Category: Uncategorized

We launch our new beautiful book!

 

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“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I’ve selected the richest juiciest cuts of Hush-Kit, added a huge slab of new unpublished material, and with Unbound, I want to create a beautiful coffee-table book. Here’s the book link .  

 

I can do it with your help.

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.

FEATURING

  • 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.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

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.

Rewards levels include these packs of specially produced trump cards.

I’ve selected the richest juiciest cuts of Hush-Kit, added a huge slab of new unpublished material, and with Unbound, I want to create a beautiful coffee-table book. Here’s the book link .  

 

I can do it with your help.

Modern jet fighters to race at 2022 Reno Air Races

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What is already described as the ‘world’s fastest motorsport’ is about to get a lot faster — with today’s announcement that some of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft will be entering the fray in 2022. The aircraft, which will include the European Typhoon, French Rafale, Russian MiG-29 (from Slovakia) and the US’ F-22 Raptor will be racing at speeds more than double the fastest existing racer, the L-29 of the current ‘Jet’ category.

What became the STIHL National Championship Air Races in Nevada started over fifty years ago, when World War II vintage fighters which had customised to eek every extra knot of speed were set against each other in a breathtaking display of airmanship. Since then the annual Reno Air Races have become famous worldwide.

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In 2003, Skip Holm piloted a modified P-51D Mustang, Dago Red, to make a class speed record of 507.105 mph in a six-lap race around the eight-and-a-half mile course. Jet aircraft are even faster: in 2009, Curt Brown set a record of 543.568 mphin his L-29 Viper. But this is all pretty sedentary compared to the speeds that modern fighters will reach. We spoke to Tim Folland, an RAF pilot, from the British Typhoon team sponsored by The Mendips Scone Company:

“I won’t tell you the exact speeds I’ve been getting in test runs that simulate the course…but I am very confident….it is well in excess of 750 knots. The idea came about from the realisation that the aircraft would be in Nevada at the same time for a large tactical exercise. The addition of commercial sponsorship made the whole thing viable.” 

The Typhoon will be up against some very tough competition from the French Team Rafale (sponsored by Mensonge Pastis), the US Red Raptor (Unwahrheit Tires) and the Slovakian MiG-29 ‘The Wolves’ (Hovadina Beer). 

Slovakian Air Force pilot Blázona Klamstvopica will be flying the Soviet-era MiG-29, she noted: “This will be an incredible race, and will hopefully raise a lot of awareness of the skill and dedication of our air force. I am certain that the MiG-29 will perform well, it certainly has a lot of power and can make very fast turns.”

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Military aircraft procurement: An insider reflects on why it so often goes wrong

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Despite the billions at stake, it is not unusual for air arms to develop or buy the wrong warplane. Jim Smith, who spent much of his career close to the world of military aircraft acquisition, reflects on why this happens. 

“Sometimes, you have to wonder – Reflections on procurement successes and failures
Having spent much of my career close to the UK and the Australian acquisition systems, and having been at least occasionally at the margins of the US acquisition system, sometimes, you have to wonder.
Dr Ron and I wrote a recent article for Hush-Kit about some spectacular conceptual failures affecting the British Aircraft Industry, for example the decision to build four V-bombers, and to then field three of them. There was also the mistaken belief that a turret-fighter, such as the Defiant, was a good idea. Plenty of other questionable decisions are to be found in the military transport, advanced trainer, or the civilian market. Other good examples are to be found in the enduring saga of the Fleet Air Arm, where pretty much everything of British design was a disaster, with the exception of adaptations of land-based aircraft, and the excellent Buccaneer S2…

But let’s not point the finger solely at the British. The US has had some truly spectacular moments where misjudgements about technology or requirements have resulted in unfortunate outcomes, and sometimes this has been compounded by a system where lobbying in Congress can replace sensible decisions with ones that are a little less so. (Does anyone know when the KC-46 will reach full capability?).

The French have produced some fabulously successful aircraft – exemplified by the Mirage Series from the Mirage III to the Mirage 2000. But there have also been a number of misconceived aircraft, like the Mirage 4000 – absolutely successful at demonstrating what a huge fighter could do – but not actually bought by anyone.

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Apart from disasters, other surprising outcomes are possible. Sometimes, serendipity comes to the rescue, and something you were not at all sure about turns out to be just the job. An example from the US is the Fairchild A-10. The A-10 ground attack aircraft was nearly the victim of a long-fought campaign to take it out of service, until it proved unexpectedly to be just what you need in the complex ground campaign in Syria.

Sometimes, the requirement is out-dated, and a leap into new technology proves transformational. The A-4 Skyhawk exemplifies this, having been designed in response to a US Navy specification which envisaged a twin-engine bomber weighing 30,000 pounds. Heinemann’s Scooter came in at 15,000 pounds, flew in 1954 and remained in production for 25 years.

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So, how to go about illustrating some head-shaking decisions? Well, the plan is to provide an explanation of the sorts of issues that get considered in a generic acquisition programme, and then provide some examples where the outcome appears to be unexpected. And, perhaps most difficult of all, suggest what may have gone wrong. In doing this, I am going to try to avoid anything of which I have direct first-hand knowledge. This is a disadvantage, but I cannot put myself within the reach of the Official Secrets Act!

In the interests of brevity, I’m going to focus this first look on fighter aircraft. Partly because it’s a key area of interest for Hush-Kit, and I think there is enough material, but also because there’s always the prospect of following up with a look at naval aircraft, helicopters, or bombers if there is sufficient interest. I’m also only going to look at aircraft that actually made it into service.  As an analyst, it’s probably also fair to warn that the outcome of this is more likely to be more questions than answers. But that’s OK, as these might be the inspiration for future topics.
Acquisition – What are the issues? 
Most real-world acquisition systems are complex and full of twists and turns as approvals of various sorts are sought and achieved. In general, looking at diagrams of such systems, initial reactions are likely to be ‘No wonder it takes so long!’, or the sarcastic ‘Couldn’t they find a way to make it more complicated?’.

Let’s cut through all that to the issues. The big questions are:
‘What do you need?’ (and the all-too-often unasked question ‘Why’) and ‘How many do you need?’ – sometimes referred to in the UK as ‘Needs and Numbers’.
The need should ideally be expressed as a capability.
What do I mean by that? Well, suppose you want to prevent threat aircraft from penetrating an air defence area. That’s a capability, because it states what you want to do, without jumping straight to the solution. Even if it turns out you need 100 aircraft a radar system and a command and control system to deliver the capability, you are also going to need manpower, training, maintenance, spares, consumables like fuel and so on. But you should also be looking at other ways of providing the capability, such as ground-based missile systems, which will require different manpower and support arrangements. Or you might want to dominate and hold dominance over threat airspace. That’s a different capability, Air Superiority, rather than Air Defence, and may drive to a different solution (reference earlier article on BVR combat), while requiring a similar, but different set of support capabilities.

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‘When do you need the capability?’ – all too often re-interpreted as ‘When can we fit it in the budget?’. This is an important question though, as it is a key driver for technology and risk. If you need the capability right now, there is no option but to buy something already in service. A great solution for timeliness and low risk, but you will then be tied to technology that is perhaps 10 years old, and which was developed for someone else’s needs.
If the capability need can’t be met without developing new technical solutions, then you will inevitably have to grapple with the time, cost, and capability risk of developing those solutions. In either case you will need to consider how the new capability is to be integrated with your existing systems.
‘How much will it cost?’ Always an excellent question, because you will not know the answer at the outset. Even if you have the sticker price available for an off-the-shelf product, you will still need to work out how to get it into service with your trained manpower, on your bases, with the necessary operating equipment, facilities and spares, and provision for support of all sorts for the expected life of the solution. If you are having to develop a new solution, or pay someone else to do this, all of this data, and the time required, will be at best uncertain.
‘Who would you like to buy the capability from?’ This may seem a daft question, given you will not have selected a supplier until you have detailed answers to all the questions, and a Commercial offer from some entity that can deliver what you want. But your Government’s National Industrial Policy will come in to play at this point, with all sorts of complications and issues to consider.
If you are buying a ship, do you want it to be built in Spain, or Scotland? Or on the West Coast or the East? Should we sustain our own design capability and bear the additional cost and risk to do this, perhaps to avoid the constraints of US ITARs (International Traffic in Arms Regulations)? Or perhaps build someone else’s design under license, and wear the time taken to transfer the technical knowhow, build specific facilities and so on. Or is it really time we ordered a new helicopter from (insert name)? Or can we really get another European procurement through Congress?
‘What are we actually going to buy?’ This of course is the big question at the end of the process, although all-too-often the answer may appear to have been decided at the beginning. What we are going to buy will generally determine the manufacturer, unless a license or collaborative deal is to be struck.

Can you imagine the immediate post-war problem (before collaboration was thought of for the UK) – “…the next fighter, chaps, should we buy it from Armstrong-Whitworth, Avro, Boulton-Paul, de Havilland, English Electric, Fairey, Folland, Hawkers, or Vickers-Supermarine, or must we consider some ghastly foreign supplier? Or for a transport, Avro, de Havilland, Blackburn, Handley Page, Miles, Airspeed, Shorts or Vickers?”
The answer to this final question depends, of course, on the answers to all of the preceding questions, generally determined through a competitive process in which the Government declares detailed requirements, against which companies, or consortiums, make commercial offers to supply systems that meet those requirements.
Well, that’s the ideal, but in reality, anything off-the-shelf probably won’t meet all your requirements, and modifications will have to be designed and paid for; anything developmental will carry the risk that it will not meet the requirement, or will do so only after a longer period than you could conceivably have guessed; training, spares support, licensing costs, special facilities and ground equipment will all be needed, and all cost money. And, of course, Contractual terms have to be negotiated and agreed.
After all that, one almost understands why the processes are so complicated.
A word about culture: Of course, there are also other cultural factors outside the strict process to be mastered, overcome or got around. The US hates to buy anything from anywhere else. Fortunately, as the only Nation in the world still using the Imperial measurement system, everything has to be re-designed for them anyway, so a special variant can always be built in the USA, making it a domestic product really. I am told that in the Indian procurement system there are perhaps 20,000 people who can say ‘No’, and only three who can say ‘Yes’ – doubtless a dreadful slur, but perhaps with a grain of truth.
And then, there’s collaboration. Suppose you want to do a complex combat aircraft with about four partners. That means you are likely to have a National Industry from each of the partners, as well as some sort of Joint Company to deliver the product. But there will also be four sets of National Officials, seeking to meet the requirements of four National Air Forces, all coordinated by some sort of Joint Project Agency. So, a design review will need a minimum of 10 representatives?  Well no, the representatives will need to be advised by specialists, for example in ‘pilot interface’ (you can’t just say cockpit), control systems, sensors, weapons, airframe structure, aerodynamics and performance, propulsion system, logistic support and so on. If everyone turns up, your ten representatives are likely to be being advised by about 70 or 80 specialists. Collaboration is not easy.

Example 1:  UK post-war jet fighters

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So how come the UK managed to have the Hunter, Swift, Meteor F8, Meteor NF 11, Javelin, Sabre and Venom all in service at the same time?

At the end of World War II. The US had world leading capabilities in aircraft production, the UK had world leading capabilities in gas turbine engines, and the Germans had the most advanced understanding of high-speed aerodynamic design. As German resistance to Allied Forces crumbled, a race began between the US, UK and Russia to gain access to German aeronautical knowledge.

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One of the key transforming technologies in high-speed fighter design was the application of swept wings to allow flight at high transonic and supersonic speeds. Despite the UK maintaining a technical edge in jet propulsion, both the Americans and the Russians gained early access to swept wing technology, and the Americans, in particular, gained an early appreciation of the need for powered flight controls to produce supersonic fighters.
In the early to mid-Fifties, the UK was playing catch up, seeking to understand and apply this new knowledge to the Swift and Hunter as day fighters, and to develop night and all-weather fighter capability through the Venom and the Javelin, which would eventually supplant the Vampire and Meteor in this role.
The Swift, Hunter and Javelin all suffered protracted development as various aerodynamic and control issues were understood and ironed out, and the Canadair Sabre was used briefly as a stop-gap in advance of the Hunter becoming fully operational.
In the context of the procurement process, the management of technical risk was the main issue. Lack of detailed understanding of transonic and supersonic aerodynamics, and control system design, led to a series of issues with the Swift, Hunter and Javelin, with the latter also encountering ‘deep stall’ problems due to the interaction of its delta wing with its T-tail.
The other aircraft – the Venom and Meteor fighter and night fighter variants, were simply incremental advances of the Vampire and Meteor, and provided reliable service until supplanted by later aircraft.

