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What is going on with the Indian Tejas?

Tejas Mk1.jpg

The subject of Tejas, the Indian effort to build a light fighter aircraft, is a hot potato. Rabidly defended by its advocates, lampooned by its opponents and a source of both pride and frustration for those within the programme — what exactly is going on with Tejas? We asked Jim Smith, a man had significant technical roles in the development of many of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM to the Eurofighter Typhoon. 

“The Tejas is a most interesting project, being developed by India through a cooperative venture between Hindustan Aerospace Limited (HAL), several laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and a number of other companies and suppliers, under the management of the Aircraft Development Agency (ADA), which is an organisation within the Indian MoD. I describe the project as most interesting, because several facets of the programme are unusual, including the technical solution, the programme itself, and the evolving nature of both the requirement and the solution.
I should explain that this article represents an outsider’s perspective, and does not have the advantages of an insider’s view. Also, because it is based on my reading of open source information, it is, of course subject both to the limitations of that information, and my judgements and speculation in interpreting it. I’ll shamelessly admit my principal sources to be Wikipedia and Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft.
I’ll briefly discuss the programme, then look at the current design and the projected development of the aircraft, and finally make some comments on how the programme outcomes have, or have not, met expectations.

Programme Development
The Light Combat Aircraft programme was approved by the Indian government in 1983 with the intention of providing a replacement for the MiG-21. The MiG-21 had been produced in India under license by HAL, and a total of 657 were produced by that company. The aircraft entered service with India in 1964, and remains in service as an interceptor in some numbers. As a fighter aircraft, the MiG-21 was an outstanding success, more than 10,000 aircraft of all variants having been produced, with 60 or so countries having operated the aircraft.
Key characteristics of the MiG-21 include its relatively small size, a single engine tailed-delta configuration, rapid rate of climb and supersonic performance at all levels and up to Mach 2.0 at altitude. Like many interceptors, internal fuel is limited, resulting in short range without external fuel tanks. The delta wing offers low wave drag and high rate of climb, but relatively high lift-dependent drag and poorer performance in turning flight.
The LCA programme has been extremely protracted, with the AF aircraft entering service in January 2015, and the Indian Navy variant currently in flight-test. The Final Operating Clearance of the Tejas 1 AF aircraft was issued in February 2019, 36 years after the initiation of the programme. Further development is ongoing, with the first flight of the substantially developed Mark 2 anticipated in 2023, and an interim standard Mark 1A also expected to fly in 2022.


Technology and Industry
The Tejas programme should not, however, be considered simply as a prolonged effort to develop a replacement for the MiG-21. It is, in addition, a vehicle to enable the development of the Indian military aerospace industry, with the intent of creating Indian ‘self-reliance’ in the critical technologies of advanced aerospace materials; military propulsion; cockpit displays; flight control systems and radar, and the integration of these technologies into advanced combat aircraft.
Attempts have been made to advance national technology capability in all these areas with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most successful areas are the development of glass cockpit display, composite aerospace materials and flight control systems, while efforts to develop the indigenous Kaveri engine and the radar for the aircraft appear to have been less successful, and the further development of the aircraft to Mk 1A and Mk 2 seeks to address these aspects, among others.
The programme is a complex one, with the involvement of both Government Research Agencies through the DRDO, Indian Industrial capability, and some assistance from different International partners as the programme has progressed. This is likely to have led to a complex project management and contractual environment, and progress has at times been further complicated by suspension of cooperation due to US concerns over the Indian nuclear programme.

Bearing in mind the desire to develop the Indian aerospace industry capability, there are some similarities with the joint Government and Industry efforts to exploit jet engine technology in the UK following World War II. At that time, many of the relevant technologies were immature, and the principal Government research establishments cooperated closely with Industry to develop, and to resolve the issues of aircraft being developed for both RAF and civil use.


A further complication has been the changing aerospace technology scene as the programme has progressed. The development of active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar systems; advances in digital flight control systems; electronic warfare; defensive aids; and the advent of stealth technologies have all resulted in an environment in which a lightweight, simple aircraft to replace the MiG-21 as an air defence fighter has perhaps become questionable. These changes in technology and the operational environment are additional drivers towards a Tejas Mk 2 capability.

In addition, India has, of course, selected the Dassault Rafale as an air superiority and strike aircraft, in addition to fielding a very substantial fleet of Su-30MKI and MiG-29s. Some might question the need for a significantly less capable air defence aircraft as well as this fleet of air superiority aircraft, not to mention the multi-role Mirage 2000 and the MiG-21, which remains in service. While not commenting on operational matters, I would simply observe that the availability of a complementary air defence aircraft may provide additional freedom in tasking the air superiority assets. In addition, there are some advantages in operating a largely locally-produced aircraft, not overly reliant on third-party support arrangements.

Tejas Mk 1

Tejas Mk 1 is a small, single-engine aircraft, featuring a shoulder mounted wing of near-delta configuration, powered by the General Electric F404-GE-IN20 turbofan engine. Compared to the MiG-21, which it is to replace in Indian AF service, the Tejas is ~1.5m shorter, has 60% greater wing area, and features relaxed stability. These features suggest that the Tejas should have significantly better instantaneous turn rate than the MiG-21, although the short fuselage may contribute to a common problem for interceptors – low combat persistence and range due to the relatively low internal fuel.
The aircraft has considerable flexibility to operate in other roles, with the provision of three wet stations for external fuel tanks, out of a total of 7 hardpoints for stores, plus provision for a targeting pod. Naturally, external stores carriage will impact performance, and it is likely that in combat scenarios external fuel tanks would be jettisoned to enhance supersonic performance.



The Tejas maximum Mach number of 1.8* is less than the Mach 2.0 achieved by both the MiG-21 and the more contemporary Gripen. Given the similar installed thrust, it seems likely that this is due to higher wave drag from the relatively large wing and relatively short fuselage. It is also probable that the MiG, with its variable area intake, may better exploit engine performance when supersonic. These factors will reduce the transonic acceleration, climb rate, maximum Mach number and energy manoeuvrability of the Tejas Mk1.

*This figure may actually only currently be M1.6.



Looking at the key technologies being developed for, and by, the Tejas programme, the advanced composite structure, advanced flight control system and modern glass cockpit goals appear to have been largely met, although some concerns have been expressed about the aircraft weight. The desire to develop an indigenous engine and radar for the aircraft, however, has been less successful, and the Mk1 Tejas is fitted with the GE F404 engine, and a hybrid ELTA/M2032 multi-mode radar.
In parallel with the development of the Mk1 AF fighter Tejas, a two-seat trainer and a naval variant are also in development and flight test. The naval variant has a number of significant differences, including a modified structure suitable for arrested landings, an arrester hook, a drooped nose to improve visibility on approach, and inboard leading-edge vortex controllers, to improve low-speed performance and handling. The naval variant has recently conducted its first land-based arrested landing trials.

Tejas Mk 2 (AF)
Given the long development programme of the Tejas, it is unsurprising that aerospace technology has moved on during the programme, and that the Mk 1 product does not fully meet the expectations of today’s Indian AF or Navy. In addition, as noted above some technologies have not matured as expected, and alternatives are required.
From the AF perspective, the following main issues and proposed solutions have been identified:
Reduced endurance due to insufficient internal fuel – greater volume to be found through both a lengthening and a widening of the fuselage.

Lack of sufficient thrust – GE F414 engine to be substituted for the F404 in the Mk 1

Poor transonic acceleration – close-coupled canards to refine wing aerodynamics

1.25m increase in fuselage length, re-profiled canopy, re-designed stores pylons

Inadequate radar performance – Uttam AESA radar to be fitted

Inadequate EW capability – new missile approach warning system, provision of EW pods

Insufficient payload – 11 external pylons to be fitted.
As a consequence of all these changes, the Tejas Mk 2 has been referred to as the Medium Weight Fighter (MWF), and is essentially a new design. With a new engine, and the change in aerodynamics from the introduction of canards, a new set of Flight Control Laws will be required. The introduction of an EW capability and IRST will also impact the man-machine interface and cockpit displays. First flight of this new design is planned for 2023, and the achievement (or not) of this date will be a good indicator of how Indian aerospace capability is progressing.

Tejas Mk 2 (IN)

The IN has expressed the view that Tejas Mk 1 is too heavy for shipboard operations. Loosely translated, I suspect this means that the approach speed is too high, as the aircraft is much lighter than many naval aircraft. Of course, a high approach speed is a significant issue as reducing the approach speed generally calls for an aerodynamic redesign. As an example, compare the T-45 Goshawk with a Hawk T1. The T1 is unable to meet mandatory approach speed requirements for the US Navy, and a slatted wing design had to be introduced for the Goshawk.
In the case of Tejas, while the AF is pursuing a Mk 2 solution using canards, the Navy is examining an option with an aft tail fitted, presumably to trim out the aircraft with high lift devices for the wing. This takes the Navy Mk 2 off onto a completely different development path to that of the AF aircraft, and will require the development of yet another set of control laws.
It is not clear which of the other AF modifications would carry across to the Navy aircraft.

Tejas Mk1A
Given the changes in design being considered for both the AF and IN Mk 2 aircraft, the Indian MoD has decided to procure an interim aircraft, the Tejas Mk 1A, which will go some way towards remediating the deficiencies of the Mk 1, without the additional complexities introduced by some of the features of the Tejas Mk 2.
The changes envisaged are:

—Introduction of the Elta/HAL EL/M-2052 AESA radar
— Carriage of Elta EL L-8222 ECM pod
— Weight, drag and RCS reduction programmes aimed at reducing weight by some hundreds of kg, drag by 6%, and RCS through the use of coatings and RAM

— Reduction in maintenance requirements.
At this point, I would just observe that some of these aspirations are easier said than done, particularly when there is an intention to simultaneously reduce weight by 10 to 15%. The first flight of the Mk 1A is apparently expected in 2022.
Has the Tejas programme achieved its objectives?


I suspect that even in India, one could get different answers to this question, depending on whether you were talking to the Air Force, the Navy, the ADA, Industry, the DRDO or the MoD.
The service perception will, of course, be coloured by operational needs, and it is clear from the discussion above that neither the AF nor the IN regard Tejas Mk 1 as the fully developed solution to their needs. Indeed, both services are looking to rather different directions as they identify what a Tejas Mk 2 should be. The trends in aerospace design and capability over the development of the aircraft have tended to take operational requirements away from the simple MiG-21 replacement that was perhaps envisaged in 1983, and both services are looking to a more flexible and multi-role aircraft, better protected and with better sensors and weapons than were available at programme initiation. Inevitably this is likely to be delivered in a larger package, leading to the perception that what is needed is less of a Light Combat Aircraft, and more of a Medium Weight Fighter.

ADA, Industry and the DRDO have delivered some of the capability they planned at the start of the programme. Yes, the engine and radar are off-the-shelf products, but the aircraft is in service, and is reported to be delivering good handling qualities. The performance is, perhaps, a little disappointing in some respects. Compared to the MiG-21, Tejas probably under-delivers in supersonic performance, but should be more agile, and has demonstrated the ability to launch BVR-capable weapons. From a technology perspective the Tejas Mk 2 programme offers more opportunities for innovation – but also some more integration challenges.


From an MoD perspective, should they just have gone out and procured the Gripen E/F? From a pure cost and Defence capability perspective, it is tempting to say ‘yes’. But to do so would be likely to close off the development of the industrial capability with which India hopes to develop its own ‘next generation’ fighter aircraft. Is this a realistic aspiration? Well, it may or may not be, but without attempting something like the Tejas programme, a leap to the ‘next generation’ would certainly be unrealistic.

