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The Top Fighter aircraft of 2019 (within visual range combat)


Many fighter pilots and tacticians will say that if you’ve got into within-visual range air combat then something has gone very wrong. Why not zap the enemy at very long range and run away rather than risk the dogfight with its strong probability of mutual suicide? Unfortunately in the real world, things do not always go wrong: one example being the surprisingly challenging interception of a Syrian Su-22 by a US Navy Super Hornet in 2017.


Almost, but no cigar.

While this specific example does not demonstrate the importance of ‘turn and burn’ performance it does show that reality doesn’t always allow combat aircraft to fight how they’d like to. Despite the importance of the beyond-visual range, it is telling that the next generation of air combat aircraft being designed will still be capable visual range combat performers. In updating this list I consulted with several people, one of whom was Air Marshal Harish Masand, a decorated veteran of the 1971 war, and a pioneer of the MiG-29’s integration into the Indian air force. He is one of the most celebrated Fulcrum pilots of the IAF and his solo MiG-29 displays remain the stuff of IAF legend. He commented: “It seems like a pretty good comparison. My only major observation, perhaps, would be on the excessive emphasis that you seem to place on the thrust vector control (TVC). Most would agree that the TVC is used only at low speeds and high alpha bleeding off energy pretty fast and should truly be used as a last resort against a single opponent to get a quick shot in a stalemate or prolonged sort of situation. That puts the weight penalty of the TVC system in question for most of the likely engagements. Also, WVR combat is unlikely to be a one-on-one situation and to lose your energy in a larger group could be fatal, perhaps not against the opponent immediately engaged with you but certainly against another freewheeling high energy opponent in the same piece of the sky. Looked at in this perspective, the MiG-29, with its ability to hold 9G forever and flown by a group of cool heads, would be stupid to get into a low speed, high alpha fight with any of the other nine aircraft listed in the field. Finally, within most of these aircraft, the outcome in WVR engagements would depend on comparative skills.” He also noted that the upgraded IAF MiG-29s have a great helmet mounted sighting system. On this subject, though it is believed that the Rafale, in Qatari service, is finally operational with a helmet mounted display/sight – they are not yet fully operational. Rafale has superb performance, particularly at lower altitudes, but is let down by a lack of a helmet cueing system — a must have item. Regarding his comments on the hypothetical nature of one-on -one comparisons (something echoed by the Rafale pilot we spoke to) — it remains the a way to compare platforms in isolation, and something that we hope is both informative and entertaining in a ‘top trump’ way. From an enthusiast point of view, the dogfight is rare enough to be freed from some of the troubling associations of the air-to-ground mission, which is only too real. 


The Mitsubishi F-2 is a fearsome dogfighter – with a larger wing than the F-16 — but to avoid duplication is included within the F-16’s ranking.

 I also spoke to Jim Smith who opined, “I think WVR can begin when you are able to identify the threat as Hostile, and able to do something about it. So ASRAAM (one of the fastest and longest ranged infra-red missiles) is a big enabler as you should be able to get the first missile away. Tejas is interesting, as an aircraft in development, with missile capability, radar and EW and other capabilities coming along all the time. I find the whole WVR/dogfight thing difficult. As noted above, kill the opposition in the approach to the merge (if you haven’t already done the preferable thing of shooting him down BVR). If both pilots and aircraft survive the merge, then high off-boresight engagement capability, good turning performance, good energy manoeuvre capability are all going to help. Can’t remember where F-35 is on your list, but with a small number of weapons, and (relative to the best) ordinary agility are not going to help. One problem for most aircraft in WVR these days is going to be the ability to disengage without being shot down. Most studies I have seen suggest WVR is most likely to lead to a mutual kill.”

The final word: Reality does not conform to the top 10 format! Each of these aircraft has advantages and disadvantages, and their exact placing should not be taken as gospel. Pilot skill, tactics and luck remain the deciding factors in the dogfight. 120627-F-QP712-0376.jpg

Honourable mentions:  JF-17, Tejas, Mirage 2000, F-35, J-20. 

Su-57 is in OpEval and not fully operational. 

10.  McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle


Once considered top dog, the F-15 is now making room for younger aircraft. In exercises, the type still does well, but this says more about the pilot quality than any inherent advantage of this platform in the WVR arena.  Well-armed, well-equipped and powerful, it is still an aircraft to be respected. In later exercises against India, it is reported to have been able to use superior tactics to defeat Su-30s, despite the Russian aircraft enjoying greater manoeuvrability at low speeds. Powerful and reliable, and flown by some of the best fighter pilots in the world (in USAF service), it remains an adversary worthy of great respect, especially at medium altitudes.


Interview with F-15 pilot here

HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: Yes, AIM-9X, Python 4/5

Visual stealth: Poor

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Very good

High alpha performance: Poor

Sustained turn rates: Good (16 degree/sec)

Instantaneous turn rates: Good (21 deg/sec)

9.  Chengdu J-10


Rumours from China describe the J-10 performing well in DACT exercises against the far bigger Su-27/J-11. If these rumours are to be believed then the J-10 would prove a handful for any Western or Asian fighter types that had to face it in a turning fight. With a maximum G-rating of +9 / -3 and a maximum sustained turn load of 8.9g, the type has demonstrated impressive performance at several public airshows. It scores highly on turn radius, low visual signature, low-speed capabilities and also has excellent pilot vision. The recent addition of the PL-10 advanced short range missile dramatically improves the aircraft’s within visual range potency. The aircraft is powered by a single Saturn AL-31 (as used on the ‘Flanker’ series’), a trusted engine that is extremely resultant to extreme manoeuvring. It is perhaps caution, due to a paucity of information, that places this aircraft so low in the list. The new J-10C variant may benefit, even in the WVR regime, from its new AESA radar and refined avionics.

HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: Yes:PL10

Visual stealth: Excellent

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High alpha performance: Good

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Very good

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8. Saab JAS-39 Gripen 

Lose sight, lose the fight‘ is an old dogfighting adage and it is very easy to lose sight of the tiny Gripen. Though not the most powerful fighter, it is agile, well-armed and gives its pilot good situational awareness. Some Gripen operators employ an advanced helmet-mounted sight in conjunction with IRIS-T missiles, a sobering prospect for potential adversaries. The IRIS-T is a highly regarded weapon, with excellent agility and target discrimination. The helmet-sight is an adaptation of the Typhoon helmet, the second most advanced helmet in operational service. The Gripen preserves energy very well, is hard to spot and has the smallest IR signature of the fighters on this list. The A-Darter short-range missile is soon to be carried by South African Gripens, and is said to be superior to even the IRIS-T in some respects.


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(Top Ten Swedish aeroplanes here)

Helmet Mounted Display/Sight: Yes: Cobra


Visual stealth: Excellent

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High Alpha performance: Good

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Very good


7. McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet


The Bug family have excellent nose authority, JHMCS  and good missiles in the form of AIM-9X (or ASRAAM for RAAF legacy birds).  At low level they are the equal of any operational fighter, but at higher altitudes (and higher speeds) they are at a disadvantage against more modern aircraft like the Typhoon, Rafale and F-22. The legacy Hornet is 9G rated as opposed to the larger Super Hornet which is stressed up to 7G for normal operations (it is really the legacy F/A-18 that deserves this high ranking but the Super Hornet is also highly regarded in the ‘merge’).  It has been noted by F-16 pilots that Super Hornets lose energy quicker than Vipers at higher altitudes. In a slow fight, no Western fighters can match either the Bug or the Rhino. One pilot who has flown the Super Hornet recommended that I mention the ‘Turbo Nose down’, a manoeuvre which utilises the aircraft’s excess power to rapidly push the aircraft out of high alpha flight. Australian Hornets have demonstrated an 180° missile shot with the AIM-132, firing the missile at a target in the firing aircraft’s 6’o’ clock in the lock-on after launch mode. The so-called ‘Parthian Shot‘ is a defensive boon, but demands a wingman with nerves of steel and faith in the technology!


Read more about flying the Super Hornet here and here.

(For the sake of brevity the two F/A-18 family members share one entry.)

HMD/S: Yes


Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

6. General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon ‘Viper’


The Viper remains potent at the mission it was designed for: the close-in dogfight. The Viper has grown fatter with age, so the early Block aircraft are the most spritely, this combined with JHMCS and modern missiles, like the AIM-9X, Python 5 and  IRIS-T keep it a foe to respect. It is small and hard for its opponents to keep visual tabs on, it has an impressive turn rate and has better retention of energy than larger-winged peers like the Mirage 2000. Below 10K feet the F-16 is similar in performance to the Typhoon. Most F-16 models have a better thrust-to-weight ratio than the Super Hornet (when similarly equipped). The Python 5, which equips Israeli F-16s, is regarded as one of the best air-to-air missiles, it has a very large weapon engagement zone (WEZ) and a high resistance to countermeasures. According to one defence writer close to the UK Typhoon force, RAF pilots had greater respect for the F-16s than the Gripens that they have encountered in wargames. Similarly both the Rafale and Typhoon pilots we spoke to rated the F-16 as the most challenging dissimilar aircraft they had fought in the merge, because of these comments we have bumped it ahead of the Hornet in our ranking.


A tiny energetic fighter with a trusted helmet cueing system, excellent human machine interface and modern missiles, the F-16 remains a nightmare opponent in WVR combat.


Advanced SRAAMs: AIM-9X, Python 4/5 and IRIS-T

Visual stealth: Excellent.Thrust-to-weight ratio: GoodH

High alpha performance: Good

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Very good (26deg/sec


5. Dassault Rafale 


Comparing the French Rafale with the pan-European Typhoon is unavoidable. The Rafale can maintain higher Alpha manoeuvres than the Typhoon.  It is very agile, with an excellent man machine interface and the most advanced aircraft cannon. Like most carrier fighters (a design consideration which affects the land-based variant) it is docile in the low speed ranges that most within-visual-range fights take place at. Whereas The Typhoon excels at high speed high-altitude manoeuvrability, the Rafale excels at low speed and low altitude, though its high altitude performance has also impressed French pilots. At sea level, the Rafale is reported to have a superior instantaneous turn rate to Typhoon. According to one Rafale pilot we spoke to “So I have absolutely no fear of the Typhoons. Both the tactics used by the Typhoons, the agility and the cockpit of the aircraft make it easier for us to take the advantage — basically we have better fusion of the sensors — so we can be way more aggressive in terms of tactics. It’s a great aircraft at high level, but we’re not dumb enough to try to fight Typhoons at 50,000 feet or 45,000 feet.” Peter Collins who flew Rafale, and is knowledgeable of the Typhoon’s performance, claims that below 10,000 ft it would ‘eat Typhoon’. The Rafale lacks a helmet-mounted sight and its high alpha performance is inferior to that of the Hornet family. The Rafale has reportedly done well in DACT exercises against the F-22. The Rafale is an extremely tough opponent in the WVR regime. MICA has an LOAL capability allowing targets in the ‘six o’clock’ to be engaged. The addition of a helmet-mounted sight, already worn by Qatari pilots as they work the Rafale up to full operational status, (and something Indian Rafales will carry) will push the aircraft a top three position in this list. In a guns-only fight at low or medium altitude, the Rafale could be expected to hold its own against any other aircraft.


