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Spitfire versus Messerschmitt Bf 109: A comparison of the Spitfire and the Bf 109 in the early years of World War II

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This is a question that often comes up in discussions on airpower in World War II: how did the two iconic fighters of the War—The British Supermarine Spitfire and the German Messerschmitt Bf 109—compare? Was either machine demonstrably better? In the following article, I evaluate the two on the basis of six rectally extracted parameters that I think are important in fighter-versus-fighter comparisons. The scope of the assessment has been limited to the period between 1939 and 1941, when these aircraft fought each other on roughly even terms. So we shall mostly stick to the variants that were in service in this timeframe: the Spitfire 1A/B and Spitfire V; the Bf 109E and F.

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KINEMATIC PERFORMANCE

“…the Me 109F has a slightly superior performance to the Spitfire V”

– Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, September 1941.

“I also thought the Bf 109F was slightly superior to the Spitfire V”,

– Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, circa 1941.

The Bf 109, in its initial avatars, was generally regarded as marginally superior to contemporaneous variants of the Spitfire. At low to medium altitudes, where much of the air combat in the early war occurred, the Bf 109 had the upper hand. However, the Spitfire was superior at higher altitudes. This was chiefly because its Rolls Royce Merlin engine had a higher critical altitude (the altitude at which the supercharger is operating at full capacity, and beyond which engine power rapidly decreases) than the Messerschmitt’s Daimler-Benz DB 601.

The Bf 109 employed several advanced technologies that gave it an edge. For instance, its DB 601 engine was equipped with an automatic variable-speed supercharger that ensured better power delivery from the engine. The Bf 109E-3’s supercharger, for instance, gave it a 200 hp advantage over the Spitfire 1A at low altitude. The engine also utilised fuel-injection technology, which allowed the aircraft to pitch forward into a dive; the Merlin’s carburettor would stall the engine if this were attempted in a Spitfire. The Spitfire therefore had to roll over and dive, which cost precious seconds in combat. Yet another example would be automatic leading-edge slats that prevented the Bf 109 from going into a stall at low speeds or in high-G turns.

The Spitfire’s advantages were its tighter turning circle and faster turn rate, which allowed it to outmanoeuvre the Bf 109 in the horizontal plane. But the Bf 109, owing to its higher climb rate, could sustain climbing turns that the Spitfire was unable to keep up with. This gave German pilots more freedom to engage and disengage from dogfights with British fighters. Two quotes illustrate this advantage rather well:

 

“When it comes to fighter vs. fighter and the struggle for the altitude gauge, we must expect for the time being to be at a disadvantage as compared with the improved Me-109 [this is the Bf 109F, being compared to the Spitfire V] we are now meeting”

– Memo to Air Marshal Sholto Douglas, AOC-in-C Fighter Command, from the Senior Staff Air Officer, April 1941.

 

“I preferred the 109F because it flew well at any altitude, was fast as most . . . had a superior rate of climb and could dive very well. Most of all, it instilled confidence in its pilot.”

– Franz Stigler, date unknown.

 Top 10 fighters of World War II here

The Bf 109F-3 and F-4 models, introduced around mid-1941, improved on the E models with the help of the more powerful DB-601E engine. The new engine gave the aircraft a 30 km/h speed advantage over the Spitfire V. They also featured improved high-altitude performance; their critical altitude was 1,000 feet higher than that of the Bf 109Es.

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RANGE

Combat ranges were comparable. Both designs were initially designed to defend airbases against enemy bombing, and that was reflected in their range figures on internal fuel—680 km for the Spitfire I A/B and about 660 km for the Bf 109E.

 

The Bf 109 was the first to be forced into an offensive role: first as a fighter that would provide top cover to an advancing German Army, and later as an escort for Luftwaffe bombers attacking Britain. The lack of range proved to be a major constraint in the second instance. It is well known by now that a Bf 109 taking off from Northern France had about 10 minutes of flying time over London, not nearly enough to battle it out with RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes. What isn’t so well known is that this was when the planes undertook independent fighter sweeps. When tasked with as bomber escorts, the need to fly at sub-optimal altitudes and speeds often increased fuel consumption to the point where the 109s were forced to return to France before the bombers had reached their objectives.

 

Spitfires tasked to carry out offensive fighter sweeps and raids over Northern France in 1941 faced the same issue. The reason Fighter Command didn’t suffer very heavy losses was that the Luftwaffe was by then fighting over Russia. The few fighters left to defend the western front seldom rose up to meet the RAF’s challenges.

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ARMAMENT

Armament-wise, neither aircraft ever had a clear advantage over the other. But it is still useful to study how the initial designs started off, and how the rapidly changing requirements of a modern air war forced changes to the weapon fit.

 

Both machines where primarily designed with aerodynamic performance in mind, with armament being a secondary consideration. They therefore made use of thin, tapering wings. These were excellent for speed and turning performance, but bad for firepower. There simply wasn’t any space to mount machine guns (leave alone cannon) in the wings.

 

The Supermarine Type-300 (an early prototype of what would become the Spitfire) was initially designed to be armed with only two machine guns. The Bf 109 wasn’t very different. The German the aviation ministry (RLM) specified two rifle-calibre (7.92 mm) machine-guns that the biplanes of the mid-30s carried. These were easy enough to concentrate in the nose. Willy Messerschmitt always wanted his fighter to be “a true application of light construction principles”. By mounting the guns in the nose and attaching the cantilever undercarriage to the fuselage rather than the wings, he could make use of a small, simple, low-drag wing that could be detached easily for maintenance and road transport.

However, this relevance on a mere two machine-guns was to change. The RAF’s requirements branch came to believe that two machine guns were inadequate to shoot down modern metal-skinned fighters, and in 1935, the RAF specified that it wanted eight machine guns on all new fighters. It was also asserted that this was an interim requirement. Follow-on designs would have to be armed with cannon. This was easy enough to accommodate in the Hurricane’s thick wings. But the Type-300’s thin, tapering wings had to be abandoned in favour of elliptical wings to house the increased armament. The Germans reached similar conclusions in combat over Spain. The Bf 109 would require cannon armament to damage metal airframes.

 

But this was easier said than done. The requirement for increased firepower led to persistent teething troubles with the armament of both aircraft well into their service lives. The Spitfire’s machine guns tended to freeze solid from the cold at high altitudes (this issue also affected Hurricanes). Initially, Fighter Command had Spitfires take off with adhesive tape covering the gunports in order to prevent the condensation from entering and icing the gun barrels. This did not always work. Later, a portion of the engine exhaust was ducted into the wing to heat the guns. This system proved to be mechanically complex and unreliable. It wasn’t until electric heating was introduced that the issue was fully resolved. Integrating 20mm cannon was also a great challenge. The belt that fed rounds to the weapon would frequently jam. The technical issues plaguing the Spitfire 1B proved so problematic that the type was withdrawn from service and replaced by the 1A.

 

Following feedback from pilots of the Condor Legion, Messerschmitt also modified the Bf 109 prototypes with a 20 mm cannon mounted between the engine cylinder banks, firing through the propeller hub. However, the vibration from the cannon was so severe that it proved to be unworkable. This problem was resolved much later in the war. In the meantime, several alternatives were trialled. The Bf 109B utilised an engine-mounted machine gun in place of the cannon. This, too, proved to be problematic. The Bf 109C featured a redesigned wing to accommodate two 7.92 mm machine guns, with ammunition boxes stored in the fuselage. The system worked in tests, but failed under the strain of air combat. The Bf 109D carried four guns – two in the nose and two under the wings. Bf 109E-1s carried the same armament. The E-3 models, though, were equipped with a 20 mm cannon under each wing, installed in two streamlined blisters along with a 60-round ammunition drum. Finally, the issues with the engine-mounted cannon were resolved in the F-4 model, which flew with a 20mm cannon that proved to be very accurate.

