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Re-read this article in forty years time: We predict the future of aviation

Periodically, one comes across technology foresight pieces from the past. The one characteristic they have in common is that they are nearly always wrong – not just a little bit wrong, but both wildly optimistic in predicting the future of, for example, supersonic transport aircraft, and completely blind to transformational technologies, especially in the digital world.

Why would this one be different? Well, obviously, it will not. As a personal perspective on the world of aerospace and related defence technologies, there is always so much going on, particularly in the closely held world of classified research, that one cannot assemble a comprehensive picture. So, there are going to be gaps and misjudgements. Also, there is a lot of guesswork involved in extrapolating from objectives, and visible progress in research and early development, to future capabilities. Guesswork along the lines of – if I really wanted to deliver (a new capability) – what technical infrastructure and technologies would be required? Can the gaps be filled? And if so, with what?

My approach has been to think about a couple of major emerging areas, one from defence, and one from civilian aerospace, and to consider what appears to be going on, and where it might be leading, as a means of identifying key technologies to watch. And to be clear here, this is all about opinion, not fact. Moreover, it is a certainty that I do not have the expert knowledge to do more than speculate in many cases.

Defence and the nature of war
As one considers defence technologies, it is important to realise that perceptions of the nature and conduct of war have changed and are continuing to change – noting that differing societies may continue to have differing points of view. Conventional warfare – the non-nuclear contest of wills between major powers – has, at times, seemed to be an enduringly unlikely prospect. However, history does not support this view, given the succession of actions involving the major powers since the Second World War. The current environment seems to me to feature increasing tension in many areas of the world, and, moreover, to be characterised not only by intractable problems that are not easily resolved, but growing, and unhelpful, competition between the major current powers, the USA, Russia, and China.
Adding to this tension is the increasing capabilities of second tier nations, including, but not limited to Israel, India, Iran, North Korea, and others, as well as the ongoing contest of political ideas and religious beliefs that lies behind terrorist activities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Terrorism is a label applied generally to the nationalist or religious aspirations of others, characterised by the unconventional use of lethal force outside the so-called rules of war. Just as one man’s terrorist may be another man’s freedom fighter, it is important to recognise how successful such actions have been, and how difficult they have been to counter using conventional armed forces. One only needs to consider Afghanistan, for example, where the British, the Russians, and the Americans and Coalition Forces have all successively been evicted by informal armed groups, despite all having conventional air and arms superiority.

Well, you might find all that a bit confronting, but not all defence is defensive, and not all objectives are benign. Sometimes attack is an option, and sometimes annexation, and invasion are used to effect regime change. And this piece is intended to be a general technology discussion, rather than political analysis – even though it is framed from the perspective of a Western democratic nation.

This piece is focused on peer-to-peer conflict, rather than on counter-terrorism or counter-insurgent operations. Nevertheless, the development of the capabilities outlined will need to recognise the complexities of countering hostile forces that may be indistinguishable, much of the time, from civilian populations. Clear opportunities to counter the activities of such groups may only be fleeting in nature, and consequently require rapid, accurate, decision-making, and the ability to generate reactive, yet proportional responses.

Future Air Operations

In previous articles for @Hush_Kit, I have considered the nature of air combat, and written on fighters for 2030, and in thinking about those topics, the US, China, and Russia, all appear to be converging on a system-of-systems approach to both air combat and strike missions. The discussion that follows outlines the capabilities that appear to be necessary to deliver a ‘system-of-systems’ approach to future air operations, whether these be pre-planned strike missions; reactive missions addressing short-term or fleeting targets; or defensive operations reacting to threat attacks or weapons.

We will start with an assumption that the key purpose of air operations is the prosecution (a less direct way of saying ‘attack’) of hostile targets. Here I am using targets in an extremely broad sense, as our air operations should be able to deal with targets ranging from enduring, hardened, strategic infrastructure, to fleeting targets of opportunity, reactive defence against incoming threat weapons and platforms, or even something as ephemeral as Political opinion.

Such a range of targets is a key driver for our system-of-systems, which must be capable of recognising, locating, and countering the full range of targets, with the flexibility to carry out operations from merely monitoring force deployments at a time of tension, to complex pre-planned attacks against hardened and defended targets.
To achieve these effects, our system-of-systems based air combat capability is going to need to be able to:
• Identify and locate targets, varying from the strategic to the tactical, and from static to moveable, mobile and fleeting, as well as characterising the defence systems for those targets;
• Communicate relevant information on the targets either to the higher command structure, or, for targets that must be addressed in near real-time, to other system-of-system elements;
• Collect, analyse, and disseminate information from other elements across the system-of-systems;
• Strike targets, using appropriate and proportional weapons systems, or neutralise by other means, such as electronic attack, cyber warfare or deception;
• Be survivable and persistent for as long as required; and
• Be responsive to changes in the Commander’s intent; the Rules of Engagement; the achievement (or not) of objectives; and to changes in opposition tactics or force deployments.
These capability requirements lead us into a series of technology topics, which are the defence topics we have selected to watch.

As an aside, in thinking about these defence aspects, I would ask the reader to bear in mind not only the thought ‘that’s cool, we’re doing all that’, but also to reflect on ‘OK … so how do we respond if this gets done to us?’ I remind the reader of this, because I recall making a similar comment years ago in response to an Army paper on ‘Manoeuvre Warfare’. This was very gung-ho about the prospect for the future Army but had not a word of consideration about how to respond to being outflanked, or to having one’s own logistic lines cut. My observations were unwelcome.
The paper in question also took an overtly ‘offensive’ rather than ‘defensive’ perspective to operations, which was perhaps counter to the political will of the time. My observation to that effect was also unwelcome, but I mention this because the ‘system-of-systems’ approach I am considering is also intended to allow unfettered operation over hostile territory, is ‘offensive’ rather than ‘defensive’ in nature and appears to be the direction being taken by the US, Russia, and China.

Civil Aerospace
The civil transport domain has, since the age of airborne mass transport began, after the Second World War, been driven by one consideration – economics. Although some might see the appearance of large turbofan-powered aircraft in the 70s as a response to noise regulations in Europe and elsewhere, this was really a side effect. It just happens that the solution to greatly improved operating economics and reduced noise was the same – the larger mass flow, and lower exhaust velocity of a high-bypass-ratio turbofan happens to reduce noise, as well as increasing efficiency and lowering cost.

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However, we are entering a period where there is, rightly, concern about the impact of human activity on the global climate, and attention is falling on the fossil fuel burnt by air transport, and the effect of exhaust gases on the upper atmosphere. Of course, this is, and will become increasingly, also an economic driver. In the longer-term taxes – in the form of carbon-pricing – and cost increases due to diminishing availability, will both drive up fuel costs, and consequently the search has begun for alternative propulsion systems.
So civil aerospace technology needs might be driven by the following capability needs:
• Further improvements in propulsive efficiency
• Further improvements in aerodynamic efficiency
• Air transport systems, at all scales from the personal to mass transport, which minimise, or remove altogether, their impact on climate change
• Innovative solutions to the growing needs of internet-based businesses

Aerospace Technology Aspects

The discussion above has highlighted two principal problem spaces – military air operations in a system of systems environment, and economical but environmentally responsible civil air transport. As we have seen, both problem spaces will require the development and deployment of multiple technologies. Consequently, it does not make sense to assemble a ‘Top 10’ list, because the requirements are likely to be ‘all of the above, and more’. Instead, I shall look at what I consider to be the key areas needed to deliver the suggested capability, and then try to shed some light on some technology directions and programs of relevance.

Elements of a ‘system of systems’ air combat capability
Having outlined the capability requirements for such a system, we can perhaps identify some of the system elements that will deliver this capability.

Persistent Intelligence will be required. To conduct effective operations, it is first necessary to understand what is happening – in the broadest sense. What can we observe that will inform us about threat capabilities, force structure, deployment of men and materiel, sensor and weapon capability, political will and intent, infrastructure, and Industry? A huge ask, and probably only part of the tasking of worldwide intelligence services. If we narrow the focus, and assume a time of tension between major powers, with a high probability of conflict developing, a key need will be to assess potential key elements which might become targets.

Once the situation nears actual conflict, or conflict is taking place, persistent intelligence is needed to inform Commanders of the changing disposition of threat defence capabilities, force deployment, logistics and electronic activity, as well as updating similar information on friendly forces, and facilitating battle damage assessment. Depending on the nature of the conflict, many fixed elements of infrastructure will already have been located, and assessed for criticality as targets, so the critical need will be to identify and locate mobile and moveable targets, the nature and capability of their physical and electronic defence systems, and the sensors used by those systems.
The same system will also collect information from other system elements and disseminate and report as necessary to other friendly force elements on threats, targets, Commander’s Intent, and changes in Rules of Engagement.
To achieve this, the following system elements are likely to be required:
• A stealthy, high-flying, long-endurance autonomous platform
• Sensor packages able to collect the information outlined above, which implies sensor capabilities across a wide range of the electro-magnetic spectrum
• On-board analytical capability to transform sensor data into actionable information, including, for example, the identification and localisation of threats and targets; track information on both air and ground moving targets; and indications of operational mission success or failure
• Covert, robust communication capability enabling two-way communication through satellite or other relay systems to either the tactical or strategic command authority.
• Covert, rapid, robust two-way tactical communication to other system elements.
These capabilities are likely to be supplemented by the future Global Air Dominance System, a stealthy manned platform, which is likely to contribute additional sensors and Battle Management capability.
Effectors will be required to impact on and defeat threat targets and defensive systems. Platforms will be required to deliver kinetic effects (weapons), and non-kinetic effects (electronic attack, countermeasures, deception operations, cyber-attack, and defence. Platforms will require their own sensors for targeting, and to contribute to the overall picture of battle, and covert, robust means of communication with other system elements, and in some cases, the weapons they deploy. Additional support systems may also be required to ensure sufficient reach and persistence, and to supplement tactical intelligence collection. Some additional specialist capabilities will be required, for example to counter submarines, surface combatants and perhaps theatre ballistic missile defence.
System platform elements are likely to include:
• Crewed and un-crewed strike platforms
• Crewed and un-crewed air combat systems
• Crewed and un-crewed Electronic Warfare systems
• Crewed and un-crewed air refuelling tankers
• Crewed and un-crewed tactical surveillance assets
Technologies to develop all these systems are maturing, and programs are already in place addressing some of these needs.
Kinetic Effects. The system-of-systems approach is likely to make a wider range of weapons available to Commanders, as any networked platform within weapon range would be available, allowing a wide range of proportional, timely and well-matched solutions to be deployed.
In considering the systems deployed to create the required kinetic and non-kinetic effects, there are generally three major considerations: target-matching; proportionality; and range. In a non-system-of-systems environment, platform sensor matching was also important since platform target detection before weapons release was generally required. However, in the future considered, target information is expected to be pervasive, so that third-party targeting would be the norm, and target localisation would generally be delivered over the information network. Timeliness of response, however, is an important new driver, as this is a potential benefit from the system-of systems approach.
In addition to the full suite of current kinetic effect weapons capabilities, a range of highly reactive and precise solutions are likely to be sought, adding the following capabilities:
• High-speed Air-to-Surface weapons
• High-speed Air-to-Air weapons
• Long-range high-speed systems
• Directed Energy weapons
Non-Kinetic Effects. Clearly, with a heavy dependence on information systems, communications networks, software enabled capabilities, and sensors exploiting a broad range of the electro-magnetic spectrum, attention is going to need to be paid to both offensive and defensive non-kinetic effects.
This will lead to a need for the system-of systems to include the following capabilities:
• Electronic Attack and Protection
• Cyber Attack and Protection
• Ability to deceive and decoy threat sensors, and to overcome threat deception and decoys
Defence Aerospace Technologies
So, having explored the capabilities which might be needed to deliver system-of-systems air combat, what are the key technology developments required. To quote Arthur C Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This discussion revolves around identifying where the magic lies.

Cognition and decision-making

Having postulated a persistent, stealthy, high-flying autonomous data collector and disseminator, one of the areas where advanced technology will be needed is in the translation of that data into information, and that information into actions. The volume of data which might be collected is prodigious, and the need for accurate and rapid decision making is paramount.

Conversion of sensor measurement data into location, identity, and track is vital if action is to be taken quickly. The volume of such data is too great to rely on passing back to the Command authority for conversion to information, and for decision-making. For this system-of-systems to work, there will have be an automated system capable of not only converting data to information, but also capable of cognition – that is understanding and acting on the information available.

This implies an extraordinary level of artificial intelligence (AI), and of trusted autonomy, and the development of technologies in this area will be a key, if such a system is to be delivered. This is a key area – while at first blush it seems to me unlikely that such a degree of AI yet exists, and further, in such a form that it could be trusted to act autonomously, I am reliably informed that sonar systems can discriminate up to 400 tracks simultaneously. This is certainly a key area a key area to watch. Management of the risks in this area might involve a half-way house, where proposed courses of action are provided to the Command authority for approval before implementation. Alternatively, the Global Dominance Air System might be used to provide battle management and place humans in the decision-making loop.

Communications and Information Dissemination
For our system-of-systems to work, covert, trusted, un-jammable, impenetrable communications links will need to be established. Some of these will need to deliver two-way information transfer to a remote Command authority, presumably by some form of satellite link. Others will be more local in nature, sharing information around the elements of our system, facilitating third-party data, sharing sensor information to enable the detection of stealthy threats and so on.

How might such a system work? Another area where advanced technologies indistinguishable from magic may play a part? But if Elon Musk has 42000 internet relay satellites in orbit by 2027, there should be a great deal of system redundancy available, along with global coverage. Could such a system be covert, secure, and un-jammable? Well, I assume that would depend on the waveforms used if a conventional datalink were used.

Other possibilities exist, including the use of lasers for optical communication, and dedicated LPI datalinks are already in service, catering to the needs of JSF, for example. The Multi-function Advanced Datalink, MADL, provides communication between stealthy platforms, with frequency-hopping and anti-jamming capability using phased Array Antenna Assemblies (AAAs) that send and receive tightly directed radio signals.

Clearly, establishing secure communication of critical information over a wide geographic area is one of the keys to successful implementation of system-of-systems air combat. Ensuring the communications network is managed to avoid information latency, aliasing of targets, disruption, jamming, or penetration by hostile entities is one area to watch, as will be bandwidth, cyber protection, security, and resistance to detection.
This whole area is going to be difficult when operating in coalition, given the sensitive nature of both collection technologies and analysis techniques.

Sensors and sensor co-ordination

Networking sensors together is one of the opportunity areas of a system-of-systems approach. As an example, if our network were able to access Infra-red Seeker Tracker (IRST) measurements from two separate stealthy platforms, while also having real-time knowledge of their locations, any heat source detected by the IRSTs should be able to be tracked, by triangulation of the two IRST bearings. This capability would provide a passive means of tracking stealthy air targets in real time, although it would be necessary to be able to discriminate between friendly and hostile targets, which might require additional information.