Advanced SRAAMsYes, MICA

Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Very good

High alpha performance: Very good

Sustained turn rates: Very good

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent (especially at low level)

4. Eurofighter Typhoon


Wild turn rates, a true 9G performance and enormous excess power make the Typhoon a hell of a dogfighter; the highly regarded G-suits worn by Typhoon pilots increase tolerance to the high forces generated by the energetic Typhoon. It also features the most advanced helmet mounted sight in service (and the newer Striker 2 is, according to one independent tester, ‘superb’), a powerful cannon and the excellent IRIS-T and ASRAAM missiles. The combination of advanced missile and helmet imbue the Typhoon with a terrifying off-boresight missile shot capability. Testing of the Aerodynamic Modification Kit, which includes modified strakes, extended flaperons and mini-leading edge root extensions may go some way to rectifying Typhoon’s main limitation – a pedestrian high alpha performance. But the Typhoon is not an ‘angles fighter’ like the F/A-18 which relies on risky (as they drain energy quickly) but startling attacks in the merge; the Typhoon is an ‘energy fighter’ using its phenomenal ability to preserve energy in a dogfight to wear its opponents out. In short, if an opponent doesn’t get a Typhoon on his first attack he is in a very dangerous position as a large amount of excess thrust makes the aircraft a very energetic adversary. In exercises against Indian Air Force, RAF Typhoons used their superior energy and acceleration to ‘reliably’ trounce Su-30MKIs according to one Eurofighter source we spoke to. One thing the Typhoon must keep an eye on is the type’s thirsty fuel consumption, according to a Rafale pilot,“You’re burning less fuel in afterburner <in a Rafale> at high altitudes than Typhoon does without the afterburner.”

F-22 pilots who ‘fought’ the Typhoon in DACT were impressed by its energy levels (especially in the first turn) and several Luftwaffe aircraft proudly displayed Raptor ‘kill’ silhouettes beneath their cockpits.  Like the Raptor, the Typhoon has such a formidable reputation that any ‘victories’ against it in training exercises make excellent boasts. At medium to high altitudes, the type is generally superior to the teen fighters in the WVR regime. According to one Typhoon pilot, its dog-fighting abilities are a close match to the Raptor’s, but Typhoon benefits from being smaller and better armed.

Interview with a Typhoon pilot here. 


With the lowest wing loading and one of the highest thrust-to-weight ratios on this list, the Typhoon is a nasty opponent in within visual range combat. Its large wing leaves it a little sluggish at lower altitudes but supremely spritely higher up.

HMD/S: Yes


Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High alpha performance: Poor

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

The Top 10 BVR fighters for 2019 can be seen here

3. RAC Mikoyan MiG-35 ‘Fulcrum’


The MiG-35 after a ludicrously protracted development is finally in service with the Russian Air Force. The same empty weight as MiG-29 but with 1320Ibs of extra thrust, should give the ‘Super Fulcrum’ an edge; though this advantage would generally be mitigated by higher operating weights, in a lower weight configuration the MiG-35 should proof an absolute beast. Additional edges come from new electro infra-red/ optical sensors, and a lower pilot workload (which includes less pilot muscle being required to affect the same manoeuvres).  If an enemy employs radar-guided missiles in the WVR regime (AMRAAMs have historically been used in this way) then the MSP-418KE Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) technology jammer pod may prove an excellent counter. The MiG-35 will also enjoy far greater situational awareness than older Fulcrums. In late 2019, Russia revealed a new generation short-range missile designed to counter the Western AIM-9X and IRIS-T — considering Russia’s excellence in the rocket propulsion field this will likely be no slouch. If you consider the limited utility of thrust vectoring (the advantage offered by the Su-35) and the smaller size of the MiG-35 it could be credibly argued that the MiG-35 is actually a strong contender for the no.1 slot. We’ll cautiously hold off on such a judgement until more information comes to light, but as the MiG company continues to fight for its life its likely that the knowledge it has accrued in its long history of producing supreme dogfighters has not been lost in it latest — and quite possibly last —  fighter.

Despite its age the original MiG-29 remains a fiercely capable dogfighter, sharing many of the weapon systems of the ‘Flanker’.  The Indian MiG-29K/KUB with the TopOwl helmet-mounted and R-73E is the best-equipped variant in the WVR scenario, but is normally limited to 7G, whereas land-based ’29s are 9G capable. The tough structure offers a degree of battlefield protection according to MiG who have assessed the type’s performance in actual wars. According to at least one MiG-29 pilot, the type enjoys a small, but significant advantage over the F-16 in the merge. One USAF F-16C pilot (Mike McCoy of the 510th) who flew BFM against MiG-29s noted, “In a low-speed fight, fighting the ‘Fulcrum’ is similar to fighting an F-18 Hornet…But the ‘Fulcrum’ has a thrust advantage over the Hornet. An F-18 can really crank its nose around if you get into a slow-speed fight, but it has to lose altitude to regain the energy, which allows us to get on top of them. The MiG has about the same nose authority at slow speeds, but it can regain energy much faster. Plus the MiG pilots have that forty-five-degree cone in front of them into which they can fire an Archer and eat you up.” Luftwaffe MiG-29 Oberstleutenant Johann Koeck who flew against F-15s, F/A-18s and F-16s in extensive training exercises noted, “Inside ten nautical miles I’m hard to defeat, and with the IRST, helmet sight and ‘Archer’ I can’t be beaten. Period.”


HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: Yes

Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

2. Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor


The Raptor’s excellent power-to-weight ratio, low wing-loading and 2D thrust-vectoring make it a fierce opponent in the visual range dogfight. The F-22 was the first fighter to be designed from the start to use vectored thrust for control. The rather poetic sounding  ‘Carefree abandon‘ is built into the flight control system, allowing the pilot an awe-inspiring Alpha envelope without fear of departing controlled flight (it is also immune to deep stalls). The F-22 was designed to match or exceed fourth generation fighters, like the F-15 and F-16, in basic manoeuvring “..for instance from a high-g turn to straight-line acceleration..*”; it also had to move more swiftly between different manoeuvre states. The thrust vectoring is vital for this but comes at a cost. According to Typhoon pilots who ‘fought’ against it, the Raptor loses energy very quickly when employing thrust vectoring. It is also let down by its lack of helmet-mounted sight and its large size. The F-22 also lacks an infra-red search and track sensor. Until 2016 it was armed with the geriatric AIM-9M, but it now carries the AIM-9X. The internal carriage of its AIM-9X limits the way they can be used, and it only carries two. The F-22 has never been seriously challenged in wargames or DACT exercises, and though the WVR regime is not its strongest card (BVR combat is) it is still extremely hard to beat, to the point that any ‘kills’ scored by pilots against the Raptor become newsworthy. Its pilots are, outside of adversary units, probably the best in the world.


Advanced SRAAMs: Yes, AIM-9X

Visual stealth: Poor

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High Alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Excellent  (28 deg/sec at 20K ft)

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent


1. Sukhoi Su-35 ‘Flanker’


The Sukhoi Su-27 is no slouch in the dogfight, and this advanced derivative is even more potent; the fighter, of which there are currently 88 in Russian service, benefits from an additional 7,000Ibs of thrust combined with a variety of refinements to an already superb machine. The Su-35’s engines, at maximum reheat, generate a staggering 62,000Ibs of thrust, which when combined with the ‘Flanker’ series superb aerodynamic configuration and vectored thrust nozzles, create an aircraft unparalleled in low-speed manoeuvrability. Whereas the F-22 relies on two-dimensional thrust vectoring, the Su-35 utilises 3D nozzles and a robust flight control system that have been perfected over the last thirty years.  A Su-35 (ably demonstrated by Sergei Bogdan) held the crowds of Paris 2013 spellbound with its demonstration of dramatic post-stall manoeuvring.

According to RUSI’s Justin Bronk in his Hush-Kit article Su-35 versus Typhoon“The Su-35 can probably out-turn an F-22 in a horizontal fight at medium and low altitudes, but the need to carry missiles and tanks externally to be effective, as well as the brute size of the Sukhoi will ensure it remains at a distinct energy disadvantage to the Raptor in terms of energy retention and acceleration at all speeds. The F-22 also will not get into an angles fight with an Sukhoi – there is simply no need for it to do so.” . 

Against Typhoon, “WVR, however, the Su-35 is extremely dangerous due to its phenomenal supermanoeuvrability due to its thrust vectoring engines and huge lifting body. Both in the horizontal and vertical planes, Typhoon would likely be outmatched by the Su-35 WVR, unless a Typhoon pilot could find space to accelerate vertically to gain an energy advantage without being shot down in the process. In reality, of course, whilst in a WVR dogfight situation the Su-35 does have a kinematic advantage, both aircraft are equipped with helmet-mounted sights to cue off-boresight missile shots and carry extremely manoeuvrable IR missiles with excellent countermeasure resistance. Neither is likely to survive a WVR ‘merge’ against the other…WVR combat, especially at lower altitudes and speeds favour the Su-35.” 

A combat deployment to Syria revealed the types lack of maturity, but also fast tracked a modification programme to rectify the aircraft’s glitches. The type has been ordered by the Chinese air force who have received their first examples.

The Su-35 unique abilities will require unique tactics – if flown by well-trained pilots, the Su-35 will prove a worthy adversary to any in-service fighter in the vicious world of the low-speed furball.

HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMsR-73E/M

Visual stealth: Poor

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

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One test pilot we spoke to, Harsh Vardhan Thakur,  who has flown several of these types – ranked them accordingly for WVR:

  1. Typhoon 2. Rafale 3. F-22 3. Su-57 (not fully operational) 4. MiG-35 5. Su-35 6. F-15 7. MiG-29 8. Su-30 9. F-16 10. Gripen-E 11. Mirage 2000 12. F-35 13. Su-27 14. J-10 15. JF-17 16. LCA

He noted that “The Typhoon is very light and agile” and acknowledged the long distance between the canard and main wing were a huge advantage as it gives it a longer ‘moment arm’.

On the Super Hornet he noted  “Super Hornet can’t keep pace. It’s less manoeuvrable. The F-15 is much better.” He spoke in depth to the pilot (Late Air Cmde Sanjai Chauhan. RIP) who evaluated the candidates for MMRCA who said that the F-16 Block 70 had the best human-machine-interface. “The MiG-35 was patchy and the Super Hornet was draggy (“Super Hornet carries almost two tons of extra weight, because it’s a naval aircraft. It can’t match air force variants)  – and the rest were great.” The evaluation pilot also thought the Rafale was the best all-rounder.

