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Flying & fighting in the Mirage 2000: Interview with Mirage 2000 pilot

 

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Few aircraft inspire confidence and love in their pilots like the Mirage 2000. We spoke to Group Captain MJA Vinod (formerly of the Indian Air Force) about the Mirage 2000 and found out it is a lot more potent than many observers believe and how it may even have some advantages over the much vaunted Su-30 Flanker

 

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Which three words best describe it?

“Agile, Aggressive and Awesome.”

What is the best thing about it?

“Ease of handling the machine, I don’t remember if there has ever been a single landing accident in a Mirage 2000, that is because of carefree handling qualities of Mirage 2000 and of course the quality of training in the unit.”

..and the worst thing?

“I am of a firm believer that there should be two engines in a fighter aeroplane, twin engine fighters have a huge advantage. I believe Dassault Aviation came up a twin-engine version of Mirage 2000 called the Mirage 4000. It wasn’t pursued because the Rafale programme by then had gathered steam and as a policy I guess Dassault Aviation shelved the project. Yes! I do wish there was one more engine. Snecma (now Safran) engines are very reliable that way. I do not recollect any incident where the engine just quit out of the blue.

How you rate the 2000 in the following categories?

Instantaneous turn “Best in the Class, I don’t think there is any fighter comes any close, this needs to be measured with roll and rate of onset of the turn (called tau). In a common language, it means when I spot a bogey how fast can I bank to the required degree, initiate a turn and point towards him. In this regard Mirage 2000 is the best.”

Sustained turn “This is a question of aerodynamics; any delta planform generates higher drag than non- delta planform. Therefore, sustained rate is a function of drag and thrust. Practically, sustained rate is rarely needed, worst case scenario is a bogey on your six in close combat; the Mirage 2000 has enough power, rate of roll and ‘tau’ to shake him off. Mirage 2000 has another unique system that mitigates this Drag and produces adequate lift to sustain the turn and that is slats, with slats at low speeds, in a close combat engagement you can’t get away from a Mirage 2000.”

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High alpha – Nothing can beat a Delta platform in this regard, be it MiG 21 or Mirage 2000.

I’m a bit confused by this, is a MiG-29 or Su-30 with a tailed delta not superior?

“High Alpha needs to be understood in its context, High angle of attack does not mean high lift, it is means requisite lift is produced at higher angle of attack, Su-30 MiG-29 are not tailed delta, MiG-21 is a tailed delta. Originally the MiG-21 was not designed as a delta planform, but designers filled the extra space and found that long root to mid chord gave advantage in producing lift and could carry additional fuel and house part of undercarriage etc. So in this case, the delta planform was born more by accident. French adopted it without tail and made Mirage series of fighters. Tailless deltas (without fly-by -wire) like the Mirage III and Mirage V that Pakistan has, suffers from extra drag in the low-speed regime, which an inherently unstable platform like the Mirage 2000 does not suffer from, it is aerodynamics. For a layman, if he watches a Mirage V at low speed and Mirage 2000 at low speed he will see the elevons (the movable part of the trailing edge of a delta wing) in a Mirage 5 is not neutral (not raised or lowered) while in a Mirage 2000 elevons are very close to neutral.”

Acceleration – “You’ve got to pay attention to control the speed in M2K, she is very quick to accelerate.”

Climb rate “At close to 300 metres per second she climbs to the altitude of business in no time.”

What was your most memorable mission?

“It is not just one moment of ‘awe’. Flying the M2K was memorable, on every mission. If I was to place my finger on one such mission, I would choose carrying out a laser-guided bomb attack inside a valley where you are doing a lot of head down work with peripheral awareness of the mountains around you. It is this kind of training that brought us on top during Kargil. The ease with which Mirage 2000 took out Tiger Hill with just one LGB was awesome to say the least.

Low level night flying and night missions are particularly challenging and adrenaline pumping. One such mission over desert was one of the most demanding mission I ever flew, it was winter and when I landed, I was drenched in sweat.”

 

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

You may also be interested in this interview with an IAF MiG-29 pilot

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?
“I have flown DACT piloting a MiG-21 and Mirage 2000 with almost all aircraft of IAF’s inventory. Close combat is more of a skill-based deal, yes aircraft capability matters a lot, aided by systems on board, like Helmet Mounted Sights and HUD, adds to the ease of getting a kill. I would still grade skill over capability of the aeroplane. In that regard, the  DACT that I have flown against the MiG-21 Type-75 have been most memorable. A MiG-21 flown by experienced pilot can take you by surprise.”

