipped F-4Fs of the Luftwaffe in the early 1990s, although the RAF did devise some good ’anti-AMRAAM’ tactics) . Another disadvantage is the EAF’s F-16s Within-Visual-Range weapon, the AIM-9M-2, inferior in many respects to both the R-73 and AIM-9X. Egypt’s pilots are highly rated but political upheaval and the shifting new regimes complicated relationship with the US may affect this.

Egypt’s has around twenty active Mirage 2000s (sixteen 2000EMs and four 2000BM two-seat trainers) which have received some upgrades, notably to their ECM suite. They are capable fighters, superior to the F-16s in agility at higher altitudes, and are armed with the modern MICA medium-range missile. 

The EAF has 46 MiG-29M/M2s which are close in standard to the RuAF MiG-35s. It is likely that the US refusal to sell Egypt AMRAAMs may have aided this programme as the MiG-29 is armed with a modern active BVR weapon in the form of the R-77. 

In a move which infuriated the US, Egypt has ordered around 24 Su-35s, the first of which arrived in July or August 2020. This is the most potent heavy fighter ‘Flanker’ in Africa. Egypt’s Su-35s will be a force to be reckoned with. 

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Block 52 Equipment
The EAF’s Block 52s have a decent radar, in the form of the Northrop Grumman APG-68v9, a very capable mechanically-steered radar. Unlike the F-16s of Turkey, Pakistan and Oman which are fitted with the ITT AN/ALQ-211 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Systems (AIDEWS), EAF F-16s carry Raytheon’s Advanced Countermeasures Electronic Systems.

Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52
Radar: APG-68v9 (mechanically scanned)
Armament 20-mm M61 rotary cannon, AIM-9M Sidewinder (WVR), AIM-7P Sparrow (BVR- status unknown)

Mikoyan MiG-29M/M2

Radar: Zhuk-ME

Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73/R-74 WVR missiles. R-27 and R-77 BVR missiles

Sukhoi Su-35

Radar: IRBIS-E

Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73/R-74 WVR missiles. R-27 and R-77 BVR missiles

Mirage 2000EM

Radar: RDM+ (mechanically scanned)
Armament: DEFA 554 30-mm cannon, Magic 550 (WVR), Super 530 (BVR). MICA (BVR)

Egyptian air force: Dassault Rafale 

Two Egyptian Rafales flying over the Pyramids_LR.jpg

The first Egyptian Rafale squadron (34 ‘Wild Wolves’) has been fully operational since October 2018. Rafale offers the most potent fighter on the continent in overall capabilities. When Egypt’s Rafales receive their Meteor missiles in the future, they will be able to utterly dominate the African skies (though in the Middle East may not enjoy the same advantages over Israeli F-35s).

Radar: RBE 2 AESA
Air-to-air weapons: 30-mm GIAT cannon. WVR/BVR AAM weapon: MICA (Meteor in future)

Ethiopian air force Sukhoi Su-27

In the war with Eritrea, Ethiopian Flankers shot down four MiG-29s establishing the ‘Flanker’s fearsome reputation. The most potent asset in the Ethiopian air force is its Sukhoi ‘Flanker’ force. This consists of twelve single-seat Su-27s, and a pair of Su-27UBs.

In a very significant move, Ethiopia developed the first local in-depth overhauls for the Su-27. Only Russia/Ukraine and China previously had such a capability. It means the ETAF is now self sufficient (provided they have enough spares) in terms of its fighter fleet, something few African countries can say. After overhaul, the aircraft are now getting a new splinter camouflage scheme.

Morale in the Ethiopian pilots is a big issue. Training in Belarus and Israel gave access to excellent training, but also gave Ethiopian crews unhappy with the regime, a chance to escape (eight pilots allegedly defected in Belarus). For the lucky ones this meant refuge to Europe, but at least four pilots were less fortunate and were sentenced to death. It is uncertain whether these sentences were carried out. Some of these defections were of the most experienced ‘Flanker’ pilots, including the veteran Captain Teshome Tenkolu. If experienced crews had been kept, Ethiopia would have one of the most seasoned ‘Flanker’ pilot cadres.
The shootdown in 1999 of an Eritrean MiG-29 by an EAF Su-27 was notable as the first kill by the Su-27 and the first jet-versus-jet by a female pilot (named in some reports as Capt. Aster Tolossa), though some dispute the veracity of this claim. According to several accounts, R-27s had a far lower Probability of Kill rate than R-73s during the fighting.

Nigerian Air Force CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder Block II 

Since 1971, China and Nigerian have enjoyed a cordial relationship, and though it has been a little rocky as of late, the nations still have very strong ties. So it is unsurprising that the Nigerian Air Force opted for the largely Chinese partly-Pakistani JF-17 as its primary fighter-bomber. Not least because it has a long history with Chinese aircraft in the form of the F-7. The JF-17 is not in full service yet as only three have been ordered, and were first publicly seen in Nigerian colours in Pakistan in November 2020.

They will be similar in standard to those for Myanmar, standard JF-17 Block II but with certain systems – like the EJ-seat – replaced with foreign systems.

The JF-17 may lack the raw airframe performance of other modern fighters but boasts an excellent digitalised cockpit, reliability and potent BVR missiles. If JF-17s are ordered in greater numbers they will significantly improve Nigeria’s fighter force from its current small and obsolete force of eight J-7s.

CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder Block II 
Radar: Chinese KLJ-7V2 X-band multi-functional PD radar
Air-to-air weapons: 1 × 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon, PL-12/SD-10,  PL-5E and PL-9C

Royal Moroccan Air Force: Lockheed Martin Block 52 F-16

Morocco enjoys a good relationship with the United States granting it access to advanced military equipment. In August 2011, the MAF received the last of 24 Block 52+ F-16s. Morocco’s F-16s are probably the best armed fighters in Africa, equipped with both the AIM-9X and AIM-120 (though most publicly released photos show the aircraft without any weapons). The F-16s are intended to counter Algeria’s force of 28 Su-30MKAs. In 2019 it approval was given for Morocco to receive 25 F-16C/D Block 72s and upgrades of its existing 23 F‑16s to the F‑16V block 52+ standard.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force also operates 12 F-5A/Bs upgraded with Tiger II avionics and 24 upgraded F-5 Tiger III. Another asset that should not be overlooked is the RMAF’s Mirage F1s. The Association Sagem Thales pour la Rénovation d’Avions de Combat (ASTRAC) consortium has performed a radical upgrade of these aircraft, fitting a new multi-mode radar, cockpit displays and importantly the addition of MICA missiles to its arsenal. The RMAF has is reported to have ordered both MICA variants: IR and EM (an active radar-guided variant) form. This potent weapon is a modern fire-and-forget system that few air forces know much about countering. Despite this upgrade, the F1 is not in the same class as the F-16 as an air-to-air fighter, lacking the agility (and several other benefits) of the US type. Still, it boasts the impressive systems of the 2000-5 in the trustworthy airframe of the F1.