Thakur noted that the offered F-21 is remarkable and is a ‘have it all’.

The J-20 likely deserves a place in this list but at the present time there is insufficient information to make an assessment.


Hush-Kit fundraising update


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Top 10 Close Air Support aircraft



Born in the desperate last days of World War I, close air support is now over a hundred years old. From the trench-strafing carnage of the 1910s, via the murderous Spanish Civil War, close air support came of age in the Second World War. Throughout its history it has been repeatedly forgotten by air forces across the world, before being hurriedly relearnt, often too late. The US Department of Defense defines CAS as air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and that require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.” Across the last bloody 100 years, certain aircraft types have excelled in the role. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but all the types mentioned deserve their inclusion. 

10. Hawker Typhoon: Eisenhower’s saviour


If not exactly a failure, it was fair to say that in early 1943 the Hawker Typhoon was regarded as, at best, a qualified success in its primary role as an air-superiority asset. Its subsequent life as a fighter bomber would soon change that. Conceived by Hawker as a Hurricane replacement the Typhoon ran into terrible trouble with its exotic engine and previously unknown aerodynamic effects caused by its great speed. Plus the tail kept falling off. A tortuous development and early service life eventually eradicated most of the bugs and the Typhoon enjoyed a brief moment of fame as the only aircraft with the speed necessary to intercept the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. The improved Spitfire Mk IX soon closed that particular niche as it was a generally superior fighter but by then the Typhoon had found its true forte, attacking not other aircraft but ground targets.

This spectacularly successful change of role was largely the result of one man, Roland Beamont. Commander of one of the first Typhoon units, 609 squadron, Beamont realised that the Typhoon’s strength, heavy armament and low altitude speed made it an ideal ground attacker and in late 1942 he obtained permission for 609 sqn to fly on wide ranging attacks over occupied France by day and night. The results, even though these missions were flown singly or in pairs, were dramatic, 609 sqn alone destroying over 100 locomotives in the following six months whilst shooting down 14 Fw 190s in the same period. Cancellation of the Typhoon programme, which had been a serious consideration at the time, was never considered again and the aircraft went from strength to strength in its new role. Bomb racks were added, as a result the Typhoon could carry a 1000 pound bomb under each wing, this representing a bombload greater than the Bristol Blenheim (still in service with the RAF in 1942 as a light bomber) but in stark contrast the Typhoon was over 100 mph faster and a highly capable fighter, unlike the Blenheim which was effectively defenceless if intercepted. More impressive still was the armament of eight 60 lb rockets that the Typhoon began utilising in 1943. It was famously said that a salvo of all eight rockets represented a destructive force equivalent to a broadside from a destroyer. Whether or not this was actually true, the psychological effect of the rocket armament was impressive, which was useful as the rockets, whilst extremely powerful, were notoriously difficult to aim. Analysis of battlefields showed that many vehicles had been abandoned by crews after suffering only superficial damage from rocket-firing Typhoons. Rockets and bombs could be used interchangeably on the same aircraft but in practice, squadrons tended to specialise in one weapon or the other.


Following D-day, as the Allies advanced into Europe the Typhoons operated a system known as the ‘Cab Rank’. Developed by the RAF in the Western Desert and refined during the campaign in Italy, standing Typhoon patrols could be called in by RAF personnel assigned to Army units and known as Forward Air Controllers to attack targets at extremely short notice. This was the first application of genuinely close air support on a large scale in which specific targets could be identified to pilots by troops on the ground and it proved decisive. So successful was the system that some 23 Typhoon squadrons served with the 2nd Tactical Air Force between 1944 and 45 as it advanced across Europe into Germany.

To give but one example of the effectiveness of the Typhoon, on the 10th of July, at Mortain, flying in support of the US 30th Infantry Division, Typhoons flew 294 sorties, firing 2,088 rockets and dropping 73 tons of bombs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, said of the Typhoons; “The chief credit in smashing the enemy’s spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft of the Second Tactical Air Force… The result of the strafing was that the enemy attack was effectively brought to a halt, and a threat was turned into a great victory.” The German Army’s Chief of Staff stated that the attack had been brought to a standstill by 13:00 ‘…due to the employment of fighter-bombers by the enemy, and the absence of our own air-support.’

The Typhoon was developed into the similar but superior Tempest which took over the ground attack role, and all had left RAF service before the end of 1945. Today, of 3317 built, only a single complete example survives.



To support the Typhoon to the skies project have a look at their website here, or on Facebook and Twitter: @project_typhoon

9. Sukhoi Su-25 


Created to support Soviet ground forces, the Su-25 went to war the same year it entered service, 1981. The aircraft’s baptism of fire was in Afghanistan, where it demonstrated the ability to generate higher sortie rates than any other type, even in the most austere conditions. It was a hard war for the Su-25: 22 aircraft were lost in combat operations, and seven destroyed on the ground. But these hard lessons were learned and led to modifications which enhanced the aircraft’s survivability.


Since than it has fought in over 15 wars, sometimes — as in the Russo-Ukrainian War and the Georgian War (the region, and later nation, that produced the majority of Su-25s) —  on both sides. The Su-25 is the epitome of the Soviet engineering principle of toughness, simplicity and the spurning of unnecessary high technology.