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And why was this?
“The MiG-21 can be flown to much higher Alpha if need be, and pull higher ‘G’ if it is like a life or death situation, neither Viper nor M2K can do that. In that regard, in the able hands of someone like Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s, the MiG-21 can do great.”

How good were the sensors? “Best as of now, I am waiting to see what its big brother Rafale is going to bring to the table. Right now, with the kind of radar and other sensors Mirage 2000 I/TI has, I would rate it the best in the sub-continent. When Mirage 2000 is in the air, the Pakistani military run… and that is a fact.”

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

“Very easy to fly, basic flying is a piece of cake. Hard part is, unlike Su-30 where you have a weapon system operator, here you are on your own doing as complex missions as a Su-30. That’s why I said, in a Mirage 2000 ally it is always heads down study, practice, prepare, simulator runs etc. Fun part is flying the mission.”

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Is the cockpit tiny?

“Ha ha! That is a wrong question to a MiG 21 guy, compared to a MiG 21 which is like a one room condo, Mirage 2000 is like a palace on wheels. No! the cockpit is adequately spacious.”

You may also be interested in this interview with a PAF JF-17 pilot

How would you rate the cockpit?

“One a scale of 1-10? 10.”

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

“Yes! Fast, you fire and in a fraction of a second it’s gone, until you see the splash on the target, until then you wonder ‘where did it go?'”

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

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“It is Man-Machine-Weapon combo. There is no other in like the Mirage 2000 today in this regard. Be it BVR or close combat. Viper is underpowered machine when it’s loaded out for a mission. MiG-29 is brute power. Mirage 2000 enjoys good power in highest load-out and electronic and system suites to complement the mission.”

What is the greatest myth about the 2000?

“Since it visually looks like Mirage III and Mirage V it may manoeuvre like it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Mirage 2000 is a fly-by-wire machine, which is inherently unstable, it’s safety margin is not the aerodynamics design factor, it is the software and the fly by wire managed deal. All these leads to less drag and higher manoeuvrability.”

You may also be interested in this interview with a IAF Su-30 pilot 

How combat effective is the M2000?

“Best in the class and best in the sub-continent.”

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

How reliable and easy to maintain is it?

“Frenchmen design the aeroplanes well, be it Mirage class, or Airbus. It is an engineer’s delight. Extremely easy to change components, parts, even an engine.”

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

“It’s not common knowledge that the small strake on the air intake energises the fin at high alpha thereby making it more directionally stable. This allowed for a smaller fin, saving weight and drag. That small little fixed surface on the air intake does all of this.”

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What tips would you give new pilots coming onto the M2000?

“Keep up the tradition of Mirage 2000 ally, whichever aeroplane you come from, heads down study hard, know the system, train in the simulator, go out there in the blue yonder and enjoy seeing your hard work paying off.

What is going on with Tejas? Full story here

I’ve heard the M2000 has a bad rate of sustained turn, is this an issue in air-to-air combat?

“Like I explained earlier, no, The practicality of a sustained turn in a combat situation is minuscule, fighter aeroplanes are not designed for air shows, it is designed to perform a job and that job is warfighting. In that regard Mirage 2000 does its job better than any other aeroplane.”

What is the hardest manoeuvre to pull off in a M2000?

“Low level aerobatics, it needs a lot of practice, flying currency, concentration and flawless execution.”

As a personal opinion: What should the IAF procure and what should it get rid of?

“Like the old leaves fall off and the new leaves grow, IAF too has planned its future well. It is well on its way to modernise. I cannot think of anything that IAF is not doing right this time, especially under Modi Govt. In all spheres IAF is well ahead of the curve and expectation. I have no doubt on this matter.”

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It appears that the IAF tasks the 2000 with a2g rather than a2a, why is this?

“That perception is wrong, armed with MICA, the Mirage 2000 is the most formidable fighter in the sky in air-air missions. That’s why the enemy gives Mirage a wide berth. Armed with Spice and other smart weapons, Mirage is equally formidable in air-ground work. For the general public it is the air-ground work that comes to mind, not the for the fact that many times Vipers tucked in their tails and ran away from a Mirage 2000. Therefore it may appear that way, but it is not a fact. It is a superior machine all round.”

