Category: Uncategorized

What is the best looking aircraft currently in production? 2019

What is the best looking aircraft currently in production?


Have your say. Answer in comments section.
Categories (must currently be in production)
1. Fighter
2. Frontline military (non-fighter)
3. Military transport
4. Military other
5. Military STOVL
6. Military helicopters
7. Military trainers/LIFT
8. Airliners (larger)
9. Airliners (smaller)
10. Business jet
11. Amphibious/seaplanes/flying boats
12.  Light aircraft (non homebuilds)
13. Homebuilds
14. Aerobatic
15. Gliders
16. Civil helicopters
17. Emergency service helicopters
18. Other

I look forward to seeing your choices!


55-year-old aviation enthusiast can’t stop dropping Es


Regional manager of a medium-sized carburettor company, Ian Burchill, still refers to British defence giant BAE System as ‘BAe’ despite its ‘e’ becoming an ‘E’ almost twenty years ago. 

Speaking in anonymity from his Lincolnshire home, a colleague of Ian reported Mr Burchill’s misdemeanours to Hush-Kit. “He likes to talk about planes when he’s drunk – he’s furious that TSR-2 was cancelled and he even donated £300 to ‘Vulcan to the skies’ when he was behind in his mortgage repayments. Often his boring pub chats spill into a Facebook messenger discussion. We first noticed his use of ‘BAe’ in March 2015 and assumed it was a typo. I politely didn’t mention it – though I did use the correct version in my reply. Since then he has used it 543 times.” Despite an attempted intervention in 2017, Ian remains adamant. We called Ian and he didn’t really listen to us. He replied that the English Electric Lightning was better than anything flying today and opined that the aircraft “..would still be in service today if it wasn’t for Jeremy Bloody Corbyn.” Witnesses who saw Ian later that day said he spent the afternoon in a state of reverie gazing at his Spitfire calendar and swearing about the EU.

‘Whopper’ in Afghanistan: Jack McCain on flying the Blackhawk in combat – Part 1



Images: Jack McCain/US Navy

Jack ‘Whopper’ McCain followed in the footsteps of his father (the war hero and senator John McCain), grandfather and great-grandfather, when he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Here he describes flying and fighting in the Blackhawk and MH-60S ‘Sierra’ helicopter. 

“Even the routine flights where I was teaching students to land in the dust at night were hair-raising, especially given that my initial level of comfort in the dust was fairly low —something I forcefully beat out of myself. However, one flight in particular stands out to me. I was dash two (chock two or wingman) in an all American section (which was rare) because we were headed to bring a maintenance crew to fix an aircraft that had made a precautionary landing at an air-field called Tarin Kowt. I had never been to the field. On Halloween, on a flight we coined “spooky” because it was zero percent illum (no illumination at all) in the dead of night, with extremely bad weather in the area.

Despite out best efforts, we had to return to base because we were unable to maintain visual contact; we were north of Kandahar in mountains greater than 9000 feet, with clouds funnelling us into smaller and smaller valleys. The next night was still zero illum, but it was clear enough to make another go at it… so we took off. I was on the controls as the copilot, and my Aircraft Commander was a Pave Hawk pilot from the Air Force, and it was a mixed Army and Air Force crew in the lead. I had a UH-1 crew chief on the left gun and a very new Army crew chief on the right gun. I had trouble maintaining visual, but it was not as exacerbated as the night before. But because of the terrain, I was essentially chasing an infra-red light around the sky. Because of the visibility, we were worried about test firing, so we waited (too long) until we were almost into the mountain bowl where Tarin Kowt sits. This is also an area with no shortage of enemy activity. Right as we crossed into the bowl, my crew was cleared to test fire, and exactly at that moment was when things began to get… silly.


My left gun tested fine, but my right gun went ‘bent’ almost immediately. Simultaneously, the right gunner’s inter-communication system (ICS) went dead, so I began hearing a one-sided conversation about trying to fix the gun and the ICS. At the same time the lead aircraft, as briefed, drops to about 80 feet, but — not as briefed — accelerates rapidly. I watch the light I was chasing diminish, and dropped down, and sped up to try and catch him. While this was happening, I hear my crew chief trying to talk the other through getting the gun back up. It was about this time that someone — I don’t remember who —says —

“Hey, are those tracers coming our direction?”

Tracer fire was not uncommon, and was almost never effective, and it was not in this case. It was likely people with ‘noise complaints’ or just generalised shooting at noise. However, we were in a precarious position — with one bent gun. Still trying to catch up, and figure out just where the hell the airfield was, I finally hear the crew chief with the good ICS say —

“Fuck it, just stick your M4 out the window and we will fix it later.”

Innovative. The tracer fire died down as we approached TK, but the entire LZ was blacked out, and the GPS was taking us to a mid-point on the field, not the fuel-point. We finally made our short, inartful, approach, wanting to get on the ground quickly. We landed and begin refuelling, and then for some unknown reason the base starts launching illumination rounds in the general direction of the enemy. While at the same time, I could see an AH-64 not far off in the distance, vigorously shooting 30mm at something. I had been in the country 6 months at this time, and despite having been rocketed a few times (and having seen tracer fire) this was wholly new, it felt like an actual war. To cap off the Apocalypse Now scene-at-the-bridge vibe, after we repositioned, some ragged looking Army advisors materialised out of the dark to ask us vague questions and point to the areas they knew where the enemy was. Little did I know, that the spot we were standing in had no actual ‘wire’: it was essentially an open airfield. The base was protected, but not the flightline was not. Thankfully, I could not see this in the inky blackness. After the repairs were made, we returned via a different route as a three ship (a very uneventful flight). I learned to be very cognisant of my test-firing, and to ask the Afghan pilots where they thought the enemy was before we went anywhere. They often knew much better than we did because they flew in the area more often. They laughed when we showed them the spot we flew over, they were unsurprised we saw tracers —

“That is where the enemy was trying to sleep!”


What is the best thing about the MH-60? 


“Flexibility. It is an aircraft that can do almost anything, and is exceedingly well suited to the utility role, and has been upgraded in ways that I doubt its original designers could have imagined. We are still coming up with new and interesting ways to employ it. I also deeply admire just how much survivability was a core premise in its design.”

How survivable as it could be? Should any kit be added to aid survivability?
“If you read about the initial design of the Blackhawk (there is an excellent book on it called Blackhawk: The Story of a World Class Helicopter) you’ll find out about its origins. After the large number of helicopter losses in the Vietnam War, the Army wanted survivability to be a key aspect of its next utility helicopter. Survivability is the DNA that makes up the airframe. Every system, apart from the transmission and tail-drive, is either double or triple redundant, making it difficult to down with ground-fire, unless the enemy is extremely lucky. There is always more kit you can add, but more stuff means more weight, and one of the secondary aspects that makes the Hawk so survivable is its agility and speed, which degrades with increases in weight. In Afghanistan, the 1970s A models we flew were not equipped with any of the aircraft survivability equipment I was used to in the Sierra, and while unnerving at first, it forced me to change my paradigm, and go back to the basics of flying. I learned, and eventually taught, that drilling reaction to contact, enroute, on infil, and in the LZ, over and over and over, can be as helpful…if not more helpful… than 90% of the survivability equipment installed in my more advanced aircraft. I also learned helpful and simple ways to explain concepts like how to avoid ground-fire. For example, bird hunting is a common activity in Afghanistan, so when training Afghan serviceman I used the tactics of birds as an example. A bird becomes harder to hit when it is lower, faster or at a better crossing angle. This was a simple solution to communicating a complex problem, and worked well. You must be well-trained on the  basics to survive. You can have the best most complex infil plan in the world, but if you can’t safely put the aircraft in the LZ, you have no mission.”


And the worst?
“Visibility is my biggest complaint. It seems persnickety, but there is about three inches too much dashboard on both sides of the cockpit, making it hard to see the spot you are landing on (especially if you are steep or headed to the back of a small deck ship). There are techniques for getting around it, including yawing the nose off in the opposite direction of the seat of the landing pilot, and correcting near the ground, but these are band-aids. I would love a few more inches of plexiglass to see out of. And a Navy-specific drawback is the fact that despite having a full glass cockpit, coupling system, laser-ring gyro EGIs, and a suite of electronic wizardry, someone, somewhere, declined to outfit the aircraft with a moving map! The pilot and copilot mission displays even have a frustrating button labeled ‘map’, that does nothing… just to remind you that it was obviously not a pilot who signed off on the final buy!”

What were you first impressions of the Blackhawk?

“Everyone loves their first aircraft, and I am no exception, and I was very lucky in that I got to learn to love the same aircraft twice. I started training to fly helicopters in the TH-57, but was always yearning to fly the ‘hawk, what we call “learning to fly the big grey aircraft” (as opposed to the the orange and white livery of the helicopter trainers). The first time I got to fly the ‘Sierra'(MH-60S) —the navalised version of the UH-60M Blackhawk —was while I was still at Whiting Field. This was during a ‘fleet fly in’ where the Navy sends fleet aircraft to the training squadrons in order to help the students pick their future careers. I already knew it was the aircraft I wanted to, due the diversity of its mission. I knew I wanted to join the Helicopter Sea Combat Expeditionary community, because of their somewhat cowboy reputation. The outside of the aircraft is utilitarian, and its two big cargo doors on the sides give it a very open feeling. The longer I stared at the haze grey paint job, the more I came to love it, and I still prefer it to the Army black — or Afghan camo paint. What struck me most when I first gripped the cyclic and collective, was that it felt like they had actually been designed with the human hand in mind, as opposed to the WWII-style sticks in the TH-57. I was also amazed at just how much glass there was up front, two HUGE displays on both sides with all the flight information you need in a single glance. Picking it up into a hover the first time, most students over-control because they’re used to the TH-57, but the MH has a very advanced stability system, and is capable of an Embedded Global Positioning System coupled ‘hands-off’ hover. Hovering it, provided you allow the aircraft black magic to do its thing, is simple. But you do not have the same tactile feedback you get in the less advanced aircraft like the TH-57 or the MD530. I also had (and still have) the tendency to button-mash, holding down the trim-release button, which disables much of the assistance given to the pilot, though it does gives a micro-second of better responsiveness, (I am sure a very smart engineer reading this will cringe).