Similarly, it is likely that extensive use would be made of third-party targeting (TPT). TPT is useful because it allows there to be geographic separation between the sensor providing targeting data and the platform which uses a weapon to engage the target. That platform can remain passive and difficult to detect and neutralise, using off-board data supplied over the net to localise the target, rather than active and potentially detectable sensors.
Collection and collation of sensor measurements and tracks from other system elements really falls under the earlier discussion of cognition and decision making. However, our high-flying intelligence and information platform will have its own sensor suite. Given the need for the platform to provide persistent coverage over hostile territory, the challenge will be to generate useful sensor data in a covert manner. Passive sensors, including optical and infrared sensors will provide useful data, and multi-spectral analysis of sensor data may be useful in discriminating and identifying targets in a cluttered environment.
Use of an active sensor, such as a low probability of exploitation synthetic aperture radar, is however, likely to be considered because of the utility of such sensors, not only in ground mapping, but also in providing Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) capability, as well as change detection. GMTI can be particularly useful, not only in locating moving vehicles, but also in determining where they have come from and their destination. This information can be extremely useful in building a picture of threat logistics infrastructure, potentially enabling, for example, the location of fuel and ammunition supply depots to be identified. Change detection may be of particular interest in irregular conflicts, o here there is a potential for improvised explosive devices or landmines to be employed.
The technology challenge here is to deploy an active radar or similar sensor system, while preventing this being used as a means of detecting the high-flying platform at the heart of our system.

Platform Aspects

In attacking targets, and defending against attack, survivability is a key consideration. The degree to which risk is taken in this area may vary across a broad spectrum – a terrorist may have a view where the sacrifice of their own life is considered necessary, or even advantageous, whereas risk to service or civilian lives may be sufficient to prevent some military actions from going ahead. In general, though, if objectives are to be sustained, continuing loss of men and materiel will need to be avoided, and hence combatants will seek survivable options.
Our system-of-systems approach has, as one of its objectives, reducing the risk to human operators. It does this by essentially postulating three forms of vehicle – un-crewed, autonomous, survivable, and persistent platforms, like our intelligence, sensor and command and control platform; un-crewed, autonomous and ‘attritable’ platforms that the operators are prepared to lose if necessary, when attacking strongly defended targets; and crewed, survivable platforms, used only where a human in-the-loop and on-the-spot is critical.

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We can examine what is reported about current projects and programs and see this thinking in action. Alongside crewed aircraft concepts and programs such as the B-21, Global Air Dominance System and F-35, we can see the Unmanned Wingman, the XQ-58A Valkyrie un-crewed strike platform, Neuron, Taranis, as un-crewed and potentially ‘attritable’ platforms. We have the US Navy experimenting with autonomous air-to-air refuelling using the X-47B and no doubt un-crewed electronic warfare, jammer, and decoy projects already in hand. We have at least early attempts in high-flying, difficult to detect autonomous sensor and communication systems like the RQ-170 Sentinel and speculation about the RQ-180. Autonomous manoeuvring air combat is perhaps a little further away, although some might argue that Surface-to-Air Missiles and Cruise Missiles are simply ‘fully-attritable’ un-crewed autonomous air combat and strike systems.
The detailed roles and implementation of the US Global Air Dominance System (GDAS) remains an area for speculation. This is expected to be a manned, stealthy platform, with long endurance, and is likely to feature sensors, command and control and battle management systems. Given the developments in autonomous adjuncts, it is possible that the weapons capability of the GDAS may be limited, although there have been recent suggestions that it may employ directed energy weapons.
Otherwise, rapid development of manned and unmanned aerospace systems of all sorts is proceeding apace in China, and I speculate that the J-20 will be used as a major area-denial asset in the future, with a range of long range air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. In Russia, a replacement for the MiG-31 strategic defence fighter is awaited, with some ambitious performance targets being suggested. Meanwhile the Su-57 is maturing, and a range of unmanned systems are also in development.

Where are the magic technologies here? Most of these capabilities already exist or are in demonstration, although manoeuvring autonomous air combat, and persistent but undetected platform presence, are perhaps at the challenging end of the spectrum. Developing manned penetrating and survivable platforms is going to continue to push the boundaries of signature reduction technologies, and the consequential impacts on aircraft configuration will demand sophisticated, but achievable flight control technologies.

Weapons – Kinetic and Non-kinetic Effectors

The use of air assets in conflict encompasses a wide range of activities as we have seen. Sensor and networking platforms informing the command and control of the air domain, with electronic protection and attack and decoy and disinformation operations helping to shape the battlespace. Stand-off capabilities like AAR and AEW platforms help in providing reach, persistence, and situational awareness, but the deployment and use of weapons to prosecute targets is the end point of all this activity.

From the earlier discussion, we have seen that a wide variety of weapons are likely to be required to match weapons to the wide variety of targets, and, as far as possible, generate precision effects. Consequently, there is a great deal of activity going on looking to develop weapons that can be deployed in the networked environment of the future.
What capabilities are being sought for future weapons? Some suggestions are:
• Rapid action – short time between a decision to strike a target and the required effect. This is a key attribute for tackling fleeting targets
• Re-programmable – the ability to optimise the fusing, or the nature of kinetic effect, allowing a broader range of targets to be prosecuted with the same system
• Non-kinetic – weapons that can disable a hostile response without collateral damage, for example by nullifying opposition sensors, disrupting information systems, or corrupting software
• Precision – able to produce very local effects
• Long stand-off – a response to operating against very capable air defence systems
• Small – weapons for deployment from stealthy platforms will be internally carried, and internal volume is likely to be at a premium for many platforms
• Networked – data-linked to allow third-party targeting and an indication of effect
Some of the capabilities above are routinely available with current weapons systems, but there are plenty of technology areas to watch in the general area of effectors.
Active programs to develop hypersonic weapons are underway in at least the US, Russia, and China, and this is clearly a technology area to watch. Most of the hypersonic weapons being discussed appear to be aimed at air-to-surface applications, including anti-ship weapons. However, it seems plausible that a long-range anti-air hypersonic system could be useful as an area denial weapon, for example against high-value targets such as AAR and AEW&C platforms.

Another topic which has been examined for a considerable period, at least in the US, is the possible application of boost-glide vehicles. These are powered systems which are (hypothetically) air-launched and climb to near-space altitude, before gliding at high speed to strike their desired targets. An alternative approach is a conventional rocket launch, followed by a series of re-entry skips into the upper atmosphere to achieve extended range. BGV capability would appear to be well within reach from a technology perspective. The technologies required have much in common with air-launched anti-satellite systems, which might also be available to some countries. The capability on offer is essentially short notice global reach.
A third area to watch is directed energy weapons. These are generally in the form of lasers, but other forms of energy may be available. Several issues have been encountered in the development of such weapons, but there is clearly a potential application to air weapons. The provision of sufficient electrical power to achieve a worthwhile effect has been an issue, but there has been a recent suggestion that such weapons might be one possibility for the US Global Air Dominance System. Directed energy weapons are, by their nature, precision weapons, and do not have a conventional kinetic effect. They are already in widespread use at lower power, as counters to imaging infra-red seekers, in the form of Laser DIRCM (Directed Infra-red Counter Measures).

Another form of novel non-kinetic weapon which might appear is the non-nuclear electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) generator – this seeks to disrupt sensors and communication systems by generating an extremely large electro-magnetic signal. While the technology exists, many military systems are hardened against EMP, but significant effects might be expected in EMP is directed against civilian infrastructure or other non-hardened systems.
Where is the magic required for Defence Aerospace?
• Stealthy, persistent, surveillance and communications platforms
• Covert sensors
• Information management systems to turn sensor data into actionable intelligence
• Multi-way communication and information dissemination system
• Unmanned strike and air combat systems
• Unmanned support systems
o EW
o Cooperative sensors
• Reactive rapid response weapons
o Hypersonic systems
o Directed Energy
o Boost-glide vehicles

Technologies for economical but environmentally responsible civil air transport
While much of the discussion in this area is going to be about propulsion systems, because of a widely perceived need to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere to reduce the rate of human-induced climate change, it is important to remember that economic operation remains an enduring driver for commercial air transport. Consequently, there will be continuing pressure for innovations that can improve both aerodynamic and propulsive efficiency. Just as the same economic pressures resulted in the adoption of high-bypass-ratio turbofan engines, and coincidentally dramatically reduced aircraft noise, so improved aircraft and engine efficiency helps to reduce the power required, and the impact on the environment.

Aerodynamic efficiency: biplanes, flying-wings and the return of other zombies

In the cruise, airliners fly at high altitude to maximise propulsive efficiency and minimise fuel burn. Two major routes to aerodynamic efficiency are to increase the aspect ratio of the wing (the slenderness of the planform – defined as (span squared)/wing area) which reduces the drag due to lift, and to reduce the wing area, which reduces zero lift, or profile, drag.

Increasing aspect ratio has been a trend in the evolution of jet airliners. The de Havilland Comet had an aspect ratio of 5.65, and the aspect ratio of the latest variant of the Boeing 777 is 9.96. This increase in aspect ratio has largely been enabled by using advanced composite materials for the wing structure. Reducing wing area demands the use of efficient high-lift systems to meet demanding take-off, landing and single engine climb requirements. While further incremental improvements are possible, dramatic change in aerodynamic efficiency will require a new approach.
Technologies to watch in this space include braced wing structures, reduced or zero wing sweep, and blended wing-body designs. Use of a braced wing design, where a high wing is structurally braced by another lifting surface acting as a strut, might appear old-fashioned and unlikely, but would allow significantly higher aspect ratio wings to be used without attracting a weight penalty. An approach which might facilitate this, is to reduce or eliminate wing sweep. While this would undoubtedly require a reduction in cruise speed, it would not only result in a lighter wing design, but it would also enable laminar flow wing profiles to be used, which have the potential of substantially reducing profile drag.

The first proposals for a jet-powered blended wing body airliner design came not from NASA, nor from Airbus, but from Armstrong Whitworth, and date back to 1943. The proposal materialised at half-scale as the AW52 but was dropped because the swept wing was unable to deliver the benefits of laminar flow. However, with modern design methods and flight control systems, aircraft like the B-2 have shown that aerodynamic efficiencies are achievable, and research efforts to apply blended wing body configurations to commercial aircraft continue. The benefits being sought are reduced drag, through the carriage of passengers in the wing rather than in a separate fuselage, and structural efficiencies because distributing the load across the wing allows a lighter design.

Propulsive efficiency
Clearly, reduced fuel burn is a continuing aim, driven by the operating economics of commercial aircraft, and like aerodynamic efficiency, any improvement in this area will also reduce the impact of air transport on climate change.
Just as improvements in aerodynamic efficiency might take us back to unswept or even strut-braced wings, the search for ultra-high bypass ratio (UHB) engines may lead in the direction of open-rotors – otherwise known as propellers. Solutions involving UHB engines will need to be carefully integrated with the airframe design if maximum aerodynamic and propulsive efficiencies are to be gained while noise in the cabin and outside the aircraft is minimised.

Internal technology changes to gas turbine engines may also increase efficiency, with both geared fans and variable cycle engines being considered as a means of increasing efficiencies. Variable cycle engines provide a means, through internal variable geometry, of altering the by-pass ratio to optimise efficiency under varying flight conditions.
Variable-cycle engines have primarily been proposed for application to military aircraft operating at supersonic speeds. However, a possible future application could be in hybrid powerplants, where, for example, turbofan propulsion could be supplemented by use of an electrically powered propulsor, which would use electrical power from batteries in combination with power generated by the turbofan engines.

Geared fans as an approach which may allow a higher by-pass ratio to be used. By slowing down the fan rotation speed compared to the core, the fan can operate at high thrust while retaining a tip speed that is both efficient and quiet. The technology is not new but represents a trade-off – lower noise and more efficient fan and turbine operation is somewhat offset by the additional weight and complexity of the gearing required.

Alternative energy sources
The bulk of modern commercial transport aircraft are powered by gas turbine engines, burning hydrocarbon fuels. As concern has grown regarding the impact of human activities on climate, attention has also turned to commercial aviation, and the impact of carbon dioxide and other exhaust products on the climate. The presence of increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been linked to climate change, and this is leading to pressure to reduce the burning of hydrocarbon fuels, and hence to reduce the release of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere.
There are several ways in which this might be achieved, and each of the technologies involved certainly falls into the ‘one to watch’ category which is the subject of this article. There are three areas of interest:
• Use of alternative fuels, such as Hydrogen;
• Use of electrical power, delivered by alternative sources, with batteries and fuel cells being of principal interest; and
• Hybrid solutions, where gas turbine powerplants are combined with electric power.

Alternative Fuels

The big advantage of using hydrogen directly as a fuel is that the by-product of combustion is water, and hence no greenhouse gas emissions are produced.
Disadvantages of Hydrogen include its low energy density compared to hydrocarbon fuels. This means that, for a given energy content, liquid Hydrogen occupies about four times the volume of current fuels, with significant implications for aircraft design. It does, however, only weigh about one third as much, although this is partially offset by the size and weight of the tanks required to contain the fuel. Because of the increase in volume required to store the fuel, aircraft would need to be designed with greater volume to accommodate fuel, generally either in an enlarged fuselage, or in external tankage, resulting in increased drag.
A further difficulty, which is common to this type of technology transition, is that the necessary infrastructure for bulk storage, transport and distribution does not exist. This is really a matter of the market, and Government intent – if hydrocarbon fuel rises in cost due to carbon pricing, at some point the investment in the required infrastructure to switch to a cheaper alternative will follow. Part of the infrastructure required would be to enable the cheaper, and lower carbon footprint, generation of large quantities of Hydrogen, possibly using wind-generated or solar power.
Demonstrations of current gas turbine engines running on hydrogen have been conducted, and the adoption of this technology is dependent on whether aircraft integration and infrastructure issues can be resolved and can result in a product which is economically competitive.
Use of electrical power
A wide variety of experimentation and demonstration activities have been taking place looking at the use of electrical power for aircraft propulsion. There appear, at present to be three approaches to power generation for this purpose, which are suited to different aircraft sizes:
• Batteries – suitable for light aircraft;
• Fuel Cells – demonstration activities proposed or in place for medium-sized aircraft; and
• Hybrid – Proposed for larger aircraft.

The biggest technical challenge to the use of battery electric power for aircraft is the weight of batteries required to generate adequate power and endurance, although aggressive efforts driven by automotive applications are improving battery volume and weight. As a result, although there are many battery-powered projects in demonstration, they are, in general, targeted at small aircraft application. The most popular envisaged application appears to be for autonomous air taxis, which raise several other issues which are discussed below.
Passenger-carrying battery-powered electric aircraft have been successfully flown, but it remains to be seen how far this technology can be pushed in terms of operating weight and endurance. There is, however, substantial progress being made in battery and inverter technology, and it appears only a matter of time before practical applications could be developed, at least for small aircraft.
Certification may perhaps offer greater challenges, particularly for autonomous air taxis, an area of greatest apparent market optimism.
Three issues present themselves. Firstly, if the air taxis are autonomous, the mechanisms for ensuring they are travelling to valid landing places; for controlling and deconflicting traffic at popular destinations; and for ensuring safety of flight in the event of power failure or battery exhaustion will all need to be defined, legislated, and implemented.