There are some warning signs. Everything has taken far too long. There is no propulsion system design capability for the advanced engines that are likely to be required by future combat aircraft, and the radar development programme appears to have struggled. But progress has been made in systems and systems integration, and in structural and aerodynamic design, and there is already a strong weapons capability in place.
Having moved from the UK to Australia, it is clear that there is a vast difference in capability between an Industry that is capable of assembling other people’s designs, and an Industry that can deliver its own designs to meet local requirements and conditions, without being dependent on third parties for support.
Australia crossed that capability gap in one direction a long time ago. India is trying to progress in the opposite direction. Tejas Mk 1 is a step down the path, and the development of Tejas Mk 2, if successful, will be a significant further step.”

 Jim Smith,  had significant technical roles in the development of many of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. He was also Britain’s technical liaison to the British Embassy in Washington, covering several projects including the Advanced Tactical Fighter contest. His latest book is available here.


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The MiG-29 is a ‘Super Hunter’: Account from a MiG-29 fighter pilot


“It was the autumn of 1986 when we landed up in Lugowaya, in Kirgistan, still a part of the USSR, to convert on the newly purchased MiG-29. The Indian contingent was about 200 strong with a large number of technical airmen, smaller number of technical officers, the core team of pilots from 47 & 28 squadrons, with me as the CO designate of 28 Sqn, and two controllers, if I recall correctly after almost two decades now. The weather was getting colder day-by-day and the trees were shedding their leaves to prepare for the oncoming winter, a pretty bleak landscape, but we all were pretty excited to be the first to convert and induct the so-far blanketed RAM-M, which I had seen only on some satellite photographs off Zhukhowsky.


The living conditions in Lugowaya and our time in minus 28 C blizzards could, perhaps, better form part of another musing some day. Here, I would rather describe how I fell in love with the 29 and why I soon started calling it the Super Hunter. For the lay reader, let me just introduce the fact that I had flown the Hunter for over 4 years and fought the 1971 Indo-Pak war in it from 37 Sqn in Hasimara and had about 400 hours of experience on it.


During ground training on the aircraft, which commenced immediately in the first week of October, we were asked to fill in a lot of forms giving our life history to the Soviets, one of which was the amount of flying done in the last 2/3 years. I was a Wing Commander then with a total service flying of about 2000 hours but had been in the cooler climes of Defence Services Staff College in the Nilgiris as an Instructor since October 1984 and had only about 5 hours of refresher flying on the MiG-21 a few months before departure to Lugowaya. My conduct, not to forget the perennial pipe, made the Sqn Cdr of the MiG-29 training squadron there, Lieutenant Colonel Neadogonov, feel that all his suspicions had been confirmed and the Indians also had a political commissar in their team, in me, to keep an eye on the contingent. Therefore, while he spoke to me with a little more respect, he did ask me if I was really a pilot, going to the extent of mentioning that he would have to refer this matter higher to figure out if I could be allowed to convert to the 29 with so little flying in the last two years. I was forced to politely, but strongly, tell him that the Government of India had selected me and paid for my conversion so he had to commence my flying along with the others, and in the order of seniority, though the decision to declare me unfit for the aircraft would be his. After this exchange, not quite as cold as the outside weather or heated, and perhaps also because of the speaking that Group captain Vaps Nair, the Command Ops rep, did on my behalf, Neadogonov said okay but did caution me that completion of the entire syllabus of about 20 sorties seemed doubtful for me since I was also slated for one sortie each in the more difficult phases of weapon firing, trainer captaincy and night flying, as one of the two squadron commanders in the Indian team.


I do not have my log book with me right now but I recall we started flying around mid-December with a blanket of snow all around already. My first dual check was with my designated instructor, Alex Xohlov, pronounced Hovlov, who was barely over 5 feet tall, which was a whole head shorter than me making the two of us quite a funny pair. Alex also spoke largely in Russian. Somehow, in the pre-flight training sessions, we had got to like each other and I understood the essentials of what he said towards aircraft control or maneuvering while he understood my broken Russian, despite Devyani Kaul’s best efforts at teaching me the language before we left for the USSR. We had already been given one ground start practice where we had gone through the starting procedure and pre-flight checks so I had become quite comfortable in the cockpit, with the space and thru-cockpit visibility of the Hunter, unlike the Su-7s and MiG-21s I had flown since the early 70s for almost 15 years then. With its great over the nose visibility, I was particularly comfortable the day we taxied out for the first trip with the combination of nose steer and soft nose oleo making for a smooth but undulating ride with the nose going up and down like a lazy cobra hood. The controls were light enough and reminded me again of the Hunter. The take off was planned in dry power and the nose came up beautifully at under 200 Km/h, with a slight nose down pitching moment when the main aircraft intakes opened at 200 IAS, and we were smoothly off the ground at about 270 Km/h. We climbed to 5 km at 700 indicated with a climb angle of about 15 degrees. The controls were smooth and light, as delicate as the first power-control aircraft I had flown, the Hunter, and required only a gentle caress to make the necessary corrections in pitch or bank. The brute power available from the engines was subtly felt through the muffled rumble in the cockpit while we climbed at just below max dry power. The visibility from the cockpit all around was again absolutely superb and made you feel free. What little I couldn’t see behind me, despite cork-screwing in my seat, was visible in the three rear-view mirrors. The Hunter had a single rear-view mirror and I was quite adept at flying with the mirror, keeping an eye on my wingman or the mock adversary in the mirror, while doing battle formation flying, tail chase and even combat. I think I was allowed to practice about 3 g turns at 5 Km in the first trip as per the approved conversion syllabus. This was a cinch and I gently asked Alex in my broken Russian if I could try 4-5g turns and then some aerobatics. He obviously felt that I was handling the aircraft well enough because all he said was ‘ok” and not “nilziya”, which means not permitted, as I half expected him to say.


Soon, I was enjoying myself doing hard turns, though not hard enough even at 5 g, loops, barrels and describing figures of eight on the horizon, not just because I was flying after a break, not because of the virgin white flatlands covered with snow below me but because the aircraft was so wonderful to handle, smooth and light like a sports car. The onset of the initial burble was at around 18 degrees on the angle of attack indicator and I found that at 15-16 alpha, the aircraft did everything smoothly even if the speed on the back of the loop was low. The joy was short-lived since after about 30 minutes of this dance in the sky, it was time to go home. Coming into land at a threshold speed of about 270-280 Km/h, I found the aircraft required little stick movement to flare and fly her onto the ground and after the first touch and go, I was ready to gently fly her onto the runway at about 240-250 Km/h. The tail chute was deployed soon after touch down to stop the aircraft on the likely icy and frozen bits of the runway. With the tail chute out, hardly any brakes were required to get to taxi speed, dump the chute on the edge and taxi back to the dispersal with a little occasional braking, as the 29 tended to accelerate even at idle power of the two engines. Throughout all this, Alex hardly said anything except an occasional “kharasho”, letting me do my own thing.


Once we got out after switching off and walked back to the squadron, huddled in the cold, Alex asked me “good?”. I said “athleechna” meaning excellent, I had enjoyed myself after all. Instead of debriefing me in the designated room, he took me straight back to the squadron commander, Neadogonov. From the rapid fire Russian between the two, I could barely gather much except that they were discussing my flight. Neadogonov looked at me quizzically towards the end and said words to the effect that I was kidding with them; either I had flown more than I had shown in the form and had I come with the evaluation team and had flown the 29 before. Debriefing myself and thinking about the trip later that day, it dawned on me that the cockpit visibility and feel of the aircraft was absolutely like the Hunter. More importantly, the take-off and landing speeds along with the rate of descent on finals were all similar to the Hunter when converted from Km and meters to Knots and feet. Even the rate of turn and g in dry power at 3-4 Km, or between 10-15000 feet, was the same as I had experienced in the Hunter. Soon I was calculating the radius of the loop and what else would the 29 do, similar to my favourite Hunter.


From then on, Neadogonov and the others gave me no problems in my flying and Alex Xohlov became more of a friend than an instructor to me. By the second or third solo trip, after examining my flight data, the deputy, Major Alex Kalsov told me, half in jest, while looking serious, that while there under conversion, I had better not do any loops or other manoeuvres below 1.5 Km altitude that was permitted to the trainees adding that I was free to do these over Rajpath after return to India. Separately, slowly Neadogonov and Kalsov started letting me do a little more with the aircraft like minimum height to 1 km and pulling 7 to 8g while the max permissible in their syllabus was about 5. During the night flying phase, while seeing us off at dusk for the solo trip, Neadogonov asked me to come to his office and chatted over a cup of tea till he said “ Harish, you can wait and go when its really dark, let the others go on now with a bit of last light.” Why I say all this is only to highlight how simple the 29 was to fly leaving you free to focus on combat employment since even with a break in flying, I could pick up the nuances of the aircraft pretty fast.

Back in India, and after adding a few more acceptance sorties at Nasik, where the aircraft was being handed over to us by the Russian erection team, to keep in touch and work out the radius of the loop after take-off with max burner amongst other manoeuvres, but still with under 20 hours on the type, I was at Palam to display the aircraft for the Air Force Day parade on 08 October 1987. How I got to that stage with even the tail slide being permitted to me is another story, to be told another day. But then, I had close to 430 hours on the aircraft, counting the ones I had on the Hunter. After all, the MiG –29 was a Super Hunter. A Hunter in dry power and a Super Hunter the moment you put on the burners. You couldn’t lose control of the aircraft unless you were bent on flying with 2 cross-eyes, and a pair each of crossed hands and legs. Better than the Hunter, with its two powerful engines, the 29 would always bring you back safe even if you lost an engine for some reason. It could comfortably do an overshoot in dry power from flare out height. After all each engine was really more powerful than the single Rolls Royce one on the Hunter.


Post-script: I commanded 28 squadron, the First Supersonics, till June 1989, doing operational flying and training but also displaying the aircraft all over in between with the badge of “Fulcrums: The Balance Rests On Us”. We even did the initial training for formation aerobatics on the aircraft till three aircraft, but this was later called off by higher authorities. From June 1989 till January 1991, I was Chief Operations Officer at Adampur where I kept in touch with the 29, since the third squadron of 29s was raised there with me around to help but never did the low-level stuff. In 1997, when I took over Air Force Station, Pune, I started this again slowly after a break of over 6 years in flying due to staff postings in the intervening period. The reasons and the story are for another time. However, in 1999, after over two years of this, the Chief of the Air Staff was pleased to award me “Displeasure” for doing low-level aerobatics without proper authorization. This was at the official age of over 53 years but, like I said, that would make another story. No regrets, but I have preserved the Displeasure for my grandchildren. After all, The MiG-29 is a Super Hunter and such a pleasure to do all the displays in and I am sure they would like to hear of my days on the Hunter and the Super Hunter. Only wish I could fly it again before I take off my flying boots for good.”

Special thanks to Angad Singh. 

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Hawker Hunter in combat: My part in the IAF Dhaka attack of 1971


Air Marshal Harish Masand describes his part in the 1971 war to,  attacking Government House in Dhaka with a force of Indian Air Force Hawker Hunters. This mission may have been pivotal in the surrender of Pakistani forces in the East. 