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PILOT FRIENDLINESS AND HANDLING

In terms of ease of operation, there were advantages and shortcomings to both designs. The Spitfire’s bubble canopy and large mirrors offered excellent views and better situational awareness to the pilot. The Bf 109s angular canopy with its thick frame fell short. On the other hand, the Bf 109’s Revi gunsight was far ahead of the early Spitfire’s ring-and-bead type sight. It eliminated parallax errors and made deflection shots more accurate. The aircraft’s engine and propeller controls were also more automated, which reduced pilot workload.

On the flip side, the Bf 109’s small size made the cockpit very cramped. Not only was it uncomfortable, it also restricted the force that pilots could apply on the controls, with obvious effects on flight performance. Post-war testing by the RAF revealed that under certain conditions, the force that pilots could exert on the Bf 109’s control column was only 40% of what they could apply in the Spitfire. In an era when hydraulically boosted controls were not available, this was a serious deficiency. The Spitfire’s two-step rudder pedals also allowed the pilot to raise his feet high during high-G manoeuvring, delaying the onset of blackout. The Bf 109 had no such pedals.

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The Bf 109 also suffered from handling challenges, both in the air as well as on the ground. The most critical one was the issue with its undercarriage. There were two major problems with the landing gear design that caused serious losses of Bf 109s on take-off and landing. One was the tendency to ground loop. The Bf 109’s canted undercarriage often caused aircraft on landing runs to suddenly spin around and suffer serious damage if one wheel lost traction. On rough airstrips that were cobbled together in the later stages of the war, this problem was particularly acute.

Secondly, Willy Messerschmitt wanted his aircraft structures to be as light as possible. That structure lacked the strength to endure hard landings. As the Bf 109’s received more powerful engines and armament, it got heavier, which led to increased wing loading and higher landing speeds. That put additional strains on the landing gear. The result was that quite often, even experienced pilots ended up collapsing the undercarriage. In 1939 alone, the Bf 109 fleet suffered 255 landing accidents that resulted in damage to the airframe. The Spitfire, Hurricane, and Fw-190, with their “vertical” landing gear and heavier structures, fared much better.

ABILITY TO UPGRADE

The changing nature of the air war over Europe drove a slew of upgrade programmes for both aircraft. But the Spitfire—with its larger airframe, stronger structure, and superior engine—was better able to support the installation of advanced engines, armour, and heavier armament.

The Spitfire IX, often seen as the ultimate evolution of the type, was able to outclass the Bf 109G as well as the newer Focke-Wulf Fw 190A in combat. Its superlative Merlin 61 engine (powered by 100-octane fuel of US origin) gave it a 110 hp advantage over the DB 605-powered Bf 109G at sea level. But it truly came into its own at high altitude: At 30,000 feet, its two-stage supercharger gave it a whopping 300 hp advantage over its German counterpart. Further, its armament of two 20mm cannon and four 0.303 inch machine guns packed a formidable punch against not just aircraft, but also ground targets.

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The Bf 109’s simplicity and light weight, however, proved to be its Achilles heel. Accommodating a more powerful engine, increased armament, new radios, and armour plate within the Bf-109G’s tiny airframe was a major challenge. The aircraft’s small cowling was inadequate for heat dissipation, which made the DB 605 engine prone to overheating and catching fire. Its firepower was only about half of what the Spitfire IX carried: two nose-mounted 7.92mm machine guns in the G-1 variant (upgraded to 13mm guns in the G-5) and one 20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub.

With the steady increase in weight, the Bf-109G’s handling qualities suffered. As the wing loading increased, so did the demands on brute muscle power to actuate the controls. Capt. Eric Brown, a Royal Navy test pilot who evaluated a captured Bf-109G, commented that “in a dive at 400 mph, the controls felt as though they had seized!” The addition of a water-methanol tank—whose contents were injected into the engine to provide a short burst of additional power—adversely affected the centre-of-gravity and made handing unpredictable in some portions of the flight envelope. The uparmed BF-109G-6, often equipped with 20mm or 30mm underwing cannon to attack Allied bombers, proved so sluggish in combat, that its pilots nicknamed it the Kanonenboot (Gunboat).

The larger, structurally stronger Spitfire IX suffered no such problems. Indeed, the powerful Merlin 61 and four-bladed propeller allowed it to outrun, out-turn, and out-climb the Bf-109G. The ‘quantum leap’ in performance that the Spitfire IX achieved over the Bf-109G was never reversed.

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Ease of manufacture

This is one area where the Bf 109 comes out the clear winner. The Spitfire’s complex design, coupled with Supermarine’s utter lack of experience with modern production line techniques made Spitfire production problematic. Its elliptical wing proved to be difficult to fabricate. Delays in transferring knowledge and drawings to various subcontractors slowed down production. And the fine tolerances demanded by the design team—not something that British industry was used to—led to quality issues. The company faced major schedule slippages in delivering the initial batch of 310 fighters, and the RAF at one point considered cancelling the order outright. The Bf 109’s transition to production, on the other hand, was very smooth. The RLM was able to have it mass-manufactured without much of a hassle.

This disparity is clearly visible when you look at the numbers. In January 1940, it took 15,000 man-hours to build a Spitfire 1A and 9,000 to build a Bf 109E. By 1942, that gap had only widened. The Bf 109F needed only 4,000 man-hours to build whereas the Spitfire Mk V required 13,000.

 

In a Wehrmacht that had increasingly begun to equip itself with poorly conceived, overly-complicated weapons whose paper performance was never quite realised in the field (*cough* Me-262 *cough*), the Bf 109 stood out as a rare example of German engineering that was cheap, reliable, maintainable, and easy to manufacture—all while delivering superb performance on the battlefield. There’s a reason that more than 34,000 were built despite the Germans’ severe mismanagement of production resources at the strategic level. It remains to this day the third most produced aircraft in the world.

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VERDICT

In the final analysis, it is difficult to declare an overall victor without going into the details of each variant. For the most part, the Bf 109 and Spitfire were both well-matched, with own unique strengths and shortcomings. In the early part of the war, it could be argued that the Bf 109 (E and F variants) held the upper hand over the Spitfire Mk 1A/B and Mk V. But as the war wore on, the Spitfire’s inherently more advanced design, as well as the infusion of US technology (100-octane fuel, Browning machine guns, TR.5043 VHF radios, and so on) gave it a clear advantage over the simpler and lighter Bf 109 that persisted right up to the end.

Mihir Shah is a mechanical engineer and military aviation geek. He has written on Indian military aviation for LiveFist Defence, NewsLaundry, Swarajya Magazine, and others

 

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China’s other mystery stealth bomber: Our analysis

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Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked him his opinions on the Chinese H-18/JH-XX bomber concept, a mysterious project with an ambiguous designation, and unknown role, size and status. 

Here’s what the article in Popular Mechanics had to say about what they referred to as the:  “While it is no B-2-style flying wing, the JH-XX has plenty of stealth features. The airplane has a flattened appearance, with built-in angles that make the aircraft less susceptible to radar. The air intakes are jagged to reduce their radar signature and placed on top of the aircraft to keep them out of sight to radars operating below the bomber. This suggests the JH-XX is primarily designed as a high-altitude penetrator.