Secondly, if the vehicles are not autonomous, but require piloting, then the whole question of licensing and training of operators will need to be addressed in addition to the preceding points.
Finally, operation in an urban environment, with all the clutter of bridges, buildings, powerlines, and perhaps numerous other air vehicles, raises widespread issues of safety and liability which will need to be addressed before such operations could commence.

One area where battery-powered electric aviation does appear to have taken off is the use of small drones to deliver parcels and products as diverse as on-line purchases and fast food. This model is intricately linked to the business transformation resulting from pervasive internet usage, allowing local door-to-door autonomous deliveries to anyone with a mobile phone.

Fuel Cells
A fuel cell is a battery-like device which brings together Hydrogen and Oxygen (although other fuels are possible) to generate electricity. The fuel for the fuel cell is stored separately, and in some cases, oxygen is simply extracted from the air. The technology is relatively mature and has seen extensive use in power generation for space vehicles. It has also been used for fixed power installations, and to power electric vehicles and buses.
Several demonstration aircraft have been flown using fuel cells, and a recent proposal is focused on using a Britten-Norman Islander, with external tanks for hydrogen fuel. A number of technology challenges exist, including managing heat generation and achieving sufficient power at a reasonable weight. As for hydrogen as a fuel, the necessary infrastructure investment appears to be a substantial issue, particularly given the relative success of battery-powered vehicles, which has drawn attention and investment away from fuel cell powered electric vehicles.

Hybrid solutions
Hybrid propulsion solutions appear to represent the most promising path towards larger size commercial aircraft which are at least partly-electric-powered. The concept is that the aircraft powerplant will be supplemented by an electric propulsor at take off and during the climb, allowing the gas turbine engines to be smaller in size, and a closer match to the power required when in cruising flight. The electric motor would be powered by batteries for take-off and climb and would be recharged by excess power available when the aircraft descends to land.
The viability of this concept depends on whether the combination of gas turbine engines, electrical motor, batteries, generators inverter and propellor can be competitive with simply fitting two larger gas turbine engines.
At present, this seems unlikely, but a hybrid solution will offer much more range than a purely electric battery powered aircraft and will offer some fuel savings compared to a conventional solution. One question that may need a little thought is how to meet engine failure after take-off requirements. Unless the gas turbine engines are large enough to meet the climb gradient requirements with the electric motor inoperative it is hard to see how the aircraft could be certified.

Whether or not any of the alternative powered aircraft offers better economics than a hydrocarbon-fuelled alternative may eventually become a moot point, but at present, there seems no solution likely to economically compete with the highly efficient large long-haul airliners of today.

Air Traffic Management

One area where substantial fuel savings could perhaps be delivered is in air traffic management. The bulk of commercial air traffic is generally confined to operating along rigidly constrained airways, largely to ensure separation from other traffic. But with pervasive and worldwide internet coverage now becoming possible, this constraint appears somewhat counter-productive.

If commercial carriers could select the optimum route and height for each journey based on both geography and predicted weather patterns, substantial savings should be possible. To do this safely global monitoring of aircraft transponder information would be required, together with an automated conflict alert system. This might sound difficult, but it also sounds like a problem ripe for solution giving the potential fuel savings, and the efforts being made to provide the required internet coverage.
Where is the magic required for civil aerospace?
• Advanced efficiency measures
o Propulsion – hydrogen fuel
o Aerodynamic – Blended Wing Body configuration
• Electric power
o Batteries
o Fuel Cells
o Hybrids
• Global Air Traffic Management
o Urban area traffic management for UAVs and air taxis
o Exploit global internet capability to free aircraft from prescribed airways

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“The operating costs of the F-35 are high because they are designed to be” interview with Dan Grazier from the Project On Government Oversight

Dan Grazier is a US Marine Corps veteran, journalist and is now part of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste. We grilled him on the real cost of the F-35, what went wrong and what can be learnt for future military aircraft projects.

What is the real price of a F-35A/B/C? How does it differ from quoted prices and why does it?

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), takes off from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) during a U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT) Agile Combat Employment (ACE) event, March 1. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick Crosley)

“The real costs of all the F-35 variants can be found in the service’s budget documents, all of which are available online. The F-35A cost $110.3 million per aircraft in 2020, the F-35B $135.8 million, and the F-35C $117.3 million. These costs differ significantly from the advertised prices. The difference is that all the costs necessary to build each aircraft are spread across multiple budget years. The services budget for advance procurement to purchase components in earlier years, but then claim that the money spent in the actual production year is the total cost which is definitely not the case. This is a deliberate public relations ploy to make the F-35 look better on paper and make it appear as though the program is meeting its cost goals.”

How are quoted cost manipulated?

“Besides the advance procurement budgetary trick, the Pentagon also fails to factor in all of the other costs that go into producing a functional aircraft for the rosy figures quoted so often in the press. They don’t mention the research and development costs that should be distributed across each aircraft purchased, the cost to construct the specialized facilities wherever F-35s are based, and now the costs to “modernize” the F-35. It’s important for everyone to understand that much of the work the program managers claim is to upgrade the F-35 now is really to complete design work that was supposed to be included in the original R&D effort but was deferred in an attempt to stay within their budget and schedule forecasts.

Why is the F-35’s price per flight hour so high?

“The operating costs are high because they are designed to be so. From the very beginning of the program, the F-35 was set up to operate as a “total system performance responsibility” enterprise which meant that the services were intentionally surrendering a great deal of control over the maintenance and operations of the weapon they were buying to the contractors. This incentivised the contractors to design the aircraft in such a way that only their personnel could perform many of the maintenance actions on the aircraft. It is nearly always more expensive to use contractor personnel to perform work for the government, which certainly drives up the cost-per-flight-hour. It also means that the government has only one source bidding for these contracts, so there is little incentive to lower costs.”

“The operating costs are high because they are designed to be so.” so, this is a deliberate thing, did Lockheed know from early on it would not be the ‘affordable’ aircraft promised?

“That is perhaps a better question for them to answer. What we do know is that the real money to be made in a program like this is in the long-term sustainment contracts. It makes perfect business sense for a company’s leaders to take all the steps possible to ensure they receive those contracts.”

Is the F-35 a worse-run programme than other combat aircraft? Which other projects stand out as being badly run?

“That’s a difficult question to answer and probably isn’t the right one to ask at this point. I actually sympathise with the people running the program today. In many ways, they are victims of circumstance. They inherited a deeply flawed program and are now trying to make the best of things. The problems we see today with the F-35 stem from a flawed concept. The total system performance responsibility scheme is an obvious example. The F-35 should put the nail in the coffin on the idea that you can design and build a multi-role aircraft. That really bad idea, and people knew it was a bad idea as they were scratching out concept for the F-35 in the 1990s, was then compounded by trying to build an aircraft that could meet the needs of three different services, and then compounded again by trying to meet the needs of 8 different partner nations. With that level of complexity built into the basic concept of the F-35, the cost increases and schedule delays were absolutely inevitable. The real villains of the F-35 saga aren’t the people in charge today. Rather it is the people who made the decisions two decades ago that the people today have to live with. Of course, that does not absolve the people today who compound those bad decisions by not providing honest assessments about the F-35 to Congress and the American people. There are still decisions to be made in the years ahead about the future of the program. Without the whole truth, more bad decisions will pile on top of those already made.”

Which other military aircraft programmes stand out as well or badly run?

Boeing Flight Test & Evaluation – Boeing Field – KC-46, VH004, EMD2, PDL, Pilot Director Lights test, boom deployed

“At the moment, the KC-46 is a definite standout. The Air Force set out to build a direct replacement for the existing aerial refuellers. They were essentially trying to reinvent the wheel, not produce a design with new capabilities. They even began with a proven airframe in the 767 and still managed to bungle the effort by trying to add futuristic solutions like the remote boom operator station when the existing setups in the KC-135 and KC-10 work perfectly well.”

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Some in the Air Force want a new lightweight fighter to replace the F-16, what are the key lessons that should inform such a projects should it happen?

“A new lightweight fighter should begin with the same design principles of the original lightweight fighter program from the 1960s. It should be designed for that specific mission. Every effort should be made to keep the design as simple as possible. The aircraft should be designed in such a way that all but depot-level maintenance can be performed by uniformed crews in the field. The government should not sign a contract for the aircraft that does not include the government obtaining all the data rights. If foreign countries want to purchase the final product, the modifications they want should be made to the aircraft after it goes into production for the Air Force.”

Is the US structurally unable to run a swift economical military aircraft project, if so why?

“I think the challenge is overcoming cultural issues rather than anything structural. The military and by extension the defense industry, have an overall go-along to get-along culture. No one gets promoted by being the person who stands up and says there is a major problem with a pet project of their service or in any way impedes the free-flow of money from the Treasury to the defense contractors via the Pentagon. The defense contractors want to sell products to the military that are going to make them a lot of money, not just at the time of delivery, but throughout the product’s lifespan. Many of the people in uniform want to take their retirement and then get an even bigger paycheck on top of that through a sinecure in the defense industry. They know that if they stand in the way of a project, no nice person wearing a suit is going to come calling when retirement time comes around.”

Dan Grazier
Jack Shanahan Military Fellow, Center for Defense Information
Straus Military Reform Project

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Opinions expressed are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily reflect those of

An F-35B Lightning II assigned to the United Kingdom’s 617 Squadron taxis into position on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea on 23 September, 2020. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “The Wake Island Avengers” joined the United Kingdom’s 617 Squadron “The Dambusters” onboard the 65,000-ton carrier as she sailed for exercises with NATO allies in the North Sea.

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F-20 versus Lavi: The Tigershark, the Young Lion and the Viper

This is a story about US foreign policy and its intersection with aerospace. The relevant period is the ‘80s, but the interweaving of US industrial, trade, defence and foreign policy settings can be observed essentially continuously from the Second World War to today. This interaction has a number of objectives, which might be expressed benignly as a desire to strengthen the military capability of the US and its Allies, or, less benignly, to ensure that foreign competitor systems are, as far as possible, contained, in order to protect the position of US Industry.

No doubt, some will disagree with this latter perspective, but others will note the very few co-development programmes which have led to advanced equipment sales into the US. Leaving the difficulties of collaboration on one side, the US has always adopted a quite hard-nosed approach to acquiring Defence equipment from third parties. The recent history of the KC-135 replacement program is a good example, where the outcome of the competition was overturned on appeal, and the contract awarded to the Boeing KC-46 rather than the Airbus MRTT, a lower risk product which is giving good service with many air arms while the USAF struggles to achieve operational capability with the KC-46.

While this may legitimately be perceived in the US as the acquisition process simply playing out, it could also be characterised as one of a number of instances of the US ‘running interference’ to protect its aerospace industry from competition. Another approach has been the offering of alternative solutions, either legitimately in the hope of winning business, or perhaps disingenuously as an attempt to disrupt a potential competitor. As a couple of examples, which might represent this sort of behaviour, I will offer the F-111K/TSR2 saga in the UK, and, as a delivered solution, the CF-101 Voodoo/BOMARC in place of the Avro Arrow.

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However, I am not going to focus on ‘running interference’ aspects here, but rather on the effects of differences of view within the US Government, and how changes in policy across Administrations, have affected two programs, the Northrop F-20 Tigershark and the Israeli Aircraft Industries Lavi (Young Lion).

This article provides a brief overview of the technical characteristics and programme histories of the Northrop F-20 Tigershark and the IAI Lavi, and also provides some comparative data for these aircraft and the contemporary General Dynamics F-16C, officially named the Fighting Falcon, but frequently referred to as the Viper. The F-16/79, a competitor for the F-20 Tigershark, is also briefly discussed. Through the stories of these aircraft, we shall see glimpses of the complex interaction between the US State Department, Department of Defense, and industry in their efforts to influence worldwide politics and Defence capabilities, while supporting US export sales and industry products.

The Tigershark

“..built at the administration’s suggestion as a so-called nonprovocative fighter, which meant one that was designed to be sold to friendly countries but designed to be vulnerable to our own state-of-the-art interceptors. Arming our friends was good business, but being able to shoot them down if they became our enemies was good strategy. To build this kind of airplane required the permission and cooperation of the administration, which could otherwise block such hardware sales.” –– Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos, Skunk Works

The key strand running behind the Tigershark story is the FX program. FX (Fighter eXport) was a result of a decision by the Carter Administration in 1977 that sales of US front-line equipment would be restricted to NATO allies, Australia and Japan. The intention was for the US to be seen as a force for peace in the world, rather than a promoter of conflict through the export of highly capable weapons of war. Part of the context for this decision would have been the decision by the preceding Ford Administration to sell F-14s to Iran and F-15s to Israel

While this noble aspiration to be a force for peace sounded good, there were a few immediately evident problems. The first of these was that many nations that fall loosely into a political category of West-leaning democracies felt threatened by peers and neighbours who were operating Soviet-built equipment. In order to support these nations it would be necessary to make available capable, but not absolutely top-end, aircraft that would be able to defend against exported Soviet systems, while not making use of the most sensitive US technologies. This was the driving objective behind the FX program. A secondary factor was that, in the absence of US aircraft being available for export, other countries were turning to alternatives, notably the Dassault Mirage 2000, and this was threatening to impact on US Industry.

As may be inferred from the short description above, the FX programme was really addressing State Department and industry objectives rather than US Defense Department needs, and as a result, the two departments had rather differing degrees of interest in the programme. Differences of emphasis between these Departments would later significantly affect FX programme outcomes.

The requirements for the FX programme were rather unusual. The aircraft to be supplied under the programme would have to meet the following requirements:
• Performance, cost & capabilities should be between those of the F-5E and F-16A
• Optimised for the air-to-air role, and with deliberately limited strike capabilities
• Payload/range performance had to be substantially inferior to that of contemporary fighters in the US inventory
• Deployment and maintenance had to be easier.
These requirements defined a second-class aircraft, with offensive (strike) roles limited, and emphasis given to air defence capability. In addition, the DoD took the view that such an aircraft was unlikely to be required by the USAF, and in consequence development of the aircraft would be the responsibility of the selected contractor, although the State Department and Department of Defense would assist with sales efforts.
This approach to the FX programme represented a considerable risk to Industry participants, who would have to carry much of the cost of developing and producing FX aircraft, and in the event, there were only two bidders, Northrop with the F-5G/F-20 Tigershark, and General Dynamics with the F-16/79.

F-5G/F-20 Tigershark technical characteristics

The F-5G was a development of the F-5E, originally intended for sale to the air force of Taiwan, intended as a higher-powered version of the F-5E, offering enhanced performance at a reasonable cost. The F-5G would be fitted with the GE-F404 engine in place of the 2 General Electric J85 engines of the F-5. The result of this engine change would be an additional 60% thrust in an airframe weighing only 17% more than the F-5E.