‘I was flying Hunters in the East with a unit called the Black Panthers (37 Squadron) in 1971. The first real combat mission is generally the most memorable one, particularly when one is young. I have already mentioned my first mission of 1971 war briefly earlier. A write-up on this mission is also available at For me, the most memorable, however, was the one we did on the penultimate day, December 14, 1971, when I went as a wingman to attack the Government House in Dhaka when Governor Malik of East Pakistan was holding a meeting with his cabinet and UN representatives trying to find an honourable cease-fire. We had no target photographs and were tasked at the last minute in the morning as the intelligence came in. My CO and Leader, then Wing Commander ‘Suppi’ Kaul, and three more of us were briefed on the location on a Burmah Shell tourist map of Dhaka. Having done some missions over Dhaka by then, we knew the anti-aircraft fire was very heavy and effective till about 6000 feet and we would’ve had to fly through the flak in the attacks.


Armed with T-10 rockets and 30mm guns, we cruised out at medium altitude and did a couple of orbits over Dhaka above 6000 ft to spot the target building as also to align ourselves for the attack on the designated conference hall, all this while watching the balls of fire of the flak below us. Swooping down from that height like eagles in a steep dive, we carried out two attacks, the first with rockets and the second with guns, putting our ordnance accurately on the conference hall. After the second attack, when we exited North hugging the deck at high speeds close to 500 Knots to evade the flak, I found the Oberoi Hotel right in front. We knew that this hotel housed most of the diplomatic community, foreign media and some local ministers and avoided attacking it. However, just for the thrill of it, I headed straight towards it before pulling away at the last minute when I was close enough to see the faces of the people in the balconies watching the whole attack. Somehow, this mission and the exit are still imprinted vividly in my mind. By all accounts, this attack hastened the surrender of Pakistani Forces in the East. After the instrument of surrender was signed in Dhaka on December 16th, Air Marshal HC Dewan, the AOC-in-C of Eastern Air Command asked Lt General AAK Niazi why he surrendered though he had the troops to hold out much longer. Niazi pointing to the wings on Group Captain Chandan Singh’s chest, has been quoted as saying, “This had hastened the surrender. I and my people have had no rest during day or night, thanks to your Air Force. We have changed our quarters ever so often, trying to find a safe place for a little rest and sleep so that we could carry on the fight, but we have been unable to do that.” When I read that later, I felt proud to be a part of that air force and it made the memory of this important mission over Dhaka even more vivid for me.’    

Enormous thanks to Angad Singh. 

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XAIM-97 Seekbat: The long range ‘MiG-25 killer’ missile the F-15 never got

XAIM-97A SEEKBAT - 1972 - 182069.jpgvulcan20mm-2.jpg

Once the realm of specialist interceptors like the MiG-31 and F-14, today long range air-to-air missiles capable of destroying aircraft at ranges in excess of 100 miles are coming into the mainstream. The European MBDA Meteor is already operational on the Typhoon and Gripen (and will soon arm Rafale), while similar efforts remain at an advanced stage in Russia, China and the US. Simply put, a longer range missile gives a fighter the same advantage of a boxer with a far longer reach than his opponent. The disadvantage historically was the missiles were huge, expensive and tied to a specialised weapon system. It was the latter issue that prevented the easy integration of the Navy’s AIM-54 Phoenix onto the F-15 or F-4, something that would have given these types an edge against the bogeyman of the Soviet MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’. An aircraft that in the early 1970s, was inspiring fear in US military planners. It was far faster than its Western counterparts and was believed to be agile, and equipped with a powerful advanced radar and long-ranged missiles. The F-4, then the mainstay of USAF, was seen as hopelessly outclassed. It was hoped that the new F-15 Eagle, then in development, would tip the balance in the West’s favour, but the new aircraft was to be armed with the same Sparrow medium-range missiles that armed the F-4. If the Soviets had a new longer-ranged missile, then even the Eagle would be vulnerable.


AIM-95 seekers being tested on a F-4. The missile was cancelled in 1975 due to spiralling costs, unlike the similar Soviet R-73 which alarmed the West when its superior performance was revealed in the 1980s.

It was planned that the F-15s short range infra-red guided would be the radical AIM-82; whereas contemporary missiles only really had a chance of locking out the extremely hot jet exhausts at the rear of the aircraft, it was hoped that the new generation weapon would be ‘all aspect’ — able to attack an enemy from any direction. But before a contract was awarded, the AIM-82 was cancelled for being an unnecessary duplication of work being done by the Navy on the conceptually similar AIM-95 AGILE. While the AIM-95 was intended for closer targets, destroying aircraft at long range required a new missile. 


With a larger field of regard, helmet cueing and thrust vectoring the AIM-95 was the father of the new generation of IR missiles.

The MiG-25 was capable of such speeds and altitudes that killing it with Sparrow missiles would prove almost impossible. The new missile was a Foxbat killer and accordingly was dubbed ‘Seekbat’.

The Seekbat was based on the AGM-78 Standard ARM, itself derived from a the RIM-66 surface to air missile. The new weapon would have a maximum speed exceeding Mach 3.5 and a range of over 90 nautical miles. It employed semi-active radar homing with an infra-red seeker for terminal guidance of the missile. The operational ceiling was 80,000 ft (24,000 m), an important figure considering the ‘Foxbat’ could reach 78,000ft while carrying two missiles. 


An F-105 Thunderchief armed with AGM-78 Standard ARM missiles.


Test firings began in late 1972, but by 1976 was it was mired in technical problems and spiralling programme costs. Allegedly one of the problems faced on the programme was the target drone the missiles faced. The Bomarc was not designed for high altitude testing, when the aircraft’s engines were oxygen starved by the thin air the unmanned aircraft rolled on its back shielding the engines behind the wings and denying the infra-red target the Seekbat needed for terminal guidance. The confused missile would instead lock onto the sun. The poor results of Seekbat, combined with new intelligence revealing the MiG-25 to be far less potent than anticipated signalled the end of the Seekbat. It was axed in 1976. is funded by donations and is currently well below funding targets. If you wish this site to continue into 2020 please donate. If you wish to consider becoming a commercial sponsor, something we have never had so far, please contact us via Twitter to find out more.


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How virtual reality is paving the way for future pilots

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Virtual Reality has been a relatively familiar concept to most people since the mid 1990s but it is best known today as a gaming experience. The history of Virtual Reality dates back to the 1970s and flight simulation was seen as one of its most promising applications from the very start. The fact that it has taken nearly fifty years to become a plausible possibility reflects on the very large digital processing requirements necessary to make a realistic VR platform viable. 

Flight Simulation is even older: less than ten years after the Wright Brothers coaxed their primitive craft into the air, the Antoinette aircraft company built the first known purpose-built simulator for its own flying school. Known, unimaginatively, as the “Antoinette Barrel” (‘tonneau Antoinette’), because it was quite literally made out of a barrel, the simulator was intended to teach the novice pilot how to operate the controls of Antoinette’s own monoplane.

The Antoinette aircraft did not feature a joystick and was controlled by two wheels on either side of the cockpit. But this system was not intuitive – crashes were commonplace, and the simulator was the result. A replica of the Antoinette simulator was until recently displayed in the foyer of the Airbus training facility in Toulouse.

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Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Skip forward 110 years and although no longer consisting of a modified barrel (sadly), the basic principle and purpose of the modern simulator is identical to the Antoinette back in 1909: a machine, devoid of risk, that mechanically replicates the motion of an aircraft in response to the ‘pilot’ operating the controls. What has changed is the realism that it can replicate. Modern simulators are incredibly realistic and fantastically useful training tools that can reproduce emergency situations, different weather conditions, and even the vibrations of the aircraft’s engines can be felt through the seat. The modern Full Flight Simulator (FFS) offers levels of realism rated in levels, with a Level 7 simulator being the most advanced. These are used for initial type training and recurrent training that all commercial pilots must undertake every six months to retain their certification to fly passengers.

Meanwhile Virtual Reality has sprinted forward over the last ten years or so to become a relatively commonplace gaming technology and is gaining greater credibility due to its ever increasing realism with every passing year. Literally hundreds of companies have VR equipment in development – from big names like Apple and Google to tech startups – so expect the technology to improve exponentially. In terms of the software, at the moment, three of the best VR flight sims are X plane 11, Aerofly, and DCS World. All offer remarkable levels of realism in slightly different ways.

X plane 11, for example, is probably the most detailed in terms of the aircraft themselves whereas Aerofly maps the whole of the South Western USA for the player’s enjoyment, allowing one to take a hop over the Hoover dam in a Sopwith Camel for example (and who wouldn’t want to do that?).

DCS World, whilst still highly impressive with regard to detail, concentrates more on gameplay than the other two by allowing the virtual pilot to fly in lovingly-recreated historical situations such as over the D-day beaches in a Messerschmitt 109. 

Nonetheless, VR, whilst offering ever greater realism, is not quite there yet but the potential is very clear. Although this does beg the question, if there are already highly sophisticated, realistic simulators in existence, what advantage does a potential VR solution hold over the current technology? And the simple answer is of course, as it always seems to be – money. A Level 7 simulator will sell for somewhere in the region of $12 million, which is more expensive than many aircraft. As a result, not many tend to be built and obtaining time on them can be eye-wateringly expensive.

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Simulators are currently built to simulate one aircraft type only, and as they generally use the whole nose of the aircraft in question, they are very large and weigh several tons. A VR alternative makes obvious sense to the operator, offering potentially greater adaptability where the same equipment could conceivably simulate different aircraft and be updated when new models appear.

Likewise, it won’t weigh several tons, contain a powerful hydraulic system, nor require a hanger-sized building to fit it in. The massive initial cost, not to mention the operating costs (simulators require a great deal of power), could potentially be slashed, savings that could be passed on to the students as well as the organizations that train them. It is telling that the flight-sim X plane 11 already markets its product on the basis of a training aid for budding pilots, with one happy customer stating that his years of using the sim had saved him a great deal of money on tuition fees when he went for his (real) Private Pilot’s Licence.

Having said that, don’t expect to be presented with gloves and a headset if you turn up to flying school tomorrow. The technology isn’t there yet but it looks like it may only be a matter of time before this becomes the reality of flight training, if only for reasons of economy. Whether this will allow more people than ever to enjoy the freedom of the air remains to be seen but it has already simulated the experience for countless home users around the world.

Buying a Business Jet

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So, your ship has come in and you’re basking in unheralded wealth. It’s a problem all of us have to deal with at some time (right? Hope so). You’ve bought a big crazy house and the sports car you always dreamt of, but now where do you go from there? The only way is up and that means a private jet. Join the ranks of the super rich, where you might want to fly your own classic airliner like John Travolta or just settle for painting your surname on it in massive golden letters like Donald Trump.


However even if you’re inordinately rich it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fork out the cool $500 million that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud of Saudi Arabia paid for his own private Airbus A380. And that’s before you’ve even gone anywhere. An A380 guzzles approximately $17,500 of fuel per hour, which is enough to make even Bill Gates think about taking the bus. But then most potential biz jet owners are unlikely to be in the market for an aircraft containing five king-size bedrooms to choose from, each with its own ensuite bathroom and sitting room. Prince Alwaleed’s jet also features a throne for him to sit on while he travels through the sky. It’s possible that you’ve long been in the market for an airborne throne room but alas, very few biz jets actually feature them – though most do have very comfortable seats. If you can scale down your ambitions a little, the following tips may be of use when you enter the market place for a new or used private jet.

Let’s start with the boring stuff: cash. If you are even considering dipping your toe into the biz jet world it would seem to suggest that you are fairly well off, or at least know someone who is. But you might not have enough to shell out the full amount in used notes right this minute. Luckily, there are many lenders with dedicated aviation financing plans so you don’t have to sweat the small stuff. You can work this out yourself or you might consider employing a dedicated finance broker. Financing a jet is a pretty complicated business so it helps to have someone around who knows the pitfalls. They will also know which lender to approach to get the best funding deal for any particular aircraft. 