The two engine nozzles are buried inside the tail of the aircraft, reducing its rearward radar aspect, and are shielded horizontally by the large horizontal stabilizers. This lowers the bomber’s odds of being detected by infrared search-and-track sensors and infrared-guided missiles.

The question is, does the JH-XX’s appearance on the cover of Aviation Knowledge mean that the “less stealthy” philosophy has won? If so, why? The flying wing is pretty much the gold standard for stealth warplanes that don’t have to dogfight, providing maximum stealth for penetrating enemy airspace at the expense of maneuverability. It’s possible that despite China’s great strides in military aviation, it still lags behind the United States in so-called “fly by wire” technology, where planes that are, shall we say “less than aerodynamically ideal,” are flyable because of computers capable of making continuous adjustments to the airplane’s control systems.

Another possibility is that China is less confident in stealth as a primary means of aircraft survival and is hedging its bets by picking a bomber with supersonic capability. In 2017, The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese scientists were working on detection systems that used quantum entanglement to locate and track stealthy aircraft, bypassing traditional radars.”

And the pictures:

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So, what do I think? 

My initial take on this aircraft was to view it as more of a regional strike aircraft rather than a strategic bomber. This was driven by the impression given by the relatively large size of the cockpit, which suggested something akin to the Su-34.

However, that size of airframe is not really capable of delivering the payload-range expected of a strategic bomber. So, how large is the aircraft? And what is the requirement?

Looking at strategic bombers these days, it’s worth observing that they are an odd bunch. The US has a splendid collection – the old-school B-52, with 8 engines and a signature the size of several barn doors; the variable-sweep supersonic B-1B; and the hugely expensive B-2 flying wing. This field is expected to continue with the B-21, supported by the venerable B-52, but with the retirement of the B-1B. From Russia we have the Tu-160 Blackjack, which looks like a scaled-up B-1B; the Tu-22M Backfire, which looks a bit like a smaller B-1B’s ugly sister; and (in the old school corner) the always imposing Tu-95. Also, and relevant to the discussion, the Chinese have the Xian H-6, developed from the Tu-16 Badger.

It’s worth noting that that some Forces, notably the British and the French, have eschewed the strategic bomber in favour of submarine-based nuclear deterrence and a range of tactical systems.

Looking at what you want from a strategic bomber apart from range and payload, the two obvious (and expensive) other attributes might be stealth and high speed. Looking at the aircraft listed above, we can observe the disparity of view that has been taken so far:

Aircraft    Subsonic     Supersonic    Stealthy

 

B-52               X                                          Huge signature

B-1B                                        X                 Some treatment

B-2                 X                                          Very

Tu-160                                   X                 Some treatment?

Tu-22M                                  X                 No

Tu-95            X                                           Huge signature

H-6                X                                           No

Looking at the list it is interesting to observe that the US approach has ‘one of each’. Its operating concept is presumably based on B-2 and other systems, such as cruise missiles, taking down most ground-based threats (and F-22 taking down air threats) before B-1B or B-52 would be used. The supersonic capability of the B-1B does offer a rapid response capability which has been used to tactical advantage in Afghanistan.

The Tu-95 has very long range, but its slow speed and large signature mean that its strength has been the delivery of large and capable stand-off weapons, particularly in the maritime environment.

Supersonic capability has been invested in for the B-1B, Tu-22M and B-1B, all of which are variable geometry. I am a little sceptical about the need for, and cost-effectiveness of, supersonic capability. Yes, it can be useful if the aircraft is being used tactically; but these are strategic systems. How effective is dash speed going to be in improving survivability against modern weapons systems? And what price would have to be paid in payload-range if the dash capability were to be used?

Stealth is another issue. Once can see that the H-18 design is intended to be stealthy. But in order to be stealthy, weapons have to be carried internally, and this will inevitable increase the size of weapons bays, and the aircraft as a whole. However, there is some trade off because a really stealthy design should be able to operate closer to its targets than a non-stealthy one.

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From Twitter: JH-X. Unsure of the relationship to H-18, but has a higher sweep and aspect ratio and has written dimensions.

Taking all of the above into consideration, I am assuming the aircraft is essentially a broadly Badger or Tu22M-sized H-6 replacement; and is reasonably stealthy. It is interesting that (I understand) the aircraft lost out to the H-20, which has been stated to be a flying wing.

This suggests that in the selection process, stealth characteristics have been emphasised, and that the H-20 may truly be intended as a stealthy penetrating system, capable of threatening the highest value, and most protected, targets, like the B-2. In which case, given the likely high cost, it may be that there is also a requirement for a tactical offensive strike system – perhaps delivered through the J-20. One thing is clear – I do not believe a B-2-like flying wing H-20 could be supersonic as it would not be possible to trim the aircraft.

Taking the overall configuration first, it’s plausible for a supersonic tactical strike aircraft. But one should perhaps expect a strategic bomber to have a higher aspect ratio for more efficient cruise. It’s quite a well packaged shape, with plenty of volume in the fuselage for both fuel and internal weapons bays. The combination of the under-fuselage shaping and the shielding of the exhausts on the upper surface by canted tail fins is a powerful nod to minimising radar signature for at least ground-based radars.

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Is the H-18 supersonic or not? In general, I would expect a strategic aircraft to have a somewhat higher aspect-ratio wing, so the planform may be a compromise to deliver a supersonic dash capability. Additionally, the aircraft appears to have a relatively thin wing section, also suggesting, as indicated in the Popular Mechanics article, that it may have a supersonic capability. I do wonder about the utility of the forward fuselage chine and wing strakes, which seem to be aimed at more manoeuvre capability than would be required for a strategic platform.

I am a bit ambivalent on whether the H-18 is supersonic, however. Firstly, I’m not sure that a supersonic speed is essential to deliver a strategic bombing capability. Secondly, the other supersonic bombers – the B-1B, Tu-22M and Tu-160, all use variable geometry to allow take-off at high weights with an unswept wing, and use wing sweep to reduce wave drag when supersonic. With sufficiently powerful engines, the design could be supersonic, but I wonder why this would be considered necessary, and what the impact would be on field performance, range and payload..

Will it be stealthy?  Reasonably so, assuming appropriate treatments are used, but not as stealthy as the state-of-the-art, because the design does not appear to have the same level of edge alignment and geometry management.

Why is this design thought to have lost out to a flying wing? I guess the first consideration would be the view taken on technical risk. The H-18 may have been a lower risk concept that has lost out because Chinese fly-by-wire capability has matured. Also, the operational requirement may have been focussed on penetrating (stealthy) strategic capability and long range, both of which might favour a stealthier flying wing solution, incompatible with supersonic performance.

On the engine installation and intakes – these are pretty unconventional at first sight. And yet, I can’t see anything to reject them out of hand, particularly for a subsonic strategic system. The engine installation looks similar to that of the YF-23, but with the intakes above, rather than below the wing. In normal flight, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t work OK, provided the diverter-less intake bumps ahead of the actual inlet have been well designed to shepherd the boundary layer away. Also, there appears to be adequate room for the inlet duct to be sinuous, dropping down within the fuselage before coming back up to the inlet face, thus screening the front face of the engine. So, with appropriate treatments, they should reduce head-on signature.

What about manoeuvre? Well, in manoeuvring flight, the H-18 should be quite good, as the moderate wing sweep and the aspect ratio should give sustained manoeuvre capability. Looking at the location of the intakes relative to the change in sweep in the chine, strake and leading edge, I’d expect strong leading-edge vortices, but passing well outside the intakes. Mind you, the case for high manoeuvre capability is probably limited for a stealthy strike platform.