Example 2: UK fighter aircraft progression

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Credit: BAE Systems

In the UK, once the Hunter and the Javelin were in service, the air defence of Great Britain might have been thought reasonably secure. However, this happy situation was not to be, as in November 1955, the Soviet Union successfully tested an air-dropped H-bomb. No longer could the RAF envisage intercepting Soviet bombers over the United Kingdom. Instead, efforts would be required to develop a high-speed, rapid climbing interceptor which could be launched from land bases to intercept bombers before they could overfly the UK.

Effectively, the Air Defence of Great Britain would now have to be achieved using rapid-climbing supersonic point defence interceptors, rather than using, at-best, transonic fighters. The immediate consequence was the development of the English Electric Lightning, surely one of the most extreme and impressive fighter aircraft ever developed. The initial requirement was to protect the V-bomber bases to maintain the viability of the UK nuclear deterrent. The Lightning entered service in 1960, and remained in service until 1988.
During this period, the role of the aircraft slowly changed. Despite its rapid climb rate and high speed, Lightning capability was always limited by its short endurance and range. Progressive development increased fuel volume somewhat, and improved missiles and radar gave the aircraft more capability as a weapons system. In the meantime, however, the USSR had developed long-range stand-off missiles for nuclear weapon delivery, challenging the RAF to push interception points further offshore.
Effectively, the requirement had changed from point defence of the V-bomber bases to stand-off interception at a distance. Defence of the V-bomber bases had, of course, become redundant in 1968, with the transfer of responsibility for the Nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy. The extended interception capability required an aircraft with more endurance, better radar, and longer-range missiles so that bomber threats could be intercepted before reaching their missile launch points.

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This requirement was filled by the Tornado F3, a clever design which exploited a variable-sweep wing to enable high endurance combat air patrols which could loiter on patrol, supported by tankers. With fully operational radar, and data-linked AMRAAM missiles, the F3 became a very effective Beyond Visual Range (BVR) fighter, and the introduction of ASRAAM provided a significant Within Visual Range (WVR) capability. The aircraft was retired in 2011, having been replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon. Changes in the global strategic situation had complicated Defence requirements and planning. The Tornado F3 was optimised for situations where the threat was both identifiable and somewhat predictable, but the world had changed, and was no longer so convenient. The key capabilities now needed were the ability to operate effectively when the threat direction and behaviour was unpredictable, and where the mix of aircraft in use could include similar types on both sides. The ability to deliver BVR combat was no longer assured, and WVR combat was more likely.
In these circumstances, the high wing loading and relatively low power-to-weight ratio of the F3 was a significant disadvantage, particularly in WVR combat against agile and powerful threats. Something was needed with greater air combat manoeuvre capability, and this has proved to be the Typhoon. Agile, with very high energy manoeuvrability as a fighter, and flexible multi-role capability as a strike aircraft, the Typhoon is combat proven and very effective. When armed with the Meteor missile and equipped with an active electronically scanned array radar (which may become a reality this year for the Kuwaiti air force) Typhoon should be one of the world’s most flexible and capable weapon systems.

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Yet again, a nagging doubt emerges … US, and increasingly, Russian and Chinese, aircraft have low radar signatures as well as having good manoeuvrability and range. Hence the next step down the air combat path is being investigated – the Tempest project.
In the context of the procurement process, UK fighter aircraft have been requirement chasing. No sooner has each been developed to be a very effective system, then the requirements have changed. From the simple WWII-like intercept capability of the Hunter and Javelin, to the point defence interception of the Lightning; then to Combat Air Patrol and BVR combat with the Tornado F3; and on to long-range missiles for BVR, high energy manoeuvrability for WVR, and the multi-role strike capability of the Typhoon.

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Next to flexible, stealthy air combat and strike with the Tempest and its adjunct projects. Arguably, always half a step behind …
Example 3: USAF Fighters

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Since 1950, the USAF has operated an incredible range of fighter aircraft. Considering only the jet aircraft, and only the genuine fighters that entered service, one can identify seventeen different types, compared to the ten types used by the RAF.
From the many aircraft one could consider, I have selected the F-104 Starfighter, one of the most iconic aircraft of all time. With its minute wings, large engine and rocket-like appearance the F-104 is a spectacular aircraft. Yet from a USAF perspective, it can only be considered to have been a failure.

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The USAF eventually accepted 296 Starfighters, of which 170 were F-104As and 77 were F-104Cs, a relatively small proportion of the 1400 eventually built. The F-104As had a troubled development history, with propulsion, structural and aerodynamic problems. No less than 52 aircraft were used in the flight test programme over a two-year period, and the general use of the aircraft was somewhat ad hoc.

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The USAF made two operational deployments of the F-104A – to Germany for 1 year at the time of the construction of the Berlin Wall, and to the Southern US at the time of the Cuba Missile Crisis. The F-104Cs were also deployed as a precaution during the Cuba Missile Crisis, and were based in Taiwan, and at Da Nang, South Vietnam, for two periods between 1966 and 1967. Twenty four aircraft were used as target drones, others were transferred to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force and to Pakistan.

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So, what went wrong? Well, the early F-104A and F-104C aircraft were designed as short-range day fighters, with US experience on the Korean peninsula in mind. In the US context, the aircraft was seen as a simple, low-cost day fighter. The F-104A and C can be regarded as having met these requirements, but, in practice its capabilities were not very useful to the USAF, as evidenced by its limited operational deployments in circumstances where rapid reaction was perhaps more important than flexibility of operation. In short, while the F-104 met the specification, that specification did not meet the USAF’s operational needs. Although blessed with a scorching climb rate, the short range of the aircraft was mismatched to either the home-defence role, or to deployment unless to protect high value local targets.

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The interceptor concept was more of a success in Japan, where proximity to China made for short reaction times, increasing the utility of the F-104J. The F-104G, which was widely used within the NATO European environment, was extensively strengthened and redesigned to support all weather multi-role operation, but not operated by the USAF.
Other Projects, Other Questions
The few fighter-focussed examples considered have shown some of the difficulties that can arise in introducing new technologies; in keeping the capability relevant; and in getting the requirement right in the first place. There are a heap of other questions that could be looked at through the lens of the difficulty of getting the right capability at the right time.
Some of this is to do with looking ahead and trying to understand where geo-politics and technology might provide opportunities to exploit, or threats to counter. Some of it is down to the inherent difficulty of trying to out-match rivals who are themselves trying to out-match you. And some of the difficulties are down to managing processes to rapidly and accurately select the right capability, product and supplier, while spending large sums of public money in a contested environment.”

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“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. Here’s the book link to pre-order your copy. 

 

I can do it with your help.

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.

FEATURING

  • 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.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

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.

Rewards levels include these packs of specially produced trump cards.

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. Here’s the book link .  

 

I can do it with your help.

The McDonnell Douglas Phantom II: what was wrong with it?

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Nobody’s perfect, and every design is a compromise. Here are some of the weak spots of the greatest aircraft. Let’s start with the F-4 Phantom II. 

The F-4 had a lot of good qualities. In fact it would be fairer to say that it has a lot of good qualities, as it remains in service in a handful of air forces around the world (with Iran, Turkey, Greece and South Korea*). That it remain is frontline service an astonishing 62 years after it took its first flight says something about the performance and durability of this remarkable aeroplane. For its time it was very fast, had a large weapon-load of advanced weapons, a big modern radar, was massively powerful, long-ranged and had a very tough airframe. But we all know what was good about it, so let’s have a look at some of its more troublesome features.

Handling quirks

The Phantom had some dangerous handling quirks, one of them being the ‘adverse yaw demon’. At high angles of attack, the aircraft could suddenly lose control and enter a spin.

We interviewed Phantom pilot Chris Bolton (full interview here) who noted:

“With conventional aeroplanes you put left aileron on you’re going to roll left. At high angles of attack in the Phantom, put left aileron on and you’re quite likely to roll right. So instead of taking the conventional approach of rolling with the ailerons all the time, you use the rudders. The aircraft had a bit of that built-in called ‘Aileron Rudder Interconnect’. People frightened themselves doing tight turns at high angles of attack at low level, using ailerons, and finding themselves rolling into the ground. They learnt quickly from making one mistake like that. Unlike modern aircraft which have their adverse characteristics heavily compensated for by computers, in the old days it was all stick, rudder and eyeball and you took what you were dealt with on an aeroplane.

The Phantom had pretty unpleasant handling if it didn’t have its flight augmentation computers on. There was some augmentation in the pitch, yaw and roll. Pitching with the pitch augmentation turned off the F-4 the aircraft would continue to pitch where you wanted it to. Which could be quite exciting at higher speeds because you could easily exceed the G-limits, and possibly make yourself black-out. Admittedly roll and yaw were also considerations – if you rolled without the roll augmentation the aircraft would just continue rolling.”

Two heads better than one? 

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McDonnell had to lobby hard to get the Phantom II a crew of two. This went in opposition to the culture of the single-seat fighter – but it was believed necessary to handle the labour-intensive radar. Some F-4 pilots cursed the addition of the ‘guy in the back’, maintaining that this feature was responsible for the type’s poor rearward vision, a dangerous flaw for an aircraft intended for air combat. The official manual requested that the pilot fly smoothly and avoid hard manoeuvring as it would impede the backseater’s ability to read his radar. The designers had also not considered the irrational human element: the egotistical pilot who preferred his backseater not to talk too much; the general culture of the single-seat fighter; the ‘guy in the back’  who had not learnt his trade with sufficient diligence as he was too busy eyeing up a front seat of his own.

Weapons

An absent gun

Early Phantoms had no internal gun. This decision was taken for the sake of aerodynamic cleanness, a weight saving and the belief that the gun was obsolete. If the missiles had performed as advertised, this would have been fine, but they didn’t (or rather it was very difficult to use them as recommended) in actual air combat. A gun would have been of great benefit to US Phantoms in the earlier stages off the Vietnam War. This shortcoming was rectified in the F-4E (and the SUU series external 20-mm gunpods were used on F-4C/Ds). The US Navy never had gun armed Phantoms in the Vietnam War, apart from a brief stint with the dire GAU-4 pod.

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Early Sidewinders 

One F-4 pilot described the AIM-9B Sidewinder infra-red guided missile as “totally hopeless in the air combat environment.” Advertised as having a hit rate of 65 percent, in mid 1966 this was actually 28%. If used within its restrictive recommended parameters it was effective, but it proved hard to respect this fussiness in the heat of battle, leading to the Air Force replacing them with the much hyped AIM-4D Falcon. The AIM-9 was designed to be used against non-manoeuvring targets — when it was conceptualised its engagement range was a novelty — and was intended to hit an enemy at arm’s-length.

AIM-4D Falcon

The Falcon had a small warhead which would only detonate if the target was actually touched, in the case of fast agile targets like the MiG-21 this proved ineffective. Operating the AIM-4D was even more complicated than the AIM-9B and in terms of parameters, it was even fussier than the AIM-9B. It was a miserable failure. Robin Olds went as far as declaring the Falcon “no good” and ordering it be removed from the arsenal of his Wing’s Phantoms.

AIM-7 Sparrow 

Much has been said about the lacklustre performance of this radar-guided missile in the Vietnam War, indeed it was so poor that its reputation has cast a shadow over medium-range missiles to this day. Whereas the Sidewinder was pretty decent if used correctly, early AIM-7 variants had very little chance of destroying a target even when the weapon was well maintained and carefully employed.