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A business jet is going to be an expensive purchase but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to get the best deal you can. Just like a car, there are benefits to looking at the used market. You’ll typically get more aircraft for your money but you need to look more closely at your potential purchase. It’s all very well for a fighter pilot to ‘kick the tyres and light the fires’, but it’s important to pay a bit more attention when you’re the one who has to fork out for a wing spar replacement because someone overstressed the airframe.

Whilst there are relatively few aviation equivalents of the ‘one careful lady owner’ used car (having said that, Oprah Winfrey owns a Bombardier Global Express XRS), it’s worth looking for a corporate aircraft that has been the pride and joy of its owner and kept scrupulously maintained its entire life. Brand new aircraft are obviously more expensive but they generally come with a five year warranty, although Embraer sell their Legacy 650E with an impressive ten year warranty, which might save you money in the long run. If you do go down the used route then making use of a reputable aviation broker makes sense: they generally charge between three and five percent of the overall cost of the aircraft and can help with ongoing operational issues further down the track.

Once you’ve settled on the particular type you want, it’s worth doing some serious homework on the aircraft to avoid any pitfalls. Professional help is available, and frankly, no matter how much research you’ve done, you’ll need to employ the services of a professional inspector. It’s particularly important to know your chosen aircraft’s maintenance cycles. That five year old Embraer Phenom might look like a bargain for a couple of million dollars but it won’t look so rosy if you have to spend another $250,000 on scheduled maintenance.

No matter what aircraft you want to buy, if it’s used, insist on a pre-purchase inspection by a certified authority. In the US this would occur at a certified 145 repair station and there are, of course, worldwide equivalents.

Do you even need to buy a jet? Leasing a business aircraft is a popular and comparatively economic alternative to ownership. It’s a good way to see if biz jet ownership is the right thing for you without the undeniably large outlay required to take the plunge and actually buy an aircraft. Leasing takes two forms – known as dry-leasing and wet-leasing. If you dry-lease an aircraft, it would generally be for a long-term period. You don’t get any fuel or crew and are responsible for maintenance and insurance. Wet leasing includes all these things and is usually for short periods or one-off trips.

Ultimately, although it invokes all the glamor of the genuine jet-set, the business aircraft is like anything else – do your homework, shop around, seek professional advice and you’ll find the sky is no longer the limit.

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— Ed Ward

Find out more here. 

Who would win if a Eurofighter Typhoon fought a Spitfire? This and other questions to a Spitfire & Typhoon pilot

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Photos: Paul Godfrey

After flying Harrier and Typhoons for the Royal Air Force, fighter pilot Paul Godfrey took the equally enviable task of flying Spitfires for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. We spoke to him to find out more. 

Of the Spitfire variants you have flown which is your favourite and why?

“An easy answer.  The BBMF Mk V, AB910.  I guess this is because this was the first Spitfire that I flew that really felt like a Spitfire.  It sounds strange, but MK356, the Mk IX, was the first I flew (AB was the second), but MK, although amazing (she was painted silver at the time and you really never get over seeing the classic elliptical wing out of the window) she didn’t feel overly different to the Hurricane.  However, I got into AB and you could immediately feel the difference in balance on the controls – they were so light!  As soon as I throttled up, the tail lifted (she is light) and we shot off.  Unbelievably manoeuvrable, I displayed at 500 feet and then 100 feet and she flew like a dream.

However, as I came into land on the short cross-runway at Coningsby, I forced the tail down to try and get her slowing down and this caused an unexpected leap to the right (apparently, she went right on landing anyway).  Before I knew it, the left wing had lifted and I arced majestically off the runway and almost hit the windsock!  I eventually got her under control and made it back to the runway.

We had an understanding after that and I always gave her a kiss before we went flying.  She never treated me badly again.

There was also a personal connection with a good friend of the flight and mine, Tony Cooper.  Tony had flown Spitfires in WWII and had actually flown AB when she was at Hibbaldstow at the end of the war.  I have never seen anything like it, when Tony came into the hangar and was reunited with her for the first time in 70 years.”

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How would you rate the cockpit for the following:


“I like the cockpit.  Lots of room and a fantastic view with that canopy around you – much better than the Hurricane which feels like you are sat inside a greenhouse!  The sitting position is comfortable and it is easy to reach the stick and pedals (the pedals are adjustable).”

Pilot’s view

“Very good.  It feels like you have strapped the aircraft to yourself (rather than sat inside it).  The bubble canopy on the BBMF Mk XVI TE311 reminded me of the view in the F-16!”


“Very comfortable.  Although it does get warm in the cockpit (clearly you can open the canopy for max air-con).  The sitting position is good and the stick sits naturally in your hand.  The spade grip is very comfortable and the controls are balanced differently depending on the mark and the individual aircraft!”


“Standard instrumentation you would expect in a warbird.  A large Altimeter, Attitude Indicator, Turn and Slip and Airspeed Indicator as the main instruments, with smaller engine, fuel and oxygen gauges.  The BBMF aircraft are relatively authentic, although none have working gunsights.  They do all have modern radio and IFF fits, with a small GPS built into the radio.  They also carry FLARM for collision avoidance.”

You have flown both the Typhoon and Spitfire: Imagining a situation where a guns-only fighter between a Eurofighter Typhoon and a cannon-armed Spitfire took place — which aircraft would have the advantage and why?

“Unsurprisingly the Typhoon – by a country mile.  The context is important, but everything in the Typhoon is geared to give you situational awareness.  Your radar and various sensors tell you what is around you (imagine how much they would have wanted a datalink with the air picture transmitted to them in WWII) and you have vital information and weapons solutions displayed in the visor in front of your eyes.  WWII pilots were reliant on fighter controllers (over the UK) and their own eyes – Typhoon has a huge advantage in finding the enemy.  This gives you a huge advantage.

The Typhoon pilot would know exactly where to find the Spitfire in our imaginary flight to ‘the merge’ (where the two come together and start fighting).  I will assume that the ‘guns only’ point means that Typhoon would not shoot the Spitfire down at range, but it would have the advantage entering the fight.  The pilot could fly the intercept to make use of environmental conditions to arrive behind the Spitfire unseen.

The radar on the Typhoon gives a highly accurate gun sight (it is constantly updating range aspect closure etc), so the pilot would just have to put ‘the pipper’ on and pull the trigger.  No deflection shooting – aiming off as the pilots had to in WWII because their gunsights were fixed and the cannon ‘zeroed’ at a point about 150 yards away where the bullets would converge.

If the Spitfire did manage to get into a turning fight, the Typhoon would likely make the most of its enormous power advantage and use the vertical rather than turn.  The Typhoon pilot would point straight up, light the burners, keep an eye on the Spitfire (probably the hardest thing so far given that the radar won’t be pointing at it) and look to come back down in a position of advantage (hopefully out of the sun to avoid a visual pick up).

If I was in the Spitfire, I would try and point at the Typhoon to close the range as quickly as possibly, but would be aware of the fact that if I pulled hard to turn, I would bleed a lot of my speed off and would probably have to point downhill to get it back…the Typhoon could roll in behind easily.”

Which set-ups and altitudes would the Spitfire favour?

“If I was flying the Spitfire, I would take this down to ground level (at least treetop) and try to force the Typhoon pilot into a mistake or fool the radar.  If I was ‘bounced’ at medium altitude, I would try and use clouds (although note that the radar is still going to see me).”

How would the Spitfire pilot fight?

“Turning towards the Typhoon and then using altitude below me to get speed back up (to allow me to turn).”

Who would you put your money on? 

“The Typhoon.”

— which qualities do the Typhoon and Spitfire share? 

“A great view out of the cockpit.  Very nice handling.  A responsive engine(s).”

What is the best thing about the Spitfire?

“Compared to the other fighters of the day, it was the turn performance and its ability to climb to altitude relatively quickly.  The advantage of altitude (view, potential energy, fuel efficiency) cannot be overstated.”

.…and the worst? 

” Aircon.  The cockpits would have been roasting in the summer and freezing in the winter.”

Which of the Spitfire variants you have flown is the best in the following categories: 

Instantaneous turn rates 

“The Mk II and V because they were lighter.”

Sustained turn rates

“The Mk XIX because it Is so powerful.”

Weapons platform (informed guess)

“Later marks because they engines had more power, therefore they could carry more/better calibres.”


“Early mark Spitfires, although the MkXIX is ridiculously powerful (but heavier). ”

Top speed

“Mk XIX.”

Take-off characteristics

“Mk IX – not too powerful (where you need a large rudder to counter the gyro effect) and not too light which can be ‘skittish’.”

Landing characteristics

“Mk IX.  Certainly the BBMF Mk IX (MK356) was very docile on landing.”

Climb rate

“Mk XIX – the 1945 equivalent of the Typhoon.”


“Mk XIX.  Designed for long range high altitude flight.”


What’s the biggest myth about flying the Spitfire?

“That you need to be a very experienced pilot to do it.  It is just like flying any other aircraft.  In 1939 and through the war, 18-20 year olds would fly it.  The issue today is the cost of repairing should something go wrong…so it is better to use more experienced pilots.  It was a war of national survival in 1939 and you could replace a pilot or aircraft.”


What should I have asked you?

“Have I ever said ‘dagga dagga dagga’ whilst pretending to shoot down another aircraft?  Clearly the answer is yes!”

Describe your most memorable flight in a Spitfire? 

“A tricky question as so many spring to mind.  You never forget the first time you take off and see the legendary elliptical wing through the canopy, however I think the one that I talk about the most (and have mentioned on @pilotepisodepod) is flying from Goodwood on 16 Sep 2012.  I’d been at Goodwood for the weekend, the first time I had visited the Revival.  I had flown MK356 (the BBMF Mk IX) in on the Friday evening.  I had last landed at Goodwood in 1989 on a solo cross country in a Cessna whilst 17 and doing my PPL) and so to land there in a Spitfire on a Friday evening, where you could see the blue flames in the exhaust stacks was a dream come true.  On the Sunday I was tasked with a flypast of Westminster Abbey for the annual Battle of Britain Service and I was also flying my favourite aircraft AB910.

I took off out of Goodwood and the weather was amazing (the visibility was so good you could see the back of your head!) and headed up to the east end of London where I was due to meet Andy Millikin in the Hurricane.  Unfortunately, he had a brake issue and so it was just me on my own.  I could see the London eye and set off on time.  Flypasts can be tricky to get the route and timing right and even Westminster Abbey is difficult to spot, but I knew if I could make it to the Eye, then I wold be ok.  As I approached central London, I was ‘on track on time’ and began to relax and really take in the sights.  I could actually see the people in the London Eye as I flew past clearly wondering what on earth a Spitfire was doing there.  I found the Abbey and did a large wingover to change direction (a flypast wasn’t allowed) and could see the assembled masses, including many of the surviving Battle of Britain veterans down there watching.  It honestly brought a lump to my throat.”

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I departed London to the South West, overflying Wimbledon Centre Court and then down to Goodwood and landed during a gap in the motor racing.  As I taxied the Spitfire to a halt in the replica Battle of Britain dispersal, at a Battle of Britain airfield having flown over central London and seen Battle of Britain veterans looking up at me, I realised what a special trip that had been.  I joined the RAF because I saw a Spitfire and Hurricane at the Kenley Airshow in 1978 as a 6 year old and became fascinated by the aircraft and pilots.  To be able to honour them in that way 34 years later was truly amazing and made me realise how lucky I am.”

Hear more from Paul here. is funded by donations and is currently well below funding targets. If you wish this site to continue into 2020 please donate. If you wish to consider becoming a commercial sponsor, something we have never had so far, please contact us via Twitter to find out more.