Lockheed Martin Block 52+ F-16
Radar: AN/APG-68(V)9
Air-to-air weapons: 20-mm M61 rotary cannon, AIM-9X Sidewinder, AIM-

Algerian Air Force (QJJ): Sukhoi Su-30MKAs (similar to MKM spec)

Algeria has been investing heavily in its air force and is becoming one of the continents most formidable air arms. Algeria ordered twenty eight Su-30MKAs in May 2006, which have now all been delivered. These were then joined by sixteen additional aircraft of the same type, which replaced an order for MiG-29s which were returned due to being sub-standard quality.

The Su-30MKA is a very potent aircraft. The Algerian Su-30s are well-armed, with both R-73 (Within-Visual-Range Infra Red guided missiles) and fire-and-forget R-77 (Beyond-Visual-Range radar-guided missiles). This gave Algeria the first fire-and-forget air-to-air missile in the region (the first in all of Africa were Sudan’s MiG-29SEhs), an edge it maintained until the Royal Moroccan Air Force fielded its operational AMRAAM capability. Not only is the Algerian fighter force well equipped, it is manned by well-trained crews, many with combat experience. The aircraft are fitted with Thrust Vectoring Control (TVC), which when carefully used against inexperienced crews can greatly increase combat effectiveness in the merge. There was some controversy in Algeria, when it was revealed, despite earlier reports to the contrary; that the Su-30MKAs are alleged to contain some Israeli equipment (it is unlikely that is the jamming systems used on Indian air force Su-30MKIs).
Algeria’s Su-30s are long-ranged and available in sufficient numbers for a decent state of readiness, and the crews of good quality. It is fair to say, that they are in many ways, they are among the most potent fighters in Africa, being surpassed only by Egypt’s Su-30s and Rafale.

Algeria ordered a force 14 MiG-29Ms of the same standard as those of Egypt. There are indications that some aircraft have already arrived despite the recency of the order.

Sukhoi Su-30MKA
Radar: NIIP N011M BARS Passive Electronically Scanning Array
Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73 missiles, R-77 missiles

Uganda People’s Defence Force: Sukhoi Su-30MK2

The elite fighter force of Uganda is 6-8 Sukhoi Su-30MK2s. The aircraft were delivered in 2011. Morale was reported as low, with pilots leaving the air force due to the very low rate of pay. These aircraft are not fitted with Thrust Vector Control.

Sukhoi Su-30MK2
Radar: NIIP N011M BARS Passive Electronically Scanning Array
Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73 missiles, R-27 Missiles, R-77 (probably) missiles

Angolan air force FAPA: Sukhoi Su-27
Another ‘Flanker’ operator is Angola. Scant information is available about Angola’s Su-27, which were purchased second-hand from the Belarus. Angola previously had had only two Su-27S and one Su-27UB. An additional Angolan Su-27 crashed in 2000, falsely reported lost to a UNITA SAM. The aircraft may have been piloted by Ukrainian mercenary pilot Igor Valenchenko.
Angolan ‘Flanker’s have at times been based at Catumbela airport, Lubango. Achieving a constant state of readiness with such a small fleet size proved impossible and so more Flankers were ordered. Angola’s 12 Su-30s started life with the Indian Air Force as Su-30Ks (an interim variant without thrust vector control, something these particular aircraft still lack). Following a period of storage and an upgrade in Belarus they were sent to Angola, the last arriving in 2019. With new jamming equipment, R-77 compatibility and the potential to use anti-shipping missiles they are said to be of Su-30SM standard.

Sukhoi Su-27
Radar: Phazotron N001 Zhuk mechanically scanned radar
Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73 and R-27 missiles (status unknown)

Sudanese air force: MiG-29SEh

South African Air Force: Saab Gripen C/D

The Gripen is probably the world’s best light fighter. South African Gripens are well equipped, notably featuring the Cobra Helmet Mounted Display/ Cueing system. This, combined with IRIS-T missiles (again a world-class system), and the Gripen’s small size and agility, make the type the finest fighter in the merge in Africa. The lack of a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapon would make SAAF Gripens vulnerable to any fighter so equipped. This may not be cause for concern, as few air forces in Africa have fighters with a high-level BVR capability, and certainly no countries bordering South African do.

When Saab conceptualised the Gripen in the late 1970s it is unlikely that they considered the type’s performance in the role of policing rhinoceros poaching, but the little Swedish fighter has been doing just that. Gripens are patrolling the area near Zimbabwe border using their Rafael Litening III targeting pods to scan the area at night and direct rangers to any poachers’ camps.

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Noteworthy at least 12 of the aircraft were put into long-term storage in 2013 because of severe budget cuts. but since then it is believed that all SAAF Gripens are flying.

The SAAF has excellent training equipment, notably the upgraded Pilatus PC-7 Mk II and the superb BAE Systems Hawk Mk 120. However, budgetary constraints have limited pilot flying time, though the SAAF hope to increase this to 180 hours a year (this compares with 240 hours for RAF fast jet pilots). In a first, SAAF Gripens took part in an international training exercise in 2012. Exercise Lion Effort, which was held at the F17 Blekinge Wing in Ronneby, Sweden, gave the chance the SAAF the chance to learn and share operating techniques with the Gripen community. The SAAF currently has 26 Gripen C/Ds.

Saab JAS 39C/D Gripen
Radar: PS-05/A mechanically scanned radar
Air-to-air weapons: BK 27-mm Mauser cannon. IRIS- T (normally two), A-Darter. No BVR weapon.