Size

The Phantom was far larger than the enemy fighter aircraft it was facing in every war it found itself in. This made it easy to see from a great distance, a bad quality in a fighter aircraft.

Stressful cockpit

The cockpit was a mess of switches and dials. Poor ergonomics and man machine interface left the crews struggling in air combat. Combat modes involved intricate ‘switchology’ that crews found hard to keep on top of in the stress of actual war. One of the most important switches on the missile control panel, that selected missile type, was particularly badly placed. The switch was very hard to find and reach by touch alone, something of the utmost importance in a dogfight. An improvised solution was found, with some pilots sticking a length of plastic tubing onto the switch. In a period of poorly designed American fighter cockpits, the F-4 was probably the worst.

Cost & maintenance 

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The Phantom II was far more expensive and labour intensive to build and maintain than the soviet MiG-21 (though perhaps it would be fairer to compare it to the Su-15 or MiG-23  of which reliable figures are hard to come by). It used a great deal of fuel and required a great deal of maintenance. Egyptian crews who had previously operated soviet types were particularly disappointed with how much time it took to look after the Phantom, an important consideration during wartime. To be completely fair to the Phantom, it did not have a direct analogue in any country, though the British did have a large twin-engined fighter, the English Electric Lightning, which was similarly demanding and even more thirsty.

Manoeuvrability  

The Phantom had a very large turn radius, which would have been a huge disadvantage if did not also have better acceleration and power loadings than most rivals, enabling it to offset its turn radius with turn rate. Critically, the F-4 also had a lower G rating than the MiGs it faced. The F-4 required extensive training and tactics to offsets its relative lack of agility and manoeuvrability compared to the MiGs it encountered in the Vietnam War. Making the most of the ‘vertical’ (and the F-4’s superior acceleration) was one way a careful pilot could counter smaller more spritely opponents with higher G ratings. The MiG-17, which was far technologically inferior to the F-4, was a fearsome dogfight opponent, and according to Olds could “Give an F-4 pilot the tussle of his life.”

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Smoky engines

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‘Lose sight and lose the fight’, is an old fighter adage stressing the importance of maintaining situational awareness of where your enemy is. As mentioned above, the Phantom was far larger than its opponents. To further degrade its visual camouflage, it had two very smoky engines, making it visible from many miles away.

 

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The excellent Tiger Check by Steven A. Fino was very useful in assembling this article.

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sss*Even a unit survives in Japan, though not for long.

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“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. Here’s the  link to pre-order your copy. 

 

I can do it with your help.

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.

FEATURING

  • 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.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
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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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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. Here’s the book link .  

 

I can do it with your help.

NSFW: A pervert’s guide to the 10 best-looking British aircraft


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In 2020 we chose the 10 best looking aeroplanes from Britain.  In 2020 we handed over list to the most misanthropic man to be type-qualified on the Twin Otter, Geoff  G. Visser. Here in startling mordancy, is his assessment of our choices. 

The following views may be considered offensive and should not be read by children or Air Chief Marshals. All complaints should be addressed to Mr Visser directly, and not this site.

Over to Mr Visser:

“Among all the high-altitude hypoxic autoerotic asphyxiation slash-fiction scribbled by those chosen few, not many words stick out as sharply as those written by the late John Gillespie Magee Jr, the writer of the poem High Flight It should come as no surprise that the delirious ecstasy of early flight was sexualised by the horny young men and women who first took to the skies, and threw their balled-up underpants at the face of God. This giddy euphoria was then translated into mechanophilia. This was done by the kind of sad-sacks of misplaced affection who, on the one hand couldn’t hope to slip the surly bonds of earth and, on the other couldn’t even imagine the tender caress of sentient flesh  (note: this was written when the ‘caress of sentient flesh’ was still a safe possibility for those living alone) 

Somehow it has fallen to me to offer a critical response to this seedy collection of blurry creep shots that was compiled for the awful pleasures of the misanthropic misfits who get their sordid kicks from struts, hard points and ordnance.

But hey, it’s better than being into cars.

 

After this you may want to read Dave Eagles telling you how to fly a Sea Fury.

10. Supermarine Southampton

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This aircraft was used in ancient Egypt to ferry the souls of dead pharaohs into the afterlife. Sexy stuff right? This pair was painstakingly reconstructed by a team of archaeologists and are seen here being flown by the last living presenters of Time Team. Phwoar!

9. Hawker Hunter

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What’s more exciting than one quite boring aircraft? Three quite boring aircraft.

The essence of beige somehow captured in black and white. I look at this picture and I can’t help but think of three chintzy wall hanging flying ducks ascending the staircase to a staid sexual experience with a partner I have become over accustomed to.

8. Hawker Sea Hawk

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7. de Havilland DH.106 Comet

While this does seem an elegant solution to the ugly business of thrust what kind of sick twisted pervert finds civil aircraft attractive? If it’s not designed to shred the flesh of innocents it won’t get more than the most perfunctory of erections out of me.

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6. Westland Whirlwind

I’m sorry, I don’t want to ‘airframe shame’ but isn’t this plane textbook butt-fugly? Odd proportions and unpleasant protuberances, it looks like it was Frankensteined out of assorted grave robbed corpses. The necromechanophiliac’s wet dream.

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5. de Havilland DH.88 Comet

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Easily the nicest looking plane here, or am I just a simple caveman fascinated and attracted by the vivid colour? I want to eat or make sweet caveman love to this aeroplane.

4. Vickers VC10

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar  and sometimes people just like to look at shiny twirly things like a bunch of dumb magpies. Well here you go you stupid corvidae, the aesthetic aeronautical equivalent of jangling a bunch of keys to distract a baby.
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3. Bristol Britannia

Why do these last two look like 1940’s glamour girl lithographs? Why did I ask that question when the answer is  obviously because they’re for primitive people to wank off to?

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2. Supermarine Spitfire

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The Spitfire, the first choice of the basic bitch. The root cause of the little tent in the dull faded loose blue jeans of the middle-aged, middle of the road and moribund unimaginative aviation enthusiast. The only thing that could make this tawdry display any more pathetic is if you stuck a big pair of tits on it

1. de Havilland DH.103 Hornet READER’S CHOICE

Ah there we go. You people disgust me.”

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If you enjoyed this, have  a look at the top ten French, Swedish, Australian,  Soviet and German aeroplanes. Wanting Something a little more exotic? Try the top ten fictional aircraft.

Sadly, we are again way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going. You can really help. 

Thank you. 

Fairey Fulmar: How ‘an absurd lumbering thing’ became Britain’s top-scoring naval fighter

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As World War II loomed into sight, the Admiralty was desperate for anything approximating a modern fighter aircraft. This need was met by a modified light dive-bomber originally intended for a cancelled RAF requirement. The resulting Fulmar shared the engine and armament with the Spitfire and Hurricane, but there though the similarity ended. With a pathetic flat-out speed of 247mph and a feeble service ceiling of 16,000’ it was far inferior to its contemporaries. More worryingly, it was also 30mph slower than the Luftwaffe’s Heinkel He 111 bombers. Fair to say as a fighter it made an adequate cancelled dive-bomber. So how did it became the top Royal Navy fighter of World War II?

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer, current Air Safety Officer and struggling Naval History MA student.  He also has some great offers on his internal organs now Seafire PP972 is up for sale.  

During World War II, no aircraft carrier force operated a greater number of types than the Royal Navy. Although partly due to the length of time Britain was involved in the conflict, the Admiralty’s haphazard approach to aviation doctrine and procurement bears a lot of the blame (although nothing can excuse the diabolical Blackburn Firebrand). It is still however something of an anomaly that the Fleet Air Arm’s highest scoring fighter of the war was the relatively slow and staid Fairey Fulmar —  with 112 kills (more than double the total achieved by the far more potent Corsair). Despite this, the Fulmar has never really caught the popular imagination.  Post-war historians have damned with faint praise by acknowledging that while it was at least capable of taking on torpedo-bombers, the Fulmar’s manoeuvrability was far inferior to Axis dive-bombers. To give some idea of the limited esteem in which it was held at the time, it is perhaps worth reading a verse from 809 Naval Air Squadron’s Fulmar Song (to the tune of ‘Any old iron‘:

‘Any old iron, any old iron,
Any, any, any old iron;
Talk about a treat
Chasing round the Fleet
Any ole Eyetie or Hun you meet!

Weighs six ton,
No rear gun
Damn all to rely on!

You know what you can do
With your Fulmar Two;
Old iron, old iron!’

Fighter Direction is everything

To understand this apparent contradiction, of how such a sluggish machine was the Navy’s best fighter, it is necessary to look at a technology that at the time made the aeroplane look positively middle-aged: radar. The Royal Navy had been at the forefront of developing naval radar, but even so, by 1939 its capabilities were extremely limited. Rather than the top down ‘God’s eye view’ of a modern display, operators would look at a single wiggling line with increases in amplitude indicating a contact. Despite entering the war without a full understanding of what radar could achieve – and after some teething troubles – the Navy soon found ways to make up for the deficiencies of its aircraft. This would allow Fairey’s converted dive-bomber to hold its own in aerial combat through the opening years of the war in a way that belied its poor headline performance. The actions in the Mediterranean to escort convoys to Malta showed time and again the value of Fighter Direction where controllers onboard ship would direct the aircraft to intercept incoming attacks. Often these aircraft would be Fulmars, which were in the front line throughout that period, before being relegated to the role of night fighter. Somewhat ironically, the addition of radar antenna for this role would finally render its performance unequivocally unacceptable. Fighter Direction would give the Fulmar the edge it needed to overcome its shortcomings while engaged in some of the heaviest aerial combat the Royal Navy would face during the Second World War.
The Royal Navy’s inter-war doctrine for the Fleet Air Arm, as described in an Admiralty Memorandum from December 1936, concentrated on the search for enemy shipping, air attack of that shipping, and subsequent observation of the fall of shot for the fleet’s big guns . It was considered that air superiority would be achieved by the immobilisation of the enemy’s carriers no apparent thought being given to air to air combat. The reverse was also true in that it was not considered possible for naval fighters to defend the fleet from air attack, especially when faced with land-based air forces able to deploy heavy bombers . To counter the air threat the Third Sea Lord, Rear Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, decided that the next class of carrier would feature extensive armour plating turning the hangar into a protective enclosure for the air group able to resist a direct hit from 500lb bombs and 4.7” gunfire . The Dido class cruisers optimised for air defence would then provide the defence against air attack , in addition to the Illustrious classes own extensive outfit of sixteen 4.5” guns. That the doctrine was so un-ambitious can in part be laid at the confused status of naval aviation between the wars, it was, until 1938, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force not of the Royal Navy . In fairness to the Admiralty at the same time despite the Imperial Japanese Navy controlling its air arm its doctrine was also confused and poorly regarded by its air officers perhaps indicating the difficulties inherent in developing high level policy for a new form of warfare. The Royal Navy’s use of fighter aircraft would therefore have to develop as lessons were learnt. A memorandum from January 1940 while acknowledging the need to intercept enemy strikes and scouting aircraft as well as escorting the fleets own strikes still showed a degree of indecision over whether they would still require a second crewmember as the Fulmar did, a confusion that had not been resolved three months later . Ultimately this indecision would lead to both single and two seat fighters being produced for the Royal Navy. Where the Royal Navy had a serious disadvantage was in the actual procurement of aircraft where the Admiralty drew up the specifications for them while the Air Ministry then had responsibility for their design and production.41_803_sdn_fulmar_take_off.jpg

Due to the lack of air officers at the right level the Admiralty had scant expertise in the specification of aircraft which led to it entering the war with several poorly performing aircraft either in service or on the way. These included the Blackburn Roc, a turret equipped fighter which could barely stay airborne at full power; the Fairey Barracuda which provided panoramic views for the Observer but had a tendency not to pull out of dives , and the Blackburn Firebrand which took longer to develop than the war lasted. Consequently, at the outbreak of war the navy found itself back in control of its air arm, but with limited understanding of the capabilities air power brought, no real thought given to air defence of the fleet by aircraft, and a procurement plan that could best be described as flawed. It was from this background that the requirement for the Fulmar would emerge, to some extent explaining the compromises that were accepted.