Unlike the TH-57, which was sometimes laborious to lift, the Sierra jumped off the ground, with the big 701C engines producing all kinds of power. It was obviously stripped down for the fly-in, and I would later learn that 23,500 lbs in a Sierra can make even the strongest aircraft feel lethargic. My first flight lasted all of five minutes, and consisted of some box patterns and a landing or two, but I became infatuated, and would only continue to fall further under the spell of the aircraft I dubbed the ‘Magic Carpet’. Later on in my career, to prepare to fly for the Afghan Air Force, I was fortunate enough to go to a small civilian outfit to make the transition to the UH-60A. It was staffed by former Special Operations and Experimental Test pilots, who knew the aircraft in a level of detail that was nearly super-human. The A model was even lighter than my Block II and III Sierras and didn’t have the same automatic folding rotor-head that the Sierra did, and therefore had wider roll limits, and much more responsiveness. I got to fall in love all over again, and see things in the aircraft I never imagined I would, including high-altitude training at 18,000 ft. My esteem for the brilliance of the design only grew and continues to as I keep on flying it. Overall impressions were, it is light, responsive to pilot input, powerful, and maintains a flexibility that is unparalleled in modern aircraft, and it is a pure joy to fly in any conditions, especially with the new 701D engines.”

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My Favourite Spitfire #6 the Mk.VIII

Supermarine Spitfire IMG_6280.jpg

Colour photos: Jim Smith 

“My favourite fighter was the Spitfire VIII with clipped wings. It had power and good armament. It could roll quickly and out-turn any enemy fighter we encountered.” 

 —  Robert Bracken, Spitfire, The Canadians

Supermarine spitfire 4e.jpg

“The Mk VIII lacks the fame of its relatives.  It did not fight in the Battle of Britain as did the Mk I and II.  It was not built in the greatest numbers; that was the 6,787-fold Mk V.  It did not reset the balance against the Focke-Wulf 190 in 1942; that was the immortal Mk IX’s achievement.  Yet the Mk VIII deserves attention.  As was not uncommon in the tangled Spitfire family, the Mk VIII entered service 13 months after the Mk IX.  It was the intended successor to the (rather out performed) Mk V but necessity prompted the very successful interim option of the Mk IX that remained competitive from its introduction in mid 1942 to the end of the war.  308th-spit8.jpg

The Mk VIII was the most advanced Merlin powered Spitfire.  It was designed from the start for the two-stage 60-series engine and had a beefed up fuselage structure to handle the increased weight and power.  It carried more fuel (leading edge tanks) and had the retractable tail wheel (designed for the Mk III) that cut drag and cleaned up the aft lines. 

spitfires-7 (1).JPG Later versions featured the bigger fin and rudder (for lateral stability) with a better proportioned outline that the original, rather minimal design.  In short, it had the performance of the Mk IX and the best looks of any Spitfire, Merlin or Griffon powered.  It was suave, refined and very effective; the finest of the Merlin generation. 


Paul Stoddart served in the Royal Air Force as an aerosystems engineer officer and now works for the Ministry of Defence.  His interests include air power and military aircraft from the 1940s onward.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.  

417sqdn-spit8-italy.jpgSupermarine spitfire 7 (1).jpg

CANCELLED: The 10 best aircraft of World War II that never saw service


Vrooom! The MB.3 was spectacular but is it the best of our cancelled aircraft?

Hindsight is a glorious thing. From the safe distance of several decades it is blindingly obvious that many of the aircraft thrown into the maelstrom of combat during the Second World War were worse than useless and should never have been built (Messerschmitt Komet, Blackburn Roc, Breda 88, I’m looking at you). Rarer and more obscure today are the outstanding aircraft that never made it. Despite their brilliance, due to politics or bad timing or official indifference or bad luck, these potentially superb aircraft never got the chance to shine. 

 To assist the casual reader I have defined the eight most popular cancellation reasons below and assign them to each of the aircraft in question in a vaguely Top-Trumps-esque fashion:

Engine unavailable

Inexplicable official indifference

Death of designer (and/or other significant personage)

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already

No spare industrial capacity

Bad timing

Teething troubles


Now read on!

10. Miles M.20


The chunky, cheap and cheerful Miles M.20 would likely have proved a most useful aircraft in the early/mid war period.

The M.20 was a thoroughly sensible design, cleverly engineered to be easy to produce with minimal delay at its nation’s time of greatest need, whilst still capable of excellent performance. As it turned out its nation’s need never turned out to be quite great enough for the M.20 to go into production. First flying a mere 65 days after being commissioned by the Air Ministry, the M.20’s structure was of wood throughout to minimise its use of potentially scarce aluminium and the whole nose, airscrew and Merlin engine were already being produced as an all-in-one ‘power egg’ unit for the Bristol Beaufighter II. To maintain simplicity the M.20 dispensed with a hydraulic system and as a result the landing gear was not retractable. The weight saved as a consequence allowed for a large internal fuel capacity and the unusually heavy armament of 12 machine guns with twice as much ammunition as either Hurricane or Spitfire. Tests revealed that the M.20 was slower than the Spitfire but faster than the Hurricane and its operating range was roughly double that of either. It also sported the first clear view bubble canopy to be fitted to a military aircraft. 


In its final form as a potential Naval aircraft, the M.20 sported smaller undercarriage fairings and a lengthened rear fuselage.

Because it was viewed as a ‘panic’ fighter, an emergency back-up if Hurricanes or Spitfires could not be produced in sufficient numbers, production of the M.20 was deemed unnecessary since no serious shortage occurred of either. However, given that much of the development of the Spitfire immediately after the Battle of Britain was concerned with extending its short range, as the RAF went onto the offensive over Europe, the cancellation of a quickly available, long-ranged fighter with decent performance looks like a serious error. Exactly the same thing happened with the Boulton Paul P.94, which was essentially a Defiant without the turret, offering performance in the Spitfire class but with heavier armament and a considerably longer range. The only difference being that this aircraft was even more available than the M.20 as it was a relatively simple modification to an aircraft already in production.


Oh dear. The M.20 looking rather sorry for itself after overshooting on landing and ending up in a gravel pit.


The M.20 popped up again in 1941 as a contender for a Fleet Air Arm catapult fighter requirement, where its relative simplicity would have been valuable. Unfortunately for Miles, there were literally thousands of obsolete Hawker Hurricanes around by this time and with suitable modifications they did the job perfectly well. 


Inexplicable official indifference, 

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already

9. Fiat G.56


There are three known photographs of the Fiat G.56. This is one of them.

The G.56 had the misfortune to emerge after the country it was built for had temporarily ceased to exist. Italy’s aircraft industry was wholly located in the new Italian Social Republic, formerly the north of Italy, which was a German puppet state nominally ruled by Mussolini. As a result Italian aircraft design and production after mid 1943 was largely undertaken under German oversight.

Fiat’s earlier G.55, of which some 300 were built, had been rated by a German test commission as the best fighter in the Axis and Kurt Tank (designer of the superlative Focke-Wulf Fw 190) had nothing but praise for the aircraft after he test flew one in late 1943. The G.56 was essentially the same airframe mated to a considerably more powerful Daimler Benz DB 603 engine, this engine was considered too large to be fitted into the Messerschmitt Bf 109, and the Fiat was seen as a leading contender to use it. Daimler Benz accordingly supplied three DB 603s to Fiat in Turin and the first prototype G.56 flew in March 1944.


There are no known photos of the G.56 in flight so here are a pair of G.55s enjoying the postwar era. The two aircraft were virtually indistinguishable externally.

It was clear from the start that this was a terrific fighter, it was very fast, with an official top speed of 426 mph (the highest to be attained by an Italian designed fighter during the war), yet it retained the superlative handling that had so impressed Tank and other German test pilots. Unlike most Italian fighters, it was very well armed with three (German) 20-mm cannon, one firing through the propeller hub, the others in the wings. In official tests it proved to be superior to the Messerschmitt Bf 109K, Bf 109G and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and there was considerable German interest in the aircraft at even the highest levels. However, Italian production methods were not up to German standards and the man-hours required to build the Fiat were seen as prohibitive. Furthermore German industry was producing precious few DB 603s as it was and supplying them to a potentially unreliable ally when Germany’s war was rapidly going downhill seemed an unacceptable risk.

As a result G.56 production was never seriously contemplated by the German authorities, the DB 603 was used in a modified Fw 190 instead (the Ta 152), and only two examples of Fiat’s brilliant fighter ever saw the light of day. 


Engine unavailable, 

No spare industrial capacity, 


8. Mitsubishi Ki 83


Most of the handsome and impressive Ki-83’s flying career was in American hands.

Produced by a team under Tomio Kubo, who had earlier designed the superlative Mitsubishi Ki-46 reconnaissance aircraft, the Ki-83 could have been the finest twin-engined fighter of the war. As things turned out it became an obscure footnote in aviation history.

The result of an Imperial Army specification calling for a high altitude, long-range heavy fighter the aircraft that emerged from Mitsubishi’s experimental workshop was possibly the most aerodynamically clean radial engined aircraft ever built and possessed spectacular performance. As well as recording the highest speed attained by any Japanese aircraft built during the war, the Ki-83 was blessed with remarkable agility for such a large aircraft and was fully aerobatic at high speeds. It is recorded to have been capable of executing a 2200 feet loop at 400 mph in 31 seconds. Compared to its direct US equivalent, the F7F Tigercat which also failed to see service during the war, the Ki-83 had the same range but was faster and more manoeuvrable. Armament comprised the potent combination of two 30-mm and two 20-mm cannon, all firing through the nose. Unfortunately for this superlative warplane, its timing was appalling.


From this angle the small window in the fuselage for the optional second crew member is visible just above the tailplane. The outlet at the rear of the nacelle is the turbocharger exhaust.

First flown in November 1944, tests were often interrupted by American air raids and of the four prototypes known to have been completed, three were damaged or destroyed by bombing. The crippling raids by B-29 Superfortresses were also the reason that the Ki-83 never entered production: despite the enthusiasm of both the Army and Navy, by the time it was flying all aircraft manufacturing was focused on interceptors to combat the B-29 and the Ki-83 never received a production order. After the war the sole surviving prototype was evaluated in the US and received glowing praise. With the higher octane fuel available in America the Ki-83 ultimately recorded a speed of 473 mph. Despite being earmarked for preservation the only Ki-83 to survive the war and arguably the finest wartime fighter produced in Japan was last recorded at Orchard Field Airport in Illinois in 1949. It is presumed to have been scrapped there in 1950.


No spare industrial capacity, 

Bad timing

7. Focke-Wulf Fw 187 ‘Falke’


Viewed from ahead it is immediately apparent how tiny the Fw 187’s fuselage is. Note where the pilot is looking, some instruments were fitted to the sides of the engine nacelles due to lack of space in the cockpit. The same approach was employed on the Henschel Hs 129 and the Falke’s arch rival, the Messerschmitt Bf 110.

An exceptionally fast aircraft, the handsome Fw 187 suffered as a result of the Luftwaffe having very precisely defined and limiting concepts of what they required from a twin engine aircraft. It is often regarded as having been a direct competitor to the Messerschmitt Bf 110 but the truth is rather less straightforward.