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Sudanese MiG-29

The Sudanese air force (SAF) has the Russian-made MiG-29SEh. The twelve aircraft, ten single-seaters and two MiG-29UB twin-seaters (some sources suggest as many as 24) were ordered from the Russian Federation in 2002 and were delivered in 2003-2004. The aircraft are well armed with R-73 and R-77 missiles, but operate in a nation lacking wide-scale radar coverage. The aircraft cannot provide comprehensive air cover of Sudan, considering the country’s large size and are instead reserved for the defence of Khartoum.

The delivery of the fighters to Sudan was greeted with alarm by the US, who condemned the sale. Sudanese MiG-29SEh are well armed and fitted with a mediocre radar. It is alleged that Sudan has used mercenary pilots, possibly of Russian origin to fly its MiG-29s. South Sudan claimed they downed one during the 2012 border war, during which Sudanese MiG-29s performed bombing missions. The South Sudanese air force offers no real opposition for the SAF, as one source based in the region said to AFM:
“..they had nine Mi-17 helicopters, all of which are unarmed
transports, although one was badly damaged by enemy action in Likuangole and is still there and another in a storm when they forgot to tie down the rotors. Other than that they use private planes for transport. Rumours abound that they were looking to purchase fighter jets, however with the state of the economy this is unlikely to be in the near future.”

Radar: Phazotron N019ME
Weapons: Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73 and R-27 and R-77 missiles.

Eritrean Air Force: Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flankers’

In order to counter Ethiopia’s ‘Flanker’s during the 1998-2000 war, Eritrea ordered some of their own, though they did not get a chance to use them before the war ended in 2000. It is believed that Eritrean MiG-29s (some of which were reportedly flown by Ukrainian pilot instructors) were totally outclassed by Ethiopia’s Su-27s (some reportedly flown by Russian pilots), which by some accounts performed very well (some reports claim ‘Flanker’s downed four ‘Fulcrums’. Eritrea has two single-seat and a pair of two-seat ‘Flankers’.

Sukhoi Su-27
Radar: Phazotron N001 Zhuk mechanically scanned radar
Air-to-air weapons: Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30-mm cannon, R-73 short-range IR missiles and R-27 BVR semi-active radar-guided missiles

Flying & Fighting in the F-16: Interview with RAF exchange Wild Weasel ‘Viper’ pilot Air Commodore Paul Godfrey

Air Commodore Paul Godfrey of the RAF swapped his seat in a Harrier to become the the first non- USAF pilot to fly the F-16CJ ‘Wild Weasel’. We talked to him about flying and fighting in the Viper tasked with killing enemy air defences.

How did you get to fly an F-16?
“I was incredibly lucky to get selected for an exchange tour with the USAF. I was due to be going to the Block 40 F-16 at Hill AFB in Utah, but a slot came up on the Block 50 (Wild Weasel) at Shaw AFB when I was going through my conversion at Luke AFB, Arizona. I ended up being the first non-US pilot to fly the Block 50 F-16CJ, based on the 55th Fighter Sqn at Shaw AFB, South Carolina.”

How did it differ from the type you were flying before?
“I was flying the Harrier GR7 prior to going to the US, so it was an enormous difference, both in performance and role. The Harrier was a ground attack aircraft, but in the F-16 we were Air-to-Air, Air-to-Ground and Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). It was a huge step up and an incredibly steep learning curve.”

First impressions? “I loved it. The view is amazing and it is such an agile and flexible aircraft. The side stick was very natural and the HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick – essentially the buttons to control all of the avionics) is probably the best I have ever used. I was also incredibly excited to be able to use afterburner for the first time in my career…a proper kick in the backside!”

How would you rate the cockpit for the following:

“7/10. Everything you need is right in front of you and you can
control almost everything from the HOTAS. The ‘switchology’ is incredibly natural and exactly the same for any weapon you are carrying regardless of role. As an example, to select an air to air missile in an air to air mode was only a single switch selection on the throttle even if you were in an air to ground or SEAD mode. It would be a 10/10, but the displays were a little small. The Block 60 has upgraded them and I’m sure that is close to perfect…”

Pilot’s view
“Amazing. 10/10. There is nothing like that bubble canopy for a view in a fighter. Note there is no canopy arch as designed in to most other fighters in the world – primarily for strength to allow the windscreen to be beefed up. I felt like I was sat on top of the world.”

“5/10. There is a common misconception that the angled ejection seat aids comfort in the Viper. I guess it is subjective, but I found I was always sitting forward into a more upright position and it caused a strain on the lower back. I had to roll up my helmet bag and use it as a lumbar support most of the time. The angle of the seat was good in long transits though – it came into its own when you sat back and enjoyed the best view on (or off) the planet. The plus side of no centre stick was the room in front of you. For a smallish cockpit it actually felt very roomy.”


“7/10. As mentioned, I thought the screens were a little small, but this was a space limitation. The Harrier had a better navigation system (in terms of numbers of waypoints and maps) and the Viper had quite a small data input panel. The HUD was not huge, but this was offset by the use of the JHMCS helmet mounted sighting system that was introduced. Unfortunately that was brought in after I left.”

The pilot of the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon watches as a KC-135 Stratotanker refuels his aircraft over Iraq July 28 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

You have flown both the Typhoon and F-16: which would
you take to war and why? 

“That is a very difficult question as you are asking me to chose my favourite out of the kids! The Viper was like a sports car; you strapped it on, had an amazing view and it cornered really well. The Typhoon is like a Viper on steroids though; a souped-up special edition sports car with way more power and an amazing sound system. If I had to chose, I would take the Typhoon. The power and agility is above that of the F-16 and in a combat scenario, speed and altitude are always sought after advantages. The more modern systems in the Typhoon would also give me an edge.”

Air Cdre Paul Godfrey refuelling over Saudi before a mission in Iraq.

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Typhoon versus F-16: In WVR which aircraft would have the advantage and why? “I have flown Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM – dogfighting) against a Viper several times in a Typhoon. The Typhoon generally comes off best due to its raw power. Even at slow speed you can plug the burners in and go up. The F-16 was sometimes a little tricky to get speed back if you had dumped it in a manoeuvre. However, a well-fought F-16 is definitely a formidable opponent. One additional Typhoon advantage is the world class anti G system, which allows you to pressure breath, whilst also using an anti G suit and anti G pressure vest which both inflate to help you stay conscious at high G. F-16s, whilst they have an anti G suit and a system called Combat Edge (an inflatable vest), you are working very hard to stay awake.”