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Though confusion over the use of naval air power was hampering the acquisition of suitable aircraft, by the late 1930s there was at least an acknowledgment that a new fleet fighter would be required. It was a pressing need, as the Skua it would replace was predicted to be obsolete by as soon as 1940. Consequently, it was a requirement that the chosen aircraft be in production by September 1939 which effectively limited the options to something already in production. The Admiralty’s preference was for a two-seat aircraft, due to the difficulties of navigating over the sea and communicating at long range from the carrier. Outright speed was considered less important as there was an assumption that the carrier-borne fighter would only encounter aircraft of other navies which would be similarly restricted. It is perhaps ironic that at the same time the most likely naval opponent was being designed by Mitsubishi in Japan, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a type which faced neither of these restrictions. The design selected for the Royal Navy was a modification of a design submitted to the RAF as a light dive-bomber. This RAF original requirement had been dropped, but prototypes had already been constructed – which allowed a rapid assessment to be made of their suitability. The Fairey P.4/34 bomber (with minor changes) thus became the Fulmar naval fighter (with a secondary reconnaissance role). The first production aircraft was completed in December 1939, effectively running around three months behind the Admiralty’s timeline.. or ahead of schedule compared to most defence projects. The Fulmar shared an engine, the Merlin, and armament, eight 0.303” guns, with the Spitfire and Hurricane. There though the similarity ended. The early Spitfire’s top speed was 364mph at an altitude of 18,500’ , the Fulmar by comparison had a maximum speed of only 247mph at 9,000’ and a service ceiling of 16,000’ (half that of the Spitfire).

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It faired similarly poorly against contemporary German fighters and was even 30mph slower than the Heinkel 111 bomber which it would come to face in the Mediterranean. There was however some method to the Admiralty’s madness, an aircraft engine supercharger optimised for power at high level wastes energy lower down in the atmosphere compressing excess air . With torpedo bombers having to drop their weapons near sea-level it would be logical to optimise a naval fighter to attack such targets. Indeed, when requesting a new engine design from Rolls-Royce for their next fighter the admiralty made low level performance a key requirement and later in the war the majority of Seafires were low level variants. The Fulmar specification also called for an endurance of up to six hours which compared favourably to the Spitfire which could realistically manage about an hour. This would allow a standing air patrol to be maintained while minimising the number of times the carrier would have to turn into wind to launch and recover aircraft. It was similarly well equipped with ammunition, contemporary fighters carried around 250 rounds per gun, enough for 15 seconds or so of sustained firing, the Fulmar carried up to 1000 which would allow it to engage far more targets, assuming it could catch them. The Fulmar then was not an outstanding fighter and opinion of it could at best be said to be divided, with those coming to the Fleet Air Arm from around 1941 considering it ‘an absurd lumbering thing of a so-called fighter’ while those who’d endured earlier aircraft found themselves going ‘nearly twice as fast as I had ever flown before’ and in a state of ‘near panic’ .

Perhaps the best judgement was given by renowned naval aviator and test pilot Captain Eric Brown RN who allowed that it at least had ‘innate soundness and competence’. It was  the best the Navy would have until at least 1942, but it would need help if it was to adequately defend the fleet.

 

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The RAF, responsible for the air defence of the UK, led the world in the use of radar for fighter direction, the first exercise in its use taking place in 1936. The Admiralty also developed an interest in the technology and in 1938 HMS Rodney and  HMS Sheffield were both fitted with rudimentary sets that could warn of approaching aircraft. Although this would alert the crew to approaching aircraft once conflict broke out it soon became apparent that the planned reliance on the ship’s AA armament as defence against attack was overly optimistic and better use of the information gained would be needed. Due to the general lack of interest in naval air defence the extant ‘doctrine’ essentially relied on the defending aircraft flying a search pattern, which could find them in the wrong place when the enemy approached or waiting above the fleet and then diving down on the attackers with the attendant risk of friendly fire. Alternatively, they could wait on the carrier and take-off in pursuit of the enemy to attack them on their way home, assuming they had the speed advantage to do so.

The first attempts at improving on this uninspired approach took place off the coast of Norway in April 1940 as efforts were made to stem the German invasion. The aircraft carrier Ark Royal was operating in support of the landing forces, although not fitted with radar herself, her escorts Sheffield and Curlew were, and could detect approaching raids around 50 miles away. It was soon realised that this information could be used to direct the Ark’s fighter aircraft to intercept the incoming raids, this initially took a rather crude form worked out on the initiative of the ship’s Air Signals Officer, Lt Cdr Coke. As the Sheffield and Curlew were not fitted with radios capable of talking to the aircraft, the range and bearing of incoming raids had to be passed to the Ark, generally by signal lamp or semaphore due to radio silence being in force. Here Lt Cdr Coke, assisted by his signalman, plotted the positions on a board before relaying the necessary information to the fighter patrol by Morse code. It took around four minutes to pass the position of the enemy to the patrolling Skuas. They would then be left to their own devices to figure out what to do with this information, the process becoming known as the ‘Informative Method’. However, with practice Lt Cdr Coke was able to monitor the position of the Ark’s aircraft as well as the enemy’s and could direct them to their targets. This ‘Directive Method’, gave them a much better chance of executing a successful intercept. The system was however not perfect, there was no filtering process for the information to determine what was high priority, and it took time to develop an efficient way of passing it to the aircraft. Despite Lt Cdr Coke’s best efforts, it was not therefore unheard of for pilots to realise they were being vectored to intercept themselves. Although basic and not always effective, in part due to the lack of height information from the radars, this early Fighter Direction was sufficient to drive a change in the Luftwaffe’s tactics so that they approached above the Skua’s operational ceiling, although this in turn reduced the effectiveness of their bombing. Operations off Norway had shown the effectiveness of Fighter Direction in even an elementary form, some months before the Battle of Britain would showcase its potential to the world. What the navy now needed was to build on this nucleus of experience and introduce better equipment to fully exploit it.

Blood in the Mediterranean 

In September 1940, the first of the armoured aircraft carriers, HMS Illustrious, arrived in the Mediterranean. It brought with her the Fulmars of 806 squadron in the type’s debut operational deployment. Illustrious was also the first carrier to be fitted with radar, which eased the job of the Fighter Director. He was now able to take the plot directly from the radar, considerably speeding up the decision-making cycle. It was not all plain sailing however: due to initial trials that had shown how easily a radar transmission could be followed back to its source there was a policy in place that restricted its use to one sweep every hour until contact was made. Although just about tolerable for use in tracking surface contacts, which would be hard pressed to approach undetected with closing speeds of around 30 knots, against air contacts it rendered the system almost irrelevant. It would also be some time before the Fighter Direction officer would have a purpose-built home rather than making space for himself in a corner of the ship’s island.

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Despite these initial handicaps the Fulmar was soon proving itself. It was shooting down shadowing aircraft, denying the enemy information on where to send their strike forces, and then breaking up any subsequent raids that did occur. During this initial period of operations against the Italian air force, the aircraft could play to its strength: its endurance. This allowed standing patrols to loiter at altitude, waiting for direction from the carrier. By loitering at 18000 feet, well above their nominal service ceiling, the Fulmars could utilise their dive-bomber heritage to gain a speed advantage by diving down on, typically low-flying, enemy aircraft. Thanks to the relatively lightweight, often wooden, construction of the Italian aircraft, a single firing pass from the Fulmars eight guns was generally sufficient to significantly damage or destroy them altogether. This was fortuitous, as having made their pass, the Fulmar would rapidly run out of speed, leaving it exceptionally vulnerable.

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It would have to laboriously climb back up to altitude if it was to repeat the trick. With the arrival of the Luftwaffe’s anti-shipping experts, the Fliegerkorps X, in the January of 1941, the Fulmar faced a more daunting prospect. As well as outperforming the Fleet Air Arm’s fighter the German aircraft were more strongly built than those of Italy and were able to survive attacks that would have downed their Axis partners. The deliberate targeting of Illustrious and her Fulmars that same month saw the Fighter Direction system overwhelmed, leading to extensive damage to the ship that saw her out of the war, for over a year . Despite this setback the value of Fighter Direction had been shown and work was in hand to improve the information flow and better equip the Fighter Director to carry out his role. In the meantime, HMS Formidable with her two Fulmar squadrons joined the Mediterranean fleet via the Red Sea and would continue to disrupt attacks sufficiently to prevent them having a significant effect on allied shipping and the vital convoys to Malta. Work was also being done to enable Fighter Direction from ships other than aircraft carriers, initially to streamline the process for aircraft operating from Ark Royal with Sheffield being fitted with suitable radio equipment to direct aircraft . This would pay dividends when they entered the Mediterranean in June 1940 and ultimately lead the way to Fighter Direction Tenders, essentially Landing Craft with a radar and basic communications fit, that would play a crucial role in the Normandy Landings and other amphibious operations.

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Between them Ark Royal and Formidable’s Fulmar squadrons claimed 86 aircraft shot down in the Mediterranean, their most successful day probably being 8 May 1941 when 6 Italian and 8 German aircraft fell to their guns for the loss of 2 Fulmars to enemy fire.

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The Fulmar had shown that as a naval fighter her strengths of endurance and firepower, could make up for her disadvantage in outright performance when coupled with an effective method of control. In fact, the performance of the aircraft was praised by no less than the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean, Admiral Cunningham who singled out their effective work during Operation Substance, a Malta convoy, and noted that ‘It is evident that the enemy hold our Fleet Air Arm fighters in higher esteem than do our own Fulmar pilots’ after an Italian pilot claimed to have been shot down by a Hurricane.

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The greatest test Allied Fighter Direction would face in the Mediterranean was probably Operation Pedestal, the all-or-nothing convoy to Malta of 1942. It would also be a swan-song for the Fulmar as a day fighter. With the lessons learnt through 1940 and 1941 the Fighter Directors in the fleet carriers, Indomitable and Victorious had a much-improved working environment with assistants, long and short-range plots, and dedicated communications facilities. The 16 Fulmars on Victorious carried out low level patrols with the new Sea Hurricanes and American supplied Wildcats providing point defence and high-level patrols respectively. The Fulmars gave a good account of themselves despite their age, downing nine enemy aircraft for three loses . However, what is more telling is that prior to the detachment of the carrier escort on the evening of the 12th August, no merchant shipping had been lost to air attack. Worse still with the loss of the Fighter Direction capable Nigeria to a torpedo attack that same evening the supporting RAF fighters from Malta were almost incapable of successfully intercepting enemy forces, despite stretching their endurance beyond what was sensible. Consequently, four vital merchant ships, over a quarter of the convoy, were sunk in subsequent air raids while a fifth, the Ohio, entered Grand Harbour with her decks awash and never sailed again . The two stages of Pedestal illustrate the crucial advantage radar and Fighter Direction gave the Royal Navy as without it the far more capable Spitfires and Beaufighters from Malta achieved far less than even the obsolete Fulmar had in defending the fleet. This lesson was also recognised by the United States Navy, who observing its success had started sending officers to the Royal Navy’s Fighter Direction School run by Lt Cdr Coke.

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Lost without a guiding hand 

Nor could it be said that the Fulmar had some unique hidden advantage that would have made it successful even without the benefit of a guiding hand. Shortly after the outbreak of war with Japan, a Royal Naval carrier force was sent to the Indian Ocean. At the same time two Fulmar squadrons that had been operating in North Africa, 803 and 806, were sent to Ratmalana airfield near Colombo Ceylon. Without advanced warning, the aircraft were caught on the ground when the Japanese navy attacked on April 5th. In the ensuing fight, four Fulmar were lost for only one of the attacking aircraft. Subsequent combat did not see the tide turn in the Fulmar’s favour. On the 9th of April the Japanese mounted an attack on Trincomalee, the Royal Navy base on the east coast of Ceylon. Responding to a radio call 273 Squadron the only RAF Fulmar unit flew to the aid of the light carrier Hermes under attack by 80 dive-bombers, which had been expecting to find the whole British fleet.