Kurt Tank designed the Falke as a long range single-seat escort fighter. It was both smaller and lighter than the Bf 110 and was broadly equivalent to the British Westland Whirlwind. The new twin was designed as a private venture and was undoubtedly, a fine aircraft. Unfortunately for Tank the Luftwaffe saw no use for such a machine, being convinced that their high-speed bombers were fast enough to avoid any serious threat from defending fighters. The specification they demanded for twin-engine fighters was for larger, heavier aircraft in the so-called ‘zerstorer’ class epitomised by the Bf 110. However, the head of the Luftwaffe’s technical division, Wolfram von Richthofen (brother of top scoring First World War ace Manfred von Richthofen) was personally not convinced that bombers would remain faster than opposing fighters for long and personally approved prototype construction. Germany at the time was painfully short of aero-engines, and instead of the DB 600s he had wanted Tank had to make do with the Jumo 210 which was some 200 hp lower powered.



The first prototype complete with its relatively low-powered Jumo engines and single-seat cockpit.

Despite this impediment the Fw 187 recorded a speed of 325 mph in 1937, some 50 mph faster than the Bf 109B, yet possessed twice the range and had slightly superior climb and dive performance. Amusingly, officials from the German Air Ministry claimed this was caused by faulty flight instruments but further testing ruled this out. Richthofen had meanwhile been replaced by Ernst Udet who was unconvinced that a twin engine aircraft could ever successfully combat a single engine fighter. Nonetheless the outstanding performance of the prototype intrigued him and development of the Fw 187 was allowed to proceed but a second crew member was demanded. Here the Falke programme ran into insuperable difficulties. The aircraft was too small to allow the second crewman to perform any meaningful function beyond operating a radio so his inclusion was arguably pointless. Despite the second seat and crewman though, the sixth prototype was finally fitted with the DB 600 engines that had been specified all along and clocked 395 mph in October 1939. At the time this was the fastest speed attained by a German fighter.
Focke-Wulf followed this up with three pre-production aircraft but the Luftwaffe simply refused to accept a two seat aircraft without a rear defensive machine-gun, which could not be fitted, nor would it accept a single-seat twin engined fighter. Furthermore, in combat during 1939 and early 1940 the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and 110 both seemed to be more than adequate to smash any opposition and the Luftwaffe saw no pressing need for the Falke, despite its impressive performance. The aircraft was later proposed as a night fighter but its small size precluded fitting radar equipment. The three pre-production airframes then spent a busy time pretending to be in service for propaganda purposes, including some time with a Bf 110 unit in Norway where it is alleged the aircrew preferred them to their usual mounts. Later operating as ‘factory defence’ aircraft flown by Focke-Wulf test pilots in Bremen the three Falkes are even alleged to have scored a few kills but these are probably fictitious propaganda claims.

Purposeful and very fast, was the Fw 187 a war-winner?

Whilst it is unlikely that the Fw 187 would have significantly changed the course of the war, its notably better performance than the Bf 110 and significantly better range than the Bf 109 would have been useful indeed during the Battle of Britain. How well it would have coped in combat with the Hurricane and Spitfire remains open to question, twin-engine fighters generally fared less than spectacularly throughout the war when faced with modern single-engine fighters. However, as well as being faster than both British fighters, Heinrich Beauvais, Luftwaffe Chief Test Pilot, claimed that its turn rate was comparable to the Bf 109 and its rate of roll was only slightly inferior which seems to suggest that in 1940 it would have been a formidable opponent indeed and a another wasted opportunity for the Luftwaffe.


Engine unavailable, 

Inexplicable official indifference, 

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already

6. Grumman F5F ‘Skyrocket’


Better than a Spitfire? Maybe. Better looking? Hmmmm….

There are five more F5Fs in this picture than ever existed in reality.
Few aircraft that actually existed in real life became more famous in fiction than in reality but the Skyrocket was one of this noble breed. 
The F5F was chosen as the mount of ‘Blackhawk’ a mysterious air ace and his ‘Blackhawks’, a bunch of international fighter pilots who operate from a hidden base known only as Blackhawk Island, and shout their battle cry of “Hawk-a-a-a!” as they descend from the skies to fight tyranny and oppression. Worryingly scant attention was paid to logistical concerns such as spare parts and fuel supply but their choice of fighter aircraft was excellent. ‘Blackhawk’ first appeared in August 1941 when twin engine aircraft were virtually unknown on aircraft carriers and in real life the F5F was intended to be the first for the US Navy.
As it originally appeared in April 1940 the Skyrocket was a radical looking aircraft, a snub nosed fuselage ending abruptly on the leading edge of the wing and twin tails to match the two engines. Its distinctive aesthetic was undoubtedly the reason it became a comic book star and its performance matched its futuristic looks, particularly in rate of climb, which may have led to the ‘Skyrocket’ name. In a 1941 fly-off against a bevy of contemporary operational and experimental US fighters (Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Bell XFL Airabonita, Vought XF4U Corsair, Grumman F4F Wildcat, and Brewster F2A Buffalo) with a Spitfire and Hurricane thrown in to give a cosmopolitan international flavour, the F5F came out on top. Lieutenant Commander Crommelin who ran the test later stated “I remember testing the XF5F against the XF4U on climb to the 10,000 foot level. I pulled away from the Corsair so fast I thought he was having engine trouble. The F5F was a carrier pilot’s dream, as opposite rotating propellers eliminated all torque and you had no large engine up front to look around to see the LSO (landing signal officer) … The analysis of all the data definitely favored the F5F, and the Spitfire came in a distant second.”

With no nose to obscure the pilot’s view ahead and downwards it’s pretty obvious why the F5F was described as a ‘carrier pilot’s dream’

So why did this wonder aircraft never enter service? The simple answer seems to have been spares. Two engines meant added complexity and a more demanding supply chain, which is a serious business when operating from a carrier. Furthermore the Skyrocket was afflicted with niggling problems. Adequate cooling seems to have taken a long time to sort out and the landing gear gave trouble, being knocked clean off the airframe on two separate occasions during trials in 1942.

With wings folded the F5F was almost unbelievably compact for a twin-engine aircraft.

Neither of these issues would have killed the F5F if it hadn’t been for the demands of the early war period. The F4F was good enough for the time being and Grumman was busy churning them out in huge numbers to ever more demanding contracts, whilst at the same time desperately working to get the Hellcat into service (and more importantly not conceding orders to the Corsair). With this sort of pressure afflicting Grumman, sorting out the rather exotic Skyrocket was not a priority. Ultimately the portly F5F performed its most important work flying as a development aircraft for the impressive F7F Tigercat which entered service in August 1945.


Inexplicable official indifference, 

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already, 

No spare industrial capacity, 

Teething troubles

5. Heinkel He 280 


The Heinkel team look pretty pleased with their revolutionary new aircraft as it is towed in after an early test flight. Their jolly mood was not to last.

Were it not for woeful official indifference, it is likely the Heinkel He 280 would have proved a significant problem for the Allies. As it turned out, the world’s first jet fighter saw neither production nor service. 

Ernst Heinkel’s company were way ahead of the game in this field having flown the world’s first jet powered aircraft a few days before the war even started. When demonstrated in November 1939, the revolutionary new aircraft failed to impress Reichsluftministerium (RLM) grandees Ernst Udet (head of the Technological department) and Erhard Milch (Minister of Aircraft Production and Supply), a lack of response that infuriated Ernst Heinkel. It was also a premonition of things to come. Without the enthusiasm of the RLM, Heinkel was compelled to develop the new technology as a private venture. The Heinkel He 280 was the result, a purpose built fighter, powered by two of Heinkel’s own HeS 8 turbojets. Flown first as a glider, the new aircraft made its initial powered flight on the 30th March 1941, despite the lack of official support this was still over a year before the Me 262 and two years before the Gloster Meteor.


The He 280 first flew as a glider, here it is being towed aloft with fairings where the jet engines are to be fitted.

Demonstrated to Ernst Udet on the 5th of April, the He 280 again failed to make much of an impression. Despite being capable of over 500 mph in level flight, official interest was piqued only by the jet engine’s ability to run on relatively unrefined low octane fuel oil – even at that stage of the war, there was an acute awareness that Germany’s fuel supply was critical to its success. Heinkel however was denied funding again but continued to develop the aircraft despite the underwhelming response of officialdom. Eventually, in December 1943, now sporting two improved examples of the HeS-8 engine, the He 280 was once again demonstrated to RLM officials (not the unfortunate Ernst Udet though, he had shot himself back in November 1941). This time, to really make his point, Ernst Heinkel had arranged a mock dogfight with a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, arguably the best piston-engine fighter in service in the world at the time. The He 280’s massive speed advantage allowed it to trounce the Fw 190 and at last the RLM realised what an incredible machine they had on their hands and ordered 20 pre-production aircraft to be followed by an order for 300 more.


Early test flight under power, the engine cowlings have been left off to minimise the danger of leaking fuel pooling within and catching fire.

Unfortunately, despite their tardy enthusiasm for the project, the RLM had ordered Heinkel to stop work on the HeS 8 back in 1942 to concentrate on the more ambitious HeS 011, an engine that failed to make it into production before the end of the war. In the absence of an engine, Heinkel had been desperately seeking alternatives: the first prototype was re-engined with four Argus pulse jets, the same as fitted to the V-1 ‘doodlebug’ but crashed on its first test flight after the controls iced up. This incident led to the first genuine use of an ejection seat for a pilot to escape a stricken aircraft, the He 280 being the first aircraft to be fitted with such a device. Test pilot Helmut Schenk earned this dubious honour on the 13th January 1942. The other two alternative powerplants were the BMW 003 and the Junkers Jumo 004. The BMW was having developmental issues of its own so the He 280 was fitted with a pair of Jumo 004s. In this form it first flew on 16th March 1943. Despite the greater weight and size of the Junkers engine, the He 280 flew perfectly well in this form but it was too late, the Messerschmitt Me 262 fitted with the same engine was faster and generally more efficient. Two weeks later Erhard Milch cancelled the He 280 programme and Heinkel was instructed to concentrate on bombers.


The third prototype. This aircraft was captured intact in May 1945 at Heinkel’s factory complex at Wien-Schwechat, Austria. Its subsequent fate is unknown.