This aircraft would perhaps have been an attractive option for Taiwan, but for a change in US policy in regard to the People’s Republic of China. President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 had begun a process of rapprochement and dialogue, and in pursuing this, the State Department were made aware of Chinese concerns about US arms sale to Taiwan. As a result of these concerns, President Carter blocked the sale of the F-5G to Taiwan, which then developed its own light fighter, the AIDC Ching-Kuo.

In early 1981, there was a change in administration in the US, with Ronald Reagan replacing Jimmy Carter as US President. In consequence, the attitude of the US to Arms Control began to change, and additional exceptions to the ‘no export of advanced weapons’ policy began to occur. Israel had already been allowed to purchase both the F-15 and F-16; following the change in US administration, a number of additional nations were authorised to procure the F-16A, including Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, Greece, Turkey, and South Korea. Other export sales to the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Israel were allowed under the earlier Carter policy.

Taiwan had been the main focus of the F-5G development, but sales to that nation had been blocked. In an effort to make the aircraft attractive to a broader customer base, Northrop approached the USAF and sought approval to re-badge the aircraft as the F-20 Tigershark, while at the same time introducing avionics and sensor upgrades to make the aircraft more competitive with the F-16.

Compared to the Northrop F-5E Tiger II, the most significant design changes for the Tigershark were the avionics upgrade, and the use of a single General Electric F404 engine, which was originally designed for the F/A-18 Hornet. The new engine provided 60% more thrust than the combined output of the F-5E’s two General Electric J85s. This improved the aircraft’s thrust-to-weight ratio substantially, and enabled an increase in maximum Mach to 2.0, with a ceiling over 55,000 ft (16,800 m).

The wing was similar to the F-5E, but had modified leading edge extensions (LEX), which improved the maximum lift coefficient of the wing by about 12% with an increase in wing area of only 1.6% and also reduced pitch stability. A larger tailplane was fitted to improve manoeuvrability, along with a new fly-by-wire control system.
The F-20’s avionics suite was significantly enhanced, adopting the General Electric AN/APG-67 multi-mode radar as the principal sensor, offering a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground modes. A large number of weapons, including Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles, could be integrated on the aircraft, which was also armed with 2 30 mm cannon. Cockpit instrumentation and layout was brought up to the then-current state of the art, with a head-up display supplemented by two flat screen multi-function displays.

The small size of the F-20 meant that payload range was somewhat limited compared to larger contemporary fighters. Comparative data on the Tigershark, Lavi , F-16/79 and F-16 C can be found towards the end of this article. The F-20 was fast, agile and hard to spot visually due to its small size, but was perhaps less well armed and equipped than some of its competitors, at least partially as a result of the constraints imposed by the Carter administration’s export policies. Nevertheless, there was some interest from Bahrain and Morocco, and also some interest from South Korea.

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F-16/79 technical characteristics

General Dynamics responded to the FX opportunity with a low-risk down-grading of the F-16A in which the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine of the F-16A was substituted by a General Electric J79. This represented a reduction in thrust of some 28%, and came along with other penalties, including additional fuel consumption and additional weight for heat shielding. The reduction in thrust could be alleviated for short periods through the use of a ‘Combat Plus’ power setting, giving a maximum thrust of 92.8 kN, compared to the maximum normal thrust of 80.1 kN, and the 112.2 kN of the F-16’s F100 engine.

The engine required somewhat less airflow than the F100, resulting in a limited redesign of the intake. The rear fuselage was increased slightly in length because the J79 was 0.45m longer than the F100, and a transfer gearbox was added to allow the J79 to drive the engine ancilliaries (generator, hydraulics etc) of the F-16 airframe that had previously been driven by the F100. Overall, the change in engine and the consequential other modifications to the airframe increased its empty weight by 817 kg.

Inevitably, with less thrust and higher weight, the performance of the F-16/79 was degraded compared to that of the F-16. Nevertheless, it was still sufficient to attract interest from a number of air arms, so long as they were excluded from acquiring the F-16, and the F-16/79 was demonstrated to at least 20 air arms.

Robert Kemp, San Diego Air and Space Museum

What went wrong?
The FX , and with it, the fate of the F-20 Tigershark and the F-16/79, was largely derailed by three factors. Firstly, the objectives of the FX were of more value to the State Department than the Defense Department. However, the State Department did not have the knowledge and expertise to run an aircraft development program, and the Defense Department had no intention itself of operating additional, somewhat second tier aircraft. As a consequence, the second problem became the lack of a US acquisition, resulting in an inability to use established Foreign Military Sales procedures to market the aircraft, and reluctance of third parties to procure an aircraft not in US service.

The third major difficulty was that the US administration had changed, and with Republican Ronald Reagan as President, the US significantly relaxed the Democrat Jimmy Carter’s arms control policies, leading to numerous countries being allowed to procure the F-16. As if this was not enough, in 1983, Congress approved funding for the Israeli Lavi program, placing another sophisticated and capable combat aircraft on the table as a potential competitor to the FX aircraft.

In the end, after six years, no sales, and the expenditure of more than $1.2 billion of its own funds, Northrop bowed to the inevitable and cancelled its Tigershark program in late 1986. In the course of the program, two of the three aircraft had been lost in fatal accidents. Both accidents occurred in air display conditions, a demonstration flight in South Korea and an air display practice in Canada, and both were attributed to g-loc – loss of consciousness under high g conditions.

The F-16/79 had, by comparison, been a less risky project for General Dynamics. A key factor for General Dynamics was that the potential lost sales of the F-16/79 were being filled with orders for its ‘full-strength’ product, the F-16 Viper, due to the relaxation of export policies by the Reagan administration. The F-16/79 program seems to have eventually been seen as a distraction by General Dynamics, and efforts to market the aircraft had essentially ceased by 1985. Once it became clear that the US would sell you an F-16, no air arm was really interested in its less-capable brother, the F-16/79. The program is reported to have cost General Dynamics a total of $60 million.

The Young Lion
The Young Lion in this story is, of course, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Lavi. The Israeli Defence Force in the 60s had been a major user of French aircraft, notably the Dassault Mirage III. However, International reactions following the Six-Day War of 1967 had led to Israeli relations with the French cooling, exemplified by a refusal by France to deliver Mirage 5 aircraft to Israel, and the Israeli development of its own advanced Mirage derivative, the Kfir or Lion Cub.
In parallel, Israel successfully positioned itself with the US as a bastion of Western democracy in the Middle East, its existence threatened by its Arab neighbours, particularly the (then) Soviet-backed Syria, Libya and Egypt. This general pitch has continued today, with the position of chief threat being transferred to Iran, and its nuclear weapons program, and the now Russian-backed Syria. This has led to an on-going close Defence relationship with the US, leading to the supply of Defence equipment, weapons and aircraft, backed by strong political lobbying of, and by, the US Congress.

As a need to replace the Kfir emerged, Israel was successful in obtaining the supply of US F-15 and F-16 fighters, while looking to develop advanced technical capabilities of its own. This was partly to avoid a dependency on others, partly to ensure the availability of capabilities uniquely tailored to its geographic environment, and its seemingly unending state of tension and conflict with its neighbours, and partly to complement the capabilities available through the F-15 and F-16.

Israel’s aerospace capabilities had advanced significantly through the Kfir program, through the development of upgrades to other aircraft like the F-4 Phantom, and through the development of its own weapons and other defence systems.

In these circumstances, the time seemed ripe to embark on an Israeli-developed aircraft project to provide a multi-role fighter capable of strike missions, advanced training, and air defence. The scope of the requirements for the aircraft gradually grew, from a relatively simple and low-cost strike platform with some air defence capability, to a multi-role aircraft whose capability would be similar to, and in some areas perhaps exceed, that of the General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) F-16 Viper.

Lavi technical characteristics
The aircraft developed between project launch in 1980 and project cancellation in 1987 turned out to be quite remarkable in its ambition and in its application of the latest ideas in aerodynamics, flight control and weapons systems. The embodied capability was a mix of US-developed and Israeli in origin, with some capabilities initially developed in the US to be transferred to Israel during the course of the programme. The programme was part- funded by the US.

The fundamental leap in technology was the use of an unstable canard-delta configuration, enabled through the use of a digital fly-by-wire flight control system. In addition the structure made extensive use of composite materials. In making these choices, the Lavi adopted a similar approach to the BAe EAP which was broadly contemporary in timescale, the two aircraft making their first flights within a few months of each other in 1986.

The benefits of the use of an unstable canard-delta configuration are the ability to obtain a highly responsive and manoeuvrable airframe, while also being able to minimise supersonic wave drag and lift dependent-drag. Today, the outcomes of fully-developed aircraft with this design approach can be seen in the highly capable Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, although both these aircraft benefit from a higher degree of instability than the Lavi, and greater combat thrust to weight ratios.

Unlike the BAe EAP, which was a technology demonstrator, the Lavi was the prototype of what was intended to be a production weapons system with deliveries expected to begin in 1990. The aircraft was, to quote contemporary material (Janes All the World’s Aircraft 1986) “expected to become the workhorse of the of the Israeli Air Force, which has a requirement for at least 300, including about 60 combat-capable two-seat trainers”.

The requirement for the aircraft was focussed an interdiction and strike, with a secondary air defence role. With these requirements, the Lavi can be seen as complementary to the early F-16 and F-15 fighter aircraft which were in service with the IDF, filling a role close to that of later-model F-16s, which are widely used as strike platforms rather than interceptors. It was intended to replace the A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom and the Kfir in Israeli service.
The aircraft was powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1120 engine with 92 kN (20680 lb) thrust. This engine was specifically developed for the Lavi, and offered about 10% less thrust than the F100 engine of the F-16C. Overall performance included a maximum speed of Mach 1.85, and the ability to carry a wide range of weapons.
Comparative performance data for the Lavi, Tigershark, F-16 and F-16/79 are presented after discussion of the aircraft programmes.

The equipment for the Lavi represented the state-of-the art of the time, and included:

• Carbon fibre wing and fin structure
• 4 underwing hardpoints
• Lear-Siegler/MBT quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system
• Elta EW, ECM and IFF systems, computer-based with active and passive countermeasures
• Hughes holographic head up display and 3 multi-function displays, integrated by Elbit
• Lear-Siegler/MBT quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system
• Elta pulse-Doppler radar
• Elbit mission computer and stores management system with Mil-Std 1553 databus
• 30-mm cannon plus Python 3 Air-to-Air missiles.

As a minor sidenote, the PW1120 engine was tested in an Israeli Phantom. IAI showed a developed version of the Phantom at the Paris Air Show in 1987, complete with PW1120 engines, and an advanced avionic suite and cockpit displays. With a thrust increase of 17% over the F-4E, the modified Phantom could supercruise (maintain supersonic flight in dry thrust) and had a combat thrust to weight ratio of greater than 1.0. The potential of this project was not to come to fruition, however, as McDonnell-Douglas refused to sanction the modifications due to its performance being too close to that of the F-18.

Credit: Burkhard Domke

A teething lion cub
The Lavi programme was launched in February 1980, with full-scale development beginning in October 1982. Due to the technologies involved, and the selected propulsion system, there was considerable US industry involvement in the programme, with the involvement of at least 80 Companies. In some ways, the Israeli engagement with the US was the boldest and most innovative aspect of the program. In essence, Israel was launching a cutting-edge fighter program with neither the money nor the technology to do so. Both would be sought from the US.

Quite early in the programme, a problem emerged over the issue of licences to transfer critical US technologies for the Lavi project to Israel, and in the Spring of 1983, this led to a concerted lobbying effort to persuade Congress to provide funding to Israel through the foreign aid program and FMS credits to enable the development of the Lavi. This lobbying activity did not involve the Department of Defense, who had concerns about both the transfer of technology to Israel and the use of FMS funds to support overseas programs. In parallel with a separate effort to get the necessary technology transfer licenses agreed, the lobbying of Congress was successful, and significant US funding became available to the Lavi program.
Between 1983 and its cancellation in 1987, a total of about $2Bn is reported to have been provided by the US to fund the Lavi programme, the bulk of which was spent in Israel. During the development programme, increasing doubts began to be voiced in the US, focused on a number of issues:

• A perception by the DoD that support to Lavi was a mis-use of FMS funding, which was seen as intended to support US Industry;
• A perception by the DoD that advanced and sensitive technologies would be transferred from the US to Israel;
• A perception by the State Department that the programme was absorbing too much of the foreign aid budget, and moreover was seen by many as evidence of a US bias toward Israel in the Middle East;
• A perception that the programme was incompatible with the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction Act;
• A perception by Northrop that the US was unfairly subsidising an Israeli product that would compete with the F-20 Tigershark;
• Similar perceptions by McDonnell-Douglas and General Dynamics in regard of Lavi competing for the export markets of the F/A-18 and F-16; and finally
• A perception by the GAO (General Accounting Office) and OMB (Office of Management and Budget) that Israeli costings were unrealistic, and that the US would have to pay yet more to co-fund the production of the aircraft.
As a result of these concerns, the US withdrew funding from the programme, resulting in its cancellation by Israel in August 1987.

Through the Lavi programme, Israel succeeded in using largely US money and US technology to construct prototypes of a very advanced aircraft, which might have become a very effective weapons system. In addition, Israel gained insights on numerous advanced US technologies and manufacturing capabilities.

As an immediate consequence of the cancellation of Lavi, Israel was able to procure 40 F-16C Block 30, and 30 F-16D Block 40. In 1994 these purchases were followed by the F-15I, a version of the F-15E Strike Eagle. Procurement of advanced US aircraft has continued, including more than 100 F-16I, a version of the F-16C Block 52 in which much of the avionics suite is provided by Israel. With the release of all this defence capability to Israel, the Lavi programme was perhaps more successful in its failure than it would have been had it succeeded in developing a production aircraft.

How do the Lavi, the Tigershark, the F-16/79 and the F-16C stack up?

Comparison between aircraft using published performance data is often extremely difficult. Partly due to the limited data generally provided, and partly due to understandable inconsistencies, as the data is normally presented so as to show the product in the best light. For example, while the Maximum Mach number achievable will be a definite number, defined either by the drag of the airframe and the thrust available from the engine, nozzle and intake system, or by some structural or temperature limit, manufacturers are likely to present this figure at light weight, and with no external stores or fuel tanks. Similarly, range is likely to be presented for an aircraft with maximum fuel, possibly including oversized external ferry tanks, and in a clean configuration. No standard definition appears to exist of a combat configuration which might be used as a comparator

While one does sometimes see 50% internal fuel plus two AAM used, for example, detailed examination sometimes shows that the AAM are only short-range, or the gun ammunition, or the pilot or both have been omitted. Even were a standard combat weight to be defined, and data available, many other aspects of performance, such as radar range, signature, weapons capability and so on simply cannot be encapsulated in a few numbers. Inevitable, what follows is a simple snapshot, rather than a valuable comparison.