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 In air combat with a MiG-29, who would have the advantage and why?

“Air combat has gone through a paradigm shift in my lifetime. I started with close combat missiles, then came A4M and later BVR. All of them call for different kind of skill, and aircraft capability. In that regard I would rate Mirage 2000 much higher than any aeroplane currently.”

By this you mean it’s the best air combat platform in the IAF?

“Air Combat has gone through a paradigm shift in my lifetime. I started with close combat missiles, then came A4M and later BVR. All of them call for different kind of skill, and aircraft capability. In that regard I would rate Mirage 2000 much higher than any aeroplane currently.”

 

Does this mean you consider it superior to the Su-30 for the BVR mission, if so — why?

“It would not be right to say, a particular aircraft is superior to the other in all aspects. Every aircraft, especially fighter aircraft are optimised for a certain role and manoeuvrability. Depending on how the designer envisaged it. Russians pay a lot of heed to manoeuvrability, manoeuvres that a Su 30 or a MiG-29 can do, like the Pugachevs cobra or Kulbits are signature manoeuvres that aircraft designed by the West cannot do. Why? Because they didn’t envisage that the aeroplane would need to do such a manoeuvre during air combat. As regards BVR missions, two things are very important, one is look (AKA ‘radar range’), next is the weapon that can hit far (AKA ‘weapon reach’). On paper and in real IAF scores over Pakistan in both. With inclusion of Astra, IAF has acquires indigenous capability too, which has pushed this divide between ‘haves and have nots’ even further.”

How does it compare with the Su-30?

“Su-30 has its advantage in employment in certain areas and Mirage 2000 in certain areas. Together they make a very potent force. Being part of the same side, comparison of both is meaningless. But I can say this, head to head, Su-30 or Mirage 2000 are greatly superior to the Viper, and the reason is very simple, both are later designs than the Viper. They are not underpowered like the Viper and have better weapon range and radar range.”

 What were the biggest challenges in integrating the M2000 did anything need to be changed to make the most of the aircraft?

“In that regard I would once again like to give that credit to Indo-France co-operation. The way the aeroplane was inducted into the IAF is a test bookcase of a project management. If aircraft induction was ‘T’, T minus four years, brick-by-brick things were built, training was carried out and capabilities were enhanced. When Mirage 2000 flew into India, it was like it came back to its base in France. Kudos to those magnificent flying men at that time who made this happen. The story continued during its life-cycle and during upgrade. France has been a great friend for India. Our co-operation, especially for the Air Force, it dates to the days of Dassault Ouragan i.e. June 1953.”

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How does its situational awareness compare with the Su-30 – any why?

“I haven’t flown the Su-30, however what I can say is Su-30 in the air is a nightmare for many because of its tremendous capability… because of its radar range, weapon range and load-out.”

How would you fight a MiG-29 in WVR DACT? In what altitude/speed set-ups does the M2000 have the advantage – how would the M2000 like to fight?

“The MiG-29, like any Russian fighter, manoeuvres extremely well. Like I said before, WVR depends more on pilot’s skill, his situational awareness and his/her ‘Sang Froid’ in a fight. IAF pilots score over anybody in this regard, simply because of our training. The art of WVR is something that is very close to any IAF’s pilots heart. Yes! Again same-side fight is not envisaged. Against a Viper or a JF-17? Pakistani pilots need to think twice before engaging.”

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

How confident would a M2000 pilot feel going 1 v 1 against the following:

PAF JF-17

“Can beat this extremely underpowered fighter in any fight. This is not a rhetoric, I have commented on it earlier. The JF-17 project should have been shelved because it does not tick any box of a modern-day fighter.”

PAF F-16

“The F-16 was designed in the 70s to counter MiGs. Two to four within visual range missiles and one external fuel tank and that’s it. Over time this single-engine fighter has been made to do more than its design. It is a compromise, in these condition it is, again unfair to expect a Viper to win against a Mirage 2000.”

PAF Mirage

The PAF Mirage is a non fly-by-wire tailless delta. Which suffers heavily in the aerodynamic sense. You ask any aerodynamicist he will tell you the same. It has neither the (first) look nor the weapon range, and they don’t train for it either. It is more of a strike aircraft, treated, trained and used as such by Pakistan.”