Though it needed work, the He 280 may have been the greatest overall missed opportunity in German aviation. The HeS 8 engine was underdeveloped when it first flew but its problems were overcome, even without official support or funding, only for it to be cancelled anyway. Had the He 280 programme (both engine and airframe) received official backing in 1941 it is not unlikely that the Luftwaffe could have been fielding a jet fighter, capable of over 500 mph and therefore effectively immune from interception by Allied fighters, by early 1943. This predates the advent of the P-51 Mustang as the premier long range escort fighter of the war and it is not hard to imagine its presence being rendered largely irrelevant by a force of un-interceptable jet fighters. Luckily for the world the Nazis failed to see the potential of this aircraft until it was too late for Germany as a whole and the Heinkel He 280 in particular. Meanwhile the Me 262 made history as the World’s first combat jet and Ernst Heinkel remained bitter about the whole sorry debacle for the rest of his life.


Inexplicable official indifference

Engine unavailable

4. Martin-Baker MB.3/MB.5 

Bearing a superficial resemblance to the P-51D Mustang, the MB.5 was 500 hp more powerful, faster, better armed, and (surprisingly) possessed a superior range on internal fuel. 

I’m cheating a bit here, including two separate designs as one entry but Martin-Baker’s final two fighters were inextricably linked, one being a development of the other, both were outstanding and neither made it to production. Martin-Baker was (and indeed still is) an aviation component manufacture who produced, seemingly out of the blue, two of the best fighter aircraft ever flown anywhere.


The MB.3 was a brutish, powerful aircraft. Note the six cannon fitted in the wing.

The MB.3 appeared in 1942 and was the result of a prudent Air Ministry decision in 1939 to obtain a powerfully armed fighter as an alternative to the Hawker Typhoon in the event that aircraft programme ran into difficulties. The aircraft that emerged looked sensational, especially when the unprecedented armament of six 20-mm cannon was fitted. Despite looking insane, it was unusually sensible: a multitude of access panels made it far easier to maintain than its contemporaries, and its tough structure (a more advanced version of the load-bearing tubular box type favoured by Hawker) would have given it greater survivability. It was apparently easy to handle and extremely fast.
The MB.3’s flying career was short: the engine failed on its tenth flight, killing test pilot Val Baker and destroying the aircraft.
Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how fast, because less than two weeks after the first flight the Napier Sabre that powered it did what Napier Sabres were doing in droves in 1942 and packed up. The MB.3 was destroyed in the subsequent forced landing which also killed test pilot Valentine Baker (the ‘Baker’ of Martin-Baker). This was a serious blow to the company and so affected designer James Martin (the ‘Martin’ of Martin-Baker) that he devoted the rest of his career to making aircraft safer by developing ejection seats which Martin-Baker produce to this day.

A sombre James Martin in front of his masterpiece.

Despite the crash it was apparent that the MB.3 was worthy of further development. Baker proposed a Rolls-Royce Griffon powered version, the MB.4 but a more thorough redesign was favoured by the Air Ministry and the MB.5 was the result. The best British piston-engined fighter ever flown, the MB.5 was well-armed (though with the less impressive total of four rather than six cannon), very fast, and as easy to maintain as its predecessor. Flight trials proved it be truly exceptional, with a top speed of 460mph, brisk acceleration and docile handling. Its cockpit layout set a gold standard that Boscombe Down recommended should be followed by all piston-engined fighters.


The only thing the MB.5 lacked was good timing, it first flew two weeks before the Allied Invasion of Normandy. Appearing at the birth of the jet age, with readily available Spitfires and Tempests being produced in quantity, both of which were themselves excellent fighters, there was never a particularly compelling case for producing the slightly better MB.5. There is also a suggestion that the MB.5 never received a production order because on the occasion it was being demonstrated to assorted dignitaries, including Winston Churchill, the engine failed. If this is true, it must rank as the most pathetic reason for non-procurement of an outstanding aircraft in aviation history.


Inexplicable official indifference, 

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already, 

Bad timing

Martin Baker MB5 at Chalgrove 4

The best British piston-engined fighter taxies off to an uncertain future

3. Polikarpov I-185

Poikarpov I-185

Photos of the I-185 are rare, in flight shots apparently unknown. This is the closest you’ll get, at least the engine is running. Note that the chocks are tied to the undercarriage and weights to the tail.

A direct descendant of Polikarpov’s revolutionary I-16, the I-185 Nikolai Polikarpov’s I-185 was an excellent aircraft stymied by engine trouble, politics, timing, and outright bad luck. Uniquely amongst this selection, it was also sent to the front and actually flew on operations. It should have been the finest fighter the USSR fielded during the Great Patriotic war with 2000hp on tap, slightly smaller than a Grumman Bearcat but weighing 1900 lb less in normal loaded condition, faster than the contemporary Bf 109F at all altitudes up to 20,000 feet, its handling was immeasurably better and it was recommended for immediate production in the Autumn of 1942. Yet it ended up merely an also-ran. The problems began way back in 1937 when Polikarpov’s incredibly successful I-16 was fighting in the Spanish Civil war. Republican forces captured a Messerschmitt Bf 109B which was evaluated thoroughly by a team of Soviet experts. The consensus was that the 109 was inferior in virtually every regard to the latest I-16 Type 10. Whilst this was true, it was unfortunate that the Soviets failed to envisage the incredible rate of development of the 109; had they captured one of the considerably better 109Es that were fielded in Spain in the latter stages of the Civil war it might have encouraged greater urgency in developing a successor to the I-16. As it was, work on an I-16 replacement proceeded in a somewhat leisurely fashion and aimed for rather conservative performance improvement.
The poster for ‘Valeri Chkalov’ (released as ‘Red Flyer’ in the UK and ‘Wings of Victory’ in the US).

The fighter that emerged was the named I-180 and looked very much like stretched I-16. Development seemed to be going well until December 1938 when the test pilot Valeri Chkalov was killed in the prototype. Unfortunately for Polikarpov, Chkalov was a bona fide national hero of immense popularity. Whilst his body lay in state and was visited by all the principal military and civil dignitaries, the NKVD started arresting members of the design team on suspicion of sabotage. It is said that only the personal intervention of Stalin prevented Polikarpov himself being packed off to the gulag. Work continued on the new fighter, though the programme was somewhat under a cloud. Meanwhile Chkalov’s home town was renamed in his honour and in 1941 an eponymous biopic of his life was made.

After Chkalov’s death a major redesign was implemented and the resulting I-180S looked a lot less like the I-16 which had spawned it. Unfortunately for the new fighter two prototypes were lost in spins in quick succession resulting in the death of another test pilot, Tomass Susy. Although 10 pre-series examples were built during 1940 the performance of the aircraft was tacitly admitted to be lagging behind world-class and a further redesign was undertaken. The resulting aircraft was the I-185 and it was intended for either the M-90 or M-71 engine offering nearly double the power of the M-88 fitted to the I-180S. Both engines were troubled but the M-90 particularly so and it was abandoned. The M-71 eventually achieved sufficient reliability to power the first I-185 to fly in February 1942. The aircraft flew beautifully and the M-71 was getting over its teething troubles, when it functioned properly the performance was spectacular (a speed of 426 mph was ultimately to be recorded) and the future finally should have looked rosy for Polikarpov’s purposeful fighter.


Although it was not compulsory to photograph the I-185 in the snow, it did serve to make it look more Soviet Union-y.

However, by this time everything had been thrown into chaos by the Germans having invaded and beginning their headlong rush towards Moscow. The Soviets needed lots of fighters immediately and didn’t have the luxury of waiting for promising prototypes. Unpopular but available fighters were produced in their thousands and gradual evolution rather than completely new types ultimately yielded the two major Soviet fighter series from Lavochkin and Yakovlev. Yet the I-185 was so good that it refused to die. In November 1942, the three prototypes were sent to the front to be evaluated under operational conditions. The report was unambiguously favourable: “The I-185 outclasses both Soviet and foreign aircraft in level speed. It performs aerobatic manoeuvres easily, rapidly and vigorously. The I-185 is the best current fighter from the point of control simplicity, speed, manoeuvrability (especially in climb), armament and survivability.” Plans were begun to start production forthwith and a ‘production standard’ aircraft was completed. Unfortunately the engine failed and it crashed. Development continued with the original three prototypes, one of which crashed and killed its pilot after another engine failure in January 1943. The M-71 was rapidly being considered a dead end.

Plans to produce the I-185 with the reliable but lower-powered M-82 were eventually abandoned as the M-82 was required for the inferior (but good enough) La-5 that, crucially, was already in production and the I-185 programme was formally cancelled in April 1943, finally depriving the Soviet Union of its finest piston-engined fighter. A little over a year later Nikolai Polikarpov was dead and his design bureau was eventually absorbed into Sukhoi.


Engine unavailable, 

Death of designer (and/or other significant personage), 

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already, 

Teething troubles

2. Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly


“Does my gun look big in this?” The XA-38 shows off its tank-derived main armament.

Founded in 1932, Beechcraft are still going strong, their Bonanza has been in continuous production longer than any other aircraft (72 years at the time of writing) and around 17,000 have so far been built. Rather less successful was Beechcraft’s sole foray into the world of combat aircraft: the Grizzly, a mere two examples of which were built.

But what an aircraft: its primary armament was a 75-mm gun in the nose, the same as fitted to the Sherman tank. As a dedicated ground attack aircraft, its enormous gun was intended for use against hardened targets such as pillboxes and tanks. Two forward firing 50-calibre machine guns were used to aim the main weapon and tests had proved the armament particularly effective. Most dedicated ground attack aircraft of the Second World War were relatively slow and vulnerable to fighter attack but the Grizzly was fast: despite being the size of a medium bomber it was capable of 376 mph at 5000 feet, 10 mph faster than a P-47D at the same altitude. It was also extremely well defended with both dorsal and ventral turrets each mounting two 50-calibre machine guns to deal with any fighter aircraft it might not be able to outrun, which were few indeed at the low altitudes it was designed for.

Beech were justifiably proud of the XA-38 ‘Affectionately called “Grizzly” by the pilots who flew it’. It was probably an aircraft better suited to the Korean and Vietnam conflicts than those the USAF actually took into combat.

Despite its high performance and crazy armament its serviceability also drew praise, which was highly unusual for prototypes of a brand new aircraft. The XA-38 was one of those extremely rare military aircraft that met or exceeded every parameter of their design specification and was as close to perfect on a first attempt as is ever likely to happen. An outstanding career would reasonably have been expected for it. Unfortunately for Beechcraft the Grizzly’s fantastic performance was largely a result of its Wright R-3350 ‘Duplex-Cyclone’ engines, the same engines used by the B-29 Superfortress. Even the awe-inspiring industrial might of the US had limits and there weren’t enough R-3350s to go round, the B-29 had priority and the XA-38 was consigned to history – literally: one of the Grizzly prototypes was intended for preservation at the USAF museum. Alas, somehow it was lost and its ultimate fate remains a mystery. The other example was scrapped.

At least one of the XA-38s survived long enough to be photographed in colour.