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Although later assisted by the two Colombo based squadrons the Fulmars did not fare well, claiming four aircraft shot down for three lost . To add insult to injury two of the Fulmars were shot down by the attacking Aichi D3A1 ‘Val’ bombers which proved faster and more manoeuvrable than the Fulmar after they had released their payload. Hermes herself was sunk along with her escorts . The Fulmar then performed as well as its detractors might have expected when operating without the benefit of Fighter Direction. A coda to this encounter is the subsequent high-level bombing attack on the Japanese fleet by Blenheim bombers. Without the benefit of radar the Japanese were unaware of the attacking aircraft until they released their bombs directly overhead, highlighting the value of this emerging technology.

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The outstanding question then is why none of the Fleet Air Arm’s more capable aircraft from the second half of the war scored so highly, they too having the advantage of Fighter Direction. Primarily this appears to be due to timing, the Fulmar serving throughout the heavy fighting of the Malta convoys, Operation Pedestal was the high-water mark in the Mediterranean after which the Axis forces started to diminish as other theatres called for their attention. Other Royal Navy operations in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean faced far less air opposition and it wasn’t until the British Pacific Fleet was off Sakishima Gunto during the Okinawa Campaign that it would face an equivalent aerial assault. By this stage the war was almost over and so the Fulmar, whose last front line sortie ended with a crash on deck, remains the Royal Navy’s highest scoring fighter aircraft.

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Credit: Tim Prosser

Timing, luck and direction 

The Fairey Fulmar then was a modestly performing aircraft that achieved more than could have been reasonably expected of it. Born of a desperate need by the navy to obtain a modern monoplane fighter to equip its carriers, its availability so soon after it was needed was due almost to pure luck, as the requirement for which it had originally been designed was cancelled. It was also fortuitous that despite no official guidance, Ark Royal’s air group started to develop the fundamentals of Fighter Direction at sea in the opening stages of the war. That the Admiralty recognised the advantage Fighter Direction could give them and rolled the capability out to its carriers and cruisers relatively rapidly perhaps belies some of the popular criticism of their lack of air mindedness. Without the ability to intercept incoming raids far from the ships it was defending the Fulmar (or indeed any aircraft) would have fared poorly in its primary role of defending the fleet. Fighter Direction allowed the Fulmar the intelligence needed to overcome its deficiencies, while operating against the almost overwhelming odds prevalent in the Mediterranean during the first half of the war provided it with an opportunity to prove itself that no other Royal Navy fighter would have.

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Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer, current Air Safety Officer and struggling Naval History MA student.  He also has some great offers on his internal organs now Seafire PP972 is up for sale.  

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“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. Here’s the book link to pre-order your copy. 

 

I can do it with your help.

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.

FEATURING

  • 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.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

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.

Rewards levels include these packs of specially produced trump cards.

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. Here’s the book link .  

 

I can do it with your help.

Fighters in frame: How art fell in love with the aeroplane

banner041As soon as a new piece of technology comes along, people start portraying it in art, and the 20th century brought few greater gifts to the artistic world than the aeroplane. Small wonder the fighter plane has been immortalised in every medium from pencil to bronze.

Early aircraft were novel eccentricities, with huge comic potential, but were also very likely to kill pilots and passengers. We responded as humans always respond to the strange and scary: by drawing cartoons of it, alongside the sketches and photographs of gallant record-breakers.

The First World War changed the aeroplane from a harmless toy to a terrifying bringer of death from above, bombing and strafing soldiers, civilians and property. Airmen joined soldiers and sailors on propaganda material, while war artists depicted the hurly-burly of dogfights, but also captured the strange peace and beauty found on reconnaissance and spotting flights high above the action.

A good effort by the creator of this recruitment poster, who clearly has no idea how to aeroplane but does an excellent job of portraying the relief and gratitude felt by German pilots at being slain by noble British airmen.

The Dead Sea: An Enemy Aeroplane over the Dead Sea, Palestine – Sydney Carline

 Sydney Carline was a Sopwith Camel pilot before becoming an official war artist in 1918, documenting the air war in the Middle East and on the Italian front alongside his younger brother Richard. Also an artist, and also a member of the Royal Flying Corps, Richard was tasked with painting camouflage designs before he joined Sydney in producing luminous, Cubist-inspired aerial views.

Between the wars, as Italy stepped up its efforts to become the most modern and forward-looking country in Europe, the Futurist movement embraced the aeroplane. Futurists rejected the old and celebrated the new. Aviation fitted in not only with the movement’s love of clean lines, speed and modernity, but offered an entirely novel, aerial perspective on the world, with all the artistic possibilities that unlocked.

Aviation spawned its own Futurist mini-movement, Aeropainting, or aeropittura in its native tongue. In 1929, a group of nine artists signed the Aeropainting Manifesto, committing to paper the feeling that:

“The changing perspectives of flight constitute an absolutely new reality, one that has nothing in common with the reality traditionally constituted by earthbound perspectives.”

It’s worth mentioning, given the often masculine to the point of misogynist nature of Futurism, that one of the Manifesto signatories was a woman, Benedetta Cappa.

The aeropaintings of Enrico Prampolini, Tullio Crali and Giulio D’Anna convey the essence of aviation in geometric shapes. Curves suggest propellers in motion, while an aeroplane can be reduced to a blocky cross yet still retain a sense of grace and movement. Landscapes and city streets are simplified to reflect the view at speed from on high.

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‘Sudden uplift’: Tullio Crali’s Tricolour Wings, 1932. Photograph: Private collection/Tullio Crali

As the 1930s rolled on, Futurism, with its taste for vehicles, weapons and the mechanical, became more than a little bit Fascisty, with Mussolini rearing an abstracted depiction of his head amongst the bird’s-eye landscapes. Although the Aeropainting movement did not last, Tullio Crali, at least, retained his love of aviation, and in the 1980s produced a series of paintings celebrating Frecce Tricolori, the Italian national display team.

In the Second World War, official war artists were employed from the start, recording all aspects of life and death on the front line and at home. Established names like Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Edward Ardizzone committed their impressions of the air war to canvas.

One of the most striking pieces to come out of the era is Nash’s Battle of Britain. More than two metres wide, it’s a vast, operatic scene depicting an air battle over the mouth of a river. Dozens of planes are involved: some engaged in a dogfight, some trailing smoke as they plummet down, while fresh enemy fighters arrive in a menacing formation to join the chaos in the sky.

 

Eric Ravilious’s planes look peaceful by comparison. Lovingly shaded in watercolours, they have a nostalgic glow that wouldn’t be out of place on a birthday card for an elderly relative, even though the weaponry they portray was very contemporary and deadly (Ravilious was listed as missing in action in 1942, when the aircraft in which he was travelling failed to return from a mission over Iceland).

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Runway Perspective – Eric Ravilious

Aircraft aren’t always remote and above it all: in scenes portraying factories and repair depots, operations rooms, and pilots waiting for the order to scramble, men and women are shown purposeful and absorbed.

Meanwhile in the USA, lest you think this is all far too literal and insufficiently avant garde, Man Ray took an exposure of toy planes on photographic paper to create [Airplane shapes] (1945), thought to represent a coming airborne Allied victory.

The 1950s and onward brought beautiful, graceful aircraft designs, as form allied with function to break the sound barrier and the world looked forward to a peaceful future of space exploration and luxury travel. Oh—there were some wars, too.

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Enter probably the most famous fighter aircraft in art: the star of Roy Liechtenstein’s Whaam!, his vast 1963 piece that spreads a dogfight over Korea across two panels of primary colours and Ben-Day dots. Inspired by the artwork in kids’ comic All-American Men of War,

Liechtenstein’s collection of war comics must have been well-thumbed. Other works in his oeuvre that drew on rip-roaring aviation action include the onomatopoeic Blam!, Brattata and, confusingly, Bratatat!, as well as Okay, Hotshot, Okay, Live Ammo (Ha! Ha! Ha!) and Tex. (It was Live Ammo, incidentally, that sparked my lifelong interest in Pop Art.)

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Aeroplanes in art can symbolise war and death, but also hope, and a sense of rising above chaos to the peace and beauty of the heavens. From the shortbread-tin image of a shorts-clad schoolboy waving at a Spitfire to Liechtenstein’s cartoony destruction, the machine breaking the bonds of gravity speaks to us of freedom and our ability to curtail that freedom.

–––– Alice Dryden 

Notes

Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life at the Estorick Collection, London until 11 April 2020
https://www.estorickcollection.com/exhibitions/tullio-crali-a-futurist-life

In Air and Fire: War Artists, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz at the Royal Air Force Museum, London from 27 March 2020 until 28 March 2021

https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/blog/in-air-and-fire/

Sadly, we are again way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going. You can really help. 

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F-15, JF-17 and Bison pilots describe fighting F-16s

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Whenever I interview a modern fighter pilot, the subject of how his or her fighter compares to the F-16 in a close-in fight is always brought up. Here we find out how pilots of the F-15C and JF1-7 rate the Viper. 

F-15C versus F-16

“Ok, first, most answers in air combat are…’it depends’. It depends on skill, experience, recency of experience, are we fighting where it is optimal for one plane and not the other? Assuming equal pilots (meaning both have the same air-air experienced and recency of experience), the F-16 is a more efficient turning plane. It enjoys a slight advantage in sustained turn ability, where as the Eagle has a slight advantage in instantaneous turn ability. The turn circles are almost identical. Depending on configurations, the thrust-to-weight ratio is all pretty close to equal.
So how did I fight an F-16? First I always assumed the pilot was awesome. Assuming we meet 180 degrees out with our speeds where we want them — and no one has an angular advantage I would elect to take the fight single circle (the tactical scenario may not favour this is a full up air battle). My goal is to get slow and use my ability to fly at higher AOA/slower speeds than the F-16 can. The F-16 has decent AoA capability, but the FBW (fly-by-wire) system is limited in speed of movement of the controls as it approaches its AoA limit. The F-15 has no such limits. In my experience I usually had more air-air experience (total and recency) than the vast majority of F-16 pilots and usually had little trouble neutralising and then killing them in close. Like all victories it comes down to flying your particular aircraft at the extremes and doing it more efficiently and precisely than the other pilot. That being said, an F-16 can win a single circle fight if the adversary is not on their game, it can also lose a 2 circle fight if they are not proficient at it.
Hope that helps!

Let me add this.  Air-to-air combat is incredibly fluid, it changes very fast.  So even though a F-16 may have a better sustained turn rate then an F-15C, if through my intercept I can achieve 30 or more degrees of lead turn, I will happily go 2 circle.  And that is the goal, to merge with an advantage, that way, any enemy advantage is minimised and maybe even negated and a quick kill follows. That is the goal!

In my 2000+ hours I fought the Viper a lot, I have flown against many Weapon School grads, and average pilots. In most all cases I did really well. For any fighter pilot, it is about controlling the fight and forcing the fight that favours your aircraft. Because most F-16 units don’t do much air-to-air (A/T=Adversary Tactics folks being the exception), their experience, especially recency, was often spotty at best. So was I confident ? Always. Did I do well? Usually. But everyone has bad days and good days. That is why there is no absolutes in air-air combat.”
— Shari Williams

JF-17 versus F-16

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Which threat aircraft is most challenging and why? “Definitely the Su-30 is the most difficult aircraft in terms of current Indian Air Force inventory but we regularly fly against the F-16 and more importantly AMRAAM, so Adder and Alamo seem less worrisome (smily face).”

How comfortable and ergonomic is the JF-17 cockpit?
“It is one of the most digitised cockpit I’ve flown till date. Even the F-16’s cockpit fades in comparison to the Thunder’s cockpit layout.”

In a WVR fight would you rather be in an F-16 or JF-17?
“F-16 .. for the initial 180deg turn, then Thunder all the way. JF-17 with PL-10 mod (currently in pipeline) will trump F-16 with AIM-9M any day of the week, but currently on brute performance F-16 has the edge.”

Full JF-17 pilot interview here.