A further complication with these aircraft is that the F-20 and F-16/79 had deliberately limited strike performance, whereas the Lavi was intended to maximise strike performance, with a secondary air defence role. For the F-16, the original Light Fighter concept has developed over time from the lightweight air defence fighter of the F-16A, to the multi-role, versatile, and much heavier F-16C Block 50. Comparison of true multi-role aircraft would need to include consideration of mission performance as well, and would be well beyond the scope that can be achieved in unclassified material.

Lavi Tigershark F-16/79 F-16C Performance Wing Loading (Wref/S) 294.6 429.0 390.8 409.0 ITR

Performance Wing Loading (Wref/S)
(lower loading aids instantaneous turn rate)
294.6429.0 390.8409.0
Aspect Ratio (Span2/S) (higher number aids subsonic sustained turn rate) 2.33 3.55 3.03.00
Thrust/Weight (higher number aids Energy Manoeuvrability)0.960.990.87 1.16
Fuel Fraction (higher number aids combat peristence)0.28 0.280.29 0.28
ConfigurationUnstable canard-deltaConventional aft-tail, small strakeRelaxed stability, aft-tail, large strakeRelaxed stability, aft-tail, large strake

The data in this table is relatively firm. The reference weight is the empty weight of the aircraft, plus the maximum internal fuel weight. The same approach is used for all aircraft. As we have seen, the maximum turn rate depends on the lift available from the wing or structural limit (ITR), and the wing aspect ratio, lift, airframe drag and engine thrust (STR). A low wing loading, a high aspect ratio, and high thrust to weight ratio will increase sustained turn performance. A high Clmax will increase ITR, as will a reduced stability or unstable configuration.

On this basis, we might expect the unstable Lavi, with its much lower wing loading and unstable aerodynamics to have great ITR, while the Tigershark ITR would be reduced compared to the Lavi and the F-16. Both the F-16 and the Tigershark benefit from wing leading edge strakes, and, notably, all aircraft claim to be able to operate up to a 9g structural limit. The real issue here is for how much of the flight envelope is this capability available, and how much energy will be lost in such a manoeuvre.

1984 F-16 lineup. From the top F-16C , F-16A , F-16XL , F-16/79 and AFTI/F-16

On sustained turn rate, the trade-offs are more complex, but it is apparent that the F-16/79 is likely to be handicapped by its lower thrust to weight ratio. Note that the thrust used is a short-term power plus mode. At normal thrust, the F-16/79 has a thrust to weight ratio of around 0.75. The low aspect ratio of the Lavi, and its slightly lower thrust-to-weight ratio are likely to reduce STR, but the much lower wing loading will counter this to some extent.
Thrust to weight ratio is particularly important, as a high thrust to weight ratio will enable high energy manoeuvrability. This will allow a turning fight to be readily taken into the vertical, and, in BVR combat will allow rapid cycling between engagement, missile release, disengagement, acceleration and re-engagement. Of these four aircraft, the F-16C has a definite advantage in energy manoeuvrability, and the F-16/79 will be at a disadvantage.
The Table below presents some limited data for the four aircraft. The data reflect what could be gleaned from the web, and is not fully defined, in that aircraft configuration, altitude and Mach number are not generally available to fully define the quoted figures. As all aircraft claim to be capable of generating 9g, the small variation in ITR figures probably reflects differing altitude or speed conditions, although the higher value for the Lavi may reflect both its low wing loading and its unstable aerodynamics. The ITR for the F-16/79 is based on the assumption that the aircraft can reach the same CLmax, and has the same structural limits as the F-16. The F-16/79 would lose energy much faster than the F-16 due to its much lower thrust.

LaviTigershark F-16/79F-16C
Mach max 1.852.002.002.00
ITR max deg/s 24.3 20(24.9)24.9
STR max deg/s13.211.5 11.822.0

Maximum Mach number claimed for the F-20 and the F-16 is Mach 2.0, and this was also reported to be achievable in the F-16/79, which seems slightly surprising, but may be a result of better intake performance. The maximum Mach claimed for the Lavi is Mach 1.85.

It is notable that the higher thrust to weight ratio of the F-16C gives a significant benefit in Sustained Turn Rate – the figure noted comes from a dataset that suggests the F-16 is structurally limited in STR as well as ITR. The slightly higher ITR figure is at a lower speed, where the aircraft is lift-limited rather than g-limited. The impact of the low thrust of the F-16/79 is evident in comparison of its sustained turn performance with the F-16, and the F-20 Tigershark achieves similar STR, the higher thrust to weight ratio somewhat offsetting its higher wing loading. It should not be forgotten that the Lavi was really well ahead of its time in aerodynamics, control system and mission system design. Its nearest equivalent would probably be the Gripen, which made its first flight in December 1988, some 2 years after the Lavi.

In WVR combat, for example when used in dissimilar air combat training, the Tigershark might well have been a real handful because of its small size and relatively good thrust to weight ratio. Otherwise, the Lavi configuration should have high subsonic agility (through its good ITR), but would perhaps be susceptible to losing energy in turning combat. It should have low supersonic wave drag and could perhaps have developed into a good BVR platform.
From this analysis, we can see that both the Lavi and the Tigershark were very effective designs in terms of achieving their desired performance characteristics. The Lavi had great potential as a multi-role platform, and would have been effective against the threat aircraft of the time. The Tigershark was a small, fast and manoeuvrable light fighter, but was deliberately limited in strike capability.

Neither the Lavi, nor the Tigershark would have been able to match an air-combat-configured Viper, but the Lavi might have been a pretty close match in the strike role, and was certainly a big step forward from the Skyhawk and Phantom it was intended to replace. The F-16/79 was broadly comparable to the Tigershark, but only when able to access its short-term ‘Combat Plus’ engine mode. At the normal thrust setting which offered a maximum thrust of 80.1 kN compared to the short-term setting of 92.8 kN, it would simply not have been competitive.

Policy Considerations
In thinking about the sorry tale of the Tigershark, the Young Lion and the Viper, it is important to realise that, in the period concerned, there were five major players involved, each with somewhat different objectives.
The State Department seem to have had a fairly consistent view that armed conflict between nations was undesirable, and should be avoided. To ensure this, it seemed reasonable that ‘friendly’ Nations (I use the term loosely in view of a number of US misjudgements in this regard) should be enabled to protect themselves, but only to a level which would deter their competitors, and not to a degree which would encourage aggression. This was also desirable from a domestic economic perspective. Business would be generated for US industry, and nations would be able to deter aggression without involving US armed forces. Israel might have to be a special case given its difficult relationship with pretty much all of its neighbours, and the fact that some of those neighbours were receiving support from the USSR (or Russia in contemporary times).

The Defence Department was generally OK with the desirability of not getting dragged into other people’s conflicts, but had reservations about developing aircraft which were only going to be of interest to third parties. It had particular concerns about the potential for the transfer of sensitive technology overseas and the possible use of export fighters in aggressive rather than defensive operations. As the DoD and the Services had no intention of ordering any of these aircraft for USAF use, there was tension between DoD and State, because this would decrease the likelihood of orders. Finally, DoD was opposed to the use of FMS (foreign military sales) funding to develop the Lavi programme, as the funding would largely be spent in Israel rather than in the US. However, participation in Lavi was pushed through Congress, quite deliberately by-passing the DoD.

Industry found itself in a somewhat awkward position. Of course, any programme is a good programme if it maintains employment and a high-quality knowledge base in the US. In some ways, FX was an attractive programme, a bit like Marshall Aid following WW2, where US Sabres (and some other aircraft) were provided under FMS to pretty much every European air force. Good business for US industry, and an equally good means of slowing the development of European competitors.

However, there was much more risk in the FX programme, as the USAF would not operate the product. General Dynamics were OK – they could afford an each-way bet. Development of the F-16/79 was very low risk, and who knows, someone might buy it. Northrop were, however, much more exposed. The F-20 was a much bigger departure from the F-5E than the F-16/79 from the F-16. Much more risk was involved, and a much greater degree of systems development and integration was needed. Then along came ‘exceptionalism’, with many overseas F-16 sales, and to cap it all the Lavi project. Not only as a direct competitor, but as a source of technology improvements for a Super-Phantom which might also win sales. To cap it all, the programme was being lavishly funded using resources intended for US Industry.

What about the Politics? Well, Jimmy Carter’s policy of seeking to minimise conflict by providing friendly Nations carefully controlled capabilities to deter aggressors, while limiting their own ability to take aggressive action themselves, seemed like a good idea at the time. Particularly since there was a prospect of business for US Industry as well. And it might have proven to be a good idea, had the US been able to resist the opportunity to indulge in ‘exceptionalism’ – rewarding some Nations for perceived good behaviour, or exceptional need by provided them the advanced capabilities anyway. Under the Reagan Administration, the export controls were gradually wound back. Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, South Korea, Turkey and Greece could all buy F-16s, and Israel could buy the F-15C. And Israel could have US funding to support the Lavi.

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The Lavi story, and the reasons for US withdrawal from the programme have been detailed above. Unlike Jimmy Carter’s approach, which might have been ‘a good idea at the time’ had it been seen through, the decision to fund Lavi and expend some $2Bn of US resources earmarked for US Industry on an overseas program still looks like a ‘What were they thinking?’ moment. The Lavi program remains a lasting tribute to the power of advocacy and lobbying, and the skill with which the Department of Defense was by-passed so that a compliant Congress would pass the required legislation.

Concluding Observations
What were the outcomes? Northrop lost $750M of its own money on F-20, as well as losing 2 pilots in fatal accidents. No aircraft were sold. General Dynamics did OK, only dropping some $60M on F-16/79, and compensating that with increased sales of the F-16 worldwide. Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) took a short-term hit, but in the end had been exposed to significant US advanced technology. Israel lost the Lavi and the ‘Super Phantom’, but gained the F-15 Strike Eagle, Apache Helicopter, and greater numbers of more advanced F-16 aircraft. The US policy of supporting Israel appears fixed in concrete and immutable, assisted by Russia providing support to Syria, and Iran developing towards nuclear capability. IAI and other Israeli companies have become adept not only in manufacturing their own Defence solutions, but also in providing significant capability upgrades to equipment obtained mainly from the US.
Ideally, Nations should follow a path of ‘Joined-up Government’, where Foreign Policy, Defence, Overseas Trade, Employment and Industry Policies are all coherent, enduring and non-Partisan. Such a policy has never been achieved by a Western Democratic Nation, and it looks increasingly unlikely that it ever will. The FX and Lavi programmes are great examples of the consequences of a failure to achieve joined-up government.

In the past, the USSR tried its own variant of a coherent approach, but failed, largely because its economy proved unable to compete with the West in accessing advanced technologies and building the necessary industrial, economic and social infrastructure.

On the other hand, China seems to be giving such an approach a fair go at present, and appears to possess the resources, the technologies, and the will to achieve its aims of becoming a dominant world power.
Joe Biden may well respond “Not on my watch” – the rest of us will have to wait and see.

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Turning Performance – Sustained Turn Rate
To show some of the difficulties in simply accepting published data. Let’s consider sustained turn rate – a performance parameter of much interest, particularly to those who regard WVR air combat as important, rather than something to avoid. The key factors in determining sustained turning performance are drag and thrust, because the maximum sustained turn rate, STR, occurs when the aircraft drag is equal to the maximum thrust available from the engine. However, drag and thrust can be very sensitive to weight, altitude, aircraft configuration and Mach number.
The drag depends on the configuration and Mach number, through the zero lift drag element, Cd0 – carriage of external stores and tanks will increase Cd0, as will zero-lift wave drag if supersonic flows are present. The drag due to lift depends on weight, through the Lift Coefficient, Cl, squared (Cl2), and weight will depend on the stores carried and the fuel state of the aircraft, including whether tanks are carried. Subsonic lift dependent drag is inversely proportional to Aspect Ratio (the slenderness of the wing planform), so having a higher aspect ratio reduces subsonic lift dependent drag. However, a higher aspect ratio will increase supersonic wave drag. In addition, wave drag also varies with lift, and hence weight and configuration. The propulsion side of this balance also depends on Mach number, which affects intake and nozzle efficiency, and altitude, which affects both air density and temperature. Altitude also affects the drag, as the lift coefficient required increases as air density decreases. It is worth noting that maximum sustained turn rates will generally occur in subsonic flight, because of the absence of wave drag. Turning Performance – Instantaneous Turn Rate The Instantaneous turn rate (ITR) is the absolute maximum turn rate achieved by an aircraft, and, typically, is defined by either a structural or a lift limit. At given conditions, the ITR is reached when the pilot rolls the aircraft to wings vertical and pulls to achieve the maximum lift available from the wing, or reaches the structural design limit of the aircraft (maximum permitted ‘g’). Note that there is no requirement for this to be a balanced turn, and even at maximum thrust, most aircraft will be either losing speed or height when the maximum ITR condition is reached. At lower speeds or higher altitudes, the ITR is generally limited by the amount of lift that the wing can generate. At higher speeds and moderate altitude, pretty much all fighter aircraft will be structurally limited, generally to 9g, which currently represents a physiological limit for pilots. The speed and altitude combination where the aircraft reaches its structural limit and lift limit at the same time is known as the manoeuvre point, and for most fighter aircraft, this will generally be at medium altitude and a subsonic Mach number. From the discussion of turn rates, we can see why performance data is rarely presented for the professional in the form of simple data points. Instead, aerodynamic, propulsion and weights data is prepared, and will be validated through flight test. This data can then be used to predict performance, or to build validated performance models once flight-test proven data is available. These performance models will then show how differing performance measures vary with configuration, weight, altitude and Mach number. This then provides a mechanism to demonstrate that specified point and mission performance requirements can be met. An example of a point performance requirement might be to demonstrate a sustained turn rate of 12 deg/sec at 11 km altitude and Mach 1.4, in a defined air combat configuration. A mission requirement might be to take-off, climb to 11km, accelerate to Mach 1.6, jettisoning external tanks at Mach 0.95, fly out to an air combat, represented by performing 4 360 deg turns in full afterburner and the release of 4 AAM, and return to base at most economical cruise speed and altitude, descend to land, with a 30 minutes fuel reserve remaining. The specification would detail the mission profile, and the distance from base at which the air combat is to take place. None of this sort of data is available for the aircraft under discussion here at a level of detail to make robust comparisons. But this is not the end of the story. Key Parameters We can examine the key data on size, shape and weight of the aircraft and their engines, and consider how this might impact on performance. And we can report the limited performance data that is available, and see whether this is consistent with our analysis. Hard data (i.e. definite figures) is available for parameters such as the aircraft wing area, the aspect ratio of the wing, the planform, the type of intake, and the maximum thrust of the engine. Slightly softer data is available on aircraft empty weight and on internal fuel capacity, as well as information on weapons carried and some (very soft) data on claimed performance. From this data, we can assemble some key parameters, and use these to develop a view of how the aircraft compare with each other. In the absence of any form of mission modelling tool, I am going to look at point performance characteristics relevant to fighter aircraft, rather than considering strike roles, as these would be heavily dependent on the weight and drag of external fuel tanks, stores, targeting, electronic warfare pods and so on. To derive these parameters, I am going to make some consistent assumptions for the aircraft, particularly about their weight. The Table below provides some data which I will then discuss in terms of its anticipated impact on performance. All F-16/79 data assumes the use of the ‘Combat Plus’ engine setting.