Engine unavailable

1. Heinkel He 100


Heinkel’s finest masquerades as a fully operational fighter. The He 100’s greatest achievement was arguably persuading the world that it was in full-scale service, which is a shame as it was potentially the best fighter available to the Luftwaffe. 

In 1938 Ernst Udet, taking time out from his strenuous drinking and womanising schedule, flew the second prototype of a new German fighter to set a world record speed of 394 mph over a 100 km closed circuit. The prototype was the He 100, Heinkel’s rival to the Messerschmitt 109, and it really should have been built in quantity. It was a superior aircraft to the 109 and available years earlier than the Focke-Wulf 190, which was also inferior in some respects. The reasons for its Luftwaffe rejection remain obscure, which only add to its mystique. 

Back in 1936 Heinkel’s alternative to Messerschmitt’s all-conquering 109 was the He 112. It was an elegant aircraft with elliptical wings and decent performance, however it wasn’t quite as good as the Messerschmitt and it was time-consuming to build. Although a few were built for Romania and Spain, a major production order from the Luftwaffe was not forthcoming. Heinkel’s designer, the immensely talented Walter Günter realised the He 112 had reached the limits of its design potential and that a completely new aircraft would be required. This was to be the He 113, and it promised to deliver the fighter market back to Heinkel. Not only was the new aircraft more aerodynamic than the He 112 (and the Messerschmitt), thanks to clever design it also far simpler to build, the wings alone taking 1500 fewer hours to construct. Ultimately the He 113 would be designated the He 100 at the request of Ernst Heinkel, who feared the unlucky connotations of the number 13 would rub off on his exciting new fighter, as it turned out it seems his superstition was well-founded. Despite the number change, the Heinkel fighter was very unlucky indeed. An unfortunate early example of this being the death of Walter Günter in a car crash in 1938, his position being taken over by his twin brother Siegfried (an unusual hiring policy, even by the standards of Nazi era Germany).


The first prototype He 100 V1 flew on 22 January 1938, only a week after its promised delivery date. The aircraft proved to be outstandingly fast. Later the fin area was increased to deal with a lack of directional stability. The wing loading was high and landing speed was initially prohibitively fast.

Initially all seemed bright for the He 100. The prototypes were very very fast and their low drag airframes also made for an impressive range. The only really negative point was the cooling system which was a very aerodynamic but highly complex evaporative cooling system that required 22 separate electric pumps, each with its own warning light in the cockpit, to circulate the coolant around the airframe. When Udet flew the Heinkel on its successful record attempt several of the pumps failed but Udet ignored the warning lights flicking on in the cockpit because he didn’t know what they meant. True air aces are unconcerned with trifles like mechanical failure. The cooling system was constantly unreliable so it was ditched for the pre-production aircraft and replaced with a conventional radiator. In this form, the Heinkel He 100 was probably the best fighter in the world and ready for a Luftwaffe order, which Heinkel was so confident of getting that he tooled up and started production of his own accord. But of course the order never came. 


Ernst Udet and Ernst Heinkel (4th and 5th from left respectively) with the rest of the Heinkel record-breaking team, all of whom appear to be baddies from Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin.

The reason why the He 100 never entered production depends on who you believe. It is suggested that the Nazis wished to ‘rationalise’ aircraft production by making Messerschmitt solely concentrate on fighters and Heinkel responsible for bombers. Meanwhile Heinkel maintained that it was political favouritism of Willy Messerschmitt that stymied the He 100, which seems unlikely as Heinkel too was well thought of in official circles. The official RLM line was that Daimler Benz DB 601s were in such short supply that the only aircraft sanctioned to use this engine was the Bf 109. The latter is probably true but it is impossible to say for sure.


Contemporary postcard (with rather heavy postmark) depicting a Heinkel He 100 ‘escorting’ an He 111 on a mission. It was all fiction.


The cancellation of this aircraft can be seen to have had a detrimental effect on the Luftwaffe’s fighter arm at the critical time of the Battle of Britain. Much like the Fw 187 detailed earlier, the He 100 offered a considerably greater range than the Bf 109, equating to a combat radius of some 900 – 1000 km compared with the 109’s 600 km. Given that the BF 109 could only operate over London for ten minutes, a single-seat, single-engine escort fighter with much greater combat persistence that also happened to be the best fighter in the world, would have been a ludicrously useful asset. 

Heinkel, He 100

Oft-reproduced image of one of the pre-production aircraft in spurious markings.

The story does not end there though as the Japanese were scouting around for a decent fighter in the late thirties and their interest was aroused by the new Heinkel. They purchased three complete He 100s as well as a license for production plus a set of plans and jigs for a total of three million Reichsmarks. The three aircraft arrived in Japan in May 1940 and the Navy was so impressed that they planned to put the plane into production as soon as possible as their land-based interceptor. Hitachi won the contract for the aircraft and started building a factory in Chiba for its production. However, the jigs and plans never arrived, for reasons that remain unclear, and the Heinkel was never built in Japan. The design is said to have influenced the Kawasaki Ki-61 though, which notably used the same engine. The Soviet Union also bought six prototypes of the He 100, as they were interested in its evaporative cooling system – ultimately leading to the Soviets wisely rejecting this cooling method. The design is said to have influenced that of the LaGG-3 but given the generally poor performance of that aircraft and the fact that it resembled the Heinkel in no perceptible regard this seems unlikely.


More lies: a squadron of Heinkels lines up for the camera. It’s not even really in colour.

Like the similarly promising Fw 187, the remaining pre-production aircraft were then heavily photographed for propaganda purposes to make it look like they were in full-scale service. What is less clear is who exactly this propaganda was intended for, the German public or the Allies? If the latter, it was extremely successful: despite never entering Luftwaffe service the Heinkel regularly featured in combat reports filed by British and US pilots throughout the war.


Engine unavailable, 

Inexplicable official indifference, 

Death of designer (and/or other significant personage), 

Other aircraft perceived to be good enough already,


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Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee: Air combat in the world’s smallest jet fighter, the ferocious Gnat

lGb_UQNNIn 1971, Indian Air Force Gnats fought Pakistan’s Sabres in ferocious bloody dogfights. Despite only weighing the same as a a Dodge Durango, the tiny jet fighter proved a formidable machine. We spoke to IAF Wing Commander Sunith Francis Soares about flying and fighting in the Gnat.

The Gnat was conceived by the British designer, ‘Teddy’ Petter. One of the greatest aircraft designers was lived, his other creations included the Lysander, Lightning and Canberra. Countering the trend for ever larger, more costly, fighter aircraft the Gnat, which first flew in 1955, was a ‘pocket rocket’. Although relegated to training duties in Britain, Finland and India used the type in the fighter role. India received its first Gnat in 1958, and it went on to prove itself in the heat of battle.


Images: The Statesman Group via K S Nair

“With slats out and full power he executed a motherless turn, but the Gnat not only kept up with him degree for degree but gained some distance in. After, we found that we had clocked more than 9G during this turn. Roy hit the right wing near the fuselage. I saw the wing catch fire, canopy fly off, before we overshot the flaming aircraft. Strike one Sabre.”

How long did you fly the Gnat and with which unit?

“I flew the Gnat from Mar 1969 to Nov 1972 with 22 Sqn based at Kalaikunda. I flew 500 Hrs Plus, including intensive flying in the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971”

Top 10 fighters of 1969 here 

What were you first impressions of the aircraft? 

“Diminutive beast.”

What was the best thing about the aircraft?

“Powerful and manoeuvrable.”


 What was the worst thing about the aircraft?

“Poor serviceability in the initial years due high rate of minor failures – brakes / hydraulics. Fleet was also grounded occasionally during modifications.”

2019 analysis: How good is the Block II Pakistan JF-17 fighter aircraft today compared to its peers and potential threats? Here


Which other types have you flown? 

“HF-24 Marut and MiG-21 variants.”

What was your most interesting mission? 

“It was a few days before the 1971 war with Pakistan actually began. We were based at Kalaikunda, near Kharagpur, and for many months had been maintaining a detachment at Calcutta for air defence duties. The ORP was a make-shift one, with sand bags to protect the aircraft and tents for the crew.

The Indian army was geared for battle and in the Boyra sector had moved adventurously into Pakistan territory setting up defensive positions in preparation for the coming battle. This sort of aggressive posturing must have been particularly provocative to the military authorities at Dacca and they decided to use some airpower to displace our troops.”




“The first strike by the PAF sabres was on 22 November 1971, at around 10.00h – just as the sun dispersed the morning fog. Four Gnats were scrambled but arrived too late to pose a threat. A second strike followed soon thereafter but once again the Gnats could not make contact and returned to base a trifle dejected. Wg Cdr BS Sikand, our CO, who had led the first two sorties, then decided to take the afternoon off for some beer and socialising and handed over the lead to Roy, and I was slotted in as number 2. Ganapathy and Don retained their positions at 3 and 4.

Interview with an IAF MiG-25 pilot here 

As I settled into the makeshift ORP, I silently prayed for another strike. Don and I were playing scrabble when the klaxon went off once again. One more formation had been picked up on the radar heading toward Boyra. Our controller this time was Fg Offr Bagchhi and the time was 14.40h, and soon we were hurtling through the skies at low level with the throttles against the stop. At low-levels and high speeds, the Gnat is not easy to fly as the noise level is atrociously high and the aircraft bucks like a rodeo horse. It became difficult to hear Bagchhi and after a slight reduction in speed and a modest gain in height we reached the border to be told that the enemy was at 2 o’clock 4 miles. Ganapathy and Don being on the right flank and therefore closer to the target should have been able to spot the aircraft but the afternoon haze made this difficult.


I then saw a glint of metal and by sharply focusing my vision saw one aircraft at about three kms, perched as if to commence a dive. I called out contact and commenced a crisp commentary on the flight path. Roy having spotted the aircraft, decided to pull over the flank pair to manoeuvre behind the aircraft. This positioned us at about 1.5 kms behind the Sabre. Someone by this time must have warned him about us, as he went into a classic steep turn with the intention of shaking us off. With slats out and full power he executed a motherless turn, but the Gnat not only kept up with him degree for degree but gained some distance in. After the incident, we found that we had clocked more than 9G during this turn. The Sabre now came out of the turn to gain some speed and this allowed us to close in, as the Gnat has a very good acceleration, and we were soon at firing range. Roy fired a small burst which missed but followed quickly with another which hit the right wing near the fuselage. I saw the wing catch fire, canopy fly off, and the start of the ejection process before we overshot the flaming aircraft. Strike one Sabre.