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Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. \


Top 12 coolest air forces


Putting aside capability and ideology, ignoring the moral or tactical dimensions and looking at air forces from a purely aesthetic point of view, which is the best? The aesthetic air force must operate rare and charismatic flying machines, embrace colourful paint schemes — and perhaps even operate a unique aeroplane. This is not a time to salute fleets of grey common-as-muck F-16s, or aircraft that favour such drearily Apollonian aspects as ‘situational awareness’ or ‘network-centricity’ over the glorious chthonic insanity of riveted aluminium, the stink of jet fuel and the unholy roar of burnished petalled nozzles disgorging afterburning flame! This is a chance to celebrate prehistoric jets in dirty weird camo, bizarre helicopters and exceptionally rare spray-painted 50s transports operating from caves. Let Dali decorate your bone-dome and Gustav Metzger kamikaze dive the rusty Buccaneer of chaos into the boneyard of infamy as we gather to celebrate THE 12 COOLEST AIR FORCES!

12. Ukrainian Air Force (Повітряні Сили України)


Having to defend yourself from Russia is no excuse for slovenliness, and has not stopped Ukraine having among the best turned-out Flankers. Though Flankers are not exactly rare, they are beautiful and rare enough to retain a certain brutal chic — and the Ukrainian scheme is one of the best.


In World War II, while Britain was at its lowest ebb many the British people fund raised to buy Spitfires. Much in the same way, Ukrainian civilians have funded drones and drone development. The War in Donbas also saw the reintroduction of the Gerry Anderson-eque Tu-141 and 143.


11. Draken International 


Going on fleet alone you’d think Draken International would do well but being a private company counts against it, serious military equipment in civil hands means either terrorist, freedom fighter or something akin to OCP, the mega corporation from Robocop. To add to this they DO NOT actually operate Drakens. Having said that, they have a MiG-21 in a wraparound two-tone RAF Hunter-style scheme missed with 80s Soviet markings which obviously brilliant, A-4s in a deep New Zealand green reminiscent of West German army helicopters and, possibly coolest of all, Mirage F-1s in Flanker three-tone splinter camo (is this real? I can’t find a picture). Putting an Albatross in a ‘street camouflage’ better suited to a member of Public Enemy is less convincing though. Also it’s run by some real-life Bruce Wayne kind of guy.


And these guys.

10. Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF  نیروی هوایی ارتش جمهوری اسلامی ایران‎) 


Any air force that has a fighter force comprising aircraft of American, European and Soviet origin is on to a winner; Iran adds Chinese and semi-indigenous aeroplanes to this international buffet resulting in a startling 1980s time capsule that shouldn’t make sense…and to be honest doesn’t. We all know the star, it’s the F-14 Tomcat. That the fighter pilots of the America-hating autocratic Islamist regime fly Maverick’s jet, star of that paean to Reaganite homo-erotica Top Gun, and feel super cool because of that Hollywood association is a wonderfully weird thing.


Had Top Gun had a greater budget to make the baddie’ ‘MiG-28s’ (actually F-5s) more Soviet in appearance they would have added twin canted vertical stabilisers. Seemingly inspired by the need to create props for the next Top Gun film, Iran created just this in the Saeqeh. Just to make it even more fun they painted some to look like Blue Angels, furthering the not completely outlandish theory that the IRIAF is the US Navy in a parallel universe where the 1980s never died. Those that say Iran is like Miami but with less cocaine and no decent bars may have a point. Oh — did I mention the 747 tankers? For eccentricity it is hard to beat the Qahar 313, which is either some kind of testbed, a fake or a demonstration of the surreal nature of Iranian humour.

9. Russian Air Force (RussianВоенно-воздушные cилы России) 



World War II called – it wants its paintjob back.

With exception of the Écureuil, Diamonds and Tu-214s it’s hard to see anything on the Russian Air Force inventory that isn’t appealing. From the epic grace of the Tu-160s designed to vaporise enemies of the proletariat by the million (oh wait, that was us) to the invincible froggy bulk of the Su-34, it’s an awesome gallery of machines. Added to that, the shabby austere look that Russian airbases go for has a certain bleak appeal.


8.  Serbian Air Force and Air Defence (Ратно ваздухопловство и противваздухопловна одбрана Војске Србије)


Anything with Soviet era-jets is going to rank highly on this list – we can all agree that anything from the East stomps all over trashy American garbage in the hotness factor. But what about rare, exotic, Communist-but-not-actually-Soviet indigenous designs?


Enter Serbia. If you like elusive, unheard of types, this is the country to hit up, with the Serbian Air Force still operating and soldiering on with no less than three native types. The two trainers, the Lasta 95 and G-4 Super Galeb (even better than the regular Galeb) are fairly bog standard, but you won’t see them anywhere else (except, weirdly, Iraq and Myanmar respectively – bizarre export destinations? Count me in) which gives them a real edge in the non-combat arena.


But the créme-de-la-créme, the real jewel in the Balkan crown, is the J-22 Orao, possibly the rarest and more obscure combat jet in the world (Taiwan’s FUCK-1 fighter losing out due to having an hilarious and memorable name). Produced only in Yugoslavia and Romania, but now only operated by Serbia, the Jaguarovic oozes second-world charisma and charm. Still cracking on in service, this is a jet that uses afterburning Rolls-Royce Vipers and minimal avionics upgrades that can operate off grass runways. I think I’m in love!


The bastard son of Grumman Jaguar and a SEPECAT Jaguar?

Serbia also flies the Gazelle, licence-built back in the day, bringing some wonderful French flair to their eastern-flavoured inventory. The whistling turkey-leg might not be the most obscure type, but it’s never been anything less than full of character. It’s a properly varied air force, and if you’re into rare type it’s the dream – and for a small nation like Serbia it’s all the more awesome to keep flying these aircraft.

7. Japan Air Self-Defense Force ((航空自衛隊 Kōkū Jieitai))


The coolest F-16 is not an F-16 at all, it’s the Mitsubishi F-2. Rare as hen’s teeth and about as pricey as a Raptor, the F-2 is just fine by us. Gone is the F-16’s dorky almost frameless bird-magnetising canopy to be replaced with the best looking transparencies of anything flying. The paint-job is exquisite, like a 19th Century silk painting of an eclipsed blood moon against an ominous stormy sky.


DIGITAL CAMO PHANTOMS? The best F-15s schemes? I would also like to throw the navy in too, but I’m not allowed. 87808_1511105289.jpg

6. Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Қазақстанның Қарулы күштеріQazaqstannyń qarýly kúshteri)


Laugh all you like Sacha Baron Cohen but the Kazakhs have a plane too fast for any nation (other than Russia) to catch: the MiG-31 which is not only faster than anything it is big. Very big. In fact a fully-loaded MiG-31 weighs around the same as six fully-loaded MiG-21s!


5. Republic of China Air Force

Taiwan has its own unique fighter, the AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo, and paints much of its fleet better than almost anyone. That the skinny F-CK-1 looks like a failed Northrop concept from the 1980s doesn’t matter, Taiwan practice take-offing from motorways. In war with China the air force would likely last as long as a mayfly, which gives the whole enterprise a tragic and absurd flavour that only heightens its poetic appeal.



4. Peruvian Air Force (Fuerza Aérea del PerúFAP)

Tactical as fuck, the Peruvians paint shark teeth on everything and appearing to be getting ready to refight the Vietnam War. Police freaking An-32s too.




Super Tucano, that’s boring, oh wait that’s actually a KAI KT-1 Woongbi



3. Indian Air Force 


The IAF is the fifth largest in the world and certainly the most bonkers of the top 10. Where else could you expect to see a MiG-21 flying alongside a Jaguar, or a MiG-27 with a Mirage 2000, a Flanker with an Apache



2. Royal Thai Air Force (กองทัพอากาศไทย) 


The head of procurement of this air force is like a drunk at a tapas restaurant. It is a truly bonkers ORBAT. Thailand has a massive and varied fleet with huge role duplication and an arcane local designation system.  To look at the duplication for a moment, I wonder what jet trainer they have? T-50s and AlphaJets and F-5s and L-39s? In case that doesn’t cover training, they also have PC-9s, and two-seat  Gripens and F-16 conversion trainers.


A Piaggio P.180 Avanti, that most beautiful and bizarre Italian, has been chosen for the reconnaissance role – surely, the classiest spy since the SR-71 . Basler BT-67, AU-23s and (until recently) OV-10 Broncos for counter-insurgency. Just for a zing of excitement, the Sukhoi Superjet provides VIPs with that traditional Russian level of safety. Or VIPs can travel by Airbus A340…or Boeing 737. Likewise the plate-cramming buffet approach is applied to IR missiles, why just have one type when you can Israeli Python 3/4 and 5s, IRIS-T and good old AIM-9s (the E, J and P variants)

  1. Bangladesh Air Force (Bengaliবাংলাদেশ বিমান বাহিনীBangladesh Biman Bahini)



Blue camouflage Chengdu F-7s. Now, while that alone should be enough to mark an air force out as the most stylish around, let me go further. Electric blue MiG-29s. Dark Green Hercules’. Jungle camo A-7s. Even the Yak-130s are in a two-tone grey. If you want a mix of awesome paintjobs and rare, exotic aircraft types coupled with some pretty cracking national markings then Bangladesh is your aviation nation.


A small country with a huge population, much like it’s enormous neighbour India, Bangladesh has looked both east, west and, I suppose, north for its aviation inventory, leading to one of the most diverse fleets around. Probably the coolest thing in their inventory is the F-7, essentially a Chinese MiG-21 with cranked wings. I dunno about you but writing that got me hot under the collar. Any Fishbed operator gets an automatic pass on the style front, but they were even, until very recently, supported by the even rarer and even more bonkers cool Nanchang A-5, probably one of the rarest ground attacks in the world after the J-22 Orao.


As is common in smaller nations, nearly everything is in camouflage. Maybe single-tone grey paint is the most expensive in the shops? Who knows. Even better is when the camo doesn’t really make sense, like the dark and electric blue Fulcrums Bangladesh flies when coupled with the big red meatball in the roundel. But who cares? They got green An-32s, one of the most ridiculous-looking and therefore awesome aircraft Antonov ever put out.

Hell even their basic trainer is awesome. Nanchangs. Proper old radial-engined Chinese goodness, cranked up to 11 in red and yellow. Sorry, but they make everything look awesome. They’ve got the coolest planes in the coolest schemes in a small country – there’s no other competition!

— Sam Wise

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MiG-29 versus Mirage 2000: personal account from Air Marshal Harish Masand



The MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 are both fast and extremely agile fighter aircraft — but which of these formidable machines would win in a dogfight —  the French beauty or the Russian beast? We spoke to a man with the answer, Air Marshal Harish Masand

“Running through my papers in an attempt to organise my retired life, which now essentially revolves around the golf course or the study room so that I could start punching the keyboard instead of the buttons in the cockpit, I came across my log books the other day. As any die-hard fighter pilot would vouch for, log books can’t just be put down without at least a bit of reminiscing on the good old times, remembering the freedom of the skies and chasing dream-clouds not just like a breath of fresh air but 100% oxygen. What caught my eye that day was the entry starting 30 Mar 1988 of Ex Lightning. Even after two decades, the memory of those two weeks, till the middle of April, when we fooled around with the Mirage 2000s with our mint-fresh MiG-29s, is still vivid in my mind and took me back nostalgically to the old days with the smell of jet fuel instead of cologne, the sweat on your overalls, even if you changed one everyday and wore a fresh one, and of course the quiet roar of the jets despite the air-conditioning and sealing of the 29 cockpit muffling the sound of the powerful R-33Ds.