What weapons would it carry? Whatever it needs to, I guess, as long as it can be carried internally. These days, precision strike is more what you are looking for than the nuclear solution. A hypersonic long-range ship killer? Conventional precision guided munitions? Stand-off strike capability by air-launched cruise missile? My guess would be all of the above. External weapons could still be carried, either in a permissive environment, or, perhaps, for maritime strike, where large weapons might be launched from below the radar horizon.

top-aviation-blog

Russia reveals wreckage of US Blackbird spyplane shot down in 1983

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Western observers stunned as Russian Ministry of Defence shares evidence that a US spyplane was shot down over the USSR during the Cold War. The shoot-down of the seemingly invulnerable jet, capable of flight at over 2,000mph, has not been acknowledged by either side until now.

Yesterday, at a press conference in Moscow, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation spokesperson Alexei Obmanov shared images and documents that conclusively prove a US SR-71 Blackbird spyplane was downed close to a remote Siberian village in 1983. According to Obmanov, the aircraft was intercepted by a pair of Soviet Air Defence Forces (PVO) MiG-31 interceptors. The intruding US aircraft was tracked for 93 miles (150 km), and five radio warnings issued, before the Soviet aircraft opened fire. Three missiles were fired, with the second two hitting and destroying the American aircraft. The two aircrew successfully ejected from the aircraft. The wreckage, which was recovered from the Siberian village of Durakovo, was sent to the Gromov Flight Research Institute 25 miles (40 km) south-east of Moscow for analysis. 

Cover up

According to Obmanov, a frantic diplomatic effort following the crash saw both sides agree to not publicly acknowledge the incident, an agreement that lasted 35 years. It was feared by both sides that the incident, which occurred at the height of Cold War tensions, could be potentially inflammatory. According to Ben Shearer, from the ANOITO Defence Research Institute, the deal was mutually beneficial as it also cloaked the alleged ‘Submarine 545 incident’. ‘Submarine 545’ refers to a long-denied incident of a Soviet submarine exercise that went badly wrong, and may have inadvertently released radioactive material off the coast of New York in the early 1980s (though no firm proof of the submarine incident has come to light). 

The pilot and reconnaissance systems officer (who remain unnamed) of the downed SR-71 were returned to the United States in 1984 in exchange for two Soviet diplomats arrested for espionage in 1975.

According to one US source we spoke to, “This is stunning news… a Blackbird loss has never been acknowledged. As stunning as the loss itself is the mutual secrecy arrangements…I am now wondering what else is out there.” In a time of mutual distrust between Washington and Moscow it is clear that the revelation is intended to embarrass the US. The US Department of Defense has not commented on the revelation. 

An air force of my own #3

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Reading about some of the over-priced nonsense the military buys is maddening – but could you make better choices? In the third part of our series we burdened Thomas Newdick with the daunting task of re-equipping the air arms of a notionally oil-rich Ireland. Would his notional air force be combat effective? Good value for money? Most importantly, would it be stylish? 

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Air Force Procurement

Head of procurement: Thomas Newdick

Occupation: Editor of Air Forces Monthly

Nation to defend: Ireland

Year: 2018. In this thought experiment Ireland has found massive oil reserves. Oil rich and with a new government, Ireland massively expands their previously modest air force.

Training

Glider trainer: Not necessary 

Twin-engined prop trainer: Embraer Phenom (12)

Jet/Turboprop/LIFT trainer: Pilatus PC21 (100),  Yakovlev Yak-130 (60)

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Tankers & Transport

Light tactical: Modernised Antonov An2 Colt (40), Alenia C-27Js  Spartans (18)

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Medium: Ilyushin Il-76MF (20) (re-engined with PS90)

Strategic transport: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (12)

Tanker: Ilyushin Il-78 (re-engined with PS90) (12) – also used as Aer Lingus freighters 

Hack: Aforementioned An-2s

VVIP transport:  Convair 880 (1) (in emerald green scheme with silver shamrock on the top)

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Presidential/Governmnetal Transport: Lockheed JetStar (5)

(with modern engines)

Other: None

Combat

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(specify chosen munitions)

Fighter/Attack: Rafale M (140) with Meteor, Python 5, Hammer, Brimstone, ASMPA, SCALP, Kh-31ARM,

Attack, SEAD and long range interception: Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (48), AIM-120, AIM-9X, SDB and JDAM

Close Air Support: Northrop Grumman B-1B Lancer (31) with all weapons integrated on USAF examples

Fixed-wing COIN and FAC: Super Tucano (24)

CSAR: Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk (12)

Other: None

Rotorcraft

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Trainer:Kazan Ansat (24)

Light transport: Mi-35 updated by ATK (36)

Medium transport: 24 Kamov Ka-29 

Heavy transport: Mil Mi-26s (12)

Attack: AH-64E Apache Guardian (48)

Search & rescue/ASW: Kamov Ka-27 (48)

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Other: 

Intelligence & surveillance

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AWACS/AEW:: Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye (10) (Joint force Air Corps/Navy)

ASW: EADS CASA C-295 (12)

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR): GlobalEye (12) (ON ORDER)

Maritime Patrol: MQ-4 Triton (4)

Reconnaissance: Rafale M force is equipped with TALIOS

Other: none

Display teams

Fixed-wing jet: Silver Swallows with Fouga CM.170 Magister (4), Rafale Trio (one green, one white, and one orange)

Rotorcraft: Alouette III

Historical flight: Supermarine Seafire

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Carrier aircraft

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Based on three carrier. Assets pooled with Air Corps.

Fighter/attack: Rafale M (fleet shared with Air Corps)

AEW: Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye (10)

Tanker: Rafale are equipped with buddy-buddy tanks 

Helicopters: Pooled Helix fleet (see above)

Other: None

Misc Aircraft category

Air ambulance/police: Airbus Helicopters H135 (20)

Mountain rescue: Sikorsky H-60 Blackhawk (12)

Coastguard: Sikorsky S-92 (10)

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Air defence systems 

S-400 Triumf, 2K22 Tunguska

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Air force defence regiment

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Camouflage: East German rain

Standard weapon: SIG SG 550

Sidearm: Škorpion vz. 61 

Light support weapon: M249 light machine gun (LMG)

Heavy machine-gun: .50 cal Browning M2-HQCB

Sniper rifle: Sako TRG

Vehicles: Miscellaneous

Our verdict

Cost effectiveness & sense

The new Irish Air Corps/Navy Joint Force is the most powerful and best equipped air force in Europe. The vast prize tag is paid for by the new oil money. For Ireland’s current defence posture the procurement makes little sense, so it is likely this heralds the coming of a New Ireland, a powerful player on the world stage. It is extremely effective but very expensive, quite what the threat that merits this huge military investment is anyone’s guess — certainly a strong enough force to keep Iceland on its toes.

58/100

Political considerations

The Irish government have made some very surprising moves! Spurning British or British-involved aircraft was perhaps to be expected, but turning to Russia was a dramatic surprise. The Ilyushin transport and tanker fleet, combined with the large rotorcraft and trainer order show an unlikely new international relationship. The large US deals ties fit comfortably with Ireland’s long friendship with the United States. Becoming both an operator of intercontinental heavy bombers and ordering three supercarriers may alarm other countries in Europe.

38/100

Aesthetic appeal 

The luxury Convair 880 selection was brilliant as was the JetStar fleet, the return of the charismatic Magister simply divine. Scoring highly in this round.