..and in a long range BVR set-up. 
“Typhoon would have the advantage as the radar is more powerful and you can get higher and faster (which increases your weapons’ ranges).”

Which set-ups and altitudes would the F-16 favour?
“The F-16 is a small aircraft which is difficult to see head on. So a longer range set that has the Viper pointing at you would give them an advantage. ‘Lose sight, lose the fight’ as the saying goes. Both are good ‘rate’ fighters (using their rate of turn to essentially eat up the distance between the aircraft), but the modern off-boresight missiles (ASRAAM on the Typhoon and AIM-9X on the Viper) takes away a lot of advantage.

It used to be that you had to get behind someone to shoot them, but not anymore. You have to be aware of a fleeting shot from any position, which means you have to be ready with the chaff and flares and know what your next manoeuvre will be.”

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How would the F-16 pilot fight?
“What is known as a 2-circle rate fight. If you were starting head on, in a Viper I would look to lead turn just prior to the ‘merge’ (when we cross), in order to gain angles. I would then pull 9G to get to my best rate speed and try and get the nose back on. But again, the modern air to air missile allows all sorts of shots…you only need one good one.”

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Who would you put your money on? 
“As much as I loved the Viper, my money would be on the Typhoon.

What is the best thing about the F-16?
“The view and HOTAS.”
….and the worst? 
“The angle of the seat!”

US Air Force (USAF) Captain (CPT) Christina Szasz, F-16CJ Fighting Falcon aircraft Pilot, 78th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS), waits inside the cockpit of her aircraft as she prepares for a mission at Incirlik Air Base (AB), Turkey, during Combined Task Force (CTF), Operation NORTHERN WATCH.

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How would you rate the F-16 in the following areas: 
Instantaneous turn rates 
Sustained turn rates
Weapons platform 
“Very good.”
Top speed
Take-off characteristics
“Easy – put the power up, take the brakes off and pull back on
the stick.”

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Landing characteristics 
“Easy-ish. An F-16 is very straightforward to land, but not easy to land well. The wing is amazing and she always wants to fly, so a mistimed flare can result in a bounce (always embarrassing when a flight of aircraft are waiting to take off at the end of the runway and grading you), and when you are aerodynamic braking (holding the nose off to slow down), there is a danger of accidentally holding the air brake override and scraping the air brakes on the runway. It doesn’t happen often, but it has been done.”
Climb rate “Very Good.”
“Very good for its size.”

“Very Good. The ability to put other sensors on (Sniper, Harm Targeting System) gives it flexibility. I think an AESA-equipped Viper would be formidable.”

What’s the biggest myth about the F-16? 
‘The seat was raked 30 degrees to increase G-tolerance. This is incorrect. It was the only way they could fit the seat in there without re-designing the canopy and the canopy is part of the ‘lifting body’ design, which means that the canopy and fuselage generate lift along with the wings.”

What should I have asked you?
“How does the US flight equipment compare with the UK’s?”

Describe your most memorable flight in an F-16?
“I was participating in Operation Southern Watch in Iraq during
9/11. We came back to the USA in October 2001 and the US was still launching several Combat Air Patrols a day over large US cities. I volunteered to fly a CAP on Thanksgiving in November 2001 to allow a US pilot to spend it with his family. I led a flight of two and took off before sunrise to fly up to Washington DC, where our CAP was located. We established in an orbit over the top of DC as the sun came up.”

An Unmanly Guide to Pilotless Aircraft: Top 13 Unmanned aircraft

During the War, actor Hedy Lamarr was the co-inventor of frequency hopping. A technology that would later make WiFi and global positioning systems possible. Her innovation had a huge impact on remotely piloted aircraft. There is some controversy about who invented frequency-hopping, the inventor Tesla was involved in initial research.

The sky of the 21st Century is abuzz with soulless flying machines, but let’s not hate on them. As Stephen Caulfield shows us, what they lack in poetry they make up for in ingenuity.

  1. de Havilland Queen Bee
Never in the field of human conflict has a leader so wanted a morning whisky

de Havilland’s infuriating decision to start a name with a lowercase letter long predated Hip-Hop’s preoccupation with tricksy spelling, and has condemned aviation historians to artfully deploy a variety of odd sentence constructions to avoid starting sentences with a ‘d’. Still they did do some pioneering work on remotely piloted aeroplanes.

The Queen Bee was a development of the DH-82A Tiger Moth primary trainer. A cheap-and-cheerful approach to training anti-aircraft artillery forces it utilised existing technology in a proven airframe. Catapult launched, this drone was flown within line of sight by a ground operator. It could land and be reused or get blown to matchsticks as the moment required. There was a twin-float version for fleet gunners to work with, too. You can see one of these early disposables at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum if the world is open the time you read this.

The same length as a piloted Tiger Moth.

  1. Raduga KS-1 Komet

Cruise missiles are aircraft and munitions, pre-programmed suicide robots (though a pessimist could argue that we all are) . You couldn’t really do a lot with them after pushing the launch button. At least not before the advent of the computer chip and digital satellite communications. The Komet is here with the Snark representing a long line of cruise missiles beginning with the Fiesler Fi-103, also known as the V-1 or Doodblebug. Built with the wings, tail assembly and powerplant of a MiG-15, the Komet appears to have had similar performance metrics. This crude weapon helped make the brinksmanship of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis even more dangerous.

The same length as a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15.

  1. Northrop SM-62 Snark

According to the writer Kurt Vonnegut, a ‘snarf’ is someone with a particular fetish the author of this article has asked us not to detail (you can find it here though). Perhaps this is why Snarf from the Thundercats was so named. A Snark, on the other hand, is “an imaginary animal (used typically with reference to a task or goal that is elusive or impossible to achieve).”