Photo Credit : Vadim Savitskiï

The aeroplane has a conventional layout, with considerable amounts of titanium armour and an internal Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-2 (ГШ-30-2) 30-mm dual-barrel autocannon which uses the Gast principle to generate high rates of fire (1000-3000rpm). The wings each have five hard-points making the ‘Frogfoot’ a versatile weapons platform and easy to fit with varied bulky weapons and stores. The Su-25 is the most widely exported CAS fixed-wing aircraft of all time having served with over 30 nations.

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8. Mil Mi-24 ‘The Flying Tank’


The Mi-24 was conceived from the outset as a flying infantry fighting vehicle. It is can survive multiple hits by rifle and 12.7-mm rounds.

The first dedicated Soviet attack helicopter, the Mi-24 is big, well-armed and extremely fast (grabbing a slew of world speed records in the 1970s). Since its introduction in 1972 it has become the most widely used combat aircraft of all time, fighting in over 30 wars across the world with a staggering 68 operators. It is unique in being an attack helicopter with a sizeable troop compartment, able to accommodate up to eight passengers. As with the Su-25 — the simplicity, durability and insensitivity to rough in-the-field maintenance keeps it going when other more exquisite machines are grounded.


7. Bell H-1 series (UH-1E/AH-1) ‘The Fanged Huey’ AH-1Z.jpg

When the Marine Corps employed the UH-lE ‘Huey’ in the CAS role in the Vietnam War it was extremely controversial. Armed helicopters had been around since the 1950s, but the Huey was aggressively muscling into a role, dedicated CAS, considered inappropriate for vulnerable helicopters. A year of service revealed the type’s devastating effectiveness. The UH-lE was initially outfitted with two 2.75-inch rocket pods or two .50 calibre gun pods, then a chin turret containing two M60 machine-guns.



The UH-1E had become an absolute necessity for close-in support of vertical assault operations. There was room for improvement — in 1969 the Marine Corps received its first dedicated attack helicopter – the exceptionally mean Cobra. With its narrow fuselage, tandem-place cockpit and nose-mounted gun, the Cobra was the first real helicopter gunship. In the Vietnam War it demonstrated how effectively helicopters could be used in the fire support role. Despite its success it suffered a high attrition rate: well over a quarter of the Cobras deployed to Vietnam were destroyed by enemy fire or lost in accidents. It established the template for attack helicopters, and it influenced the Mi-24, AH-64, Tiger, Mangusta and every other gunship helicopter that followed. Despite its first flight being almost fifty years ago, the Cobra remains in production today. The latest family member, the AH-1Z, is one of the best in its class.

6. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt ‘Patton’s Jugs’



“Just east of Le Mans was one of the best examples of armor and air cooperation I have ever seen. For about two miles, the road was full of enemy transport and armor, many of which bore the unmistakable calling card of the P-47 fighterbomber – namely, a group of fifty-caliber holes in the concrete. Whenever armor and air can work together in this way, the results are sure to be excellent. . . . To accomplish this happy teamwork two things are necessary: first, intimate confidence and friendship between air and ground; second, incessant and apparently ruthless driving on the part of the ground commander. A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood. ” — General George S. Patton Jr. USA

The Thunderbolt was huge, weighing the same as two Spitfires*. It was long-ranged, well-armed with eight .50 cals, rockets and bombs — and extremely manoeuvrable for its size. Importantly, it was also exceptionally tough — Jugs riddled with bullet holes and missing huge sections often recovered in a manner that verged on the miraculous. P-47s even returned to base with entire cylinder heads shot off. For example ace Robert Johnson recalled “I had 21 20mm cannon shells in that airplane, and more than 200 7.92mm machine gun bullets. One nicked my nose and another entered my right leg… I had been hurt worse playing football”. Compare this to the P-51 Mustang – a single rifle calibre bullet in the radiator will bring the aircraft down. The radiator incidentally, being located on the belly of the aircraft in the most vulnerable spot when facing fire from the ground. It is easy therefore to see why the Thunderbolt was the preferred fighter for ground attack missions. Unlike the Typhoon however, the P-47 was also highly successful in air combat, its gradual sidelining in the escort mission by the P-51 Mustang reflecting no huge criticism of the aircraft regarding fighting ability, though even the most ardent Thunderbolt enthusiast would have to admit that the P-51 was both faster and had the edge in manoeuvrability. The major decider was range, the P-47 was massive and heavy and as a result consumed some 100 gallons of fuel an hour in the cruise and over 300 at full power which could not equal the P-51’s meagre thirst for a mere 64 and 120 gallons respectively. The bottom line was that the Mustang could escort a bomber to Berlin and back and the Thunderbolt could not. Meanwhile the P-47’s insane ability to absorb punishment saw its importance to an army now engaged on the ground in Europe skyrocket.


Before the invasion of Europe began, the IX Tactical Air Command — a force dedicated to CAS — consisted of 1,600 P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightings and 35,000 airmen. The P-47s flew exceptionally dangerous missions, lost many men and aircraft, yet proved a fearsome weapon. By the end of the Second World War, ground fire posed a much greater threat to Allied aircraft than enemy fighters and German flak guns were powerful, accurate and numerous. Over the course of operations after D-day, the Thunderbolt proved to be the premier American CAS asset. As well as being more resistant to battle damage than the Mustang the P-47 also possessed a greater installed firepower. By the end of the war the Thunderbolt would be able to carry external stores of bombs, rockets, or fuel up to a maximum of 2500 lbs (a typical load might include three 500lb bombs and 10 3-inch rockets) but the sheer bulk of the aircraft meant that it was always demanding on field length.