Saddam Hussein had a gold-plated jewel-encrusted personal Spitfire aircraft and you can buy it

Former dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein was well known for his collection of gold-plated Kalashnikov rifles but it has recently come to light that he also owned a flyable gold-plated Spitfire. The World War II vintage aircraft is a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX formerly flown by the Royal Egyptian Air Force and gifted to the leader to celebrate the announcement of a 1981 trade agreement. The aircraft was apparently not to the dictator’s tastes and it was fitted with an additional 550 kg of gold, platinum and precious stones. After modification the aircraft was still flyable but reportedly limited to flights below 100 mph.

The aircraft was previously last seen in 1988 but until January 2021 its location has been unknown. During building work in the town of Kalam Farigh in West Iraq, contractors uncovered the buried aircraft carefully wrapped in tarpaulin. After display in a local museum the aircraft has been moved to Baghdad and will be auctioned in May. It is estimated to be worth around $34 million dollars.

Flak: myth versus reality with Donald Nijboer

Much feared by military aircrew, flak blew thousands of aeroplanes from the sky across the 20th century. We grilled Donald Nijboer author of Flak in World War II, about the dreaded flak.

What is Flak?

“Flak is an acronym/initialism for the German word, Flugabwehrkanone, meaning aircraft-defence cannon. When the Allies began to use the term is not known. It’s interesting that we continue to use the term today…’catching flak at the office’ as one example.”

How effective was it in WW2? 

“Flak in the Second World War was very effective. Most of the official Allied histories downplayed its role. Many postwar histories accepted the testimony of leading figures within the Luftwaffe that ground based AA defences achieved limited success in destroying Allied bombers.  After the war, the British Bombing Survey Unit (BBSU) continued this line of thinking describing German AA defences as “plentiful” but not “very lethal.” At the same time the official RAF history of the air war estimated that German flak accounted for 37 percent of Bomber Command’s losses between July 1942 and April 1945. Low and medium level flak was even more effective. More American 8th Air Force aces were shot down by flak than enemy fighters.”

How does it compare with fighter interceptors for effectiveness?

“The Germans and the Allies, to a certain extent, used the number of enemy aircraft shot down by fighters and those by flak as a measurement as to its effectiveness. But this was a false metric. It must be remembered that Flak defences were designed, not to shoot bombers down, but to force them to drop their loads from a higher altitude and thus reduce their accuracy. Aircraft shot down or damaged was a bonus. Flak proved a huge benefit to fighter pilots assigned to attack incoming raids. Flak-damaged bombers were forced out of formation, making them easy prey (for both Allied and Axis fighter forces) for marauding fighters. Flak damaged tens of thousands of bombers. These bombers required repair, causing service rates to fall and thus reducing the number of bombers available for new operations. AA shrapnel also killed and wounded tens of thousands of aircrew, significantly reducing the overall efficiency and morale.”

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How many shells are fired to down an aircraft? 

“The figure of 16,000 rounds of German 88mm ammunition being required to shoot down a heavy bomber is often quoted to show just how wasteful and ineffective antiaircraft fire really was. But that number is misleading. While it fits well into the Allied narrative of how the strategic bombing campaign robbed the German army of valuable munitions, it was only partially true.  Indeed when you compare these numbers to the more effective 128mm AA gun the numbers are intriguing. In 1944 the number of 128mm rounds per aircraft shootdown was 3,000, less than one-fifth the number expended by its 88mm counterpart. This doesn’t take into account the number of aircraft that were severely damaged by flak.”

Where was best defended by flak in WW2?

“I would point to the Luftwaffe flak defenses of the Ruhr, their larger cities like Berlin and their oil refineries. Their light and medium flak over the battlefield was also highly effective and took a great toll on Allied fighter bombers. Allied AA defenses were also effective, one example being the battles against the V-1 flying bombs and the fact that they chose to defend Antwerp against the V-1 using AA guns along is testament to their effectiveness.

7. What was the best AAA system of WW2?

The obvious choice would be the Luftwaffe’s AA defenses, but I would point to the US Navy’s development of the VT fuse or radar equipped proximity fuse. Built around a miniature radio transmitter and receiver, the VT fuse overcame the major disadvantage of the “time” and “contact” fuses and was capable of detecting its target and detonating within 75 feet. It was a game changer and fortunately for the US Navy they had it when the kamikaze appeared. Indeed, even before the kamikaze appeared the US Navy made major improvement to their ships AA defenses with better radar direction, improved AA directors and gunsights and most importantly, more guns. In 1944 the battleship USS Missouri bristled with twenty 5 inch, eighty 40mm and over forty-nine 20mm cannon.

What were the big innovations in AAA in WW2? 

“It was the invention of the VT radar proximity fuse. If the Luftwaffe had this shell the Allied bombing campaign would have been far more costly, or stopped altogether. Mention has to be made of the development of gun laying radar. This allowed for aiming at night and in bad weather.”

Which nation was best at using AAA and why? 

“I would say the Germans and the Allies had guns and systems that were equal in effectiveness. The allies had the edge with the VT fuse. The Japanese did not develop a robust AA defensive system. They lacked the guns, effective radar, and the cooperation between the Army and Navy was terrible. They never pooled their resources, instead each would go their own way, often siting individual radars in the same place.”

Tell me a myth about flak

“Two myths about flak: one it was not very effective, from an Allied point of view, and second the Allied bombing campaign against Germany created a ‘second front’ siphoning off thousands of men to man the guns and robbing the German army of valuable men. This was only partially true. You have to remember that the Luftwaffe flak arm played a dual role. Luftwaffe flak batteries could be assigned to the army at any time and thousands were. Shortly after D-Day the Luftwaffe transferred 140 heavy batteries and 50 light flak batteries to Normandy. This process continued for the last 10 months of the war, robbing German cities of vital flak defences. As the war progress and the manpower shortage increased thousands of able-bodied flak men were transferred to the army. In their place were hastily trained factory workers, schoolboys, prisoners of war, older men not fit for combat and by the end of the war they introduced the first batteries manned by women for the defence of Berlin. By April 1945 44 percent of the flak arm was made up of people unqualified for combat, foreign nationals or prisoners of war.”

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Which aircraft type could withstand the most damage? Was armour speed a better defence from flak?

“All aircraft were susceptible to flak. There were a few that were specifically armoured like the Russian Il-2  and German Hs 129 ground attack aircraft to withstand light flak hits. Most Allied bombers and fighters were armoured against fighter attack, but not flak. Speed was a factor, and most fighter pilots knew that when strafing a target you never made a second pass.”

When did radar guided AAA arrive? 

“At the beginning of the war, the first British gun-laying Mark I (GL I) radars entered service with several AA batteries. In many ways the term gun-laying was a misnomer when applied to the GL I. It was more of a gun-assisting radar with limited capabilities. Although it gave accurate ranges, it could not produce good azimuth indications or elevation figures.

By the summer of 1941 the Germans introduced their Wurzburg gun laying radar.”

Why should people buy your book?

“The story of flak in World War II is one of those forgotten stories of World War II. There was a reason the official histories downplayed the effectiveness of German flak. It took away from the narrative of how successful the Allied bombing campaign was and the heavy price they paid.

Thousands of aircraft were shot down, and tens of thousands were damaged, not to mention the horrendous cost in lives and those wounded. Flak in World War II takes the reader from the invasion of Poland in 1939 right to the last Japanese aircraft shot down by AA fire in August 1945. It examines heavy flak defences, flak over the battlefield, the failure of ship AA defences early in the war; specifically the Bismarck and the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse in 1941, AA defences against the world’s first cruise missile (V-1), right up to the human guided missile that was the kamikaze in the Pacific.”

What led you to write about Flak? 

“I was inspired after reading Edward B. Westermann’s book Flak: German Anti-Aircraft Defenses 1914-1945. His in-depth and comprehensive study of German flak defences clearly showed how effective they really were. This led me to thinking of how AA guns and defences played a role in the air war over Europe and the Pacific. Most, if not all, of the histories deal with the great air battles strictly in terms of aircraft vs. aircraft; the great fighter aces and how many bombers were shot down by Spitfires, Bf 109s, Fw 190s and Me 110 and Ju 88 night-fighters. And when I started digging deeper, the number of aircraft shot down by flak was astonishing. German flak defenses were responsible for more than half of all Allied aircraft losses. Allied AA guns were equally effective. The Marine heavy AA guns on Guadalcanal, for example, in 1942 forced Japanese to bombers to fly higher reducing their accuracy to a great extent, but you never hear or read about it. The story mostly centres around the fighter defence and how the F4F Wildcat matched up against the vaunted A6M Zero-sen. Both AA guns and the defending fighters played a role in the defence of Guadalcanal. It not just one or the other.”

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Russian Air Power* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) with Guy Plopsky: Part 1- How good is Russian air force training?

How good is Russian air force training?

A good question. It’s a complex topic and it is difficult to give a straightforward answer given that detailed data often isn’t available. The average number of flight hours per year per Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) pilot pales in comparison to that of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in the late-2010s, but it markedly exceeds the abysmal yearly flight hours that Russian Air Force pilots averaged in the early and mid 2000s. It is also higher than Russian numbers from the late 2000s. The marked increase in average yearly flight hours in the 2010s certainly helped improve pilot proficiency. Recent statistics released by the Russian Ministry of Defense show that VKS pilots averaged “over 100” flight hours during the 2018 training year (junior pilots averaged “over 120” flight hours). In the 2020 training year, Military-Transport Aviation pilots averaged “over 140” flight hours (junior pilots averaged “approximately 120” flight hours), Long-Range Aviation crews averaged “over 100” flight hours, and Army Aviation pilots averaged “approximately 100” flight hours. It is important to note that average yearly flight hours for Russian pilots have differed substantially across Russia’s four (now five) military districts. Pilots in the Western Military District have typically averaged more flight hours per year than those in other districts. For example, according to Russian Defense Ministry statistics, during the 2012 training year, pilots in the Western Military District averaged 125 flight hours (Military-Transport Aviation pilots based in the district averaged “no less than 170” hours).

Going over the various training activities that Russian airmen conduct during VKS exercises would take up too much time, so I’ll only very briefly mention several things with a focus on combat aviation. VKS exercises vary in size and complexity. Some exercises are conducted at night and/or in adverse weather conditions (particularly in cold temperatures). Exercises can, among other things, include relocating and operating from alternative airfields. For some aircraft types, exercises can also include operating at very high altitudes and speeds or at low and/or very low altitudes (including in mountainous terrain for some units). In air-to-ground training, many VKS long-range aviation, operational-tactical aviation and army aviation units train to employ both guided and unguided weapons (some long-range aviation units train to employ only guided weapons). However, air-to-ground training for operation-tactical and army aviation is still heavily focused on executing missions with unguided bombs and rockets given that these weapons are expected to be used extensively in the event of conflict due to the limited availability of guided weapons. There are inherent disadvantages to conducting suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD) and other missions with unguided weapons even if crews are well trained in their employment. As for air-to-air training, fighter aircraft crews practice air combat maneuvering, carry out interceptions of targets flying at various altitudes and speeds (including conducting simulated/live missile launches), practice escorting other platforms, etc.

Larger VKS exercises can include two or more different types of aircraft, including supporting platforms such as airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and tankers, giving crews the opportunity to practice aerial refueling and train with/against other platforms. They can also include VKS ground-based air defenses, which allows aircraft to train alongside air defenses to repel adversary air attacks and/or to practice air defense suppression and penetration. The VKS also participates in joint exercises with other Russian military service branches and/or the air arms of a number of other nations. Aggressor training for the VKS is done by the 116th Combat Employment Training Center, which is part of the VKS’ 185th Combat Training and Combat Employment Center. The 116th operates MiG-29UBM trainers and relatively capable MiG-29SMT (9-19R) fighters. Lastly, it’s important to note that the war in Syria has allowed many VKS air and ground crews to gain experience operating under real combat conditions and has led the VKS to implement changes in training. One apparent change includes greater focus on the employment of unguided weapons from medium altitudes by operational-tactical aviation during exercises. This change was driven by combat experience in Syria, which showed that Russian operational-tactical aviation largely had to avoid carrying out tasks at low altitudes due to the threat of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and air defense artillery.

Given that information about VKS exercises provided by Russian Defense Ministry media outlets and press releases is typically quite vague, it’s difficult to assess how good and realistic Russian Air Force training is. Based on what we can gather from press releases and media, the Russians appear well-trained in attacking pre-planned stationary targets. Training to conduct dynamic targeting – traditionally, a weak point for the Russian Air Force – is improving as well, in part due to the integration of relevant new technologies into training exercises. The Russians also seem well-trained in ground/air controlled interception; however, training to intercept a large number of targets without the support of ground-based assets or AEW&C aircraft has traditionally been another weak spot for them and the extent to which this has improved is unclear.

What about the quality of Russian air force student pilot training?

Today, the average flight time that a Russian cadet accumulates prior to graduation is drastically higher than in the early-mid 2000s, and considerably higher than in the late 2000s. In the case of the VKS’ Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School for Pilots (fixed-wing aviation) this number is “over 200” fight hours per graduate, including, on average, 60 flight hours as part of the advanced flight training program (“over 200” flight hours is similar to USAF numbers from the mid 2010s). In the case of the VKS’ Syzran Higher Military Aviation School for Pilots (rotary-wing aviation), this number is “no less than 150” flight hours per graduate. Looking solely at these figures, however, will tell you little about the actual training quality of Russian cadets. Indeed, while flight hours are much higher than a decade ago, there are several major interrelated issues concerning the state of Russia’s trainer aircraft fleet that have hampered the quality of Russian cadet training over the past decade. These include a relatively limited inventory of trainer aircraft (particularly modern trainers), and low availability rates (even for modern trainers).

Credit: on image

News about Russian trainer aircraft availability issues occasionally surface. There are examples from the early 2010s and from more recent years. Notably, in December 2019, it was revealed that the availability rate of the VKS’ Yak-130 fleet at the time was a mere 56%. The Yak-130 is the only modern advanced/lead-in fighter trainer in use with the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School for Pilots (KVVAUL). The school has also been using it as a basic trainer aircraft (it is the only modern jet trainer available for this role, too). Due to the Yak-130’s low availability rate and small fleet size (The VKS’ entire Yak-130 fleet totaled only about 100 aircraft at the time), the school was still using its aging Aero L-39Cs jet trainers for its 4th and 5th courses (basic and advanced flight training programs, respectively). This was negatively impacting the quality of training that many cadets were receiving.

Why is that? Can you elaborate on the situation with Russian air force trainer aircraft?