Big and dumb. That is pretty much history’s verdict on an expensive, problem-plagued machine designed to deliver atomic weapons of ridiculous power. Take the notorious test firing of a single Snark in 1959 from Cape Canaveral. It was supposed to perform a return trip via a point near Puerto Rico. The Snark in question began drifting to starboard not long after takeoff. Umpteen course correction signals were tried. Then self-destruct codes were sent as the Snark streaked off across the Caribbean. Armed fighters scrambled. Too late. Best guesses (and some moderately credible wreckage found in the 1980s) indicate Snark 53-8172 had a Brazilian beach vacation on its bucket list.

The same length as a Vickers Wellington Mk. IC.

  1. IAI Heron/Super Heron

Thanks to a suite of sensors and data links the Heron trades in information. It is also built for those with patience. A Heron can spend over fifty hours in the air. As drone systems proliferate the Heron has found a ready export market. These particular machines are operated by several European nations, mid-level powers like Australia and Canada, and emerging powers including Turkey, India and Brazil. Nobody in this unbalanced, overheated world seems to be free of the need for this type of machine now. From combat missions to border patrol and resource monitoring it seems just a matter of who can afford what model. Like the other post-9/11 machines here the Heron emphasises lower operating costs than crewed jet fighters and large patrol aircraft.

The same length as two McDonnell XF-85 Goblins

  1. QB- & QF- series target drone conversions

The Pentagon is unmatched for the sheer diversity and number of aircraft it has employed over the years. What to do with aging, obsolescent ones? Transfer to reserve units or client state air forces are options. Longer term storage, parts donation and scrapping also happens. The most exciting use for aging warbirds is as raw material for a multi-decade target conversion program. You could stock a respectable museum with the type list blown to pieces over the sea and the desert ranges to keep America’s fighter pilots and weapon designers on form. Read it and weep (or at least enjoy the videos): F6F Hellcat, QB-17 Flying Fortress, QF-9 Cougar, QT-33 Shooting Star, QB-47 Stratojet, QF-86 Sabre, QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-102 and PQM-102 Delta Dagger, QF-104 Starfighter, QF-106 Delta Dart, QF-4 Phantom II, QF-16 Fighting Falcon.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. part of the famous American Kennedy family, was killed when the BQ-8 (a B-24 converted to a remote control flying bomb) aircraft he was piloting accidentally exploded over East SuffolkEngland.

The same length as before conversion.

  1. General Atomics MQ-1 Predator & MQ-9 Reaper

If the United States seems to dominate this list it is perhaps because America, well, looks to dominate the world. Dominion doesn’t come cheap, mind you. Overlapping strategic commitments and endless warfare in Eurasia and Africa drive the cost, complexity and variety of weapon systems the world’s only superpower throws at its problems. Drones are not immune to this process of ratcheting up costs. Long endurance missions in the face of very little meaningful opposition typify the working day of these platforms. With their economical turbine (MQ-9) and piston-engine (MQ-1) powerplants and straight glider-like wings they orbit relentlessly above contested places all over the globe. The Reaper is a bigger improved version of the Predator with a much larger warload and greater endurance.

One has a ‘Y’ shaped tail and the other a ‘^’ though I can’t recall which is which. Neither are related to the Planet Satellite.

Enormous amounts of data stream to and from these machines justifying decisions to unleash precision-guided munitions. Just wait until the world’s large, urban police departments get their hands on such things, let alone terrorists.

The same length as a Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

  1. Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk

Whatever our cares about the ethics of drone warfare, the drones really are here to stay. Coming of age in the era of US president Barack Obama the Global Hawk is the Rolls-Royce of asymmetrical, endless warfare. It’s a high-endurance, subsonic platform for all kinds of sensors. In a complicated, post-9/11 world in which a single superpower operates globally this is what you get. A contrast to the Aerosonde I in size and the Snark in brains? Yes.


The same length as a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis

  1. AAI Aerosonde I The first unmanned aerial vehicle to fly across the Atlantic. Not bad for such a little thing. ‘Standing’ in aviation history beside Alcock and Brown’s lumbering Vickers Vimy. An Aerosonde I weighs about thirty pounds when loaded for takeoff. Its powerplant is a one-and-three-quarter horsepower, single-cylinder unit sourced from the radio-controlled model airplane industry. The Aerosonde I was designed in the late 1990s in Australia as a civilian weather data gathering platform. It flies directly into typhoons and hurricanes all the time.

The same length as Kate Moss lying on a sofa.

  1. Ryan Model 147/AQM-34 Firebee

The Firebees are an entire family of unmanned aerial vehicles. They have gone everywhere and done everything drones can. Fast jets with rockets and then missiles needed realistic targets to spar with, hence the Firebee. Reconnaissance and electronic warfare grew ever more important as the Cold War ground on and the Firebees were found fit for more active jobs than just getting shot down by their own side for practice. These machines made a remarkable evolutionary journey becoming more sophisticated and capable. Communist China even copied the Firebee. Firebees saw wide-ranging action during the Vietnam war. Little of this is widely remembered now but Firebees flew decoy missions, did photo reconnaissance work and dropped guided munitions for years in that unhappy conflict. Firebee crews could sometimes get beyweem forty to sixty successful missions from a single example.

The same length as a Cessna 140.

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  1. Grumman X-47B

The stealthy X-47B was the first unmanned combat aerial vehicle to land on an aircraft carrier. Trials found the X-47B compatible with operations on the big USN fleet carriers including catapult launches and arrested landings. The X-47B has a wingspan of just over sixty feet and is turbofan-powered. It offers strong hints as to the future of military aviation, naval or otherwise. While it doesn’t appear the world’s largest and richest war makers are fully ready for unmanned warplanes it must be impossible for them to ignore the success of programmes like this one. Some of the gains made by the sleek X-47B are apparently being rolled into an air-to-air refuelling drone project.

The same length as a Grumman TBF Avenger.

  1. Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie

With a dynamic appearance and name befitting an evil alien overlord, the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie is a secretive USAF sixth generation drone project. Generally comparable to the EADS Barracuda and Sukhoi Su-70, the Valkyrie is a technology demonstrator engineered for stealth and utilising very powerful digital systems. Touted for the Valkyrie is a ”wingman” role. This would involve a sortie with a manned aircraft that could also carry the Valkyrie aloft initially. The drone would then break toward a higher risk objective, sparing the manned controller aircraft the dangers of the ‘hot zone’ . Such a servant would also have a protective role to play if its master came under attack. The Valkyrie is one entrant in the Pentagon’s Skyborg program of attritable (damn right spellcheck will underline that) and affordable unmanned warplanes. Watch this space.