In the Korean War, the USAF used the woefully inappropriate F-80 jet aircraft and they bemoaned the lack of Thunderbolts (now re-designated F-47s). Flown on a round trip from Japan, the F-80s often had ten minutes or less on where they were desperately needed. “The commander of Fifth Air Force (later commander of FEAF, the Far East Air Force) Maj. Gen. Earle Partridge, would have preferred F-47s, a “far better strafing and dive bomber airplane” but none of those were available.” In the absence of Thunderbolts and desperately requiring a better solution than the Japan-based F-80, the less-than-ideal Mustang was drafted in. In April 1951 alone the USAF lost 25 Mustangs to ground fire. The potential superiority of the Thunderbolt was acknowledged by all, to the extent that General Stratemeyer, commander of the FEAF, formally requested any Thunderbolts that were available, even just the 25 examples then serving with the Hawaii Air National Guard. He noted that there had been a major increase in Communist anti-aircraft firepower but stated that “All here know the F-47 can take it”. Alas, noting lack of spare parts and the logistical issues of introducing another aircraft to the conflict General Hoyt Vandenburg coldly responded “we fail to see any appreciable results to be gained by the substitution”, thus spelling a death sentence for many Mustang pilots who might otherwise have survived.

It is however a telling demonstration of just how good the mighty P-47 was that in 1951, some six years after it last saw action, it was so desperately needed for frontline service that four-star generals were begging for mere handfuls of what was now quite an elderly aircraft. In the words of historian W A Jacobs: “If the P-47’s designers had set out to build a high-performance aircraft for close air support, they could hardly have done better within the existing technology”.

*P-47D/Spitfire IX


5. Junkers Ju 87 ‘Stuka’ ‘The Screaming Stuka’


“Stukas! . . . Squadron upon squadron rise to a great height, break into line ahead (Reihenformation) and there, there the first machines hurtle perpendicularly down, followed by the second, third – ten, twelve aeroplanes are there. Simultaneously like some bird of prey, they fall upon their victim and then release their loads of bombs on the target. We can see the bombs very clearly. It becomes a regular rain of bombs, that whistle down on . . . the bunker positions. Each time the explosion is overwhelming, the noise deafening. Everything becomes blended together; along with the howling sirens of the Stukas in their dives, the bombs whistle and crack and burst. . . We stand and watch what is happening as if hypnotized; down below all hell is let loose! At the same time we are full of confidence . . . and suddenly we notice that the enemy artillery no longer shoots . . . “

–Sergeant Prumers, 1st Panzer Division, 1940

Though long held as the pioneers of modern close air support, today many would argue that the early Second World War saw the Ju 87 force acting less an integrated close air support role, and more in a role that sat somewhere between traditional bomber, precision attack aircraft and ad hoc battlefield support. Quite how much the Luftwaffe’s application of tactical air power conforms to the modern concept of CAS continues to be the subject of lively debate. What is not in doubt is that in the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka the Germans possessed an exceptional CAS platform. Often derided today due to its poor showing in the Battle of Britain (the result of using the world’s supreme tactical aircraft for a strategic role it was neither designed nor intended for) the Ju 87 operated at staggeringly close quarters to the armed forces it was supporting and could strike with an accuracy that would not be reattained until the advent of guided munitions at the end of the 20th century. Despite being considered obsolete by the Luftwaffe even before the war, Ju 87s launched the German air offensive on the 1st of September 1939 (one Stuka incidentally scoring the first air to air kill of the Second World War in the process), attacking their targets 11 minutes before the official declaration of hostilities. Even more remarkably, the same ‘obsolete’ aircraft flew the last Luftwaffe ground attack mission on the 4th of May 1945, four days after Hitler had shot himself.

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One of comparatively few aircraft to be known by the same nickname to both friend and foe: Stuka being a shortening of the generic term Sturzkampfflugzeug (literally ‘Diving war aeroplane’), the Junkers Ju 87 first flew in 1935. Like the prototypes of several new Nazi aircraft, the Ju 87 was powered by a Rolls-Royce engine. Even more surprisingly the new aircraft was built in Sweden. In a rather cruel irony the Junkers Ju 87 remains probably the most famous aircraft to bear the Junkers name, yet Hugo Junkers was a pacifist and a socialist who died under house arrest, whilst the Nazis busily stole his assets, in the same year the Stuka first flew.