You see, the L-39C has long been considered grossly inadequate for the 5th course; its avionics are rudimentary and dated (it lacks a glass cockpit), and its performance is lacking (for example, it is incapable of supersonic – or even transonic – speeds). Due to the absence of modern avionics, the L-39C has also been viewed as ill-suited for the 4th course. Consequently, cadets who got little or no flight hours in the Yak-130 ended up graduating pilot school inadequately prepared for subsequent combat training on modern high performance combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-35S, etc.), with some graduates reportedly requiring a long time to qualify on their assigned aircraft type. To alleviate this problem, KVVAUL has been introducing modern simulators; however, these cannot fully replace real flying. The school also still operates a relatively small number of high performance jet trainers such as the MiG-29UB and Su-25UB which are used for the 5th course, but only the top performing cadets get to fly them. Moreover, like the L-39C, they, too, lack glass cockpits.

At present, it is unclear whether (or to what extent) L-39Cs are being utilized for the 5th course, but they certainly continue to be widely employed for the 4th course due to the ongoing shortage of modern trainer aircraft. Indeed, although the current availability rate of the Yak-130 fleet has not been publicized, the total size of the fleet has increased only marginally. In 2020, only four additional Yak-130s were delivered to the VKS and, according to some reports, these four were still not being employed for flight training as of early 2021. The Yak-130 was initially intended to replace Russia’s aging fleet of Aero L-39C jet trainers. It is a much more capable machine than the L-39C, and its service life is more than double that of what the latter was designed for. To replace the L-39C fleet, the Russian Defense Ministry previously planned to procure some 250 Yak-130s; however, just over 135 have been ordered to date, of which a little over 110 have been delivered since deliveries commenced over a decade ago.

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How many more Yak-130s might be ordered in the future is unclear. Whereas the twinjet Yak-130 is well suited for KVVAUL’s 5th course, it has long been deemed too complex and expensive to replace the single-engine L-39C in the 4th course. The aging L-39C fleet, however, has also seen low availability rates. Notably, in September 2019, Izvestia reported that aviation repair plants were struggling to repair L-39Cs in a timely manner, and that components were not being supplied on time in the required quantities. According to Izvesita, just one out of every three repaired L-39Cs was being delivered back to the VKS within specified timeframes. Based on various estimates, the number of L-39Cs in service with the VKS at the time stood at only 120-150 aircraft, with many not available for use at any given point in time.

Concerned by the situation with L-39Cs and other trainer aircraft, Russia’s Defense Minister instructed the problem of low availability rates to be resolved. Already in early April 2020 he announced that the availability rate of the VKS’ trainer aircraft fleet had risen from “about 50%” in September to “almost 90%,” noting that cadets will now be able to receive quality training. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, no details were provided as to what specific measures were undertaken to increase the availability rate so rapidly. It’s quite possible that, as some in Russia have suggested, in addition to improving the state of the aviation industry, many unserviceable trainers were simply written off. They were likely also stripped for parts.

In any case, to provide cadets with quality training, Russia will need to procure additional modern trainers, including new aircraft that are more suitable for replacing the L-39C in KVVAUL’s 4th course than the Yak-130. Aware of this, the Russian Air Force has been looking at options for a modern basic trainer aircraft for some time now. In the mid-late 2010s there was quite a bit of talk about the possible procurement of the forward-swept-wing SR-10 developed by Sovremennyye Aviatsionnyye Technologii (SAT) Design Bureau. A prototype of this modern single-engine jet trainer first flew in 2015; however, the Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t placed an order for the SR-10 and it’s unclear if it will. Indeed, in mid 2020, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation announced that work was nearing completion on a modernized L-39 which features modern Russian avionics, so it is possible that the L-39C fleet will be modernized to this standard instead if testing is completed successfully.

In addition to having a shortage of modern trainer aircraft for the 4th course, KVVAUL is also still waiting on a modern replacement for the L-39C in the 3rd course (primary flight training program). It is planned that this role will be fulfilled by the Yak-152 primary trainer. The Yak-152 is a single-engine piston aircraft with a low operating cost (notably, its fuel consumption is far lower than that of the turbofan-powered L-39C). Unlike the latter, the Yak-152 also has a glass cockpit – a feature which will enhance the preparation of cadets for the transition to the Yak-130 (and to other modern trainers that may be introduced in the future). According to reports from the mid 2020, deliveries of the Yak-152 to the VKS are supposed to commence this year. It is not yet clear how many will be procured; however, this figure is likely to be in excess of 150 aircraft.

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As part of other efforts to improve the efficiency and quality of training at KVVAUL, the school has taken delivery of modern, glass cockpit-equipped Austrian Diamond DA42T piston twin trainers (assembled in Russia) and decided that some cadets will begin flight training at an earlier stage. Training at KVVAUL lasts five years and, until very recently, all cadets began flight training only in their third year (3rd course). In the 3rd course, cadets fly on either the L-39C or the twin-turboprop L-410. They then progress to the 4th course in which they fly on either the L-39C and/or Yak-130, or the L-410 and/or the twin-turboprop An-26, respectively (the An-26, by the way, is also used for the 5th course). Recently, however, the school has decided to begin flight training for some cadets (such as those training to become Military-Transport Aviation pilots) on their second year (2nd course) using the new DA42Ts. This approach allows for much more efficient use of time and funds because initial flight screening can now be done on the second year using the DA42T rather than on the third year using the much larger L-410, which has a higher operating cost. It also increases the availability of L-410s for other training tasks. So far, two contracts for a total of 55 DA42Ts have been signed by the Russian Defense Ministry. The first – for 35 aircraft – was reportedly completed in 2020, and training on the type at KVVAUL likely commenced that same year.

Guy Plopsky is the author of a number of articles on air power and Russian military affairs. He holds an MA in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from Tamkang University Taiwan.

10 Amazing Women in Aeronautical Engineering We Should be Shouting About

The month of March is often considered to be ‘Women’s History’ month, largely because International Women’s Day (IWD) is on 8th March, and doubtless there will be plenty of listicles of ‘top women’ or ‘first women’ in this or that field. Lists of women who are or have been significant in aviation generally focus on the famous European and American pioneering flyers, such as Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Valentina Tereshkova or Bessie Coleman. IWD 2021’s theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’, so for this guest blog I have chosen to challenge the commonplace lists of women pilots. Instead I offer a list of 10 women who have done significant work in aeronautical engineering of various kinds, in alphabetical order, mainly women of the past but starting off with a living example.

By Nina Baker, engineering historian

Mary Jackson With Model at NASA Langley

Jenny Body, CBE, FRS, FRAeS

An A400M (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Jenny Body was the first woman to become president of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 2013. This society, perhaps because its history is so associated with a ‘new’ industry, was for decades the only professional body to admit women as members, even if it took a while longer for one to become its president. Jenny Body came from an engineering family and benefited from the combination of practical and academic training as an undergraduate apprentice with British Aerospace and Imperial College. Whilst in BAE’s avionics group she created the software for fly-by-wire aircraft. She worked on wing development as lead for the A400M team and established the Next Generation Composite Wing Programme, and in 2002 became engineering lead of the Nimrod wing design team. She was technical manager for wing assembly and retired from Airbus in 2010.

Her work both on the technical side and also her work in support of other women in her field have gained her a CBE, as well as many prestigious fellowships and an honorary doctorate.
Interestingly, Airbus’s lead engineer on the A380 wing design was another woman, Sue Partridge, who is now head of its ‘Wing of Tomorrow Programme’.

Madame Carlotta Bollée (née Messinisi) (c.1880-?)

Madame Carlotta Bollée is included here, to represent the many women who were ‘engineers by marriage’, like Bertha Benz, or by other family relationships, like Ella Pilcher who helped her brother Percy build his experimental planes, in an era when technical education and opportunities were largely closed to women. Many intelligent wives of prominent engineers assisted their husbands, learned engineering informally and unobtrusively.
She was born in Greece and married Léon Bollée, an early automobile designer who was from an old and large family of engineers. Her connection with aviation started in June 1908 when Wilbur Wright arrived in France, from the USA, with his plane. The Wright Flyer had been shipped to Le Havre by Orville the previous year, but had been seriously damaged when it arrived in France and was uncrated. Wilbur spent the whole summer of 1908 rebuilding the machine and getting it into flying condition and was invited to stay with the Bollées, whose reputation as friendly and hospitable made a great impression on the Wright family. Léon had offered him space in his car factory to re-assemble and repair his aeroplane (which had been damaged, possibly sabotaged, in transit) and was also making him two aeroengines. Wilbur and Orville Wright’s famous first flight had been at Kitty Hawk, USA in 1903 and the trip to France was largely to demonstrate the safety and reliability of their plane.
Wilbur and Léon did not speak each other’s languages so Carlotta acted as their interpreter as the technical chat went back and forth over several weeks. She was fluent in Greek, French and English and must have acquired sufficient technical knowledge via her husband to make accurate translations. She was pregnant with her daughter at the time, so all these late night engineering discussions must have been tiring. Wilbur promised that his first flight in France would be on the day her baby was expected, 8th August 1908. Baby Elisabeth actually arrived on the following day and Wilbur became her godfather.

For the rest of that summer, autumn and winter Wilbur Wright flew numerous times, generally taking a passenger with him. Bearing in mind that this was not a question of climbing into the cockpit from the ground but of climbing a tower from which the plane was suspended, we can understand why Carlotta waited until October before venturing aloft. The tower was a means of launching the plane, by a falling weight acting as a catapult. Her flight was typical of many, at an altitude of about 25m and lasting about 4 minutes.

Léon Bollée was president of l’Aéro-Club de la Sarthe, and following a flying accident in 1911, he never recovered and, even before he died in 1913, Carlotta had taken over the running of the Bollée engineering works. She ran the company successfully until she sold it to the British car company, Morris, in 1924. When Wilbur Wright also died prematurely in 1912, Carlotta kept in touch with Orville and his family and in 1920 travelled to their home in the USA to give them an album and memorabilia of Wilbur’s time with the Bollée family. In 1927 she donated an engine, which Wilbur and Léon had assembled from the 2 sent out from the USA, to the Museum of Le Mans. We do not know when Carlotta died.

Anne Burns (nee Pellew) BSc ( 23 November 1915 – 22 January 2001)

Burns was an aeronautical engineer and glider pilot, who became the world expert in ‘Clear Air Turbulence’ and its effects on aircraft safety. She gained a 1st class degree in engineering science from Oxford University (1936) and then joined the Structures and Mechanical Department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, Hampshire (1940), remaining there for her full career. She became expert in ‘flutter’ and clear air turbulence, was the first flight test engineer to use strain gauges and was involved in the investigations into the Comet disasters (1950s).
It is easy now to forget how dangerous flying was even by the mid-20th century. Burns was part of the first generation of aeronautical engineers who applied stringent mathematics and physics principles to test airframes for safety. Many military and civilian planes had design faults which only became apparent when ‘unexplained’ disasters befell them. It was Burns’ life work to find the explanations for such problems as ‘flutter” and the disastrous Comet airliner crashes. As a flight test engineer observer she had to fly in many planes known to be dangerous, whilst monitoring her innovative strain gauges. In the 1960s she became known world wide for her expertise and daring in seeking out clear air turbulence and studying the problems which airframes can experience.
Awarded the Queen’s Commendation for her bravery and contribution to Comet investigation (1955); R.P. Alston Medal by the Royal Aeronautical Society for this work (1958); Royal Aeronautical Society Silver Medal for Aeronautics (1966); Whitney Straight Award for her services to aeronautical research and flying (1968).

The now out-of-print biography of her life and work Clear Air Turbulence: A Life of Anne Burns by Matthew Freudenberg is worth hunting down.

Hilda Margaret Lyon MA., MSc., AFRAeS. (31st May 1896- 2nd December 1946)

Yorkshirewoman Hilda Lyon was of a generation of women who became engineers through their mathematical talents. Her mathematics degree from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1918 led to work as a technical assistant at Siddeley Deasy Motor company in Coventry, and then George Parnall & Co, Bristol aircraft manufacturer. In 1925 she joined the Royal Airship Works in Cardington, to work on the design and stress calculations of the R101’s transverse framing. She was soon considered an expert in this and the Aeronautical Journal published her first, and very important, paper on the strength of transverse frames of rigid airships in 1930. This won her the first R38 Memorial Prize to be awarded to a woman by the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Her experience with the design process of the R101 made her realise that wind tunnel testing, at that time, produced results that did not match real life. So she went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she got her first independent access to wind tunnels, enabling her to carefully eliminate the errors caused by turbulence due to model support wires etc. The outcome was her finding that airships could actually be less pointed at the front with no effect on air resistance. Decades later this discovery led to what is now known as the ‘Lyon Shape’, which is the basis for the shape of the American submarine USS Albacore, as well as many subsequent US submarines, and those of many other nations. She gained an MA for her thesis on The Effect of Turbulence on the Drag of Airship Models.

My book about Hilda Lyon can be obtained from Amazon, or signed copies direct from me.

That work took her next to Göttingen in Germany, where she conducted aerodynamics research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft für Strömungsforschung with Ludwig Prandtl for about 18 months.
Unemployed but still working on her research from 1933-37, she published 2 papers on streamlining and boundary layer effects in 1934 and two more, on wing flutter, in 1935 before the RAE employed her in its aerodynamics department in 1937. From 1937 onwards she was publishing frequently, mainly as official reports, up to and even after her death. Her war work included stability analysis of the Hurricane’s rudder and she was part of the post-war team which visited Germany to assess and retrieve aeronautical equipment and experts.

Her 1942 report on ‘A theoretical analysis of longitudinal dynamic stability in gliding flight’ was considered seminal and continues to be cited in various fields relating to streamlining and motion in fluids as well as contributing to the understanding of how to inhibit the dangerous ‘phugoid motion’ in aircraft.

In 1946 she died following an operation and is buried in her home town, Market Weighton in Yorkshire, where this now a commemorative blue plaque on her childhood home.

Elizabeth Muriel Gregory ‘Elsie’ MacGill, OC (March 27, 1905 – November 4, 1980)

Elsie MacGill’s cold-weather Hurricane was arguably the first winterized fast attack craft in the world and saw battle on the Eastern front.
MacGill with the Maple Leaf II Trainer. The Trainer was the first aircraft designed and built by a female aviation engineer.

Canadian Elsie MacGill is thought to have been the first woman to get a Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering (1929). This, with her first degree, in electrical engineering, equipped her to get her first job, as an assistant aeronautical engineer at Fairchild’s Aircraft company. In 1942 she moved, to become Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry.

This meant she was the only woman in the world with such a senior post in the industry, initially designing the Maple Leaf trainer and then massively ramping up the factory’s production and efficiency to take on a huge wartime contract building Hawker Hurricanes. For use in Canada’s harsh winters, MacGill had to design de-icing improvements for the Hurricanes. Her role was high profile and the print media of the time nicknamed her ‘Queen of the Hurricanes’. Following her marriage to colleague Bill Soulsby in 1943 they were both dismissed from the company and set up an aeronautical engineering consultancy together. She has been honoured posthumously as one of the first inductees in the Women in Aviation, International’s (WAI) Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Bourgeois-Doyle’s 2008 biography, ‘Her Daughter the Engineer: The Life of Elsie Gregory MacGill’ is worth reading, not least for the extraordinary story of her mother’s life too.