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The same length as a Westland Lysander Mk.III.

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  1. Radioplane OQ- & TDD- series

We owe the first mass production, pure pilotless designs to Reginald Denny. Denny was an ex-pat English actor and Royal Flying Corps veteran. Between gigs in Los Angeles one sunny day he was distracted by a buzzing sound. Denny discovered the noise was the thimble engine on a neighbourhood boy’s toy plane.

Denny was also a champion amateur boxer

Denny’s vision of industrial scale remote control aircraft stemmed from that encounter and would prove very successful. Over 15,000 Radioplanes were built between 1939 and the early 1950s. In a connection back to the world of acting Denny’s firm was Marilyn Monroe’s employer during California’s great wartime aviation boom. Further infusing Hollywood glamour to those days is the fact that actor Hedy Lamarr separately advanced unpiloted flying. During the war, Lamarr was the co-inventor of frequency hopping. A technology that would later make WiFi and global positioning systems possible.

The same length as a Stits SA-2A Sky Baby (OQ-2).

  1. SF Express FH-98

A hundred years of pilotlessness takes us full circle from the Queen Bee to another biplane. The FH-98 is a cargo drone version of the Shijiazhuang Y-5B agricultural aircraft. Another edition of the eternal Antonov An-2. Industry giant SF Express is China’s number two freight and courier services firm. They deftly chose the Y-5B platform for its reliability, short field performance and the fact it can haul a ton and a half of cargo. Brained up with the latest tech for unpiloted errands the FH-98 made its first deliveries of perishable foodstuffs in the summer of 2020. Cargo service to island locations and between agricultural sites and large cities is envisioned.

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The same length as a Fairey Albacore.

Flying & Fighting in Mirage IV: Interview with French nuclear bomber pilot

Weighing in at 33 and a half tons, capable of rocket-assisted take-offs, with a top speed of Mach 2.2 — and the ability to deliver a nuclear holocaust few aircraft were as exciting as the Mirage IV strategic bomber. Combining hideous lethality with graceful lines, this Cold War warrior served France from 1964-2005. We spoke to former Mirage IV pilot Jean Copponnex to find out more.

Translated by Elodie Rougeot & Owen Dakin

During a low altitude bombing training mission on a seaside range, an engine failure on departure from Solenzara forced me to give the order to abandon the plane while we were at very low altitude over the sea and flying at 600 knots.”

Pilot of Mirage IVA 1969 -1973

What were your first impressions of the Mirage IV?

“The largest armed warplane in the French air force plane could not be more impressive! Twice the size of the Mirage III, an internal fuel capacity allowing for more than two hours of autonomy, the possibility of flying at Mach 2 for several tens of minutes, refuelling in flight. This plane was really revolutionary for a Mirage III pilot.”

Rare, unofficial confrontations with real fighters have shown that it probably would have been a proud fighter, especially with more powerful engines.”

What was the best thing about it?

“The finesse of its airframe, which allowed for amazing performance, and its aesthetics (as with most planes coming from Dassault, it must be said).
It was perfectly suited to the missions for which it was designed: high altitude and high Mach speeds, and later very low altitude, high speed as well as being able to navigate anywhere on the planet completely autonomously.

Flying was very pleasant, I would even say it was easy, with flexible and very effective flight controls.”

…and the worst?

“Not easy to find… I would say the relative low power of its jet engines, which were especially sensitive in the take-off phase at maximum load. However, in the range of its operational use, this weakness was forgotten.”

How would your rate the Mirage IV in the following categories:
A. Instantaneous turn
B. Sustained turn
C. Acceleration
D. Climb rate
E. High alpha performance

A-B-C-D-E: the type of missions assigned to the Mirage IV did not allow its performance to be assessed in this way. It was not, strictly speaking, a fighter and its capabilities in close formation were not optimised. That said, outside the strict framework of its mission, and outside the limits set by the operating instructions, it gave the feeling of having amazing possibilities considering its weight. Rare, unofficial confrontations with real fighters have shown that it probably would have been a proud fighter, especially with more powerful engines.The airframe held great promise, but it was just a strategic bomber. With regard to the high alpha performance, as with any delta wing aircraft, approaching the angle of attack limit made flying in formation tricky, but this was outside the normal range of use.

Only takeoff and heavy final approaches involved this configuration.

For very low altitude missions, speed was considered to be sufficient protection, since there was nothing else!

What was the cockpit like?

“For the pilot, the cabin was quite spacious compared to the Mirage III and also comfortable. The equipment was completely traditional with conventional flight control and engine control instruments and the same equipment as on any plane. It also had an autopilot, much appreciated on long flights. The IVA I knew had only analogue equipment, needle dials.
One regret, especially for a pilot used to the Mirage IIIE: the means of monitoring and controlling navigation were limited. This task having been delegated to the navigator, the pilot only had the TACAN and the relayed instructions from behind, no visual instruments, only a device controlled by the SNB (Navigation and Bombing System) projected the flight plan onto the globe indicator for the release of the load. On the right console, a small steering wheel allowed the pilot to steer the plane without the help of the brakes, making taxiing on the ground very easy.”

How did you feel about the prospect of carrying out a nuclear attack?

“We were in the middle of the Cold War, our mission was deterrence. This mission appeared legitimate to all members of the FAS (Strategic Air Forces) and each one, without wishing it of course, was ready to carry it out if necessary. So, no there was no hesitancy. All our energies were focused on success. If hostilities broke out, we would only have been a response to limit a potentially stronger attack. We were on permanent alert and ready for immediate engagement.”

How does it compare with other fast jets you have flown?

In terms of pure piloting, in the classic phases: take off, final approach and landing, ascent and descent, navigating at high and low altitude, this plane was particularly pleasant.

Compared to the Mirage III, the flight qualities remained fairly similar, but due to its mass we felt a certain inertia in reactions to changes in engine speed, only at high aircraft weight. The landing was smooth thanks to the down-wash effect generated by its large airfoil.