PAF F7

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“Same answer as above. Both are in their last leg of life. F7 should have been retired long ago. Pakistan is not able to retire them, because they don’t have replacement yet. JF-17 was to replace them, it couldn’t, as it ran into rough weather itself: it was plagued by a plethora of issues, the engines being the major concern for Pakistan.”

When did Indian procure the Mirage 2000 and where were you trained?

“It was June of 1985 My Sqn i.e. 7 Sqn Battle Axes were formed with the latest Digital Deltas. I joined the Sqn in 97 and trained in India.”

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Which aircraft have you flown and with which units?

“I have flown Kiran Mk I and Mk-II in the academy as a cadet and later as an instructor. MiG-21 with Oorials as a Flight Commander with Warriors, and with the Eighth Pursoots as an Instructor. Mirage 2000 with the Battle Axes and with all the other Mirage 2000 units when I was the Senior Flight Safety Officer. I have also flown in Hunter, Jaguar, Pilatus, HPT-32. As a Flying Instructor I have instructed in HPT-32, Kiran & MiG-21.”

What were your first impressions of the Mirage 2000?

“I came from the MiG-21 type-75, those days only pilots from T-75 were being inducted onto the M2000 because at the end of one’s MOFT (MiG Operational Flying Training) only the top two or three graduating after 1+ year of training went to a T-75 squadron. T-75 was at that time the top-of-the-line fighter, second to only the Mirage 2000 and the MiG-29. Before induction of the Mirage 2000 and MiG-29, T-75 ruled the roost. That and since MiG-21 T-75 pilots had more combat flying experience they were the only pilots finding their way to the ASFs. The MiG-21 was an aircraft with conventional control, however, in the Mirage the pilot is inside the control loop. A pilot’s demand is a request in a FBW (Fly-by-Wire) control loop. Within the safety limit and the aircraft’s capability at that time based on the height, speed, configuration etc the aircraft adhered to your ‘request’. This was a big change. It took some time to adjust to this. Additionally, the load-out of Mirage 2000 was a quantum jump from MiG 21, therefore the amount of manuals that you need to study and understand was also big. In the Mirage allay (the place where Mirage crews stay in a station) in the evening, Fighter Pilots are found studying more than having fun. Oh yes, these changes were huge compared to the rest of the Air Force!”

What should I have asked you?

“You have tailored it well.”

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

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Airlifters of the world, unite and take over! An idiot’s guide to today’s modern military transport aircraft

 

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Are you up to speed with a new generation of tactical transport aircraft? Know your Shaanxi from your Embraer? If not, then here is an approachable guide to the lovable juggernauts currently in production (so no C-17). Airlifters of the world, unite and take over! 

Kawasaki C-2 ‘Digital Dirtbike’ 

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Japan does things its own way. With only a small domestic order they have succeeded in making a world-class strategic transport. which is pretty miraculous. Even with the delays caused by F-15Js hogging the air force budget and failures during the C-2s testing, the programme has progressed far quicker than its European rival, the A400M.

A degree of commonality with its cousin has helped the C-2, the P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, has helped as has a strong desire in Japan to re-enter the global arms market. The increased reliability of jet engines in the last thirty years has seen large airliners turning from four to two engines, the C-2 follows this trend. It is likely that its two turbofans are far less troublesome than the advanced turboprop system of the comparable A400M. It is not known if the aircraft has the fine handling characteristics of a Kawasaki motorcycle.

Max payload: 37.6 tons

Max take-off weight: 132.5 tons

Max speed: Mach 0.76

Shaanxi Y-9 ‘Super Panda Cub’

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Just think Chinese C-130J. The Shaanxi Y-8 was a knock-off of the Soviet An-12, an aircraft similar in role, weight and age to the original C-130. The Y-8 was modernised to become the Y-9. Like the C-130J, there is a multitude of specialised variants of the Y-9.