The exercise was conducted to evaluate the new 29s, received in Poona in June of 1987 but formally inducted in the IAF in December, against the Mirage 2000s, the best that the IAF had till then for over four years. While most of the ’29 jockeys barely had a 100 hours on type, one could not but feel the excitement of testing the machine, the individual skills and the newly developed tactics against the veterans on the Mirages I could feel this excitement amongst even the youngest and inexperienced pilots even though they were going to face the far more experienced Mirage pilots, all of the later handpicked for the first and many subsequent lots, most of them on the fleet for over 4 years and most with 500 hours plus on the type. Of course, one had also heard of how the Mirages had conducted a similar exercise against the MiG-23 MFs earlier in Adampur soon after the induction of the Mirages, whipped the veterans on the 23s and come home with a lot of gunshots against the ill-matched swing-wings. All the same, though we were relatively inexperienced, we were looking forward to the exciting and interesting two weeks ahead of us. In addition, in a couple of weeks after that exercise, our 28 Sqn was celebrating its silver jubilee as the First Supersonics and some of our attention had to go towards organisation of the events and preparations to tap into some professional and personal memories of the old-timers who were attending the function, including the then Chief, Polly Mehra, retired Air Marshal Mally Wollen and many other ex-COs and members of the First Supersonics. As it happened, after this exercise, we had our own tales to tell too.

“I think the ’29 is one of the best fighting platforms in the world even today”

Before I describe the events, I think it would be essential to put down the background a little more in detail to set the narrative in perspective. The trials were code-named Ex Lightning and were to be conducted in a Top Secret manner under the overall control and supervision of then Group Captain Jeff D’Souza, who was the Chief Operations Officer or COO of Air Force Station, Poona at that time. Jeff was a very qualified and capable officer having been on the staff of TACDE after winning the sword of honor in the 10th FCL course. On top of his impressive professional credentials, he was soft-spoken, mature and a truly likeable gentleman without any airs due to which reasons, as I remember, he commanded tremendous respect from all of us in the base as well as within the entire Air Force. The AOC, Air Commodore IS Bindra, had left the whole exercise to Jeff totally and was hardly ever seen for the brief/debriefs for the exercise. Jeff had made it quite clear at the start itself that ego and one-upmanship were taboo for the exercise and, while each specifically designed mission would be flown realistically to the limits of the aircraft, the rules of engagement and flight safety considerations were not to be violated. Also, considering the sensitive nature of the exercise and the information gathered, single copies of the mission reports after debrief would be generated by the nominated agency from either side, to be collated and forwarded to HQ personally by him. As a result, no performance figures or reports on the tactics were retained by the squadrons, at least on the 29 side. Due to this reason, as well as the fact that the information may still be sensitive, I hope the reader will understand the lack of any data or solid figures in this article. I only want to highlight the experience, some of the good times we had and the fun side of things in these two weeks.

“I only remember that the ’29 outperformed the Mirage in every sphere from sustained rate of turn to climb and even in instantaneous rate of turn.”

I was leading the team from the 29s while Pudding Ahluwalia, then commanding 1 Sqn, The Tigers, brought and led the Mirage Team from Gwalior. The first thing that struck anyone that saw the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 parked side by side in Poona was the finish and polish, as it had struck me in October 1987 when Joe Bakshi’s Mirages and our 29s were parked together in Hindon for the Air Force Day display over Palam. More than the sheer difference in size between the two aircraft, were, the clean lines and finish of the 2000 compared to the brutish rough finish and slightly wavy surfaces of the 29. While the finish on the 29 was much better than the MiG-23 or the 21, it was still nowhere close to the aerodynamically and aesthetically soothing finish of the 2000. Right from the first day of the exercise, therefore, I had started calling this a fight between the beauty and the beast and called the Mirage 2000 and their pilots “Delicate Darlings”, or DDs for short, a name that I had coined earlier in Hindon. The size difference between Pudding and me was exactly the reverse of the aircraft and I do not think Pudding ever appreciated being called a DD, particularly by me. When I had earlier used the term on Joe in jest at Hindon, he had merely laughed at it and, being the sport he was, even stood me a beer for thinking of such a term on a relatively quiet evening.


Air HQ had also detailed three umpires from TACDE and accordingly, Vicky Chopra, Damu Damodran and Joe Bakshi from that hallowed institution were with us for the entire duration, flying with us in the rear cockpits of trainer aircraft from both sides to see there was no fudging or exceeding the limits of the aircraft as well as safety of the missions while also making for some lighter moments in the debriefs and for the entire duration of the exercise. Joe was known for his limericks and jokes, apart from his flying skills, and mid-way through the exercise, he coined a poem on the whole scene in a lighter vein and another at the end, scribbling away in the last row, as I saw him in the debriefs. I found these two poems to be quite funny and put the originals in the 28 Sqn Diary. To make for a better perspective, I have placed the transcripts of these two poems at the end of this rumination.

“He still could not accept that the Mirage did not out-perform the 29, at least in the instantaneous rate of turn. I tried to pacify him by saying things like that the Mirage was certainly a good-looking aircraft with some great qualities and systems and he should be happy that he got the beauty while I had the beast.”

The first few trips were planned as individual performance trials with one trainer from each side flying together and synchronously carrying out the briefed maneuvers starting at low-levels to check the timings and compare the performance. I had Doc Vaidya, then commanding 7 Sqn on Mirages, flying with me for the first trip in the rear seat even though he was from the rival camp since the idea was also to familiarize each side with the handling qualities of the other aircraft. Pudding had asked me earlier, right at the start if he could send a young pilot and an engineer to my squadron to study the manuals and the aircraft in greater detail, also by interacting with our people. Perhaps, his idea was to find some way of countering our tactics by understanding our systems better. Later, I was told that he was collecting performance figures for his own private report to his C-in-C or Air HQ. Whatever may have been the purpose, we did not dwell or worry about it since we were still from the same Air Force and the idea was to mutually learn and improve each other’s tactics and skills. That is also the reason why Doc Vaidya, who became a dear friend over the years, found a place in the rear-seat of my 29 on the very first trip. I do not quite recall what he felt about the experience except for the words “wonderful” and “thank you”. Perhaps, Doc would write about the experience himself someday.


I only remember that the ’29 outperformed the Mirage in every sphere from sustained rate of turn to climb and even in instantaneous rate of turn. This was as our side had expected, having earlier theoretically compared the performance figures for the two aircraft. The only doubt in our minds was about the performance of the fly-by-wire system which could reportedly produce the optimum performance on the Mirage in any given set of conditions, albeit with an over-ride for the slightly enhanced performance for a short duration while we had to get the best out of the MiG-29 manually through conventional hydraulic controls. Due to this reason, I would have been quite content to see the initial instantaneous rate of turn on the Mirage to be better, at least for the first 90 to 180 degrees of the turn, till the induced drag of the delta platform and the lower thrust to weight ratio of the Mirage took over. However, I had been working on coordinated pressures on the control surfaces to generate even rapid manoeuvres, instead of large or even noticeable movements on the controls which had their own problems, particularly at low-levels, for my displays on the 29 since Aug-Sep 1987 and, was very pleasantly surprised to see that this effort really paid off and even the instantaneous rate of turn was in our FAVOUR..

In a turn towards the Mirage, I found we were crossing even 90 degrees before the Mirage. Also, I had noticed, while practicing for the displays, that the 29 accelerated even at 9g at low-levels if the power was ahead of the onset of g and, therefore, required a coordinated turn with power management to stay at the optimum speed and at the desired g.


As a matter of fact, I used to brief and show my younger pilots that if you went up faster on the throttle than the onset of g, the aircraft would be on the higher side of the curve and would keep accelerating even at 9g. In that case, the options were only two, either reduce the power to get the speed back or pull more than 9g, the latter option being beyond the laid-down limits for the aircraft. The corollary was that, at the correct speed and with the correct technique, the 29 would keep turning at 9g at low-levels till either you conked off or till the gas ran out. I mean the gas had to run out either in you or the aircraft if you wanted to foolishly continue with such a manoeuvre for a prolonged duration. Such was the brute power of the two engines on the 29 and the thrust-weight ratio. Naturally, our rate of climb was also better. While range fuel consumptions were better for the Mirage due to the shape and the resultant profile drag apart from the weight and the single engine configuration, in combat situations, we ended up consuming almost the same fuel due to the fact that the 29 did not have to remain in the afterburner regime through out the engagement.


Pudding was naturally upset with this outcome and convinced Jeff to repeat the sortie. Jeff agreed since a couple of other parameters, particularly in initial and sustained rate of climb, had to be rechecked in any case. So next day in the green period, there we were, Pudding and I, with Vicky and Joe in the rear cockpits I think, to haul the aircraft around again and measure the figures. Quite naturally, the results were the same as before. During debrief, Pudding first started off with the proposition that we were not comparing pilots but aircraft and, therefore, instead of me, somebody else should fly the 29. While I was quite happy to let even the youngest and most inexperienced pilot fly in other tactical exercises, such 9g manoeuvring and handling the aircraft to its limits at low-levels was something that one could not leave to a lesser qualified and less experienced pilot.


I, therefore, opposed the suggestion and Jeff agreed with my view. In a lighter vein, I also made a counter-suggestion that, instead of Pudding, someone 40 Kg lighter fly the Mirage which might improve its thrust-weight ratio and thus its performance. I am sure if Pudding had been wearing slippers at that time, I would have got them immediately but since he could not easily bend down and undo his flying boots, I got away with just glares. If only looks could kill. I also remarked that the Mirage could be flown by anybody since you merely demanded the best performance from the smart fly-by-wire system. Unfortunately, with a ‘dumb’ flying control system in the 29, we needed rather smart pilots to fly it to its limits. Pudding let me off again, having known each other quite well since the early years of our flying in Hasimara/Bagdogra. Finally, it was decided by Jeff that we would do yet another trip for the instantaneous rate of turn, to be measured only through 90 degrees of turn. While we were leaving the briefing room, Joe just whispered “Dirty Harry getting dirty looks, Keep checking 6”. As may be obvious from the foregoing, we were ahead even within 90 degrees while sustaining our speeds.



Later, we got into group combat and specific missions to try out the aircraft in their designated roles, where even the most inexperienced of our lot were given the opportunity to participate, some with less than 50 hours on type. From the tales I heard in and outside the briefing room, I know they all had a lot of fun while learning DACT with a capable and experienced adversary. While I do not wish to go into individual skills and claims in this area, it may not be difficult to guess these, being typical of die-hard fighter jocks. Suffice it to say that, in these exercises, our radar, IRST, HMSD and the voice information system really proved their worth and were put to good use.

Over the two weeks, I think we all had a great time and built a good bond between the two teams and the fleets, despite all the professional rivalry. In this regard, I particularly remember ‘Fuzz’ Moulik getting quite sentimental and emotional with his course-mates and friends from the other side, particularly “Sexy” Saxena, I think, from the Mirage fleet. Those who know Fuzz will know what I am talking about. For those who do not know Fuzz well, Fuzz gets all emotional and sentimental over a couple of drinks with friends but, underlying it, one can see that he really means every word of affection and would do anything for a friend. Pudding and I remained friends, though rivals for a long time through our careers which took us on different routes. One of the young friends that I made from Mirages was Cheema, now flying for Jet Airways, and we still play golf and share a drink whenever I am in Delhi and he is not on the roster for the next day. I got to know Cheema, then a Flt Lt, in very peculiar and rather funny circumstances that I must add as the concluding episode of Ex Lightning.