Credit: Priyanka Joshi

While we were in combat, I heard Ganapathy call out that he had spotted a Sabre and he manoeuvred behind the aircraft very quickly to fire his first burst which missed. In the mean-time, a third sabre came out of the blue- literally- between Ganapathy and Don, at a distance of 200 yards or so. With lightning quick reflexes Don swerved his aircraft and in a flash, fired his guns which struck the Sabre on the wing causing it to explode. The debris hit Don’s aircraft on the nose and drop tank. Yes, drop tank! In our enthusiasm, we had forgotten the cardinal principle of combat: jettison the tanks. Strike two Sabre. The pilot ejected. This pilot was taken PoW and later released. He went on to become the Chief of the Air Staff of the PAF.”


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Meanwhile Ganapathy had fired a second burst which this time was better directed and hit the sabre on the right wing which also caught fire. Strike three Sabres. During our combat which I estimate did not last more than 3 minutes, I saw small puffs of incandescent lights which I later found to my dismay, was AA shells bursting all around. The Indian army air defence regiment was having a field firing practice at our expense. It’s a good thing their gunnery was not as good as ours.

Interview with IAF MiG-27 pilot here.

It was now Bagchhi’s turn to take over and he assembled us for our return to base. After our rendezvous we came in a finger four formation for a run in, but because of Don’s damaged aircraft did not intend to do any dramatics, but Ganapathy would not have any of it. After peeling off he came in for a victory roll to tell the world that we had shot down three Sabres without any loss.”

Interview with PAF Sabre pilot here

 How combat effective was the Gnat?

 “Quite. It had a good kill-to-loss ratio.”

Instantaneous turn rate

“Good to excellent”

Sustained turn rate


Climb rate

“Good to excellent”


“Again, good to excellent”


What was your most memorable mission and why? 

“I would like to mention another memorable occasion. Our Stn Cdr in 1971 before and during the conflict was a tea drinker who took drastic action to curtail our alcohol consumption (to no avail).  He exhorted us to emulate the Israel pilots who in the 67 conflict flew 4 to 5 sorties, who drank only orange juice (which by the was was not available at the time except in rusty tins of doubtful quality). On 5 Dec six of us flew five sorties in a span of 9 hrs literally jumping from one aircraft to another with briefings and nibbling snacks in between. we gleefully sent our ‘autho’ book that evening to the Stn Cdr and requested him to join us for a drink.”

Indian-Pakistan 2019 air skirmish – what happened? Here

Which three words would you use to describe the aircraft? 

“Float like a….”

What were the threat aircraft it was facing and which was the most challenging and why?  “Sabre. That was the most potent threat in the sub-continent. Its turn performance was quite good.”

Interview with a PAF Sabre pilot here.


 Where were you based and what was life like on the base?

Kalaikunda. Due poor govt remuneration in that period, life was dictated by the letters ‘NM’….no money or next month. however life was not uncomfortable.

Interview with PAF MiG-19 pilot here

What was the social life like?

“Serendipitous, in that most of the married pilots had intercaste/creed marriages which made for excellent social action. parties were great fun with dancing and games. occasional interspersed picnics and overnight outings were happy events.”

How effective were the weapon systems and avionics? What additional equipment would you have liked? 

“Nothing to shout about. We made do with ‘Mk 1 eyeball’ and ‘moving thumb display.'”

Everything you always wanted to know about Indian air power, but were afraid to ask: In conversation with Shiv Aroor here

How good was your training?

“Highly indigenous with no exposure to international tactics

I’d like to dedicate this to the IAF Gnat Brotherhood and especially to the war veterans of 22 Sqn, IAF (Swifts) who did a splendid job!”

Special thanks to Anshuman Mainkar for making this interview possible. Excellent article on the this subject on his blog here. 

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The 1781 capture of British airports


The Airport Raids of 1781 remain the least reported chapter in the American Revolutionary War. We asked war historian Stephen Murlow to tell us more. 

“George Washington knew the British were using Los Angeles International and O’Hare Airport to resupply their forces and facilitate their vacations. In August, the combined Franco-American army moved south to coordinate with de Grasse in occupying the airports. The British lacked sufficient airport security resources to effectively counter the French, but they dispatched a force of submachine gun armed police under Thomas Graves to assist Cornwallis and attempt recapture of the prepaid parking zone. On September 5, French special forces disguised as tourists captured the runways and shopping areas, giving the French control of the Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Yogurtland and cutting off Cornwallis from lunch and parking, and forcing him to miss his flight to Yorktown. Despite the continued urging of his subordinates, Cornwallis made no attempt to break out and engage the Franco-American army before it had established siege works at Einstein Bros Bagels, expecting that reinforcements would arrive from the toilets. The Franco-American army laid siege to the Walmart Supercenter on September 23. Cornwallis continued to think that relief was imminent from the baggage retrieval area, and he abandoned his outer defenses which were immediately occupied by American troops—serving to hasten his subsequent defeat. By September 24, both airports were captured signalling the end of the war and British tourism”


The TSR-2: Catastrophe, or the catalyst for change?



Image: author

For many in Britain, a nation saved by air power in World War II, military aircraft are colossally symbolic. The wartime Spitfire and Lancaster were figureheads for British pride, and throughout the 1950s, the nation’s futuristic jets were much trumpeted. Here, in thundering rivetted aluminium, was a tangible reminder that this was a technologically advanced superpower. The future was fast and high-flying and we were making it, forging it in the deafening afterburners of the Lightning and the devastating invulnerability of the Vulcan. In 1965, Britain had a supersonic bomber superior to anything else in the world — the TSR-2 — but before entering service with the RAF, the project was axed. For some, this left a wound that over half a century later has not healed. The subject remains an emotive one and even today can provoke angry impassioned debate. However, the popular myth of TSR-2 may not be all it seems. We asked Jim Smith, who had significant technical roles in many of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM to the Eurofighter Typhoon, to consider both the effectiveness of the aircraft and the real impact of its cancellation. 

“Recently, in conversation with Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles I provided a comment on the TSR-2 along the following lines:

1) An over-ambitious low-level supersonic range requirement drove up cost

2) Some development issues with undercarriage and cockpit vibration

3) Many system elements needing development – engine, avionics, sensors, all adding cost

4) Industry needed rationalising, but..

5) Airframe had great potential

Hush-Kit has asked me to expand on these views, knowing that the history of the TSR-2 always inspires lively debate.


I should add that I do not intend to duplicate the work of others, but rather to follow my normal practice of considering the requirement for the aircraft; the technical implications of that requirement; some analysis of the political, economic, technical and Industrial issues that may have led the incoming Labour Government to cancel the project in 1965; and some reflection on the Industry that emerged following the cancellation of the Project. So much has been written on this subject, by so many people, better-placed than I to tell the story, that I feel somewhat diffident in offering these views. Also, in order to keep this piece digestible, I will inevitably have to summarise some of the issues somewhat. Nevertheless, I can but hope that some interesting and stimulating debate will be provoked.


The requirements for TSR.2 evolved during the course of the development programme, starting from a desire to replace the Canberra aircraft in its Tactical, Strike and Reconnaissance roles. Due mainly to the development of advanced ground-based anti-air missile systems, it had become increasingly clear that subsonic, medium-to-high altitude aircraft like the Canberra would not be able to survive against well-integrated air-defence systems.  Consequently, the requirement for the replacement aircraft was focussed on high-speed and low-altitude performance.

A few performance highlights include a requirement for nearly 3000 km range at Mach 0.9, low level; and, separately, the ability to cruise at Mach 2.0 for 1600 km. In both cases the distances were to be on internal fuel, with normal reserves and a 2000-lb weapon, carried throughout. Maximum speed at low level was intended to be Mach 1.2; at altitude the maximum speed was anticipated to be Mach 2.35.

In terms of mission roles, it is clear that the nuclear strike role, using either the 15 kiloton Red Beard, or the later WE177 weapon, was intended as a key role for the aircraft, although traditional tactical strike missions with 1000 lb bombs, and reconnaissance using the aircraft’s sideways looking radar were also envisaged.

To further increase the degree of difficulty beyond meeting extreme range and speed requirements at very low level, a requirement to operate from unimproved runways of only about 3000 ft length was also imposed.

While some of these requirements were subsequently relaxed, these initial requirements shaped the configuration that emerged from the design process.

Technical implications of the requirement

BAC TSR2.jpg

Image: author

Although not yet covered in my Combat Aircraft Design series for Hush-Kit, the first place to start is payload-range. Payload-range sizes the aircraft, and carrying a 2000-lb weapon out and back 1000 or so miles at near-supersonic speeds and low level is going to require a lot of fuel. Couple this with a maximum speed requirement at altitude of greater than Mach 2, and a short take-off requirement, and it is clear that very powerful engines will be required. These factors alone are enough to ensure a large aircraft, and as Bill Gunston remarks in his Beyond the Frontiers article, the TSR.2 came out at 20 ft longer than a Lancaster and more than twice the weight.

Despite this, perhaps the most challenging requirement was to manage sustained high speed at low level, while getting this heavy aircraft airborne in 3000 ft or less. The high-speed, low-level requirement drives to the highest possible wing loading, to ensure good handling in low-level turbulence at high speed. This is also likely to be helpful in achieving the maximum Mach number requirement, which drives towards a slender configuration with a thin wing and low aspect ratio. How then to meet the take-off requirement, which demands a large wing area, and preferably low sweep and good high lift devices?

Well, one obvious possibility would be to use a variable sweep wing. This was, in fact the solution to somewhat similar requirements adopted by the General Dynamics F-111, of which more later. It’s not a bad idea, but does come with a significant penalty in terms of weight and complexity. The solution adopted for the TSR.2 was the bold and innovative step of using full span blown flaps to attain the maximum possible lift from a small, highly-loaded, near-delta wing. Coupled with very powerful engines (which were needed anyway to meet the speed requirements), a soft-field undercarriage with low-pressure tyres, and powerful all moving tail surfaces to control and trim the aircraft, there was at least a prospect of meeting all these conflicting requirements.

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What else? Well to get to the required maximum Mach number, both the intakes and the nozzles have to be variable geometry, and, of course, a new engine will be required – an afterburning version of the excellent Olympus, the powerplant of the mighty Vulcan, and of course, subsequently developed into the Olympus 593 for Concorde. Then reinforced cockpit enclosures to withstand possible bird-strikes at low level, and a host of newly-developed mission equipment.

Remarkably, given the challenging requirements, the selected airframe, engine and equipment solutions appear to have had the potential to rise at least towards the challenge, and possibly to meet it.

Industrial, Political, Economic, Technical and Other Considerations

BAC TSR2 IMG_1501s.jpg

Image: author

So, what went wrong? Well, there are quite a number of strands to look at here, and much has already been written on the subject. All the various factors I’m going to discuss interplayed with each other. Past political decisions had resulted in an Industry badly placed to take on a complex project of this sort; technical glitches in development resulted in delays, increases in weight and cost, as such difficulties always do; delays and cost increases fed into the aspirations of those who favoured another solution, or no solution at all to the requirement. In the end, not only was the project cancelled, but the then-proposed replacement was also cancelled, resulting in a long interlude of interim part-solutions until a successful successor emerged, which has itself recently been retired after 40-years of service with the RAF.