 

Payload: 25 tons + (55,090lb)

Max. takeoff weight: 77 tons (170,000lbs)

Max speed: ~650km/h+ (351kt, 404 mph+)

 

Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules ‘New faithful’

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The original C-130 was so expensive to develop that legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson predicted it would kill Lockheed.  His prophecy proved spectacularly wrong, and the type become synonymous with the tactical transport. The masterstroke of America’s new transports was the use of the turboprop, making the Hercules faster than piston-engined airlifters, and less thirsty and intolerant of bad conditions than jets. The C-130 was in production for an insanely long time: it started in the presidency of Eisenhower and ended in that of George W. Bush! No aircraft but another Hercules could replace it and in 1999 the C-130J Super Hercules entered service. The C-130J is a Hercules in appearance and general form only, as virtually every system is new. Following a rather shaky start, the C-130J is now a huge success and serves around the world with just about every air arm that isn’t on a boycott list. It has spawned maritime patrol, gunship, special forces support, tanker, weather reconnaissance and civilian variants. It has also appeared in number of films, including Jurassic Attack.

Max payload: 19 tons (for 2.5G operations)

Max take-off weight: 79 tons 175,000 lbs (overload configuration)

Max speed: 348 kts / 645 km/h

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Antonov An-178 ‘The Kiev Killer-whale’ 

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Antonov have made more tactical transports than anyone else. The Ukrainian company specialises in large tough aircraft, and despite disinformation efforts made by a certain country hostile to Ukraine, the company remains in business. It is certainly a far more challenging time for Antonov than its golden Soviet era, when its designs poured off the assembly lines in massive numbers for both the military and civilian market of both the Warsaw Pact and friendly countries around the world. Uncertainty has dogged the programme which follows the unfortunate, but potentially excellent, An-70 of the 1990s. The An-78 is primarily intended to replace Cold War types which include the Antonov An-12, An-26 and An-32. The aircraft shares around 50-60% commonality with the An-148/158 regional jetliners. With Antonov’s wealth of transport know-how it is likely that the An-178 should prove a superb machine if it can overcome the perilous situation of its motherland.

Max load:  18 tons

Max take-off weight: 51 tons

Max speed: Mach 0.8, max. cruising speed 825 km/h

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Alenia C-27J Spartan ‘The Pocket Herc’ 

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A pocket Hercules with half the amount of engines, the plucky Spartan is tough, superbly manoeuvrable, and seemingly able to do anything that is asked of it. The origins of the aircraft are pretty bizarre, it started life as a V/STOL transport built to support the NBMR-3  NATO supersonic V/STOL strike fighter (the same brief that gave us the bananas Do-31). As has been noted on this site before, NBMR-3 is a kind of Kevin Bacon of aircraft projects: almost all aircraft can be traced back in less than six steps to NBMR-3. The project was headed by the great Giuseppe Gabrielli, arguably the most prolific aircraft designer of history (he was responsible for the formidable G.55). The VTOL need was dropped when NBMR-3 was scrapped but the transport, now the G.222, was continued as a conventional aircraft; what Italy wanted was a essentially a ‘hot-rod C-119 Boxcar’, a tough little airlifter that could land anywhere and survive in austere situations. This the G.222 did brilliantly. It was reborn in 1999, cleverly utilising the same glass cockpit and engines as the new C-130J. The result is perhaps the most underrated military aircraft in service. Its less than less-than-steller career in the US has nothing to do with the aircraft and a lot to do with the USAF jealous suspicious of the US Army’s procurement of fixed-wing aircraft.

Airbus C-295 ‘Mr Understated’

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The Clark Kent of military aircraft, the 295 unassuming looks belie its remarkable powers. Though barely thought about, the 295 is performing myriad tasks around the world with a multitude of air arms.

Max payload: 9.25 tons

Maximum take-off weight: 23 tons

Max speed: 576 km/h (311 knots, 358 mph)

Il-76MD-90A ‘Super Candid’ 

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During the long bitter Soviet Afghan War, the Il-76 carried 89% of Soviet troops and 74% of all the freight that was airlifted. As Afghan rebels were unable to shoot down Il-76s at the aircraft’s high operating altitudes they instead adopted the tactic of attacking the transport aircraft during its take-off and landing runs. Il-76 pilots faced frequent assaults by Stinger and Strela missiles as well as heavy machine-gun fire. Despite this, the IL-76s suffered relatively few casualties — testimony to both the daring skill of the crews and the fact that the aircraft was built like a tank. Of course the aircraft is not indestructible, and two were destroyed in drone strikes in Libya earlier this year.