MiG-21 versus F-16 

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How confident would you feel going against a modern F-16 or MiG-29?
“It is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Modern day fighters have systems assisting you. Superior radar, helmet-mounted sighting systems, great Radar Warning Receivers, counter missile systems, electronic warfare systems like the self protection jammers etc. The older version MiG-21 had none of these, so they are clearly out of the fray. The MiG-21 Bison is the most modern MiG 21, and it is formidable in all of these — the only downside being the limited endurance that a MiG-21-class of aircraft has. Eventually it is the man-machine combo that makes or breaks an air combat.

 Group Captain MJA Vinod, full interview here

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Pilots of 7 rival fighter aircraft types describe dogfights against F-16s here

Sadly, we are again way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going. You can really help. 

Thank you. 

Pilots of 7 rival fighter aircraft types describe dogfights against F-16s

t9IS5OzvovNkxM0Pz9bKK0-IpVZ3hAVYY8-cxdYY5Eo.jpgWhenever I interview a modern fighter pilot, the subject of how his or her fighter compares to the F-16 in a close-in fight is always brought up. I collated these answers for a snapshot of how the pilots of other types (including the ‘Flanker’, Gripen and Rafale) rate the formidable Viper.

(The full interviews can be found on this site, I will link to them in a later edit) 

Mirage 2000 versus F-16 

“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”

— Ian Black

Gripen versus F-16 

Would you be confident facing an F-16?

“Absolutely. I can’t think of anything the F-16 would be better at, if we don’t count ease of refuelling (F-16 is refuelled with a boom and the boom operator does much of the job). Of course, there’s a lot of details and circumstances here, but generally the Gripen is a step or two ahead, especially in my favourite areas. As mentioned, I really like pilot UI and large screens, and F-16 is lacking a bit in that area, so maybe I’m a bit biased. I do like the F16’s side-stick though! I have flown an F-16 and I loved the stick. It didn’t take many minutes to get used to the stiffer stick, and it’s more ergonomic for the pilot in high-Gs (and probably for long missions) to have it on the side. Flying in close formation with another fighter was almost as easy as with the Gripen.”

“I’ve flown against F-16s and F-18s. No surprises really, they are what they are. The F-16s are a lot like the Gripens but you can claw yourself closer and closer to their behind, if that is your goal.

For F-18s you have to look out for their ability to do high AOA turns for quick point-and-shoot. They will be sitting ducks after such a move though. The Gripen ‘carves’ through the air better then both and you will not lose as much speed when turning. Saying that, I believe that ACM is mostly a curiosity today, but a damn fun one and good for training aircraft handling. The IRIS-T missile is so good (and as are others) that everything you can see with your eyes is basically within your Weapon Employment Zone, WEZ. You can of course end up in a ‘furball’, having to fight your way out with guns, but it would suboptimal to craft fighters for that purpose today, as anyone with a missile left would win hands down. So, it’s always better to opt for one more missile than guns, if we’re talking ACM.

I know the guys in the Swedish Air Force are very keen to fly their Gripens in air combat manoeuvres against Denmark’s and Norway’s F-35s. I think you can guess why.”

 –– Lieutenant Mikael Grev, full interview here

F/A-18C Hornet versus F-16 

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What is the best way to fight an F-16? And the worst?

“Throughout my career I flew against F-16s many times and in my opinion, it was the hardest of the 4th generation fighters to beat. It was small, had a lot of thrust, and a very impressive 9G turn. The F-16 had a turn rate advantage and much better thrust to weight when compared to the F/A-18C. The F/A-18C had a better turn radius and could fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) than the F-16. The best way to fight an F-16 is in a 1 circle fight, usually in the vertical. Getting the Hornet’s nose on first to try and get an early shot, whether with a missile or the gun. The key would be to get the F-16 reacting to the Hornet, bleeding energy, and getting slow. At slow airspeeds, the F/A-18’s AOA advantage meant I could point my nose easily and get a shot. The worst way to fight against an F-16 would be two circle fight on the Horizon. The F-16s 9G turn and superior thrust to weight would give him a better turn rate and the F-16 would out turn the Hornet. If an F/A-18 tried to match the F-16 turn rate, the Hornet would get bleed energy and its turn rate would continue to be less than the F-16.

Like all fighters, most of the ability of a fighter plane to fight is dependent on the skill of the pilot. The F-16’s performance, much like the Hornet’s, would suffer if it was carrying external stores. A slick Viper (F-16) flown by an experienced pilot was a beast and was always a tough fight. There was a Air Force reserve squadron out of Luke that was full of experienced pilots, all of them had at least a thousand hours in the Viper. They always flew slick Vipers and they were a tough fight for an F/A-18C which always had at least one external tank and two pylons. This reserve squadron also went on that Key West Det. From what I saw and experienced, in a pure visual fight a slick Hornet was better in the visual arena than a slick Viper. I rate the F-16 pilots from that reserve squadron in Luke as the best I ever fought and in the visual arena the Hornet more than held it’s own on that Key West det.”

Louis Gundlach, full interview here

Find out how F-15 and JF-17 pilots rate the F-16 here. 

Rafale versus F-16 

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Which aircraft have you flown DACT against?
“Against F-16, against Typhoon, against Super Hornets. Against Harrier. Against Alpha Jet. Against Mirage 2000.”

…which was the most challenging?
“The F-16 is pretty cool. Typhoon is a joke, very easy to shoot. F-16 actually was a good surprise actually, I found it to be a pretty good aircraft. I think the most challenging was the F-16, it’s a pretty small jet so it’s easy to lose sight of it. So I think that was the big one.”

Pierre-Henri ‘Até’ Chuet, full interview here 

 

Typhoon versus F-16

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What’s the best way to defeat an F-16 in within visual range fight? How difficult is it as an opponent? “The Typhoon is a superior fighter within visual range though we must always remember that we are not fighting the aircraft but the pilot.”

Of the aircraft you have you trained against — which was the hardest opponent and why? “I fought a Top Gun instructor out of Nellis Air Force base and he was in an F-16. I was not very experienced at the time though managed to defeat him – he did, however, make it very difficult!”

Squadron Leader Roger Cruickshank, full interview here 

MiG-29 versus F-16

 How confident would a MiG-29 pilot feel going against a modern F-16? 

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“In a modern MiG-29 like the upgraded one or the M version, and trained well, I feel the pilot should be supremely confident against the modern F-16.”

 — Air Marshal Harish Masand, full interview here

Su-30 versus F-16 

What was your most memorable mission?

“Well there have been many over the years but a few that stand out are as follows: –

DACT with F-16 Block 60*of Republic of Singapore Air Force.

(*Ed: think these are actually Block 52)

The strongest adversary that we could possibly face in our life as a fighter pilot was the F-16 of PAF (for obvious reasons). So the excitement of facing an F-16, even in a mock combat was unbelievable. The weight of the mission was overbearing! Perhaps that’s what makes it special. As the combat commenced, we manoeuvred for our lives and in very little time the situation was in our favour! The desperate calls from the F-16, “Flare, Flare, Flare!” are very distinctly audible in my ears even today! From that day, the anxiety that prevailed over facing an F-16 in combat was gone forever…. vanished! It was clear what the outcome would be!”

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“Another mission that stand out is a group combat mission that was pitching a Su-30 & one MiG-21 BISON against three F-16 . As luck would have it, the BISON did not get airborne and now the game was one Su-30 vs three F-16 in a BVR scenario. Again, we pushed the envelope, manoeuvred between 3000 ft to 32000 ft, pulling up to 8 g, turning, tumbling, firing and escaping missiles in a simulated engagement. The crew co-ordination between us in the cockpit and the fighter controller on the ground was the best that I have ever seen! The results in a mock combat are always contentious but with ACMI, they are more reliable. End score: one F-16 claimed without loss. When we got out of the cockpit we were thoroughly drenched in sweat and tired from the continuous high G manoeuvring but all smiles for the ecstasy that we had just experienced.”

 

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?
“In the Su-30 I have flown DACT with RSAF (Royal Singapore Air Force) F-16, M-2000 H /5[ FAF], MiG -29 amongst the ASFs. I think the most challenging was the M2000 in France. The carefree manoeuvrability of the Mirage its nose profile and avionics package perhaps gave it an edge over the others. The F-16 beyond the initial turn loses steam, the MiG -29 is very powerful but conventional controls maybe …. . A good Mirage guy can manoeuvre more carefree.”

Gp Capt Anurag Sharma, full interview here

Sadly, we are again way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going. You can really help. 

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Flying & fighting in the F/A-18 Hornet: interview with a USMC Hornet veteran

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The F/A-18 Hornet ushered in a new generation of ultra agile, ‘glass’ cock-pitted multi-role fighters. We spoke to former US Marine pilot Louis Gundlach about flying and fighting in the F/A-18 Hornet. 

Which aircraft have you flown and with which unit? “I was a Hornet guy my whole career. I flew the F/A-18C (Lot 11) attached to VMFA-232 twice. First tour was from 1995 to 1998 and the second was from 1999 to 2001. I was one the Marine Air Group (MAG) – 11 Weapon and Tactics Instructors for seven months and I flew F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Ds. I moved on to VMFA-323 where I flew F/A-18Cs (Lot-15) from 2001 to 2003. I finished up my career at VMFAT-101 (F/A-18 training squadron) and I flew F/A-18As, Bs, Cs, and Ds.”

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How do you feel about the aesthetics of the Hornet? “I grew up by El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California. The Marine Corps received their first F/A-18s in 1983. My Dad was a retired Marine so we would go on El Toro quite a bit, many times because I would bug him to take me so I could look at the jets. To a 14-year-old, the F/A-18 looked like a spaceship compared to the F-4s, A-6s, and A-4s that were also based there. The Hornet was sleek and new and did not have all the blisters and bumps that the older jets had. Obviously, I have been biased about the Hornet for a long time and I still am. It is still a cool looking jet.”

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What were your first impressions of the F/A-18? “I wrote about my first impression as a kid above. My first ride in a Hornet was cool. While waiting to go to flight school I was able to spend three months at El Toro attached to VMFAT-101. I got three rides in the Hornet while I was there, and it was amazing. The first ride was in a new F/A-18D. Getting in the jet, the cockpit still had a little bit of that new jet smell (like a ‘new car smell’ but in a jet!). The cockpit was overwhelming with the two DDIs (Digital Display Indicators) and the MPCD (Multi-Purpose Color Display). Taxing out I felt very high off the ground and like I was sitting out on the end of a stick. The takeoff was amazing, especially to someone who had only flown a Cessna 172 to that point. When you add power to the Hornet and hold the brakes to do a quick pre-takeoff checklist the jet will squat a little bit on the front nose wheel.

sharpshooter.jpgThe noise, the jet shaking just a bit, the other Hornet to our left on the runway was so cool. The takeoff roll started and then after a couple of seconds the pilot selected afterburner and felt like someone kicked that back of my seat. We were airborne quickly and the other Hornet joined up. The flight was a basic formation flight but to me it left a lasting impression. It was perfect California day over the Pacific. At one point in the flight when the instructor had the student doing break up and rendezvous maneuvers, the pilot asked me if I wanted to go Supersonic? I said yes but I remember being a little apprehensive. The pilot selected afterburner for about 10 seconds, the Mach meter went through Mach 1, and that was it. There was no boom, or shaking, or anything, just the number changing. I even got to fly a little bit from the backseat. I wanted to fly Hornets since the first time I saw the airplane, getting a ride in the jet had me sold.

Which three words best describe it?

Fun: The Hornet was fun to fly. I often said that I cannot believe they pay me to do this. Every flight was a blast.
Reliable: It always got me home. A few times single engine, but it was always was reliable.

Accurate: A lot of people focus on air to air, but the Hornet was a fantastic bomber. When I first got to the fleet, we were almost exclusively training to dumb bombs and the Hornet was so accurate. Put the designation or the CCIP (Constantly Computed Impact Point) cross over the target, be smooth during the release, and the jet would do the rest.