83/100

Realism

The reopening of the F-22 production line for 48 aircraft? The Russian equipment? The B-1Bs? Utterly and wonderfully bananas. But not impossible

40/100

Imagination

A strong score here. Going from from a handful of PC-9s, the Irish Air Corps is now significantly more powerful than its neighbour Britain.

87/100

Total score: 306/500

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

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Ask the pilot: RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4

 

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(All images in article Copyright Eurofighter)

Which aircraft do you fly and with which unit, how many do you hours do you have on type? I fly the Eurofighter Typhoon as the Executive Officer on II(AC) Sqn and have 860 hours on type.

What were you first impressions of flying the Typhoon? The thrust that the Typhoon has is ferocious, something that I don’t personally think you ever get used to though the G Force is brutal. The fact that you can ‘back stick’ the controls and know that the aircraft will limit the G means that you can pull straight to 9 G and trust me – that hurts every single time!

 Which three words best describe the Typhoon? Agile, Powerful, Lethal

Do the canards obscure the view down? Only slightly, but if you need to see beneath them then you can just roll upside down!

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Copyright Eurofighter

 

How useful is the helmet and how often is it used? What is it used for? The Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) is exceptional and very useful for all sorts of war fighting. It can be used to see any target or friendly aircraft by using the same symbology that is in the HUD. It is effectively an extension of the HUD which means that you have all the information required wherever you are looking. For Air to Ground missions you have the ability to simply look outside at where a target is then cue the weapon system to look there with the Litening Designator Pod. Due to this capability it means that after identifying a target, you can drop a Paveway IV, 500-lb precision weapon on it in seconds.

What was your most notable mission and why? Please see diary entry 

Which new piece of equipment would you most like to see integrated on Typhoon? Soon we will have the Brimstone missile integrated onto the Typhoon which will provide a precision targeting capability with reduced collateral effects. Storm Shadow and Meteor are also just around the corner.

What are the best and worst things about the Typhoon? The best thing about the Typhoon is it’s Specific Excess Power (SEP) and the worst would be how quickly you burn fuel when you are in reheat!

Tell me something I don’t know about the aircraft?  Ha ha, no can’t do because that would most likely be classified!

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I have been told that nothing can out-climb the Typhoon, would you agree? Absolutely, the SEP of the Typhoon is unmatched.

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.

Which aircraft 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!

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What’s your favourite piece of equipment on the Typhoon and why? The HMSS because it really makes you feel part of the aircraft. It is awesome when everything is working in harmony.

It has been said that Typhoon is less proficient at High Alpha fighting than the Hornet and Flanker/Fulcrum series, is this true and, if so, is it an issue in the close-in fight? A consequence of high Alpha is low speed. Any fighter pilot worth their salt knows that speed is life in close combat. Typhoon’s excess power coupled with +9G ‘carefree handling’ gives us the advantage. On exercise, Typhoon has repeatedly demonstrated that it can exploit this advantage against the Hornet, ‘Fulcrum’ and ‘Flanker’.

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What is the greatest myth about the aircraft? Not sure of any myths to be honest …..

What should I have asked you? What is it like to fly a Performance Departure where you go straight up on take off? It is a bizarre feeling every time we carry out this departure from the airfield, though it always reminds me of the raw power of the aircraft.

 How good is the Typhoon at super-cruising and how often does this occur? The Typhoon is very effective at super-cruising and it does often occur as the tactical situation dictates.

Does Typhoon offer anything not provided by the teen series? In my opinion, we all have different things that we can bring to the fight and that is why we all work together as a team!

Has the RAF enough Typhoons? (personal opinion) Our resources are very stretched due to commitments to Operations and engagements all over the world so, yes, I certainly think that we could do with more Typhoons to match these broad commitments.

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Please tell me about your book 

My mother committed suicide in April 2010 and ever since then I’ve made it my life’s mission to combat the stigma attached to mental health. People should always feel confident to speak to anyone about their own mental health and realise that their mental health should be regarded in exactly the same way as their physical health. I joined forces with a friend of mine, sports psychologist Don MacNaughton who I met after I broke my leg in a ski race and decided to write our book, “Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind” to help raise awareness of mental health by writing about our own experiences. I’ve included photos of the front and back cover of the book which includes a better description of the book. You can either buy the book from Amazon in a Kindle / electronic version at or if anybody would like a paperback then you can follow us on Facebook where you can message me and I will personally send you a copy.

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A fighter pilot’s account of the F-86 Sabre – Part 2: Punch! Pull! Eject! Ejection rejection in a rattling Sabre

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Wing Commander Irfan Masum (Rtd) flew the Sabre in the Pakistan Air Force. In his second interview he shares his dramatic experiences of a low-level Sabre mission that went catastrophically wrong, and his rebellious response to an order to eject.

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“The time I brought a badly damaged F-86F back to base happened during my fighter conversion course, but the details come rushing back, just as if it happened today. It was perhaps the most bizarre experience of my life. A three-ship formation with Flying Officer Tariq Awan in the lead for a low-level mission; No 2 on his wing was my instructor, Flt Lt Farooq Zaman, and I was detailed as No 3 to fly low-level battle formation with the lead. An uneventful take-off was accomplished with a righthand turn out of the traffic area. After 150 degrees, the course was set for the first leg, gradually descending to 250 feet AGL (distance from the ground). At the time of setting course, the instructor had already joined the lead in the wingman position on his right side (somewhat closer than 600 feet). Was I in the correct battle formation (element lead) position at the time? Of course not, I was lagging behind a little. Not wanting my instructor to fire a volley of verbal shots at me, I accelerated to 420 knots to catch up and get in to position. Our low level speed for the mission was 360 knots, so I was a good 60 knots faster to make up the lag.  Approaching the correct position I retarded the throttles to match my speed with the other formation members. Just as soon as I retarded the throttle there was a loud noise and shaking of the aircraft. The Sabre was rattling so badly that I could not read any instrument when I looked inside the cockpit to ascertain what had gone wrong. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew instantly that I had to get out of the aircraft.

 

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Reflex memory reminded me – ‘punch, pull and eject’ — the actions drilled into us every morning in the pre-flight Emergency Session. ‘Punch’ meant jettisoning the drop tanks – and the extra weight of their fuel. ‘Pull’ required pulling up to gain as much height as possible. And ‘Eject’ meant carrying out the ejection sequence.

The Sabre ejection sequence was far from ideal. The seat could not be fired through the canopy, as was the case with Martin Baker seats. Therefore, you had to fire the canopy first. This meant keeping your head down as the canopy would slide backwards to depart the airframe. After this, you had to sit straight with the head against the head rest and feet pulled back and then squeeze the trigger which would fire the rocket in the seat to throw the pilot up cleanly away from the aircraft.

Hence, I started my reflex actions of punch, pull and eject. I punched (ejected) the drop tanks, pulled the nose up to gain height and lowered my head and got hold of the canopy firing trigger – for which I had to leave the stick for that moment. But as soon as left the stick, the Sabre rolled rather rapidly to the left. Within no time I was past the 90 degrees bank and still rolling. This forced me to leave the trigger and grab the stick again. I had to fight the Sabre hard to bring it up-right again. Once upright and somewhat in control, I realized that the Sabre was not going to fall out of the sky as I had thought it would. Gosh!! I must get help from my instructor. So I radioed him, “Papa Leader, Papa 3”, there was no modulation in my transmitter as no voice came out from me. That pretty much summarises my condition, – completely chocked throat, scared to death and trembling. I tried again and this time a squeak came out which I am sure no one could have deciphered it. Taking a deep breath, I yelled into the mike – or almost. Leader heard me but could not locate me as I was already much higher than him. I told him that something is wrong the plane. He advised me to keep flying straight and level and stay calm – and that he will locate me and join up.