With almost 1000 airframes produced, upgrades were inevitable. The upgraded versions have a glass cockpit, upgraded avionics, new internal wing structure and far more efficient Aviadvigatel PS-90 engines. Both new-build and modernised aircraft feature these systems, being the product of a Russian manufacturer its slightly tricky to work out which are completely new, but the curious can make their own conclusions after digesting the official website.

Max payload: 60 tons (normal limit 52 tons)

Max take-off weight: 210 tons

Max speed: Mach 0.82

Embraer KC-390 ‘The São José Colossus’

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Yes — as I recently explained to a family member as we boarded an ERJ — Brazil makes aircraft and they’re excellent. The RAF’s Tucano was designed in Brazil as were the  phallic ERJ series and desperately dull E-Jet family. This Hercules-class transport builds on this experience. It’s a big gamble, but one that may well pay off. The project has moved swiftly, garnering important partnerships – including a cooperation agreement with Boeing (whatever that means), and industrial arrangements with several nations including Argentina and the Czech Republic (Aero Vodochody makes the rear fuselage). Embraer boasts of the KC-390 will have the lowest life cycle costs in the medium airlift market which may prove true. The ‘390 is analogous to the An-178 and it will be interesting to see how the two fare.

Max payload:  26,000 kg (57,320 lb)

Max take-off weight: 86,999 kg (191,800 lb)

Max speed: Mach 0.8

Xi’an Y-20 胖妞 ‘Chubby Girl’

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Yes it looks like a C-17 (albeit with rather more elegant 50s-style engine nacelles, a bit less flab and a natty Commie paint-job) but the Y-20 is its own machine. Was espionage involved in the design? Quite probably, but it’s hard to see how else you could sensibly design an aircraft in the class. For example —  how many other aircraft on this list have a tail that resembles that of the YC-15? As with most Chinese aircraft, it is using stopgap engines: until the arrival of the DS-20 it will use the Soloviev D-30. This is essentially a non-afterburning higher bypass version of the engine used on the MiG-31 so is clearly not the ideal power-plant for efficiency. I’m being slightly mean here, as the engine was originally designed for the Tu-134 — and its more modern versions power the Tu-154M —  but it is still far behind Western engines. It will do the job however, and the Y-20 will be a shot in the arm for the PLAAF who currently rely on a rather geriatric fleet of Cold War types.

MTOW: 220000 kg (485,000 lb)

Max payload: 66 tonnes (145,505 lb)

Cruise speed: Mach 0.75

Airbus A400M Atlas ‘The Bulbous of Seville’ 

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Despite the project starting life an astonishing thirty seven years ago, Europe’s airlifter remains a tad immature. Depending on your personal politics you can blame any of the following culprits: Lockheed, who flirted with the European companies before jumping ship to create the C-130J; the partner nation’s governments for interfering; the companies involved for slowing down the project — though admittedly the Cold War ending could not have been predicted — and charging too much; the nature of collaborative projects which are always slow and expensive; the design with its controversial and overly ambitious power-plant and transmission system (which was given to a team with insufficient experience) or the fact it was made in Europe which always makes things expensively. Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing the A400M is the fact it is not American, it is hard to imagine the type not being a massive success if it had emerged from the Boeing sheds with USAF as the primary customer. Somewhat ironically, it would be perfect for USAF.

Airbus underestimated how much of a pain it was working with air forces, and the type suffered from being pushed through arbitrary testing milestones rather than concentrating on what was absolutely necessary.  Which is a shame as the type has a great deal of potential. If it can live up to the promise of being a machine that could can carry out the strategic missions in tactical conditions — and do so with reliability, survivability and manageable costs  — it will be a truly great aircraft.

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Max cargo load: 37 tons

Max take-off weight: 141000 kg (310,852 lb)

Top speed: Mach 0.72

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Special thanks to Thomas Newdick.

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Cooperative sensors for target detection and tracking in combat

 

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On land, beneath the sea and in the air, military targets are becoming harder to detect. Furthermore, target platforms are increasingly equipped with warning sensors that alert their crews to any attempts to detect, track and target them using active means. How then to track stealthy targets without being detected? To do this, only passive sensors can be used, examples being direction-finding radio, infra-red seeker trackers (IRST), or hydrophones in the sub-surface environment. The aim is to build information on the target position, speed and track, to the accuracy required to launch an attack, without using active means of detection, and the problem is that the passive sensors, in general, provide bearing, but not, directly, range. The answer lies in cooperation and data sharing between sensor platforms and then the use of derived track and position data by targeting platforms.