The Industrial and Political landscape is so intimately inter-twined around TSR.2 that the two topics cannot be considered separately. On the Political front, there was a seminal moment when, in April 1957, Mr Duncan Sandys announced in his statement on Defence policy that (in view of developments in guided weapons technologies) it was unlikely that the RAF would in future require new fighters or bombers. Although the Lightning was too far advanced to stop, and the Buccaneer was already in development for the Royal Navy, this announcement appeared to pretty much spell the end of the British combat aircraft Industry.

Given this, it is somewhat surprising that a successful case was made leading to the announcement by the Government of the development of a new strike and reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Canberra, in December 1958, only 20 months after the Duncan Sandys announcement. It is perhaps less surprising, given the existential threat posed by the Sandys’ announcement, that no less than 11 Companies submitted proposals against this lifeline project: Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, Blackburn, Bristol, de Havilland, English Electric, Fairey, Handley-Page, Hawker, Short Brothers and Vickers-Armstrong.

It is also less than surprising, given the limited market for combat aircraft, and the stiff competition for both civil and military designs emerging from the US and France, that the Government perceived very clearly the need to reduce the number of aircraft manufacturers, and announced that future projects would only be available to partnering companies, in order to rationalise the Industry.

Accordingly, the initial development contract went to Vickers-Armstrong, co-operating with English Electric, while the engine development went to Bristol-Siddeley. Within about 2 years, English-Electric, Vickers-Armstrong, and Bristol Aircraft had bowed to the inevitable and merged into the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). By 1963, the remaining companies, Folland, de Havilland, and Blackburn had joined the Hawker Siddeley Group (Armsrong-Whitworth, A. V. Roe, Gloster and Hawker). For details of these changes see British Built Aircraft by Ron Smith.

From a project perspective, this left the Buccaneer and the TSR.2 as the only game in town for the military aerospace Industry. The demanding specification of the TSR.2 aircraft, and the supporting elements to that capability, meant that just about every technical advance or innovation – in weapons, avionics, flight and utilities control systems, instrumentation and displays, was considered part of the TSR.2 development program. In the end, more than 1000 companies were contributing to the program.

Not unnaturally, this massive scale of activity all cost money – lots of it. Given the Procurement climate of the time the relevant Contracts were neither let as Prime Contracts, nor Fixed-Price. The total program cost appears to be lost in a mire of conflicting figures, but seems unlikely to be less than 500 million pounds. Gunston states that 14 different official figures have been given, varying from 100 to 1000 million pounds.

Technically, many aspects of the aircraft appear to have worked extraordinarily well, with the limited flight tests demonstrating solid handling performance, and the ability to fly supersonically in dry thrust. However, there were a number of technical issues, some of which were very public, which delayed the flight test program, and to some extent played into the hands of those who were sceptical about the programme.


Duncan Sandys

A key concern was the engine – two of the development Olympus 320X engines exploded during the engine test program, the first of those incidents also destroying the dedicated Vulcan testbed aircraft, fortunately while ground running. The cause of the failure was diagnosed, and a fix developed, but the result was an 8-month delay, with the additional complication that the first flight of the aircraft was made with unmodified, and hence dangerous, engines. Fortunately, all went well, with a successful first flight on 27 Sept 1964.

Another very public issue concerned the undercarriage. Remarkably, it was not until the 10th flight that the undercarriage was retracted and lowered successfully. Previous flights had experienced the port leg, and on a separate flight, the starboard leg failing to retract, and one landing with the main undercarriage bogies in a near-vertical, rather than a near-horizontal position. In addition, severe vibration after landing continued to be a problem for much of the flight test program, although a solution to this had been identified and implemented for the last couple of flights.

A number of other issues were encountered, including vibration on the second and third flights – cause identified and cured, a heavy landing on flight 12, and significant fuel leaks on flights 18 and 19. However, in general, the airframe delivered both impressive performance and handling. Much of course remained to be done to develop the weapons system capability, but this of course was not to be, with the cancellation of the program after just 24 flights.

In the end, the aircraft became a target of the incoming Labour Government, with the project not helped by some remarkably vague and unconvincing commentary from Government ministers, which included being unable, or unwilling, to detail the program costs, and considerable mixed-messaging on the aircraft’s intended role as a conventional or nuclear strike aircraft.


In the end, the Government cancelled the program, announcing that it would procure the General Dynamics F-111K instead. As the likely cost of this acquisition grew, there was a further change in plan, with the announcement that the UK would no longer participate in operations ‘East of Suez’. This was the death knell not only for the F-111K, but ultimately for the Fleet Air Arm’s big carriers as well. Consequently, the RAF ended up with the F-4M Phantom, and latterly the Buccaneer S2 and the Navy’s F-4K Phantoms instead.

Ultimately, of course, the replacement for the TSR.2 proved to be the Panavia Tornado GR variant, which has just been retired from the RAF, after 40 years of peerless service.

Impact on the Industry

BAC TSR2 img602s.jpg

Image: author

When TSR.2 was cancelled, the Government also cancelled the P.1154 supersonic STOVL fighter and HS.681 STOL transport, with the result that both BAC and Hawker Siddeley needed to restructure and re-focus their businesses.

In practice, this meant a considerable focus on collaboration. BAC worked on the Jaguar as part of the SEPECAT Group, and on the Tornado fighter and strike aircraft as part of the Panavia consortium. BAC, of course, also had a substantial civil aircraft business, ultimately partnering with Aerospatiale to build the unmatched Concorde.


Hawker Siddeley military aircraft projects developed from the Harrier and the Hawk, ultimately leading to cooperation with McDonnell Douglas on the AV-8B and T-45 Goshawk. On the civil side, a variety of the aircraft inherited through the merger process ultimately reached the end of their development cycle. The HS146 evolved into the Avro RJ; the HS748 into the ATP; the Jetstream into the Jetstream 41; and the HS125 into the Hawker 1000. All of these products essentially reached the end of their development path or, in the case of the HS125, were sold off to others. However, a resounding success was the decision of the company to enter the Airbus consortium, and, in particular, to build on very fruitful partnered research effort with Government to provide unmatched wing design capability for a very lucrative line of medium to heavy commercial transport aircraft.


Eventually, with the formation of British Aerospace, collaboration in military aircraft has moved on to the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the contribution made, with Rolls-Royce, to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

The Future


Where next? BAE Systems is seeking to develop the Tempest, with a number of European partners (notably Sweden), but without, as yet, a clearly stated requirement. It has continuing workshare in the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lightning II, and interests through the broader Tempest  in a number of possible future unmanned systems. But some have questioned whether the company is now in a position to deliver design leadership on complex future combat aircraft. On the civil side, the one remaining major programme is the Airbus enterprise – but Brexit remains an area of uncertainty, on which, from Australia, I will observe rather than attempt to comment.


Did TSR.2 kill the Industry? – No, but it thrust it into a world of partnership and collaboration.

Does Industry still have the design capability to lead, and to deliver the next generation of UK and European combat aircraft? – It’s an open question. In my view, I don’t think Europe can manage two competing 6th generation combat aircraft projects.

Will the UK remain the principle wing-design and manufacture source for Airbus? – A big question, to which I suspect the answer may well be No for manufacture, and possibly No for design. As noted above, however, much depends on the outcome of the current Brexit brouhaha in the UK.”

I would like to add a comment by historian in David Edgerton from his 2017 Hush-kit interview —

“It is a very strange view for without the support of British governments there would essentially have been no aircraft industry at all. The argument amounts to saying that if the government had given even more support that it actually did then we would have a stronger aircraft industry today. To which the response might be, more Concordes or TSR2s would have done even more damage to the industry rather than strengthened it. Indeed that argument was made – the problem was indeed too many aircraft projects, all supported by government, stretching the technical resources of the industry. Too much innovation was supported, rather than not enough. I must admit I have not heard a convincing argument that supporting the V1000 or developing the P.1154 would have materially affected aeronautical history, though there is plenty of assertion to this effect.  In short, it is a very complex issue which is discussed in simplistic ways. One common assumption was that governments were pig-headedly stupid and short-sighted. But the policies of governments were not stupid. There was a strong case for concentrating on fewer companies in the 1950s, and of pushing for European collaboration in the 1960s, and for reducing investment in a sector which for very good reasons would find it difficult to compete with the USA. Nor should we downplay success – the aero-engine industry has been successful, a very rare example of large British manufacturing firm having a serious place in world markets.  Without decades of government support there would  be no Rolls-Royce today.”


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Principal Sources:

Testing Years, Roland Beamont: Ian Allen, 1980

Beyond the Frontiers BAC TSR.2, Bill Gunston: Wings of Fame, Volume 4, Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1996

British Built Aircraft, Ron Smith;

Some Turning Point British Aircraft, Ron Smith: In Royal Aeronautical Society publication: British Aviation 1908-2008: Towards the Second Century of British Powered Flight. RAeS April 2008

From Spitfire to Eurofighter – 45 years of Combat Aircraft Design, Roy Boot; Airlife


Observers Book of Aircraft 1964

Jim Smith’s comments that represent his personal views and observations, but, because he was neither involved in the project itself, nor part of the decision-making in Government circles (he was, in fact, still at school), these views are, of course, shaped by the comments of others. His principal sources are listed above, and I would recommend the reader to seek these out where possible.


Aircraft design contest 2019 launched


Super Cutlass by Rik H 

In 2018 we asked you to design a fighter aircraft, your entries were brilliant. Now it’s 2019 and we have a new contest for you. Your concept will be judged by an expert panel on effectiveness, originality and aesthetics. 

Submission deadline: August 30th 2019.

Submission should take the form of no more than 4 illustrations or diagrams (one is fine) and a small amount of text to explain the type.

Choose one of the following design briefs:

Requirement 560

Design a fighter aircraft using only technology available in 1970. The aircraft must have a range of at least 400 nautical miles. It must have a minimum top speed over Mach 1.8. It should carry at least one cannon and four air-to-air missiles. The type should have a good dogfighting performance.

Requirement 570

Design a fighter-bomber aircraft using only technology available in 2019.  The aircraft must have a range of at least 400 nautical miles. It must have a minimum top speed over Mach 1.6. It should carry at least one cannon and four air-to-air missiles/and/or 7000kg of munitions.. The type should be relatively cheap to build, easy to maintain, and a short development period.