What is the best thing about it? “The Hornet was reliable. The systems, for the most part, were almost always working. The Marines working on the aircraft did a tremendous job keeping the Hornets flying and the systems working. Often at austere locations. This is not only a testament to the Marines who worked tirelessly on the jets but the reliability of the Hornet itself.”

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And the worst thing? “The lack of fuel, at least around the carrier. I flew the Hornet for a long time in a land-based squadron. I did not really understand the critique of the legacy (F/A-18 A thru D) Hornet not carrying enough gas. Fuel becomes a lot more critical when the runway is only open for 15 minutes every hour and a half or two hours. When flying missions that ended up at a runway, we would plan for having 2,000 pounds when we landed. We would fly our mission and when we hit bingo fuel (Fuel left was the 2,000 poundsds plus the fuel required to fly back to base) we would fly home and land. Carrier operations are much more complicated. At the ship, we would plan on landing at the max trap weight and depending on what we were carrying that could be 4,500 to 5,000 pds of fuel. Daytime carrier operations we could land with a lower fuel weight, if I remember correctly it was 3,500 pounds, but that 1,500 pounds is still more than 10% of your fuel load with two external tanks. Add to the fact that you had to wait for the ship to start recovery operations, you often would need to cut your mission short to conserve fuel so you would have fuel to hold and then land. For carrier operations the Hornet could have used more fuel.

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One of our jets. Goofy gas with three GBU-31 2000 pound JDAM.

How you rate the F/A-18 in the following categories?
Instantaneous turn

“The Hornet’s instantaneous turn was as good or better than any jet that I flew against.”

Sustained turn

“The Hornet had a good sustained turn, but it was outclassed by jets with better thrust to weight like the F-15C and F-16. This was especially true at higher altitudes or when the Hornet was loaded with drop tanks and pylons. A completely slick Hornet was a dog-fighting machine, but more on that later.”
High alpha

“The Hornet was excellent at high alpha flying. The Hornet was better than any jet I flew against in high alpha manoeuvring flight.”

Acceleration

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A picture of me landing at NAS Atsugi for the Atsugi airshow in 1996. A Japanese photographer gave me this photo the next day.

“Hornet was fair but outclassed by many other jets.”

Climb rate

“Once again the Hornet was OK, but outclassed by F-14Ds, F-15C, F-16. The F-16s out at Buckley ANGB in Denver would do an Immelmann at the end of the Runway on takeoff. They had to hit a certain altitude which I believe was above 11K MSL. I tried to do it in a Hornet once (F/A-18C with a centerline tank and two pylons)… nope, I did not make it. I was wallowing around at 10K ft and 100kts trying to comply with Departure’s new instructions. Good thing the Hornet was forgiving and was good at high alpha flight.”

Dissimilar air combat training (DACT)

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Flying over Mt Fuji on my first deployment.

“My first squadron was an F/A-18C squadron, VMFA-232, that would deploy to Iwakuni Japan for six-month deployments. We did Close Air Support and air-to-air training for over 90% of our training. We did not have to do the endless flights of Field Carrier Landing Practice or all the other months of workups the squadrons attached to a Carrier Air Wing had to. We also did not have to do all the Tactical Airborne Controller – Airborne and Forward Air Controller – Airborne (TAC-A and FAC-A) that the two seat F/A-18Ds had to do. We did a lot of air to air training, both similar and dissimilar. When we deployed to Iwakuni, the lack of air to ground ranges made us schedule even more air to air training. A few of the more senior pilots in the squadron were Desert Storm vets and grew up with the Hornet. They taught us how to fight the Hornet against the other 4th Generation fighters, the F-14s, F-15s, and F-16s.  The game plan against other teen fighters was pretty much the same, we wanted to get our nose on the opposing fighter first to either get the first shot or to cause the opposing fighter to react by matching our turn thus getting into a slow speed fight where the Hornet excelled. Transitioning to a one circle fight, usually at the initial merge or the second merge was the game plan. Some of our older pilots really pushed fighting in the vertical also. As one of the Desert Storm vets put it, “Going over the top in a fight you will quickly find out if your opponent is part of the BFM (Basic Fighter Manoeuvring) club”. There was a lot of learning to go with this advice. How to judge the other fighter’s position, energy, separation, etc. all had to be taken into account. Experience is the best teacher and we got a lot of air to air experience in my first squadron.

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My first squadron VMFA-232 did a photo shoot when I first joined the squadron. No, it is not me. They don’t let new guys do the good deal photo shoot.

The problem with game plan with the Hornet against the other teen fighters is that even though you could beat another 4th Generation Fighter by forcing it to fly where the Hornet had the advantage, manoeuvring around at below 200 kts in a rolling scissors or flat scissors is a terrible place to be in a multi-fighter engagement. A slow fighter is an easy kill for your opponent’s wingman and when you are dogfighting it is difficult to keep situational awareness (SA) of what is going on outside the visual arena. Through experience I found that keeping your speed up, getting a quick kill and leaving an engagement was a much better way to stay alive than getting in a turning engagement in a multi-bogey environment. A dogfight in a multi-fighter engagement will bring all the players to the fight like moths to a flame and if you are the guy fighting a one versus one at 180 knots in the middle of that fight, you are going to quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a missile shot.”

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My HUD (Heads up display) as I land on the USS Constellation

What is the best way to fight an F-14? And the worst? Which aircraft has the advantage?

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“My history of fighting against the Tomcat is broken into two parts. My first year in a fleet squadron flying against F-14As and then later in my career flying against F-14Ds. F-14As and F-14Ds were different airplanes. When I fought against the F-14As, they were really starting to show their age. The F-14A had TF30 engines which were unreliable, smokey and did not provide much thrust. The F-14A also had the AWG-9 radar which the Tomcat aircrew complained about, mostly for being old and unreliable. The F-14D had GE F110 engines which were much more reliable, did not smoke, and gave the Tomcat much better thrust. My first year in a fleet F/A-18 squadron we flew against F-14As based there and then on my first deployment to Iwakuni, Japan we flew against the F-14As based out of Atsugi NAF. The F-14 is a big aircraft and the Hornet’s radar could detect it and keep track of it at a considerable range. The F-14A’s smokey engines made tally’s (Visually picking up the jet) possible outside of 20nm. Having a Tally at range meant you could setup the merge to execute the Hornet’s WVR game plan. Usually this meant merging low to high and pulling aggressively in the vertical in a one circle fight. Usually the vertical maneuver would have an oblique aspect to it so we would be 45 to 60 degrees nose high and aggressively pulling to put our nose back on the adversary. I liked going in the oblique vertical vice the pure vertical because it gave me a chance to counter a jet that might also be coming in the vertical but was out turning your (usually another Hornet in a similar WVR fight). In my first fight against an F-14, which I think was my first fight against an dissimilar 4th Generation fighter (F-14, F-15, F-16) I came over the top and was surprised to see I had weapons separation for a missile shot. A quick Fox 2 (simulated missile shot) from me and a continue call from the Tomcat pilot. The F-14 pulled up to my altitude and we entered a flat scissors. The Hornet outclassed the F-14A (Flat scissors is a High Alpha Fight) and I was quickly above and behind the Tomcat when the F-14A pilot called knock it off (Stop the fight).
The first time I flew against an F-14D was several years later, on a training detachment (or det) to NAS Key West. I was had a lot more experience by this point in my career. I was a recent graduate of Top Gun and had over 1,000 hrs. of F/A-18 time. You could say I was in my prime. We also flew completely slick Hornets. No pylons or drop tanks, just a training AIM-9 and a TACTS (Tactical Air Combat Training System) pod. This was the only time I fought the Hornet with nothing on it. A slick Hornet was a BFM machine. I found it amazing that the removal of the centerline tank and the wing pylons would make such of difference, but it did. The Hornet accelerated much faster and its ability to fight in vertical was even more pronounced. To say the Tomcat, even a newer one with better engines, was at a disadvantage, would be an understatement. I only had one sortie against the F-14 during the det but I remember one of the sets pretty well, it was an abeam setup. On an abeam setup, the two fighters would setup at the 3 or 9 O’clock position of the other fighter. Distance would usually be 1.5 to 2 nautical miles, at a designated altitude, and between 300 to 400 knots. I was the flight lead for this fight, all BFM sorties designate a lead to control the setup, the fight, and ensure safety. The comms would go something like; “Speed and Angels on the right.” (I am at the briefed speed and altitude on the right) “Speed and Angels on the left”. “Check tapes on, turning in” (Check recording device on, turn toward each other), “Tapes on, turning in”. The two fighters would turn toward each other and at the merge (When the fighters pass each other) the fight would be on. On the fight that I remember, at the merge I turned hard across the Tomcat’s tail and then went into a max G oblique turn about 45 degrees nose up. The Tomcat matched my oblique turn and we had a second merge in the vertical inverted. The Tomcat was slightly out in front of me. His wings were fully forward, and he had a lot of vapes (vapors) coming over the wing roots. Being in a slick Hornet I was able to start and second climb, this one pure vertical and the Tomcat turned across my tail and then started a descent in a left hand turn to try and get his speed back. At about 70 degrees nose up I had enough separation and I executed a rudder pirouette to the right, I got the nose on, a lock on, and called two simulated missile shots. I remember the pirouette because it was so crisp. A slick Hornet was an amazing machine. Too bad you would never actually take a slick Hornet into battle.

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I also fought against F-14Ds while on cruise on the USS Constellation. This was totally different. Our Hornets had two tanks and all four pylons. We had one tank on the Centerline and one on the wing. We called it goofy gas. This put some limitations on the Hornet’s maneuvering. The Hornet in this configuration was a bit of a pig but it could still formidable if flown properly. As a more senior guy I fought against the more junior Tomcat pilots and held my own by sticking to the Hornet game plan. I altered the game plan a little bit by not going as high in the vertical so I would not get too slow and so I would have nose authority to pressure the Tomcat. The danger with the F-14D was that if you were not pressuring it, it could accelerate quickly and get airspeed to go into the vertical and get a shot on an opponent that does not have the air speed to match the vertical maneuver. The more senior Tomcat pilots did this to our junior pilots. It would have been interesting to fight some of the “Old Hand” Tomcat pilots, especially in a goofy gas configuration that was not advantageous to the Hornet. The Tomcat CO (Commanding Officer) on that cruise had a reputation of being an excellent BFM pilot and he could make the Tomcat maneuver in ways that most Tomcat pilots could not. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see him fight the Tomcat firsthand.”

What is the best way to fight an F-16? And the worst?

“Throughout my career I flew against F-16s many times and in my opinion, it was the hardest of the 4th generation fighters to beat. It was small, had a lot of thrust, and a very impressive 9G turn. The F-16 had a turn rate advantage and much better thrust to weight when compared to the F/A-18C. The F/A-18C had a better turn radius and could fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) than the F-16. The best way to fight an F-16 is in a 1 circle fight, usually in the vertical. Getting the Hornet’s nose on first to try and get an early shot, whether with a missile or the gun. The key would be to get the F-16 reacting to the Hornet, bleeding energy, and getting slow. At slow airspeeds, the F/A-18’s AOA advantage meant I could point my nose easily and get a shot. The worst way to fight against an F-16 would be two circle fight on the Horizon. The F-16s 9G turn and superior thrust to weight would give him a better turn rate and the F-16 would out turn the Hornet. If an F/A-18 tried to match the F-16 turn rate, the Hornet would get bleed energy and its turn rate would continue to be less than the F-16.

Like all fighters, most of the ability of a fighter plane to fight is dependent on the skill of the pilot. The F-16’s performance, much like the Hornet’s, would suffer if it was carrying external stores. A slick Viper (F-16) flown by an experienced pilot was a beast and was always a tough fight. There was a Air Force reserve squadron out of Luke that was full of experienced pilots, all of them had at least a thousand hours in the Viper. They always flew slick Vipers and they were a tough fight for an F/A-18C which always had at least one external tank and two pylons. This reserve squadron also went on that Key West Det. From what I saw and experienced, in a pure visual fight a slick Hornet was better in the visual arena than a slick Viper. I rate the F-16 pilots from that reserve squadron in Luke as the best I ever fought and in the visual arena the Hornet more than held it’s own on that Key West det.”