 

Land Manned Armoured Reconnaissance

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This example, involving static, or near-static operation is relatively straightforward. In a typical reconnaissance mission, a troop of recce assets penetrate enemy held territory to observe key locations, such as a river crossing, to determine whether enemy bridging assets are present, or not. Suppose that, while en route to the river crossing, the troop has deployed to a number of observation posts and is examining the way ahead from under cover. It detects an enemy recce asset on ground that overlooks their intended route. Ideally, the troop would like to have this asset destroyed without giving away its own presence, or position. The commander, using short-range secure comms asks two of his vehicles to take bearings on the target using their IR sights. Knowing their own positions via GPS, simple geometry allows the position of the enemy to be determined. This information will then allow targeting information to be provided to supporting long-range artillery, for example, without disclosing the presence of the recce troop. It is important that the baseline (the distance between the vehicles taking bearings on the enemy) is not too small compared with the range to the target to ensure accurate range information can be derived.

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Air

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Similar considerations would apply in an air-to-air engagement, where the use of radar as a search sensor would alert the enemy. Once again, IR sensors would be the preferred means of target acquisition. The PIRATE IRST on Typhoon, for example, can accurately provide bearings to IR sources (including those with low radar signature) with high accuracy and at a high rate. One way of localising the target is to perform a weave manoeuvre to generate changing bearings from which range can be derived, but this does take time and risks disclosing that detection has occurred.

irst_pirate_presentation.jpgThe Loyal Wingman concept, however, would allow IRST bearings to be rapidly generated using the same triangulation approach as in the land example, but in a much more dynamic environment. Sharing of IRST data between platforms via secure datalink, along with accurate time-stamping and sensor platform location via GPS, would allow rapid generation of targeting information, displayed to the pilots or operators, without alerting the threat aircraft to their detection, particularly if the cooperating sensor platforms are themselves stealthy. One benefit of the air domain is that the mobility of the platforms will easily allow a sufficiently long baseline between the search assets to aid rapid and accurate target track generation.

Sub-surface

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For submarines, stealth is absolutely critical, and the use of active sensors is to be avoided if at all possible. But, even using a towed hydrophone array, detection and localisation of a target is a time-consuming process, which is likely to require repositioning the submarine to determine target range. However, the use of wire-guided underwater vehicles (UV) equipped with hydrophones might allow targets to be more rapidly localised, using similar approaches to the Loyal Wingman in the Air environment, aided by direct secure communication of UV position and target bearing through the guidance wires.

Conclusion

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Defence forces worldwide are increasingly interested in exploiting networked forces, comprising a mix of manned and unmanned platforms using data exchange between platforms to enhance their effectiveness against low signature targets. In the air sector, we can safely assume that F-22, F-35 and the Tempest project (and the electronic environment in which they are designed to operate) already anticipate elements of this capability. This type of data connectivity is less apparent in current land doctrine, and another area in which it may come to the fore is the detection and engagement of armed unmanned air vehicles, which could represent a significant threat to armoured vehicles (which tend to have relatively modest protection against top-attack threats).

Jim Smith & Ron Smith Sept 2019

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Top 24 most powerful jet fighters

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In the 1939, the first jet aircraft limped into the air on a meagre 4.41 kN (992 lbf) of push. Sixty years later the most powerful jet fighters had over eighty times more thrust. Here is a paean to the awe-inspiring power that turns heavy slabs of plastic and metal into supersonic (and often balletic) flying machines. These are the 20 top places for the fighters with the most grunt, filled by 24 truly thunderous fighter aircraft! 

20. Dassault Rafale 

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Max thrust: 150 kN (33,720 lbf)

19. MiG-35 ‘Fulcrum’

Max thrust: 176.6kN  (38,800 lbf)

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18. Eurofighter Typhoon

40,500Ib 180 kN

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17. McDonnell Douglas/IAI F-4E Kurnass 2000

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Maximum thrust: 183.12 kN (41,170Ib)

16. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

Maximum thrust: 190 kN (43,000IB)

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15. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet 44/Dassault Mirage 4000

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Maximum thrust: 197.9 kN (44,000lbf)

14. Lavochkin La-250

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Maximum Thrust: 196.0 kN (44,100Ib)