Requirement 680

Design a supersonic civil passenger aircraft using only technology available in 2019. Minimum top speed 1000mph. Range 2500 miles. 100 passengers plus reasonable baggage. Extra points awarded for economy of operation and lower noise levels.

Requirement 750

Design a close support aircraft using only technology available in 1985. Minimum top speed 400mph. Must capable of carrying at least 5000kg of munitions and carry internal gun. Must be low-cost, highly resistant to ground-fire and have minimal ground support requirements. STOL or rough-field capability a plus.

Requirement 760

Design a fighter aircraft using only technology available in 1938. The aircraft must be a capable dogfighter. Armament is to be four cannon. Aircraft must have a top speed higher than 380mph, be easy to repair and maintain and offer a high level of battle damage resistance.


Harpia FAB-60 by Bernardo Senna (joint 1st place winner 2018) 

Message via Twitter @hush_kit to enter.


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10 exotic cancelled fighter planes from countries you didn’t expect



Pariah states and those seeking independence from the traditional plane-making nations have repeatedly attempted to go it alone and built their own fighter aircraft. All of the following projects, many tantalisingly close to being brilliant, failed. Some were crushed by spiralling project costs, some by bad timing and some by death threats! 

10. FMA Pulqui II (1950)


Kurt Tank, who developed the Fw 190 and other design masterpieces for Nazi Germany, fled his defeated homeland to work in Peron’s Argentina. Here he was involved in several bizarre projects (including a possibly fraudulent nuclear fusion-powered airliner which will be covered on soon), including the Pulqui II, an indigenous jet fighter based on the unflown Ta 183. Whereas the Pulqui I was a disappointing straight-wing fighter prototype designed by Émile Dewoitine, the II was far more ambitious: a swept-wing fighter powered by the British Nene II. With a top speed of 671 mph and an armament of four-20mm the aircraft had the potential to be one of the most capable fighters of its time, though the similarly Nene powered MiG-17 also flew in 1950 and was 40mph faster.  The Pulqui II was successfully deployed in combat trials in the Revolución Libertadora. The type was cancelled due to long-running programme failures and a failing national economy.


9. FMA SAIA 90


An extremely far-sighted and in many ways brilliant concept, the SAIA 90 had the misfortune of being born in the wrong country. A stealthy (with consideration being paid to both radar and infra-red conspicuity) agile fighter powered by two F404s is an idea so appealing it would still find buyers today. It was to have a Low Probability of Intercept radar, one 27-mm Mauser cannon and six air-to-air missiles (four medium ranged radar-guided and two short-range infra-red guided).


Design assistance for the Argentinian company Fabrica Militar de Aviones came from the West German company Dornier (whose experience with composites on the Do 228 and AlphaJet would be vital for the project). The project would have been ambitious for any nation, but for Argentina, which was in the grip of an economic meltdown, it was just too much — and it was cancelled.


Exactly how stealthy an aircraft with such a blocky fuselage and oversize control surfaces is worth questioning.

Like this kind of thing? 10 incredible cancelled military aircraft here

8. Australian Commonwealth CA-15 ‘Kangaroo’


A strong contender for the title of the ultimate piston-engined fighter is the Australian Commonwealth CA-15 ‘Kangaroo’. The RAAF wanted a fighter superior to the highly respected P-51 Mustang, so accordingly issued an exceptionally demanding requirement. The specification called for a machine with a high rate of climb, excellent manoeuvrability including a high roll rate, and a generous range. The resultant Kangaroo delivered on all promises, and boasted a top speed of 458mph, and a range on internal fuel of 1,150 miles! The addition of drop tanks allowed for 2,540 mile flights. These remarkable figures were attained with the Griffon 61, even more impressive figures would have been achieved if the desired Double Wasp or three-speed Griffon had been fitted. Like the MB5 it was just too late to the party.


7. Helwan HA-300 (1964)


In the mid 1950s Egypt wanted a lightweight supersonic, single-seat fighter-intercepter. Depending on the now hostile Britain for military aircraft was impossible and President Nasser also wished for the prestige and independence of an indigenous solution.



Wilhelm Emil ‘Willy’ Messerschmitt, designer of the Bf 109, banned from designing military aircraft in Germany, came to their assistance. In collaboration with India and Spain, the sleek HA-300 was created. The aircraft attained Mach 2.1 with indigenous Brandner E-300 engines.

1 420

It is uncertain exactly why the project was cancelled but it was having financial and technical problems, and the German engineers were receiving death threats from Mossad. download-2.jpg

 6. Qaher-313


Voted in the 2013 world fighter yearbook ‘least likely project to come to fruition and most dishonest PR‘, the Iranian Qaher-313 was something of a joke in international media. Extremely silly claims were made of this aircraft – and the subscale mock-up claiming to be an actual aircraft was widely derided. The project continues, though the public statement have become more modest. Far from being the F-35 killing superfighter described in 2013, it is now reported as a short range close air support aircraft. It is unclear whether it has yet flown.

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One free-thinking group of aircraft designers considered how to make a new multirole fighter. The result of the study was a design for an aircraft like nothing else before or since. Even more surprisingly, this exciting plan for a futuristic superfighter came not from the elite fighter houses of the USSR or the US, but an unknown company in New Zealand.

From the late 1970s, the IML Group in New Zealand studied existing combat aircraft to see if they could come up with a better solution. Their concept, the Addax, proved to be exceptionally bold. The Addax-1 was to be powered by two vectored thrust turbofans in the 10,000-Ib thrust class (obvious contenders would have included derivatives of the Rolls-Royce Spey or TF34).

A world where the British super-bomber wasn’t cancelled here

addax 6.png

The aerodynamic configuration was unusual to say the least, consisting of a ‘self-stabilising aerofoil’ formed by the fuselage between the tailbooms, with upper surface blowing across all lifting surfaces providing the aircraft with extreme short take-off and landing capabilities.


Internal weapon bays could carry up to ten 1,000-Ib bombs and external pylons could carry an additional 3,000 Ibs. The gun armament would have been ferocious, comprising either four 30-mm Oerlikon cannon or two 20-mm M61A1 Vulcans. Maximum speed would have been 740mph, and it would had a lo-lo-lo tactical radius of 480 miles with maximum bombload.


The Addax-S was even more impressive. This was a supersonic air-superiority fighter based on the same configuration, with outstanding manoeuvrability.

Of course, The New Zealand Government was never really going to fund either Addax, but it was an intriguingly left-field glimpse of how fighters could have evolved. The designs were released in 1982, but even today they appear more futuristic than any known aircraft programme.

The Italian supersonic jump-jet that never was, here

4. PZL-230 Skorpion


A mid ’80s Polish requirement for a small, agile battlefield attack aircraft resulted in the PZL-230F. Looking like a Manga cartoon of a SR-71, it was actually a serious design with an emphasis on survivability, ease of use and economy of operation. Slow (around 400mph) and capable of forward basing it would have offered a flexible close air support capability. Armament would have consisted of a gun (possibly the GAU-12 rotary cannon) and a light load of guided and unguided munitions.


histor6-1.jpg Initially a degree of stealth was desired, but later in the programme it was decided that this was a redundant quality in an aircraft operating so close to the frontline it would be visible with naked eyes. Its rivals were the IL Kobra 2000 and PZL Mielec M-97/M-99ch. Several configurations of the PZL-230  were offered with turbojet, turboprop and turbofan engines. The 230 won the contest and some development work was done, but it was unsustainable, as Poland faced the economic crisis of transitioning from communism to capitalism. It was terminated in 1994, never having reached a flyable prototype stage.



3. Atlas Carver


Thanks to its horrific apartheid system that enshrined racism and inequality into law, the outside world eventually refused to provide military aircraft to South Africa. In the 1980s, the pariah nation required a high performance lightweight fighter to counter threats that included Angola’s MiG-23s. The design resembled the Mirage 2000, but with splitter plates (some versions showed F-15-like ramps) rather than shock-cones, and LERX resembling those of the the F/A-18 Hornet.

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It was to incorporate composite materials and be armed with indigenous weapons. Some design iterations showed single engines and some a twin arrangement. It is likely that it would have featured a helmet mounted sight, this being a technology South Africa led the world in. The nation did not have the know-how to build its own jet engines and instead unsuccessfully attempted to acquire French M53s and designs for the M88 by subterfuge, and it was stuck with the elderly Snecma Atar.


10587-332879be39630f5a8adc38f42736fd35.jpgMeeting payload-range requirements with this old engine proved very hard and the project was also very expensive; with a diminished threat this could not be justified and the project was canned in 1991. As the political system changed, military imports became available and the SAAF chose the Swedish SAAB Gripen. 

Top 11 cancelled French aircraft here

2. ALR Piranha 6 ‘Swiss multi-roll’

ALR_piranha_fighter_1Yet another ‘eurocanard‘ that never was, the Piranha was a Swiss mini-fighter project that started in 1977. The idea was to produce a fighter for nations on a tight budget, and it seemed a sensible enough idea.

imagesIt was very small and very light, to put it into context its planned max take-off weight of 6,900kg was around half that of the lightest true fighter in production, the Gripen (which is only marginally heavier than the KAI FA-50). There was several proposed variants of the Piranha. But an earlier concept of the Piranha was even lighter…powered by a single Adour!


Unlike today’s eurocanards the foreplanes featured full length flap à la Viggen, which would have aided short field performance. Whether it could have carried enough fuel to get to the promised Mach 2.2 top speed is a good question, as is why the RB199, with its lamentable performance above low altitude, was chosen over the Hornet’s F404. It was expected to be armed with one Oerlikon KCA 30-mm cannon and two Magic II or ASRAAM missiles. ALR was a well-run private company self-funding the project but they eventually gave up due to a lack of interest from the Swiss government.

10 Incredible Soviet Fighter Aircraft that never entered service here



  1. Soko Novi Avion


Yugoslavia remained neutral throughout the Cold War, a complicated and remarkable position considering its location. By the 1980s, it had obtained production licences or self-designed all major weapon systems apart from a supersonic high-end fighter aircraft. For this it required international assistance and looked around for possible partners (one of the collaborators it considered was BAe with their abortive Gripen-like P.106).  Dassault and the French Government stepped into the project, resulting in the aircraft becoming essentially a mini Rafale. Engines under consideration were the PW1120, GE404, the Turbo Union RB199 and Snecma M88. Of these, the RB199 was probably the least likely — and the M88 the most. The Civil War, starting in 1991, put paid to the Avion.

download-1.jpgIf developed, the type would have likely replaced MiG-21s and complemented the MiG-29 force — it could have been a very potent aircraft comparable to the Saab Gripen as an advanced fourth generation lightweight fighter. nasupersonik-01.jpg

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Hush-Kit would like to give a special thanks to Thomas Newdick for his kind assistance in creating this