The exercise got over on 14 April and the next day the Mirages were to fly back to Gwalior. Having known Pudding for so long, I invited him along with Jeff and a few others to a dinner in the best place in town those days, the Blue Diamond. The GM of Blue diamond, Rajan Kelshikar and his wife Neelu, had become real close to Malini, my wife, and me through the induction days since they were taking care of the Russian Warranty Team and catered for most big events at the base and the VIPs visiting us. With Rajan being kind enough to include me for discounts in the hotel, I could afford to invite a fairly decent number to the hotel as their farewell dinner. After a few drinks, Pudding got a little sentimental and carried away affectionately calling me by the distorted pet name he had for me from Adampur days, ‘Khappusky’, a Russian variation of the pet name I had on Hunters in Hasimara, and said that he still could not accept that the Mirage did not out-perform the 29, at least in the instantaneous rate of turn.


I tried to pacify him by saying things like that the Mirage was certainly a good-looking aircraft with some great qualities and systems and he should be happy that he got the beauty while I had the beast etc. Not being able to reconcile to going back in this manner, Pudding suggested that, before they ferried out the next morning, he and I should do a 1 Vs 1 to prove who was the better pilot and which really was the better aircraft in front of all the people on the base right overhead. For this, we should take off in a spectacular manner; he would take off on Runway 10 while, simultaneously, I should take off reciprocal on 28, each in our lane on the same runway, do a roll of the top and from there engage in a 1 Vs 1. Jeff was watching this conversation with a wisp of a smile and winked at me to give me encouragement.

I responded by asking pudding which Air Force he was in and that, in any case, while he could maintain his lane on take-off on the DD with its sophisticated inertial navigation system, I could barely keep the brute of a 29 on the entire runway with its two engines in full afterburner. In any case, they were supposed to ferry back quietly the next morning and the roar of three engines in full afterburner at one time would wake up even the dead and perhaps make the AOC, who was not particularly fond of me, wonder what on earth was going on, come out of his office and lynch me from the nearest tree. Why AOC Bindra was not fond of me and the good times we had together will make for another interesting story later perhaps. Pudding kept insisting on a fly-off before he left while I kept telling him to enjoy himself, his drinks and go home without such a shoot out. Jeff then told me to go ahead and take him on.


I, then, proposed that we take off with a break so that it sounds like two aircraft doing their own thing, perhaps an air test or something even like a take-off for ferry and time each aircraft from wheels roll. Each would then do a loop after take-off, a 360 degree turn and end with another loop, the whole sequence being timed from start to finish. The aircraft with the lesser timing would have proven its performance along with the skill of the pilots. A case of Black Label was agreed as the prize. The time would be kept by Jeff with a time-keeper from each side. Flt Lt Cheema was nominated from the Mirage fleet while, I think, Late Rathan or/and young Sandeep Singh were sent from our side to the ATC. Well, that is how I got to know Cheema well. I would not like to reveal the timings here but suffice it to say, the verdict was clearly in favor of the 29. After the event, Pudding tried to argue that timing from wheels roll was unfair since we had two engines and he took off on a single one. Guess he wanted us to be foolhardy enough to fly the routine on a single engine to be even. Even from unstick, the 29 was ahead by a vast margin for obvious reasons. AOC Bindra never found out, I guess, since he never asked me a question on this nor issued a warning. As far as I know, he did not question Jeff on this either. Pudding, before leaving, gave me the money for four bottles which we busted up in a fleet party on my birthday after a week on 23 April. The Sqn is still waiting for the remaining eight bottles. I last reminded Pudding of the remaining debt a month before he retired as the AOC-in-C WAC. In the meantime, Cheema got into the bad books of Pudding as the messenger with bad timings.


I think it must be obvious that I enjoyed the ’29 a lot, a little more than the Hunter on which also I have some very fond memories. With its superb aerodynamic qualities, ‘light-n-easy’ control forces, the reserve of power and some great and rugged systems not seen in contemporary fighters, the 29 was like a multi-million dollar sports car which I enjoyed hauling around and exploring its limits. Certainly, the beast was a beauty to handle and never let me down. Nor should it let down anyone with a good head on his shoulders. Handled and serviced correctly, I think the ’29 is one of the best fighting platforms in the world even today and should benefit by the upgrade in the IAF, if done right. I certainly wish the upgrade had come in my time but better late than never.”

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Note from Hush-Kit

I’m indebted to Air Marshal Harish Masand and Angad Singh in making this interview possible.


Flying & Fighting in the MiG-29: Interview with Indian Air Force ‘Fulcrum’ pilot Air Marshal Harish Masand


A modern MiG-29 of the Indian Air Force.

Air Marshal Harish Masand is a decorated veteran of the 1971 war, and a pioneer of the MiG29 in the Indian Air Force. He is one of, if not the, the most celebrated Fulcrum pilot of the Indian Air Force. His solo MiG29 displays remain the stuff of IAF legend. We spoke to him about flying the formidable MiG-29. 


“(The instantaneous turn rate of the MiG-29) Beats all 4th generation fighter that I have read about or flown. Goes into a turn with 9g, or over if you wish to exceed the limits, in a jiffy with very small and smooth movements of the controls as if you had just willed it to turn, almost like a sports car.”

What were your first impressions of the MiG-29?

“It’s an amazing fighter. First looks give a very rugged, tough and menacing look like a hooded Cobra ready to pounce. The first time I flew it, I felt I was in a Hunter all over again. In dry power, it had very similar performance in almost every aspect including ease of handling and light controls. With afterburner, it became a super Hunter with much better performance. Thereafter, I published an article entitled, “The MiG-29 is a Super Hunter” in VAYU magazine describing my impressions in greater detail (which will be shared on shortly)

Which three words best describe it?

“Awesome, incredible, deadly.”


All images: author if not otherwise specified.

When did India procure the MiG-29s and where were you trained?

“India signed the contract in 1986 and starting October 1986, the initial lot, including me, converted on the aircraft in the Soviet Union. We flew from a base called Lugovaya. After conversion and return to India, we trained others and ourselves on the aircraft.”

What is the best thing about it?

“Its thrust to weight ratio which was about 1.1:1 at take-off and came close to 1.3:1 at combat weight.”


And the worst thing?

“Not enough gas. The upgraded versions now have more internal fuel as well as AAR.”

Interview with Su-30 pilot here

How do you rate the MiG-29 in the following categories?

A. Instantaneous turn: “Beats all 4th generation fighter that I have read about or flown. Goes into a turn with 9g, or over if you wish to exceed the limits, in a jiffy with very small and smooth movements of the controls as if you had just willed it to turn, almost like a sports car.”

IMG_1004 (1).jpg

B. Sustained turn: “At the corner speed, you could sustain 9g forever at ISA+10 (Indian atmospheric conditions) till you run out of gas or break your own back/neck trying to hold such g. As a matter of fact, you had to smoothly manage and coordinate the power with onset of g in the initiation of the turn, everything happening pretty rapidly. If you put on full burners too fast compared to onset of g, the aircraft would accelerate and you have to either haul more than 9g or reduce burners.”


C. High alpha: “Carefree handling without worry of departures despite hydraulic controls with a stability augmentation system but no FBW. I used to demonstrate the tail slide on the aircraft regularly at shows within India those days. A mild judder told you when you were close to max alpha. A stick-pusher activated when you reached the stall but you could override it with a little effort. Post-stall, you could just sit back with stick fully back and the aircraft would behave like a falling leaf with slight rocking from side to side. Recovery was instantaneous with even slight relaxation on the control column and unloading.”

D. Acceleration: “Amazing due to the thrust to weight ratio and high SEP. In clean configuration, you can do a loop straight after take-off while accelerating for a max rate after finishing the loop. After a demo of slow speed handling at about 200 Km/h IAS, you could engage burners, put the landing gear lever in the ‘up’ position in one motion with your left hand and start the loop without having to unload to build-up speed.”

E. Climb rate: “Again amazing due to the same reasons. With full burner, if I remember correctly, it was about 330m/second soon after take-off.”

What was your most memorable mission? 


“I suppose my most memorable mission on the MiG-29 was the 5 minute flight I did against the Mirage 2000 at the end of comparative performance evaluation trials against the Mirages on April 15, 1988. The Mirage Squadron Commander was unhappy with the results and insisted on a personal shoot-out before his departure on a personal wager of a case of Black label. We agreed to a profile of loop after wheels roll, a 360 degree turn finishing with a loop to evaluate which aircraft could do this profile faster. I beat him with a significant margin and got 6 bottles, which were consumed by the entire fleet that very night. I still vividly remember this fun mission since the remaining 6 bottles are still awaited, hopefully with interest. The sort of fly-off is described in more details in an Article entitled ‘Rivals From the Same Team‘ published in VAYU magazine soon (which is shared on here)

10 incredible cancelled spyplanes here

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?

“In the MiG-29, we were doing DACT with almost all aircraft/squadrons of the IAF in turn for honing the skills of both sides in group combat and developing the right tactical manoeuvres. Later, as base commander of Poona and induction of the Su-30Ks, I did a number of DACT missions with the Su-30s. I found those the most challenging since the performance of both aircraft was similar.

The Su-30 had more gas and could last much longer in combat with similar performance. Therefore, the challenge always was to find ways to get a couple of quick shots and disengage before you started worrying about gas.”

Interview with MiG-25 pilot here

Interview with MiG-27 pilot here

How good were the sensors?

“Excellent. The combination of the powerful Pulse-Doppler radar, IRST and helmet mounted sight with the weapons slewed to the sensors was wonderful and unique since it did not exist on any other comparable aircraft those days.

 How easy is to fly? What is the hardest thing about flying it?

Absolutely easy with carefree handling characteristics. Like I said earlier, I felt I was flying a Super Hunter in the very first sortie on the 29 and felt absolutely at home even though I only had under 400 hours on the Hunter, flown 15 years earlier. The hardest thing was to teach my juniors how not to exceed the g limits in their excitement of engaging in combat since the aircraft had no g limiter and had to be initially flown to its limits by feel, cross-checked with the instruments as and when one could steal a glance inside. The idea was to touch 9g and stay there without having to look inside.

How would you rate the cockpit?

“Very comfortable. Roomier than all the previous Russian aircraft I had flown. Very effective cockpit air-conditioning too, also unlike all the other Russian aircraft I had flown. While we didn’t have a glass cockpit, which has now come with the upgraded MiG-29s of the IAF after I retired, personally I was very comfortable with the dials because I kept my eyes out most of the time with only an occasional glance inside. The HUD quality could have been better. I believe we have a much better HUD now along with a helmet mounted display. The voice information system, better known as Natasha, was also very helpful.”

Have you fired live weapons- if so, what was it like?

“I fired all possible weapons on the Hunter, Su-7 and the MiG-21s. Firing weapons gave you confidence in the systems and you always had the adrenalin pumping in to improve your score and win side-bets. On the MiG-29, I only fired an R-73 CCM (AA-11/Archer) on a manoeuvring target, which also was a great experience.”

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

“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.”

What is the greatest myth about the MiG-29?

“That the MiG-29 is not very reliable. With the help of technical officers, I personally carried out a reliability study on the 29s. It is a very rugged aircraft. Maintained correctly, the MTBF of systems was as good or better than most comparable systems.”


How combat effective is the MiG-29?

“For the role it’s designed, it is pretty effective. Now it has multi-role capability and more fuel so it should be even better.”

 How reliable and easy to maintain is it?