13. Tupolev Tu-28 ‘Fiddler’tu128_01-741x468.jpg

Maximum Thrust: 198.2 kN (44,600 lbf)

12. Mikoyan MiG-25 ‘Foxbat

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Maximum Thrust: 200.2 kN (45,000 lbf)

11. Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow

Maximum Thrust: 210 kN (47,000 lbf)

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10. McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle

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Maximum Thrust: 212.8 kN (47,840 lbf)

9. Sukhoi Su-27SK ‘Flanker

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Maximum Thrust: 245.2 kN (55,200lbf)

8. Grumman F-14D Tomcat

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Maximum thrust: 250 kN (56,400lbf)

7.  Boeing F-15 Eagle (229 powered variants)

Maximum thrust: 259.4 kN (58,320 lbf)

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6. Lockheed YF-12

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Maximum thrust: 280kN (63,000Ibf)

5. Sukhoi Su-35

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Maximum Thrust: 284kN (64,000 lbf) with afterburner

4.  Sukhoi Su-57 PAK FA

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Maximum Thrust: 294.4kN (66,200lb)

3. Mikoyan MiG-31 & Sukhoi Su-47 (S-37) Berkut

Maximum thrust: 306 kN (68,000 lbf)

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2. Joint 2nd place. Lockheed Martin Raptor & Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23

Maximum thrust: 312kN (70,000lbf)

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  1. Chengdu J-20 & Mikoyan MiG-1.44 

Maximum thrust: 360kN (80,000Ibs)

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Plane-spotting exhibition in London

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This is a very pared-down version of the full-scale exhibition that Dorian held last November. Hush-kit asked Dorian a few questions about this successful exhibition back then, but he’s been so overwhelmed with interest it’s taken until now to get a response.

WHY a Plane-Spotting Exhibition?

Well, most people put all the old shit they find in the attic onto eBay but I thought it would be more fun to have an exhibition. Also, I have calculated that I must have drunk a thousand glasses of free wine at other people’s Art Opening Nights, and it was time I put something back in. On reflection, it would have been interesting to record each glass of wine with the precision I showed in my aircraft records.

What motivates Plane Spotters? I may not be the person to ask, as I gave it up 30 years ago to do it for a living, as an Air Traffic Controller. I suspect there may be the unreachable objective of seeing every aircraft in the world. I found I liked the spin-off things, such as the knowledge of geography- I knew the capital of Surinam and where it was when few of my contemporaries did. And stickers, of course. Stickers were quite important.

Do Plane Spotters have a sense of humour? Of course. Unbounded. You’ve heard of LAAS-the London Amateur Aviation Society? HK: Of course. Well, we used to sing “We are LAAS” to the tune of Gary Numan’s “We are Glass”.

More here

  • Art Workers Guild

    6 Queen Square, WC1N 3AT London, United Kingdom

    Hobbs.jpgThe AWG Table Top Museum – Open House 2019

    Sunday 22 September, 11 am – 6 pm

    The Art Workers’ Guild Table Top Museum is back for its fourth year, in conjunction with Open House weekend. Join us for an inventive celebration of the madness and the individual and extraordinary rules of those who collect, organised by Bro. Stephen Fowler.

    Come and delight in an exhibition of 23 installations, curated by Guild Brothers and others selected by invitation, featuring molluscs, plane spotters notebooks, stereoscopes, blank paper and the archive of Zenda, to name but a few.

What is going on with the Indian Tejas?

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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.

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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.

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

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.

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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.

You may also be interested in this interview with a IAF Su-30 pilot 

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.

What’s unusual about Tejas’ wing? Full story here

Interview with a IAF Mirage 2000 pilot here 

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.

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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

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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.

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Gripen

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.

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MiG-21

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

You may also be interested in this interview with an IAF MiG-29 pilot

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.

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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.

You may also be interested in this interview with a PAF JF-17 pilot

 

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.”

What’s unusual about Tejas’ wing? Full story here

 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

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Air Marshal Harish Masand is a decorated veteran of the 1971 war, and a pioneer of the MiG29 force of 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 learning to master MiG-29 and its similarities to another fighter thoroughbred, the Hawker Hunter. 

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Air Marshal Harish Masand describes his part in the 1971 war to Hushkit.net,  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 bharat-rakshak.com. 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.

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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

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.