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A picture from a KC-10 of me tanking over Iraq during OIF.

What is the best way to fight an F-15C Eagle? And the worst?

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I do not think I ever fought a USAF F-15C in a pure 1 v 1 dogfight. We would always fight the F-15C in BVR fights that might end up in a multi-plane visual engagement. In the visual arena, the F-15C’s large size made it easy to keep sight of and keep situational awareness (SA) of all the bandits (bad guys) in a visual fight. I remember, on different engagements, being able to switch from one F-15 to another and get a shot outside my own fight, across the circle because I could keep SA on multiple F-15s.

I can tell you by experience the worst way to fight against an F-15 in to attempt a turning engagement up at 40,000ft. The Eagle, with its big wings and big engines has no problem turning up at 40,000ft, but the F/A-18C, with its little wings and smaller engines has trouble turning up at that altitude. On one fight out of Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan, when I was a junior pilot, I merged with a couple of Eagles above 40,000ft. I turned across the outside fighter’s tail and quickly found my turn rate was not very good at that altitude and I was bleeding energy quickly. The F-15s were able to keep a fair rate of turn and I quickly found myself defensive heading downhill.

I did fly many 1 v 1s against Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) F-15Js. The one circle, vertical manoeuvre game plan was very effective against the JASDF pilots. Often, I was able to get a shot on the F-15Js as I came over the top and then I could transition to offensive BFM on the Eagle.”

DACT
“Of the aircraft you have flown DACT with, which was the most challenging?
The F-16. It was small so it was difficult to see. Its 9G turn was eye watering and if you did not keep the pressure on a Viper it would out accelerate you and either out turn you or out climb you. If the F-16 pilot was experienced at dogfighting, it was always going to be a tough fight.”

What was it like fighting RAF Tornados? “I flew against GR1s, the ground attack version. Most of the flights we did were large engagements with many different types of aircraft. The Tornados flew strike missions during that exercise. I got a shot on one visually and it attempted to defend into me. The turn was not that impressive, but these were ground attack Tornados loaded with tanks and bombs. Air to Air was not their mission and the load-out was not conducive to manoeuvring.

D. Which foreign air force impressed you the most? The British and the Australians were just like flying with Americans, just with funny accents. Their professionalism and preparedness were the same as our air forces. I flew two DACT sorties against Singapore Air Force F-16s based out of Luke Air Force base. These sorties could have had a US instructor or exchange pilot in in the formation, but with a limited sample size, I was very impressed. The Singapore’s tactics and aggressive flying were equal to what we would see from the U.S. Air Force F-16s.”

Would you have felt confident going against in Flankers in a real-world situation?

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“Yes, especially 15 to 20 years ago. We had a better missile with the AMRAAM, and the Su-27 was inferior as far as a weapon system, except for maybe the electronic warfare systems at the time. The big reason I would have felt confident was because of training. We felt that our training would have given us the advantage against any potential adversaries at the time. We felt we had much more experience in realistic situations than potential foes. The current Flankers and their weapons from both Russia and China are different aircraft the original versions of the Su-27. They are much more deadly. It still depends on the pilot and his training though. Some famous dead guy once said, ‘The quality of the box matters little. Success depends upon the man who sits in it’.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

How did you feel when deployed to war? “Being a Marine, we have a different mindset. Nobody wants to go to war, but if your buddies are going you want to go with them. It is was we train to do. I also was fairly senior and had to volunteer to extend to go on cruise to the expected combat zone. I had watched Desert Storm as a brand-new Second Lieutenant on TV from school in Quantico, Allied Force as a Captain from another school in Quantico. I did not want to watch another conflict on TV while my friends were over there fighting. I also felt the readiest I would ever be. I had been flying F/A-18s for over eight years. I was a graduate of Top Gun and MAWTS-1 (Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One) Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course. I felt that I would never be as ready to go to combat as I was when I deployed on the USS. Constellation.

What was your most memorable mission and why?

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Finnish Hornet

“Probably the most memorable mission was a strike mission that got re-rolled to a Close Air Support mission on the outskirts of Baghdad. We launched as a section (two aircraft) loaded with three GBU-31s (2000 pd JDAM) each. I actually was the wingman and my lead was a brand new Section lead. This was his first mission as a Section Lead. I do not remember what our original target was but as we flew into Iraq we were switched to Marine Controllers. We were then tasked with supporting the Marines as they pushed into Baghdad from the east. When we switched up to the Forward Air Controller (FAC), he had an urgent target for us. The Marines were taking artillery fire from Iraqi positions along a highway that went into the city. The target coordinates were derived from counter battery radar. We had never practiced Close Air Support using counter battery radar coordinates. Even though I was not the flight lead I questioned the FAC to make sure he knew we had 2000 pd bombs on board. The FAC understood and cleared us in to drop. The weather was crappy that day. Layers of clouds all the way up the 35,000 ft and the bottoms were around 4,000 ft. We flew inbound in and out of the clouds and release all six of our GBU-31s on the coordinates given. I detached and flew down to just below the cloud bottoms. I broke out of the clouds about two seconds before the bombs hit. My FLIR had a good picture of where the bombs hit. When we reviewed the tapes back on the ship, we could make out six different artillery positions next to the highway. The FLIR we used during OIF was pretty antiquated and did not have great resolution, but we could make out a smaller star shaped blobs next a square shaped blobs. (Artillery with trucks next to them.) The GBUs hit right where the artillery was. When we checked out with the FAC, he said the artillery fire had stopped and gave us a “Good Job.” I was there to protect my fellow Marine, that Lance Corporal on the ground. It was good to have that gratification during a mission that you helped your fellow Marines.
11. Does a sailor or airman reserve the right to refuse a mission if he doesn’t agree with a war? Has your own personal morality ever been challenged by a mission?
I am sure you could refuse a mission once. You probably will not get the opportunity to do it again because I figure you will be taken off the flight schedule. My personal morality was never challenged by a mission. My ethos, as with most Marines I knew, were flying so that 19-year-old infantryman could make it home. The more of the enemy we took out and the more of his equipment we destroyed, the more of my brothers would stay alive. I never had an ethos problem during OIF because of this belief.

 Was there a piece of equipment or weapon that you wish the Hornet had during OIF? “I wish I had a better FLIR. Our FLIR was the AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk pod. It was pretty old and it was built to hit buildings and bridges, not vehicles. The F-16s and the AV-8Bs had the Litening Pod. What a great piece of gear that was. I watched an F-16 tape from the Air National Guard guys from Buckley, Colorado. The F-16 pilot was finding a shed , behind a True Value store, in a little town, out in Colorado. From over fifty miles away, you could make out cars, stop lights, people. With the Nite Hawk I could not tell the difference between a tank and a truck even if I was right over it. We (my squadron) had a few missions where the AV-8Bs were finding targets and guiding our bombs to the targets because of their much better FLIR.”

How good were the aircraft’s sensors?
“The Hornets sensors were good but not great. The radar, APG-65, was reliable but it was getting older and it was a mechanical scan radar with limitations. Nothing like an AESA today. The FLIR was reliable but like I talked about above, it was becoming outdated. Our Electronic Warfare suite was adequate for the Iraqi threat, but I would not have wanted to bring it against a more advanced threat. For the conflict, the Hornets sensors were adequate to get the job done.”

Was the range sufficient?
“Our carrier was usually tasked with supporting the U.S. Army in western Iraq. We could make it there but our on-station time was usually pretty short. Near the end of the fight against the Iraqi Army, North of Baghdad, we started carrying three external tanks. Range was good enough, but we could have always used a lot more.”

Which weapons (if any) did you use and were there any surprises in how they worked in actual combat?
“No real surprises for me. I dropped JDAM and Laser Guided Bombs, along with shooting the gun. Our squadron did shoot a couple of SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response) missiles. The SLAM-ER were sophisticated and had a large pilot workload. The SLAM-ERs fired by my squadron worked as advertised and flew right into the target. The last frame of one of the missile’s recording was a close-up image of the tyre belonging to the target.”

Looking back, how do you feel about this time?
“I am proud of my service. As a Marine, my mindset separates me from the politics and the hindsight. If Marines are going to war, as a Marine I need to be there with them. I was highly trained and experienced at the time. If I did not go, someone less experienced would have probably taken my place. I was there to provide the best support to US forces on the ground. If even one of our soldiers, airman, sailors, and Marines made it home because of my actions, it was worth being there.”

How does the Hornet community generally feel about the F-35?

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“The USMC Hornet community has always been supportive of the transition to the F-35. The F-35 is a huge step up in technology and capability, especially for the USMC Hornet community which did not buy the Super Hornet. I have a quite a few friends who have transitioned to the F-35 and there are no major complaints. I have had them talk about the performance and unlike what you hear in the press, it is an impressive airplane. It is not a Raptor, but it is not a dog either. It is the systems onboard the F-35 that makes it a quantum leap above what a legacy Hornet was. The only complaints I have heard is that the F-35 is not optimised for Close Air Support or Recce missions as it could be.”

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A loaded Hornet out at 29 Palms for a Combined Arms Exercise (CAX).

 Is there a difference in tactical thinking in USMC aviation to the Air Force or Navy?
“There is a big difference in USMC aviation compared to the Air Force and the Navy and you probably can see it from my answers above. U.S. Air Force Tactical aviation is the center of their tactical thinking. Navy aviation, especially tactical aviation, has been the primary striking arm for the U.S. Navy with only Tomahawk Land Attack Missile adding to the strike capability during the last 30 years. In the Marine Corps, our mindset is different. It starts with all officers going to The Basic School where we learn how to be a Marine Officer and we learn infantry tactics. After our first tour, most aviators either go back to school, where they learn more about the tactical and operational level of war, from a ground-centric mindset, or we do a tour with ground units as a Forward Air Controller. USMC aviation exists to support the Marine on the ground. As a Hornet pilot, the ground Marines do not see us as much as the AV-8B force who deploys on Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments. Also, the Hornet missions of air-to-air and deep strike are unseen and under-appreciated by the ground units. It took me awhile in my career to realise that I needed to be a bit of a salesman, and explain why having the ability of shooting down enemy planes is important and why destroying enemy reserves or rear units (like artillery) was important to the USMC ground unit.”

What is the biggest myth about the Hornet?
“Around the aircraft carrier the Legacy Hornet could have used more gas, but compared to other land-based fighters, the Hornet had more fuel endurance. When fighting against F-16s, AV-8Bs, and F-5s we would have gas left over when those aircraft were “Bingo” (low enough fuel that they had to head home). This was often after flying farther to the training range and having farther to fly home.”

What should I have asked you?
“I am surprised you did not ask about the Canadian T-33s. I figured that was so far outside the norm that it would have been a question. The Canadian T-33s were still used for training into the 2000s. A detachment of them were down in Yuma, Arizona during the winter of 2001. They were part of some large force exercise we were a part of. On one of the strikes I was on, the T-33s were providing Red Air along with some F-16s and F-5s. The T-33s were simulating MiG-17s, which was pretty rare by that time. My division (four ship) were strikers and we had sweepers in front of us. As we headed down range the sweepers did pretty good work against the other Red Air and there was only one leaker that our Division lead shot with a simulated AMRAAM. We were up above 20,000 ft and as the radar cleared a ridge up a head, it broke out four contacts at low altitude. One was hot, one was cold, one was turning to the right and one was turning to left. (All this is relative to my radar) It was a perfect MiG wheel, an old Vietnamese Air Force tactic. It was very cool to see. The APG-65 radar did not have any problem breaking this out and at closer range a simulated AMRAAM was not an issue. Our Division shot all four with ease. Being a student of aviation history, I knew this tactic played havoc against the F-4’s radar and AIM-7 Sparrow missile during the Vietnam War. Add to the fact with laser guided bombs we did not have to descend to an altitude like the strikers in Vietnam where a MiG-17 would be able to climb and ambush us. This tactic had been passed by technology and time. It was still cool to see though.”

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