“As I said earlier, the systems are pretty reliable. Actually, the pre-flight servicing and maintenance is simple. It provides for pre-flight and operational turn-around with just replenishments with a check of the systems during start through a BITE known as EKRAN. The reliability of the systems improved if serviced in this manner. However, initially, with over-servicing and checks in the pre-flight, we burnt a lot of systems and had to cannibalise due to lack of spares, which affected the availability of the aircraft and future reliability of the systems. Periodic servicing is, perhaps, more frequent than comparable western aircraft particularly for the engines but, then, that is based on the Russian philosophy of more thrust and performance with less life. At the squadron level in the early days, without previously having ever done it, we did an engine change in just about 3 hours with another hour for a ground run check. Initially, the engines also had problems of quality control during manufacture with failure of nozzle guide vanes and internal object damage. We also had some FODs due to lack of nose wheel guards/deflectors in the initial aircraft and the position of the nose wheel relative to the main air intakes when the FOD doors were still open. We overcame the FOD problem with a change in the normal landing run technique. An example of the reliability of the engines may also interest your readers. Once, after we had landed from a mission, the technicians informed us that the right engine of my wingman’s aircraft had extensive damage. On examination, it was revealed that one of the bolts from the air intake had come loose and had been injected with all visible blades completely gnashed up. I asked my wingman if he had heard any noise during flight and whether he had noticed if he needed a few extra revs on the right engine to keep the aircraft in trim in yaw. To our surprise, my wingman said, he never heard anything and actually needed about 2% more on the undamaged left engine at cruise settings. The damaged engine had kept functioning all the way without any problems. ” 


Flying & fight in the Gnat at War here 

   Tell me something I don’t know about the Fulcrum?

“Well, in a lighter vein, I can’t do mind reading, particularly from a remote location. What is it that you don’t know but would like to know? Perhaps, you don’t know that, with the reliability and redundancy in almost all systems, the MiG-29 can be recovered with almost any in-flight failure. In all my time with the MiG-29 as a squadron commander and, later, as the base commander, we didn’t lose a single aircraft or pilot.”

 What tips would you give new pilots coming onto the MiG-29?

“The one major tip would be to learn to fly the ’29 smoothly by feel till you perfect handling the aircraft to its limits in its huge envelope. The other would be read up all the technical information on the aircraft and systems till you know it inside out to be able to handle the weapon systems efficiently and get the most out of them. Last, regularly practice gun-shots on manoeuvring targets. If you can do that, missile shots become far easier.”

How much post-stall manoeuvring can the average squadron pilot do? Is this a rare skill?

“There isn’t much any combat aircraft can do after it has stalled except to recover quickly for further manoeuvring. Therefore, in my personal opinion, post-stall manoeuvring in combat is a myth. What I would like the average squadron pilots to do is to learn to manoeuvre the aircraft at extreme alphas just short of the stall and know how to rapidly get it to the best manoeuvring alpha while still engaged with the opponent.”


What is the hardest manoeuvre to pull off in a MiG-29?

“Perhaps, the tail slide. However, it has little combat value and may be practiced only to get complete mastery of the aircraft. Apart from that, as in all 9g aircraft, the hardest human thing is to be able to look out while in a 9g manoeuvre, particularly at low-level.”

Everything you wanted to know about Indian air power (but were afraid to ask) here

What should I have asked you?

“You could have asked me if you could arrange a trip for me in the 29? I’d love to haul it around again. You could have also asked me as to why, despite the reliability and redundancy of systems, so many MiG-29s have been lost, including in the parent Russian Air Force. I would’ve just said due to poor training and leadership/supervision.”


 How important is the helmet mounted sight?

“In the early days, the helmet mounted sight was a great advantage even though it was rather primitive with just a pointing/aiming system with no other information. However, it helped cue the sensors as well the missiles on to the target and saved precious seconds in lock, launch or taking a gun-shot on the selected target.”

Interview with a Mirage 2000 pilot here


Image credit: Angad Singh

What were the biggest challenges in integrating the MiG-29, did anything need to be changed to make the most of the aircraft?

“Personally, I had the biggest challenge in trying to change the maintenance and servicing philosophy, practice and processes to extract the best from the aircraft. In addition to that, it was also a challenge to train new pilots and select the right team, which could extract the maximum out of the aircraft without compromising safety.” 

 In air combat with a Mirage 2000, who would have the advantage and why?

“Without doubt, the MiG-29 would have the advantage due to its better overall performance including in Thrust to Weight ratio and aerodynamics. ” 

More MiG-29 exploits from Air Marshal Masad here.

10 incredible cancelled spyplanes here


Note from Hush-Kit

I’m indebted to Air Marshal Harish Masand and Angad Singh in making this interview possible.

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Turkey and the Typhoon: Could it be?

31CA5131-BB0F-47DB-8FFC-B17B246B2C06.pngRussia started the delivery of the first S-400 air defence system on July 12th. The components of the system were transported to Murted Air Force Base in Ankara by Il-76 and An-124 cargo aircraft. The delivery lasted for about two weeks.

Almost immediately after the first units of the system arrived in Ankara, the United States government announced that Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 programme was suspended. This action was followed by statements from Turkish government mentioning Turkey might look for alternatives in the event of Turkey’s total removal from the programme and withholding the delivery of the aircraft. Not surprisingly, Russian officials started talking about Russia being ready to offer Su-35 fighter to Turkey.

These statements immediately sparked discussions about which alternatives Turkey might look for. Depending on a number of factors not directly related with aerospace and defence matters, the range of these alternatives wary between wide to not-so-much. One of the is the Eurofighter Typhoon

Current State of Turkish Air Force

Turkish Air Force (TurAF) has one of the largest F-16 fleet in the world. It took delivery of a total of 270 F-16C/Ds between 1987 and 2012. Currently it has around 240 F-16s, about 30 of which are older Block 30 version whereas 180 or so are Block 40 and 50’s and 30 are of the latest Block 50+. Block 40 and 50s received an extensive avionics upgrade under Peace Onyx III project. Block 30s are to receive structural upgrades to extend their service lives by 4,000 hours. These aircraft can be expected to see the end of 2020s, where later Block’s will need to be replaced by 2030s and 40s.

TurAF is one of the last users of the legendary F-4E Phantom II with a total of 182 F-4Es and 54 RF-4Es entering service between 1974 and 1994. 54 of the F-4Es were modernized by IAI of Israel between 2000 and 2003 under a project called ‘Terminator’. These aircraft, re-designated as F-4E/2020 received ELM-2032 radars, new cockpit avionics, modern comms and navigation systems as well as capability to use ELL-8233 electronic warfare pods and Popeye 1 air launched precision strike missiles.

Today, less than 40 F-4E/2020s are in service. They still shoulder strike missions against terrorist PKK targets inside and outside the country. However, the Terminator fleet is having its last days, with gradual retirement of the last flyable examples expected to start next year.

Replacement Plans

The future plan for the TurAF combat fleet had two stages: Replace F-4E/2020s with the F-35 and F-16s with the TFX, the indigenous fighter aircraft.

The first F-35As were planned to be delivered to 171st Squadron of 7th Main Jet Base at Erhac, Malatya at the end of this year. The second squadron to be equipped with the type was 172nd of the same base. Afterwards, consecutive F-35As were to be delivered to 111 and 112nd squadrons of 1st Main Jet Base at Eskisehir.

TFX, conceptual design phase of which was started in 2011 is planned to make the first flight sometime around 2025 and reach initial operational capability (IOC) around 2027-28. However ambitious it might be, this timeframe overlaps with the retirement plans of the F-16. Risks associated with the development, testing and manufacture of the aircraft, especially the engine which is targeted to be indigenous, might push those milestones further right.

Meanwhile, other countries in the region are investing heavily to modernise their air forces: Greece is upgrading 84 of its F-16s to F-16V standard and is reported to have an interest in acquiring at least a squadron of F-35s. Israel has taken delivery of 16 F-35As and is expected to get at least 50 of the aircraft and is also discussing of getting extra F-15s. Egypt is acquiring Rafales from France and MiG-35s from Russia and is also reportedly in negotiation with the latter for Su-35s. Syria, while its once formidable air force is decimated, fields S-300 air defence system. The security situation in the Eastern Mediterranean can be compared to a ticking time bomb.

Bottom line: Turkey needs to keep its combat aircraft capabilities up to date, regardless of the outcome of the F-35 issue or the coming of TFX.

Turkey and the Typhoon: Could it be?

Many would naturally expect the S-400 to be followed by other weapon systems such as a combat aircraft. But acquiring a modern fighter aircraft from Russia would probably have much more complex military, strategic and political consequences involved, and it would turn into a side-effect of a much more intricate strategic problem. The same would also apply for China. In other words, getting fighter aircraft from either of these two countries, although not entirely impossible, seem to be very unlikely to be realized. Time and budget required to induct and absorb these aircraft, their weapon and mission systems, their supply chain, training and doctrine and required infrastructure would be huge. The same also applies for procurement of a new type of fighter from the West, albeit significantly lower cost for weapons procurement because TurAF already fields similar, interoperable weapons.

Eurofighter Typhoon is frequently discussed among aviation circles in both Turkey and elsewhere, especially because of the relatively good relations of the country with UK and Italy. It is indeed ironic that the name of this aircraft comes to agenda every once in a long while depending on the course of relations with the US and Europe.

Turkey was officially invited to the Eurofighter program in 1984, during the then Minister of National Defence Zeki Yavuzturk’s visit to UK in September that year. Back then, Turkey was having serious economic difficulties and the focus was given to the F-16 project: The selection was announced previous year and preparations were underway for establishment of assembly line for the aircraft and the engine. Alas, involvement did not happen.

Two decades later, Italy, which was responsible of marketing of the Typhoon to Turkey, came with a seemingly lucrative offer: The Eurofighter consortium offered Turkey an equal partnership. During early 2000s, Turkey’s relations with the EU were promising: The country was formally accepted as a EU-member candidate and diplomatic and economic relations rapidly flourished. Pilots from TurAF made test flights with the Typhoon in Italy. Alas, Turkey went for 30 F-16 Block 50+s.

Italy did not give up: Around 2009-10, they renewed their offer in the form of Typhoon 2020 with additional capabilities, again equal industrial partnership and transfer of technology. Press reports stated that the offer covered 40 aircraft, worth of two squadrons. Turkey rejected the offer and started the TFX program.

Today, realisation of this alternative might depend on two main factors. Economy (or budget) and the direction of US – Turkish relations.

Getting brand new Typhoon’s would be very costly. On the other hand, getting used ones would be a cheaper solution. Italy is known to have been offering some of its Typhoons’s in the second hand market for some time. These might indeed be considered as a stop gap solution. Seemingly more feasible than getting brand new aircraft in terms of delivery time and cost, again achieving IOC would take a couple of years.

And also, there is another factor: US involvement. US sourced technology and components that are subject to ITAR and other export control mechanism are found in virtually all Western combat aircraft in various percentages. Typhoon is no exception. Depending on the severity of Turkish – US ties, Washington might pursue more aggressive measures against Turkey to directly or indirectly; formally or informally block transfer of advanced technology. This scenario is unlikely, but then again, it is a risk factor that has to be taken into account.

S-400 seems to have changed many things…

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Arda Mevlutoglu is an astronautical engineer. He is currently working as the VP of an international trading and consultancy company, focusing on defense and aerospace sector. He is currently working as the Vice President of Defense Programs at an international trading and consultancy company. His research focuses on defense industry technology, policies and geopolitical assessments, with a focus to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region. His works have been published in various local and international journals such as Air Forces Monthly, Air International, Combat Aircraft, EurasiaCritic, ORSAM Middle East Analysis. He has been quoted by Financial Times, Reuters, BBC, Al Monitor, CNN Turk and TRT on issues covering Turkish defence industry and military developments.