Beyond this, no comparison is possible due to the very specific mission assigned to the IVA. Out of respect for the relative fragility of the SNB electromechanical equipment, a certain restraint was required for formations, although the plane itself would have happily managed!
It was a huge difference compared to my previous planes (Mystère IVA, F-84F, Mirage IIIE) was its flight range and in-flight refuelling, which were unique in France at that time.”

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What is the biggest myth about the Mirage IV?

“Strategic bomber. Carrier of the French atomic bomb, symbol of the greatness and independence of France, what else can be said?
All surrounded by a jealously guarded secrecy. This contributed to the pride of all the members of the FAS who participated in the adventure.”

How combat effective was it? How effective was its armament?

“No fight experienced! Perfectly effective for what it was designed for, no doubt.”

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What was your most memorable flight in the Mirage IV?

“There could be several:

The first flight, as with any single-seater (even if there was in this case an “active passenger”), remains memorable, because it is the discovery that you are in a machine where no one other than yourself can be of any concrete help.

The first real refuelling, where we enter another dimension.

The first long distance mission, with two refuellings and more than 7 hours of flight.

The night flight refuelling in a dense mass of storm clouds with heavy turbulence.

Takeoff at night in snow knowing that we would not be able to return to the fold.

Finally, a flight expected to be peaceful but ending up with being tossed about by the swell of the Mediterranean in a dinghy, off the base of Solenzara, Corsica. During a low altitude bombing training mission on a seaside range, an engine failure on departure from Solenzara forced me to give the order to abandon the plane while we were at very low altitude over the sea and flying at 600 knots. Time flies very quickly during this kind of event, actions are performed almost as reflex gestures. The difficulty is to remain sufficiently lucid to attempt to remedy the fault whilst at the same time piloting the aircraft and remaining alert so as not to exceed any limits and put the crew in danger. The execution of the eject order by the navigator is crucial so that the pilot can eject under the right conditions.
This is what happened, and recovery by helicopter is a great moment!”

Tell me about the rocket- assisted take off

“I already had the opportunity to use take-off assistance rockets on the F-84F. These machines are very spectacular when seen from outside, but so is the feeling inside the aircraft. The purpose of JATOs is to ensure, in conditions where the aircraft engines do not have sufficient power, that the plane can reach its take-off speed. The 12 rockets hung under the belly of the Mirage IV required an additional thrust of more than 5 tonnes, corresponding to about 2/3 power of a single engine. The acceleration was therefore very sensitive, but limited by the progressive ignition in three overlapping bursts over a total duration of around 15 to 20 seconds.
Designed for wartime, these rockets were used only for training at maximum cleared take-off weight. If the temperature on the runway was high and the atmospheric pressure low, assisted take-off showed all its value.

At Luxeuil Air Base, located at almost 1,000 feet above sea level, and in summer, the aircraft was at the limit of the performance curves at lift-off. The study of the performance curves gave precisely the speed at which the pilot had to activate the firing of the rockets on the runway so that the airplane reached sufficient speed in flight for the engines to continue the acceleration.

When the rockets went out, there was an unpleasant sinking feeling due to the sharp decrease in thrust, but the speed and rate of climb indicators immediately reassured, the aircraft accelerating and climbing.
Later, the JATOs were used for demonstrations with light aircraft and without external loads. Lacking any operational objective in these cases, they were nevertheless very spectacular crowd-pleasers.”

What was your most memorable mission?

“Having never, during the Cold War, carried out a real operational mission, none of the training missions deserve any special classification. All were similar, within their specific scope. The only one that I will describe as memorable is the one described above, that ends … swimming!”

What was your favourite mission and why?

“Over my whole career, and without wanting to insult the Mirage IV, my favourite missions were in the Mirage IIIE. When I was on Mirage IVAs, the missions were highly standardised, there was no question of going beyond the defined framework. The importance of the FAS mission prevailed over all other considerations. Relative freedom arrived much later.
There was nothing comparable with Mirage IIIE missions for single-seat penetration fighter / bomber jets. There, the pilot had only himself to rely on in often difficult flight conditions, at low altitude, day or night and, ideally, in bad weather.
One cannot imagine, by comparing the silhouettes of the two planes, how utterly different they were. Even with comparable flight performance, piloting a military aircraft has no other purpose than the completion of a specific mission, which the pilot can appreciate more or less, according to his preferences.”

What did you feel about the prospect of facing enemy SAMs and interceptors in the Mirage? Would it have survived – and if so, how?

“We were, in my time, poorly equipped for jamming and countermeasures, there was only the internal system integrated into the aircraft.

  1. The missions at supersonic speeds and at very high altitude seemed to protect us from SAMs, which still remains to be verified …
    As regards interceptors, the risk did not seem to be vital either. Our own forces were training to intercept the Mirage IVA flying at Mach 2, without much success. The interception systems required extreme precision in both design and implementation for these missions, by the controllers intercepting on the ground and by pilots of interceptor planes. This required significant planning to obtain a good alignment with the Mirage IV’s trajectory to ensure anything more than random success.
  2. For very low altitude missions, speed was considered to be sufficient protection, since there was nothing else!
    Anyway, the concept was such that even if all the planes of a massive raid did not reach the goal, a minimum of success was sufficient to prove its effectiveness as a deterrent.”

I hope my answers will give you an insider’s insight into the secretive world of “Chasse B …” and thanks for your interest.”

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New X-plane Aurora CRANE announced for DARPA: Our analysis

Hush-Kit has asked me to write an analysis piece about a new programme which has just been announced by Aurora Flight Sciences. The plan is to develop a novel configuration which uses active flow control (AFC) to provide a flight control system for the demonstrator, without using moving control surfaces. The project is under contract to the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, as part of their Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) effort.

The technology is of interest as part of the technology path towards extremely low-observable aircraft. Moving control surfaces cannot be incorporated in the design of such aircraft without the introduction of gaps, edges, actuators and support structures, all of which can introduce discontinuities, edges and gaps, increasing the signature, even when the air vehicle is flying straight and level, and control effectors are not being used. The deflection of control surfaces required to manoeuvre stealthy air vehicles can be quite large, and can generate undesirable and detectable radar returns.