Next he asked me to survey the outside structure of my wings etc to see if there is any damage from a bird hit. I looked right and left and did not see any abnormality and told him so.

He joined up on my right wing and told me that everything was fine on that side  After moving to the left, his first call was a far less reassuring, ‘Oh shit!’. That scared me even more and I most hesitantly looked left. I was completely horrified to see that the left wing was cut in half from the wing-root all the way to the tip!”

He joined up on my right wing and told me that everything was fine on that side. After moving to the left, his first call was a far less reassuring, “Oh shit!”. That scared me even more and I most hesitantly looked left. I was completely horrified to see that the left wing was cut in half from the wing-root all the way to the tip! There was no leading edge  and no slats. The drop tank, which I thought I had successfully ‘punched’, was still hanging under the wing with fuel gushing out of it. How could such extensive damage have taken place? Now was not the time to answer this question. I was having difficulty keeping my wings level. I had deflected the stick fully to the right and shoved in the right rudder too to fly straight and level. My instructor made me climb to 18,000 feet to do a controllability check to test the minimum controllable speed. That speed would determine a return and a landing was possible.  

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Computer generated graphics: DCS

As we reduced the speed to 195 knots, the Sabre rolled out of control to the left. Recovering from that roll was extremely hard. Even with full right deflection of the stick and the rudder, it was slow to straighten out, and lost altitude rapidly during the recovery. If I remember correctly our flare out speeds was some 125 knots and so, my instructor decided that we could not land and must carry out a planned ejection.  F/L Farooq started explaining the planned ejection sequence to me, and it went something like this:

  1. Irfan, on my command you will lower your head and fire the canopy.
  2. You will then assume correct posture i.e. sit straight, head against the head rest and withdraw your feet and pull the ejection trigger. Never mind if the plane rolls to the left, we have plenty of height.
  3. Since we are below 14,000 feet, rest of the sequence will be automatic till you will find yourself hanging by the parachute. Make sure you steer to clear area for touching down and make the fall correctly, falling off to your side (if ejection was done above 14,000 feet the seat would free fall till 14,000 feet and then the automatic sequence would start).

I was fine till this stage. But what was explained to me next completely discomposed me. Here is what my instructor explained:

Irfan, if you find yourself tumbling in the seat be sure that the automatic system of the ejection has not functioned. In that case you will have to do the following manually:

  1. While you are tumbling you will have to open the seatbelt yourself.
  2. Then kick the seat away with your feet to separate from it.
  3. Find the ‘D’ ring of the parachute on your chest-strap and pull it.
  4. You will have to pull it to its full extent or else it will not release the small chute, which will then pull the main shoot and deploy it.

While the instructor was briefing me the manual ejection procedure, I was mentally visualising it as a live event – you know, like a slow-motion video. I saw myself tumbling in the seat. I saw myself struggling to find the seat-belt buckle – while still tumbling and my arms and hands flying all over. I saw myself kicking free of the seat while my whole body is fluttering with the gushing air pressure all around me. I saw myself, desperately, getting hold of the ‘D’ ring and trying to pull it with all my might. I saw myself still tumbling and waiting for the chute to open and stabilise my fall. That this slow motion sequence of events was going to take place scared me no end. “Am I not safer inside the cockpit, than throwing myself into the empty space so far above the earth?” I asked myself.  The answer I got was a firm, ‘yes’. So, I decided, in my mind, that I would not eject and attempt to land instead. But I could not convey this decision to my instructor.

Papa 3, eject

The episode, till this point in time, was taking place while we were on the manual frequency allocated to my instructor. Now was the time to let the Base and ATC know of our intentions. So, I was asked to switch to Channel 1 — the radio frequency station of the Air Traffic Controller.  F/L Farooq calmly narrated, briefly, what damage had taken place to the ATC, and advised the controller that we were going to execute a planned ejection in such and such area. He did not fail to mention that he had gone over the ejection procedure with me and that I was ready to undertake the ejection. He also asked for the rescue helicopter to get airborne and head towards the area where the ejection was going to take place to recover me.

So, we are now on the ATC channel, which is recorded. The most dreaded call of my life came crackling through the radio: “Papa 3, Eject”. I was snuggly numb, seated in the cockpit, and did not respond. Second call came through, “Papa 3 start the ejection procedure”. My silence must have been eerie. The third call was stern to say the least, “Papa 3 go manual and check!”. I quickly changed to the manual frequency beyond the reach of the listening ATC.

 

Ejection rejection 

“What seems to be the problem?” was a hard question to answer, but I plucked up the courage to explain that I did not want to eject. “You know the aircraft and you can not stay in the air for the rest of your life” was the funny response from my instructor.  I was scared of the ejection – but I could not bring myself to say that. Instead, I shared my plan. It was a simple one. I will go for landing maintain speed of 210 knots – some 15 knots above the speed where the Sabre would get out of control. I will flare really close to the runway surface still at 210 knots, then retard the throttle to idle. When the speed will drop to 195 knots the left wing will fall and the left gear will immediately touch the runway, followed by the right gear. Later, if I can not stop the aircraft, I will engage the barrier. I thought it was good plan. However, it was shredded to pieces by F/L Farooq Zaman: gear lowering at that speed had never been tested and there is no knowing what how the change of the airflow with gears down will affect controllability; Flaps might get twisted if you try and lower them at that speed or might not extend at all; Both main tyres will burst on touch down because of excess speed on touch down. Thirdly, you will burn the brakes while trying to stop on the runway with that kind of touch down speed and cause a fire. Besides, he could not allow me to take a chance, especially on the approach, if the speed drops to 195 knots. I would have neither the time or the altitude to eject. Hence, you have to eject. I stood firm in carrying out my plan and conveyed to him that I am ready to take the chances, but I will not eject.

Back on the ATC frequency, F/L Farooq Zaman conveyed our plan to the ATC and was very specific in stating that Papa 3 does not want to eject in spite of having been explained the perils that lie in attempting to land.

A frightening approach 

As we started our descent for the approach I realised I was trembling. I was tired from holding the full deflection of the stick and the rudder to the rightside required to keep wings level. Also, I was mindful of the fact that I had very little margin available to turn right, so I must not allow myself to drift off the centreline on the approach and not have enough control input to correct it. My total focus was on the speed. I recall that I kept reminding myself aloud to keep speed 210 knots — 210 knots  — 210 knots. Time to lower the gears – speed 210 kts. My instructor, who was in close formation on my right wing during the chase down, confirmed that all three gears seemed down — and locked; I confirmed the same with three green indication lights. Phew, that went alright. My instructor was talking me down every step of the way. Papa 3 don’t lower flaps – can’t afford to disrupt the airflow or cause further damage.  That was fine with me.