Beryl Catherine Platt (née Myatt), Baroness Platt of Writtle CBE DL FRSA FREng HonFIMechE (18 April 1923 – 1 February 2015)

Baroness Beryl Platt was of the generation of women for whom the Second World War opened up a brief window of opportunity in engineering, only for the ‘marriage bar’ to shut it again. Her mathematical talent took her from Westcliff High School for Girls to Girton College Cambridge, to pass the mechanical science tripos with honours (1943) under the wartime accelerated degree programme. Cambridge of course did not at that time actually award the degrees which women had earned. The same programme directed her into aeronautical engineering at Hawker Aircraft Ltd, as a technical assistant in the experimental flight section of the Design Office. Her work analysed data from test flights of fighter planes, including the Hurricane. In 1946 she became a technical assistant in the performance and analysis section of British European Airways’ Project Department, testing new aircraft and ensuring compliance with UK and international safety regulations. However, in 1949 she married and the convention of those times was that married women retired from their paid employment. She then started a political career, rising from parish councillor to the House of Lords and chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Although her own career as an engineer had been brief, she did a lot to support the opportunities for women in engineering, in particular setting up the Women Into Science and Engineering Year in 1984. Her eminent career in support of equal opportunities for women and technical engineering education led to many honorary doctorates, the CBE in 1978 and the Freedom of the City of London in 1988.

Hawker Hurricane (U.S. Air Force photo)

Beatrice Shilling BEng, Msc, PhD, CEng, HonMWES (Mrs Naylor) (8th March 1909-18th November 1990)

The now out-of-print biography of her life and work ‘Negative Gravity: A Life of Beatrice Shilling’
by Mathew Freudenberg is also worth looking for.

She is principally celebrated today for her WW2 role in solving the carburettor problems of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines used in the Spitfires and Hurricanes, leading to her invention of the “RAE Restrictor” or, less officially, “Miss Shilling’s Orifice”.
However that was just one of many engineering jobs she was given at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. With the post-WW2 advent of the jet engine, her previous specialism in piston engines was less useful and she was asked to design, specify and commission a new High Altitude Test Plant to enable the testing of the ancilliary equipment for the new jet planes, including their hydraulics, fuel systems and cabin pressurisation equipment. These were all critical now that all planes, both civil and military, were flying faster and much higher. She also worked on the early rocket engines, in particular the fuel delivery systems which had to provide two fuels in very precise quantities at precise timings such as to control the explosive forces involved. Next she joined the many teams working on Cold War era guided weapons, including the ramjet engines for missiles, such as her work on the Blue Streak’s ‘boil-off’ of fuel during launch.

More high-profile than this top secret work was the investigation she led into the Munich air crash which killed the Manchester United footballers. Her expertise on cold weather problems meant she was able to exonerate the pilot who had been blamed for the crash, as it was actually due to runway slush dragging the plane’s speed down below that safe for take off. This work in the 1960s led her to become an expert in the interactions between tyres and runways at higher speeds and NASA consulted her before her compulsory retirement in 1969.

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Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg (née Schiller) (3 January 1903 – 8 April 1945)

Clare Mulley’s book, ‘The Women Who Flew For Hitler’ covers her life in detail, along with that of her contemporary but complete opposite, the Nazi Hannah Reitsch. Although this lumps them together and although they came from the same region, the two women could not have been more different. Reitsch was a devoted Nazi, right to the bitter end, but von Stauffenberg with her privileged background partially hiding (even from her initially) some Jewish ancestry was in a social milieu of secret hostility to the Nazis. Mulley’s excellent book describes them as the only female test pilots in Nazi Germany but almost certainly they were the only ones outside of the USSR at that time. The reason I include von Stauffenberg is the other key difference between the two women. Both were very talented test pilots with thousands of hours of risky flying to their names, but only von Stauffenberg, with her cum laude (meaning in the top 30% of the class) engineering degree, was an aeronautical engineer who could do all her own test flight analysis and design changes. When her husband’s involvement in the 20th July Plot to assassinate Hitler came to light, it was only her aeronautical engineering work that protected the family to a great extent. This impelled her to work harder and harder on her test flight work, to protect them. She became the technical director of the Versuchsstelle für Flugsondergeräte (Test center for special flight devices). She was unfortunately shot down by the USAF when she was flying in Bavaria to try to find and rescue her imprisoned husband. She died from her wounds in April 1945.

Johanna Weber Dr. Rer. Nat. (8 August 1910 – 24 October 2014)

Source: Concorde blog

Dr Johanna Weber, was one of the foremost aerodynamicists of her generation and contributed significantly to the design of the Concorde and other supersonic swept-wing aircraft.

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany she lost her father in the First World War, making her eligible for financial support for her education and graduated Dr. rer. nat. (a first degree but to doctoral level, in natural philosophy or physics) with first-class honours in 1935. She then did teacher training but was barred from such work due to not joining the Nazis. Rather oddly, this did not apparently bar her from work in armaments. She first did ballistics research for the Krupp company in Essen and later moved to Göttingen’s Aerodynamics Research Institute (Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt Göttingen) in 1939.

This started her career-long work with aerodynamicist Dietrich Küchemann in Germany and later in UK.

Frances Bradfield

At the end of the War, the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) recruited Küchemann and Weber, probably on the reccommendation of Hilda Lyon who wrote the report covering their work. Her initial work at RAE was in Frances Bradfield’s Low Speed Wind Tunnels division, on air intake cowlings for jet engines, on which she co-authored a series of papers. The work for which she is more remembered today was on wing design, showing that a thin delta wing could generate sufficient lift to for take-off and landing for supersonic planes. Her concepts were implemented in the iconic Concorde, VC10 airliner and Airbus A300B designs. She retired from the RAE in 1975 at the grade of Senior Principal Scientific Officer.

Weinling Women

The women of the Weinling family were the first women to be employed by the UK government in a technical role connected with aviation.
When balloonists started to use hydrogen gas as the lifting agent, instead of heated air, they sought a material that would be impermeable to the hydrogen’s tiny molecules. No such a fabric became available until the 1920s. In the meantime the solution was a product known as ‘Goldbeaters’ Skin’. Although this was, as the name shows, a long-known product, its use for hydrogen balloons was a secret known only by the people who made the balloons for Mr Herron, the Weinling family.
Goldbeaters’ Skin is made from the outer layer of the bovine caecum, also called the blind gut or appendix. After preparation it resembles thin parchment, but when damp it sticks to itself easily ( a bit like cling film or Saran Wrap) to make larger pieces without glue or stitching. Airship gasbags usually consisted of up to seven layers of skin, needing vast quantities of the guts, most being imported in barrels from the USA. The largest airships came to require a quarter to half a million pieces.
When the family first began work at the Royal Balloon Factory, it was an era when everyone expected the head of a household to be a man and there were clearly gendered lines of whether an occupation was for men or women. Fortunately for the Weinling women, the craft of processing Goldbeaters Skin was not controlled by any guild or trades group and women had probably always done at least part of the process. Frederick Weinling senior died in 1874 so that Ann was head of the household and leading her daughters, Matilda, Elizabeth and Eugenie in the business. In 1906 Eugenie has risen to become forewoman of the balloon making workshop at the Royal factory.

During the Boer War, the gas envelopes of goldbeaters’ skin were made in significant quantities for reconnaissance balloons, in 1901, the 4th Balloon section alone required £2000 spent on making or repairing some 14 medium to very large balloons and over 100 small ‘pilot’ balloons. The Weinlings were said to guard their ‘secret’ jealously but it is clear that the family must by now have been assisted by other workers, almost certainly local working class women, as well as having to train up soldiers in field repairs.
During the First World War, with airships demanding even vaster numbers of skins made up into gas envelopes, the Weinling women were supervising significant numbers of women and there were women working at commercial airship builders. None of these women, the Weinlings or those they supervised, would probably have considered themselves to be engineers and they certainly had no formal education or training in anything that might be so recognised at the time. They are examples of the thousands of women who would never be famous in aviation but, during 2 world wars, there was no part of an aircraft that was not made by women somewhere in the UK.

The Weinlings continued their service until about 1922 when new fabrics became technically feasible for containing the hydrogen gas.

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Mary Jackson With Model at NASA Langley

The F-36 Kingsnake: the ‘fifth-generation-minus’ fighter USAF wants

The F-35 is a Ferrari, the F-22 a Bugatti Chiron  – the United States Air Force needs a Nissan 300ZX. Both the F-35 and F-22 have higher levels of technology than USAF requires for the vast majority of its everyday tasks. They are very difficult and costly to maintain, operate and upgrade. What is needed according to the USAF’s Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr is an affordable, lightweight fighter to replace the F-16. It must be faster to develop and upgrade than the F-35 and need not feature such exquisite technologies. The only way to escape the exceptionally slow and expensive development process is to obey the following:

  1. A very fast project definition process. A sensible low-risk hard- and software solution is chosen and frozen within a year. Regular software updates are planned. A 1-year PD phase seems almost impossible if there were to be competition between L-M and Boeing. Single-sourcing without a contest would be necessary. The acquisition approach is likely to be a Government-directed prime contractor and engine supplier (P&W, on the grounds that the F-119 will be put back into production through this programme). Then a Skunk Works-like programme against a well defined, but small, set of mandatory requirements, with freedom given to the main contractor to choose sub-contractors. The Government will specify the weapons fit, digital interfaces for datalinks and weapons, all other sub-contractors to be selected by prime. The contract will be incentivised for rapid delivery, with stage payments for demonstration of successful integration of specific sensors and weapons systems. This approach should meet USAF objectives for timeliness, while ensuring a reasonable sharing of risk between Government and Industry. (If the PD phase is competed, you would need Boeing, L-M and N-G, and perhaps add at least a year to your schedule. But you might get a better price. One possibility is borrowing from old UK procurement policy: No Acceptable Price, No Contract, and deal with L-M, or have a 2-year competitive PD phase, with a model-based down-select to award a Prime Contractor.)

2. Move fast enough to minimise pork-barrelling. Bypass politicising the project through the removal of competitive element – all primary components sources decided at a very early stage unilaterally (and the same with secondary sources in the case of serious issues with primary contractors). As an alternative solution, 3D printing away from conventional factories could partly solve the pork barrelling issue.

3. A ‘Luddite Czar’ is appointed to block the addition of any new technologies, roles or excess weight increases during development. Personality required: exceptionally strong-willed, non-careerist disagreeable individual with high technical knowledge.

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Requirements creep is the enemy.

4. The smallest lowest tech production line possible is used. Plans are made for rapid expansion if large export orders are received.

5. Existing technologies used for engines, sensors and materials. Existing components are further simplified where possible.

6. A lower density design with surplus volume, surplus electrical generation. Minimum onboard computer intelligence and maximum data-linking. Remote mentoring as phase 2 enhancement once the technology is mature.

7. A simple fuselage shape with surplus volume that could potentially accommodate a game-changing advance in propulsion technology

8. Less emphasis on low radar signature than F-35 and F-22.

9. 3D printing used to maximum effect. Additive manufacturing. The application of 3D aerodynamic modelling to blended shapes.

10. Accelerated multiple prototype/test aircraft project concentrates on reliability and upgradability. Large test fleet is kept throughout aircraft’s left to robustly test updates.

We wondered what might a notional ‘F-36’* look like? I enlisted the help of Stephen Mcparlin who spent 22 years at RAE/DRA/DERA/QinetiQ at Farnborough, using low speed, transonic and supersonic wind tunnels, while evolving and validating aerodynamic design methodologies for mostly military aircraft and James Smith, who had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon, and the illustrator Andy Godfrey from the Teasel Studio to provide a visual representation.

*Jumping back to into the vacant F-20s designations seems retrograde and would involve solving the riddle of the YF-24

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This is a new aircraft. What is the primary requirement? What we have come up with is a long range, supersonic, manoeuvrable BVR and WVR fighter. Of course, later in its life it will become an overweight bomb trucks, festooned with stuff, just like the F-16, but let’s not draw it in middle age just yet.

The design

The wing is based on that of the F-16XL. The cranked arrow has an inboard section of increased sweepback, creating a controlled high-lift vortex without the need for a foreplane. The wing is efficient at high speeds aiding in creating a faster fighter than the F-35. The F-35’s slowness is a disadvantage for the beyond-visual range mission. The wing also allows ample room for fuel (we can expect a higher full fraction for the whole aircraft than the F-22) and external hardpoints (one notable issue that requires long range is the likely ability of supercruising Chinese J-20s to outrange F-22s). The wing loading is lower than the F-35 for most given configurations. Rather than emphasising an extremely high speed that is rarely met (as the case with F-14 and F-15 etc) the F-36 is very comfortable achieving speeds in the mach 1.8-2 range, rather like the European Typhoon. The F-36 is designed for unreheated supersonic performance at M = 1.4 , using reheat for acceleration up to M = 2.0 .

On agility, the big wing will give great instantaneous turn rate, and energy manoeuvrability should be well up there with low wave drag and good T/W. As primary design is for BVR ,sustained turn performance is less important. Internal weapons are carried in intake trunking weapons bays, curving into the lower wing fillets. Likely weapons would include new generation long range air-to-air missiles.

F-36 mugs, t-shirts and much more available at our online shop

Engines considered included the F-15EX’s F110-GE-129 which would offer commonality but lack sufficient thrust or the F135 of the F-35 which is suffering technical issues. The chosen powerplant is a simplified version of F119 of the F-22. Returning the engine to production would also benefit the F-22 Raptor force. It is estimated returning the engine to production would take 3.5 years meaning early test aircraft would need to borrow from the Raptor. The F110-GE-129 is a lower risk option. Unlike the F-22 , the F-36 does not have thrust vector control. The F119 production re-start would be expensive however and an uprated F110 and or improved F135 should not be ruled out.


The primary sensor is the AN/APG-83 AESA and an IRST based on the LEGION POD.


The F-35’s cockpit concept was probably a little ahead of the state-of-the-art in some aspects. It has been criticised by pilots for its absent HUD and the lack of feel and unreliability of inputted commands relating to the touchscreen-centric approach. The F-36 cockpit will address both issues and will feature a widescreen HUD in conjunction with a Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), a cheaper option than the F-35 helmet system.


With modern infra-red missiles almost guaranteeing a kill before fighters reach the merge a gun may seem an archaic inclusion and certainly Stephen McParlin was sceptical of whether one was needed. There are several reasons that the F-36 has a gun. The first is political: gunless fighters have a bad reputation, the second is practical: any F-16 replacement is likely to end up performing the Close Air Support mission. The weapon is the M61 Vulcan mounted in the starboard wingroot. It is not ideal to use supersonic optimised fighters for CAS and ideally the F-36 would be complemented by new or existing subsonic aircraft better suited to the mission.

We showed our speculative design to Bill Sweetman who commented “I think Harry Hillaker would have approved”.


The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes here.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Pre-order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes here.