F-35 showing extreme elevon deflection, Avalon Air Show 2019

The first phase (Phase 0) will examine mission applications in which AFC technologies would be useful, and the programme will then go on to develop, in Phase 1, a design for an X-plane demonstrator exploiting AFC, and presumably able to demonstrate the benefits of such a technology in relevant mission scenarios, informed by the Phase 0 studies.
The exemplar used in the Aurora press release to illustrate the concept is a wind tunnel model of a joined wing concept, with blended body and a diamond planform. The model has no vertical fin, and no conventional control surfaces are visible.

Attractions of joined wing concepts (according to my 1977 MPhil thesis on the topic) include an inherently strong structure with both forward and aft swept lifting surfaces which, being joined at the tips, results in low structure weight for a given stiffness Other advantages include a wide range of centre of gravity; predictable behaviour at the stall; and low rolling inertia.

A range of active flow control technologies might be used, including circulation control exploiting the Coanda effect, or by the use of air jets or suction to manipulate the boundary layer. The Coanda effect has been described by its inventor, Henri Coanda, as “the tendency of a jet of fluid emerging from an orifice to follow an adjacent flat or curved surface and to entrain fluid from the surroundings so that a region of lower pressure develops”.

This technique has been investigated (by Dr R V (Ron) Smith, among others), and shown to be capable of generating large, and controllable, forces which might be used for control and lift augmentation purposes. The diagram below shows the flow around an aerofoil with an air blowing system providing very high lift. The principle has been successfully applied in the development of the MD900 helicopter, where the tail boom is used as a Coanda device, replacing the tail rotor.

Diagram of flow around an Aerofoil with Coanda-effect flap. Source: Flight Handbook edited by Bill Gunston (1962 edition)

In its objective, the Aurora demonstrator, has much in common with the BAE Systems and Cranfield University Demon UAV, which has demonstrated controlled flight without the use of conventional moving control surfaces. The Demon was developed as a demonstrator for the flapless air vehicle integrated industrial research (FLAVIIR) programme. It was used successfully in 2010 in a flight demonstration in which its conventional flight control surfaces were disabled, and control was maintained using a combination of Coanda flow control and a thrust-vectoring nozzle.
The Demon uses a diamond-shaped wing planform, but unlike the Aurora wind tunnel model, hr Demon has a one-piece wing, rather than having joined front and rear wing components.

While BAE have pointed to potential civilian applications for the circulation control systems embodied in Demon, it seems clear to me that the driving interest behind both the DARPA/Aurora and BAE programmes is the reduction in signature of future combat aircraft.

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It is no coincidence that almost all schematic illustrations of future Gen 6 fighters have no vertical tail fins. The technologies being investigated in the CRANE and FLAVIIR programmes are clearly an enabling step to the development of ELO aircraft.

Cue sound clip – Roll Over Beethoven by the ELO. 

-–– Jim Smith

I hope my answers will satisfy you and thank you for your interest in our world of “Chasse B …”,
dedicated methods and reserved for insiders.
Jean Copponnex

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The greatest aircraft of the IAF, part 2: Hawker Hurricane by K S Nair

Credit: IAF

The Hawker Hurricane was, quite simply, the numerically most significant aircraft type flown on operations by the Indian Air Force (IAF) during the Second World War. Eight of the nine IAF squadrons which saw action during WW2 flew it for extended periods on operations. By mid-1942, when the Indian Air Force first got their hands on the Hurricane (or their feet on its rudder pedals), it was certainly not representative of the most modern aircraft that the Allied air arms were operating, even for the Burma Front. But it was still a massively important weapon system for the Empire and its allies. And the period when the IAF operated it was an important marker in the development of the Indian Air Force. Almost all Hurricanes operated by the IAF were second-hand or third-hand machines which had been previously used in England, Malta, or by the Desert Air Force, the tactical force that supported the North African campaign. The approach of equipping IAF units with aircraft types that were being discarded by regular RAF units was, by design or chance, to remain a standard until late 1945. It was entirely in line with long-standing Indian Army policy, of equipping Indian sepoys with older models of muskets, and later of rifles, which British units were discarding. Indian fighter-reconnaissance and fighter-bomber units were equipped, and took on the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, with Hawker Hurricanes, at the same time that RAF units with the same tasks were receiving the far more prestigious Supermarine Spitfires. Undoubtedly there were some rational arguments for this policy. Prioritising the most modern equipment for the units most likely to confront the most modern adversaries, realistic assessment of the abilities of colonial units to make best use of the equipment, and constraints on training: these arguments all have some validity. But IAF crews, fresh from operating Westland Lysanders during the First Burma campaign, were quite pleased to be promoted to Hurricanes. By contemporary accounts they put enormous effort into keeping the aircraft in as good condition as possible in the circumstances. And their mastery of the machine prepared them for the Spitfires and Tempests they would soon be operating. The Hurricane, for all its production and operational history, never quite measured up to the Spitfire in mythology; but in difficult environments such as North Africa and the China-Burma-India theatre, it proved to be more robust and able to withstand extreme heat, dust and cold, than most other aircraft of its class. Its older materials and construction methods meant that it was easy and quick to produce, and simple to repair in the field. The wide-set main undercarriage legs made it easy to land and stable to taxi even on rough fields. It was flown in Yugoslavia, South Africa and the Sudan even before the Battle of Britain, demonstrating its ability to perform in extremely varied environments. Burma and India were in fact the last theatre in which Hurricanes were used in significant numbers as first-line fighters. The Hurricane served in virtually all Indian Air Force combat roles with distinction – fighter, bomber, ground-attack, reconnaissance, and army co-operation among them. Something like twenty of the two dozen-odd DFCs received by IAF personnel, including to such icons as later Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh, went to Hurricane pilots. Because of its robustness and simplicity it was also used for numerous other applications – combined operations, despatch delivery, meteorological reconnaissance, radar calibration. It was also used in India for roles for which it was never intended – including anti-malarial and crop-protection spraying. It served with the IAF for only about four years. By 1946, immediately after the War’s end, there were so many surplus late-mark Spitfires available in theatre that Hurricane units were able to convert to the Spitfire, or in some cases to the Tempest quite soon after the end of the War. But its status, as the most widely-flown IAF combat aircraft of the Second World War, goes well beyond the years it served. It should be remembered as an IAF classic.

K S Nair is the author of two books and over 70 articles on the Indian Air Force and other developing country air arms.

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