Still 210 knots, good. Entering the threshold area, I got another reminder not to retard the throttles till I was instructed by him. Completing the flare, the call to retard throttles came after what seemed like an eternity after the flare. I really can’t recall when the touch down took place. All I knew was that I was on the runway and belting down towards the barrier. Breaking hard didn’t seem to be slowing me enough. The Sabre did not have a drag chute to slow the plane as other fighters did. With trembling legs and feet I did not let go of the brakes and managed to stop before engaging the barrier. Tyres did not burst. Brakes did not catch fire. I did not engage the barrier. Once the ATC spotted me stationary on the runway, it asked me to taxi forward and clear the runway at the end. No way I was going to do that. Didn’t have the energy. With a short call of ‘negative’ I switched off the engine. By this time all the crash tenders had surrounded me and the fire marshal was climbing up to the cockpit with an axe in hand.  Silly of me to think that he had fatal intensions with that axe. He actually had to rescue me in case the canopy wouldn’t open  Fortunately, he didn’t have to use it. While this ordeal left me completely sapped of energy to even get out of the cockpit on my own strength, what I feared most was disciplinary action against me with the thought of getting suspended from fighter flying was bothering me the most.

Off the hook? 

I was taken in the ambulance by the Flight Surgeon to the hospital, where they took my blood for testing.  While I was still there, my instructor arrived and took me in the crew van straight back to my room in the Officer’s Mess.

He told me to go to sleep and not to open the door for anyone or answer any phone calls. I knew there was trouble in store for me in the days to come.  However, the next day when I reported to the Squadron, all seemed well, though a technical investigation had been ordered. I wasn’t asked to give any statement. My instructor had already done that being the Formation Leader and Instructor. I saw my name on the flying schedule, which meant that I was off the hook. How F/L Farooq Zaman managed to shield me from any negative fall-out remains a mystery to this day.

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Mission 13 over Iraq: Hush-Kit speaks to RAF Typhoon pilot & DFC winner, Roger Cruickshank on his most dangerous mission

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Photo copyright of author

Pinned down in a desperate firefight against well-armed Daesh forces it looked like the end for a group of Iraqi soldiers. But thanks to the bravery and clear-headedness of RAF Typhoon pilot Squadron Leader Roger Cruickshank, they were saved. Here Cruickshank describes the hair-raising ‘Mission 13’ over Iraq in 2016 to Hush-Kit. 

Mission 13, 27 May 16 2016

6:50 Day 4 air-to air refuelling brackets
“Every mission was different and something unexpected almost always happened. So I woke up fairly nervous as I always did before every mission. It was more the anticipation of not knowing what could happen. That and the fact you are flying in a hostile environment where a large proportion of the people on the ground want to kill you.  However, I had already flown 12 missions by this point so I knew I could do it. I had the confidence that my formation would be able to deal with whatever was thrown at us. We had a long transit into theatre so plenty of time to get comfortable in the cockpit and even time for a quick pee which requires practice in itself when flying a Eurofighter Typhoon single-seat aircraft! It had been ridiculously hot when crewing into the aircraft — at around 40 deg — so I had to keep adjusting the temperature in cockpit as my sweat cooled. The Typhoon cockpit environmental control system is good though it is a bit cramped for someone who is 6 ft 4 and carrying a lot of gear in order to survive if we had to eject into enemy territory.
We arrived into theatre nice and early, put in the stack above a pair of Dutch F-16s who were prosecuting an attack against some enemy fighters who were hiding in the trees. We were initially tasked to help them with tracking the enemy fighters where we could, though we were then handed over to the secondary Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), a sure sign that this was going to be a busy day! Straight away this got my adrenaline pumping – reacting to the tone in the JTAC’s voice made me on edge because there was obviously a lot going on in this fight.
A ‘9-line’ was passed to drop a single Paveway IV bomb on a large building housing an enemy sniper, so we immediately set to getting everything in the kit. We soon got the clearance and I prosecuted the attack with everything going as planned. I sat looking at my Litening Designator Pod screen, waiting for the impact. The Paveway IV (PW4) went in causing the desired effect but the JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) came back saying that there was continued fire and they needed a re-attack. Probably because the sniper had moved to another part of the bullding before the strike and survived the blast.

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We soon got the authority for the re-attack though almost immediately the JTAC came back with another tasking of equally high priority. We were getting to the point where we had to go air-to-air Refuelling (AAR) but decided to take the 9 line to try and prosecute it before we needed to get fuel. My wingman was taking the 9 line as I was lining up for my re-attack – busy times! The JTAC paused midway through his 9 line to give me clearance to drop and the 2nd bomb went in. The PW4 worked as advertised and the remaining part of the building was completely vaporised and the sniper killed in the process.

 

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We managed to get a quick bit of Battle Damage Assessment done (BDA) as we flowed straight onto the next target which was another building housing enemy fighters with friendly forces (FF) close by at ‘Danger Close’ – just metres from the building. It was a high priority because friendlies (the Iraqi Defence Force) were getting shot at by fighters within the building and had nowhere to go, trapped by enemy fire. We were now right on minimum fuel and after a bit of a fuel check/discussion we decided to drop down to a lower fuel and prosecute the attack, utilising a closer diversion which was much more dangerous but had a useable runway. I also managed to quickly get a hold of our UK Voyager tanker aircraft to ensure that they could track directly towards us so that we wouldn’t have to transit far before air-to-air refuelling with them. The attack was successful with the building destroyed and several enemy fighters killed. The JTAC said “You guys better go get some fuel before you fall out the sky!” He was extremely grateful of the work we had just done and very aware of the fact we had pushed the line to make the successful attack and save the lives of the friendly forces under fire. Luckily, the join up to the Voyager was seamless and they were extremely helpful to ensure we got fuel into our Typhoons as quick as possible to avoid us having to divert into a hostile airfield.

After air-to-air refuelling we came back and were told to search between two points, a road that was running beside a canal. We ended up tracking loads of suspicious-looking vehicles and enemy fighters then when I was doing my scan looking outside of the cockpit using the HMSS, there was a massive explosion. The biggest one I have ever seen with my own eyes, with the smoke cloud obscuring the sight of anything below it for a good while. Larger than anything from a PW4 or similar. It gave me a horrible tight sensation in my chest, witnessing something so catastrophic and final. I’m sure it must have been related to the enemy fighters on the ground as we had been previously told by the JTAC that there had been a lot of exchange of fire across the canal.

 

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Soon we were then moved out of there and given a 9 line which was friendly forces under attack, again in the Fallujah area. We got our sensors in there and correlated the co-ords with a building housing enemy fighters. It was a Heavy Machine Gun team with additional enemy fighters in the area who had managed to pin down the Iraqi forces who were again Danger Close and taking casualties. They were trying to get us to positively identify the fighters in the open so that we could drop on them at the same time but in the end they deemed it necessary to drop the building immediately. I quickly got myself set up and began the attack. All was looking good until the moment I pressed COMMIT and after a couple of seconds, due to the constraints required on this particular attack, the symbology for the weapon release region just disappeared. I remember feeling the pang of guilt that I wouldn’t be able to prosecute the attack, thinking that I must have done something wrong or missed a particular switch selection. I kept holding the commit button then there was a thud as the PW4 dropped off my aircraft. There was a massive sigh of relief from me as I watched it destroy the building though soon we were working hard trying to track any escaping enemy fighters from the vicinity of this building. Soon they were lining us up for another attack to get the fighters in the open who were still clearly firing at the Iraqis and we actually witnessed a couple of explosions on the pod. They were using everything they had including Rocket Propelled Grenades and Heavy Machine Guns. My wingman dropped 2 PW4s first on a group of 2 fighters then on a group of 3 fighters in the open. I was providing cover and checking the area for any friendlies or unknown activity as well as tracking the enemy fighters who were constantly on the move. We managed to neutralise the threat from the enemy fighters and started to relax as the tone of the JTAC started to relax. We were all still running high on adrenaline which was evident from how fast we were speaking! We had been working hard and it really was a successful mission.

The transit home was uneventful but gave us plenty of time to reflect. As I started to calm down and try to remember exactly what had happened, I found myself very anxious to find out whether we had done enough to save the lives of our allied troops on the ground. It had been so busy that we were just getting moved straight onto the next attack and concentrating on what was next rather than what we had just done. You can’t help but harbour some doubt in your mind, especially when the pressure was on, but I simply focused on the fact that we had done our very best in what was a hugely dynamic environment.

When we landed, we found out that we had indeed saved the lives of all the Iraqi Platoon soldiers as they had been completely pinned down until we arrived and had been taking casualties on both occasions. Definitely my best mission in the air force and it was a day where I was truly proud to have been part of a team who worked so hard and saved peoples’ lives.”

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Sqn Ldr R A Cruickshank DFC CFS RAF

Sqn Ldr Roger Cruickshank (35) is a II (AC) Sqn Eurofighter Typhoon pilot currently based at RAF Lossiemouth. He has served in the RAF for 16 years and been deployed all over the world, including operations over Iraq & Syria. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in the Operational Honours List 2017 for an act of bravery when he saved the lives of Iraqi solders who were pinned down by Daesh fighters.

Roger is an Olympian who competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics Downhill and Super G Alpine Skiing events. Though not without complication as he had a big ski crash just 10 months before the Olympics, which resulted in 9 titanium pins and a plate being used to reconstruct his leg. He also has 4 metal coils in his face after a mountain bike crash which required reconstructive facial surgery. On both occasions he lost his medical category that allowed him to be a pilot, having to fight back to full fitness and pass extensive testing to achieve his dream of being a fighter pilot.

He has been campaigning towards mental health awareness for the last 7 years and recently wrote a book called, “Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind”. His various charity work, including selling around 850 copies of his book worldwide, has raised over £10,000 for multiple charities including the Scottish Association of Mental Health, Help 4 Heroes and Heads Together.

First female combat pilot and mother of the air ambulance: The remarkable story of Marie Marvingt

Amelia Earhart was all very well, but did she cycle the Tour de France? Amy Johnson was pretty good but did she swim the length of the Seine? Jackie Cochran achieved a lot but was she the champion precision shooter of all France? No. And how many people fly in a supersonic Voodoo jet on their 80th birthday? The remarkable story of Marie Marvingt.

La Fiancee de Danger, Marie Marvingt remains the most decorated woman in French history and one of the most remarkable people to have ever lived. Curiously, despite the greater portion of her life’s work being dedicated to using aircraft to save lives, she holds the warlike distinction of being the first woman ever to fly combat missions during a time of war.

Born in 1875, Marvingt displayed an early and remarkable talent for sports of all kinds. By the age of five she is alleged to have swum 4km in a single day, at 15 she canoed over 400km from Nancy to Koblenz and in 1905 became the first woman to swim the length of the Seine – a feat which earned her the nickname l’amphibie rouge due to the colour of her swimming costume. Not content with aquatic ventures she dominated the winter sports scene, winning prizes in ski-jumping, speed-skating, age and bobsleigh. She enjoyed mountain climbing as well as countless other sports Marvingt was also a committed cyclist, on one occasion riding from Nancy to Naples to watch the eruption of Vesuvius (a journey of over 1300km). In 1908 she attempted to enter the Tour de France but was barred as entry was open only to men, she completed the course anyway after the race had ended – notably only 36 of the 114 male riders managed to finish. Amazingly she also found time to win an international military shooting competition with a French Army carbine in 1907 as well as prizes for ballooning in 1909 and 1910 (she was the first woman to cross the Channel by balloon). So great and wide ranging were her sporting successes that the Académie des Sports awarded her a gold medal in 1910 ‘for all sports’, the only multi-discipline award they have ever presented.

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By 1910 Marvingt was in possession of a driving licence (issued 1899) and a ballooning licence so a flying licence seemed the logical next step and thus by the end of the year she had qualified as France’s third female pilot, becoming the only woman to do so in the notoriously tricky-to-fly Antoinette monoplane in the process. In the years between then and the outbreak of war she flew some 900 times and not once suffered an accident, a feat more or less unheard of at that time.

Wings of mercy

It was during this period that Marvingt began to conceive of using aircraft as air ambulances, a pursuit that was to dominate the rest of her life. As early as 1912 she had worked with the talented designer Louis Becherau (who was to be responsible for the superlative SPAD series of fighters) at the Deperdussin aircraft company on the design of the first practical air ambulance. After mounting a successful campaign to raise money for the revolutionary new aircraft type, Marvingt ordered the air ambulance from Deperdussin. Unfortunately the Deperdussin company went bankrupt in 1913 and the air ambulance was never built, nor was the money ever recovered. 

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Within a year of this setback France found itself at war and Marvingt was determined to ‘do her bit’ even if it required disguising herself as a man. With the connivance of a sympathetic infantry lieutenant Marvingt served at the front with the 42ième Bataillon de Chasseurs à Pied as a regular (male) soldier until her subterfuge was discovered by higher authorities and she was sent home. Despite this she later accompanied Italian troops on the Dolomite front, allegedly at the direct request of Marshal Foch. Later in the war she served, in a more conventional role for the era, as a surgical nurse. Before that, however, she was to achieve the greatest single aviation milestone of her career.

Marie_Marvingt_by_Emile_Friant_1914By 1915, bombing missions were becoming more commonplace but France was desperately short of trained pilots. Marie Marvingt offered her services as a volunteer and, somewhat surprisingly, was accepted. It is worth noting that in aviation circles she was a noted pre-war pilot of considerable renown and proven skill and this may have outweighed the standard contemporary prejudice of employing a woman in a combat role. Initially she flew reconnaissance missions but in 1915 she made history by flying a bombing mission over Metz (in a curious twist of fate the very town in which her parents had married 54 years earlier), becoming the first woman ever to fly a combat mission and earning herself the Croix de Guerre in the process.  To put this into context it would be, for example, another 83 years before a female pilot in the USAF was allowed to fly a bombing mission. Marvingt was so far ahead of her time that it was only in 1999 that France would present Caroline Aigle, its second woman combat pilot, with her fighter pilot’s wings.

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Marvingt’s great achievement was merely a blip in her ongoing passion for aeromedical evacuation Between the wars she created a prize, the Challenge Capitaine-Écheman, for the aircraft most readily convertible into an air ambulance, co founded the organisation Les Amies De L’Aviation Sanitaire dedicated to promoting air ambulance services, established a civil air ambulance service in Morocco, became the world’s first certified Flight nurse, made two documentary films promoting air ambulances, invented metal skis and suggested their use for aircraft operating from sand, was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1935 was for her promotion of air ambulance services, and worked to set up the Flying Ambulance Corps which employed women pilots to deploy trained doctors and nurses by landing at designated sites or dropping them by parachute to aid the wounded. With the outbreak of a new world war this service was of obvious appeal, it had already been supported by authority figures such as Marshals Foch and Joffre in the interwar years, and in 1939 under the leadership of famous French flier, Maryse Hilsz, hundreds of volunteers sought to join. During the war Marvingt set up a convalescent centre for wounded aviators and invented a new type of surgical suture.

To celebrate her 80th birthday Marvingt flew supersonic over Nancy in a USAF F-101 Voodoo and commenced helicopter lessons (though she never attained her helicopter licence). Marie Marvingt died in 1963 at the age of 88, just two years after cycling from Nancy to Paris – a mere 350km or so.

By Edward Ward

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