Initially the Ju 87 received a lukewarm reception from the Luftwaffe, being considered too slow and with insufficient climb rate but the installation of a more powerful Jumo 210 D engine improved the situation somewhat and the new aircraft was tested secretly but successfully in Spain. The era of its truly spectacular success began in 1939 and continued unabated for the first year or so of the war. So symbolic of the Nazi war machine has the Stuka become that it is quite difficult to view it dispassionately, as one historian put it “More crap has been written about the Stuka than about any other aeroplane in history.”  Hardly surprising when it combines a design as angularly sinister as the Nazi swastika with the horrific psychological component of a deafening siren intended purely to terrify those on the receiving end of its vertical attacks. The Stuka has become a virtual flying shorthand for the Blitzkrieg and unprovoked and pitiless Nazi belligerence and terror.
Yet the Ju 87 was a profoundly practical aircraft for its role, it was rugged, reliable, easy to fly and maintain, but perhaps most important of all it was clinically accurate. In 1943 it was discovered that only 16% of US bombers using the much-vaunted Norden bombsight were getting their bombs within 1000 feet of the aiming point, by contrast if 100% of a Stuka squadron’s bombs were delivered within a 10 metre (33 feet) circle, accuracy was considered ‘satisfactory’. A hit 100 feet away was considered a bad miss; for a contemporary conventional bomber that would represent the pinnacle of accuracy. The Stuka was not, of course, the only dive bomber of the war but it was one of very few able to perform a genuine 90 degree dive and was probably the most accurate of the conflict. As a result, its tactical use as, essentially, long-range artillery was relentless. Ground units could, and did, rely on the Junkers dive bombers to clear strongpoints and disperse concentrations of vehicles.
The extent to which the army relied on the Stuka can be gauged by this 1941 order issued by Luftflotte 4 as it advanced into the Soviet Union:  “Troops must not count on the same type of support that they have grown accustomed to in previous campaigns. Officers and men must be aware that the Luftwaffe may support the operations of Army Group South only in the immediate centre of the attack. The tendency to call in a Stuka attack at the first sign of enemy resistance must from now on be resisted at all costs”. This is hardly surprising as despite its amazing usefulness and ubiquity there were never more than 400 Ju 87s on front line strength at any given time. As a result, on the Eastern Front, Stukas were required to fly up to five missions per day. The pinnacle of the Junkers Ju 87’s career was over Stalingrad, by now a well-honed weapon with massively experienced crews, the Ju 87 force operated an average of 500 sorties per day but with a loss rate of just 0.2%.
From 1943 however the tide turned, the Ju 87 was vulnerable to fighters and as the Luftwaffe slowly gave up air superiority, dive bomber losses mounted. Even then the Ju 87 had one last ace to play in the CAS role. Armed with two 3.7cm cannon derived from a First World War flak gun (and brilliantly nicknamed the panzerknacker) and boasting Il-2 Sturmovik inspired armour the Ju 87 supplanted and ultimately replaced the Henschel Hs 129 in the anti-tank role and in the right hands could deliver spectacular results. Between them the top 58 Stuka pilots destroyed over 3700 tanks, 519 by Hans-Ulrich Rudel alone. Rudel, the most successful Stuka pilot and unrepentant Nazi, ultimately served as a consultant on the A-10 program, another slow, accurate, and terrifying CAS aircraft, which despite its official name of Thunderbolt II is, more accurately, the modern Stuka.


4.Douglas AD (A-1) Skyraider ‘Able Dog the Destroyer’ 


The Douglas AD (later A-1) Skyraider was the best close air support aircraft of its generation and was valued for its capabilities even after it was superseded by more modern aircraft.  It was originally designed as an anti-ship aircraft to replace the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bomber and the Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bomber in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Too late to see action during World War II, it replaced the SB2C and TBM in carrier-based attack squadrons beginning in 1947 and completely by the start of the Korean War in 1950.

A low-wing, single-engine monoplane, the AD was fitted with the Wright 3350 radial engine, which gave it more lifting power than any previous carrier aircraft, rivalled only by the short-lived Martin AM Mauler. The low wing enabled it to feature fifteen bomb racks and carry a wide variety of ordnance and external fuel tanks. The AD had a longer range than the Navy’s early jets and a far superior load carrying capability. It would typically carry an 8,000-pound bomb load on missions over Korea. Land-based Marine Corps squadrons in Korea typically carried a 10,000-pound load.


Along with the more numerous Vought F4U Corsair, the Skyraider proved to be a grimly effective close air support aircraft, making multiple passes using bombs, rockets cannon fire, and napalm canisters to savage the Communist Chinese and North Korean forces. For example, during the first six months of the war, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft — mostly meaning Skyraiders and Corsairs—were credited with the demise of 20,000 of the 40,000 Communist soldiers killed to date. Skyraiders armed with 2,000-pound bombs also proved effective in bunker-busting of enemy lines in the hills and mountains along the front. The ADs were equally effective as a strike aircraft, interdicting trains and truck convoys and destroying dams and bridges, and doing interdiction at night with night-attack versions. During one raid, ADs used aerial torpedoes to strike a dam and damage its gates. The Skyraider is considered the most important naval aircraft of the Korean War.


Jets began to replace the Skyraiders in Marine Corps in the late 1950s but soldiered on in the Navy as attack aircraft. AD-4/4N/4NA (A-1D) Skyraiders were exported to the French Air Force and used extensively for close air support during the Algerian Civil War and the Chadian Civil War. As the French retired the Skyraider, some Skyraiders were transferred to former colonies, seeing combat in Chad and Cambodia. (The last Skyraiders to see service were ex-French A-1Ds assigned to the Gabon Presidential Guard, finally retired in 1982.)

The Skyraider’s payload and long loiter time made it an attractive choice to replace the F8F Bearcat and T-28 in the Air Force of South Vietnam (VNAF) and in the U.S Air Force (USAF) Air Commando squadrons (later Special Operations squadrons) in South Vietnam. U.S. Navy A-1 Skyraiders were transferred to both services which effectively employed the aircraft in South Vietnam in close air support. The USAF also used its Skyraiders support special operations forces in Laos and to escort rescue helicopters deep inside Laos and North Vietnam. The aforementioned payload and loiter capabilities, as well as its relatively slow speed, made them ideal for suppressing enemy forces trying to capture downed airmen before they could be rescued. USAF A-1s carried a wide variety of ordnance, including a Minigun to provide suppressive fire. 

U.S. Navy A-1 Skyraiders equipped several air wings during the first four years of the Vietnam War. They flew strike missions in Southeast Asia, provided naval gunfire spotting, and flew close air support missions in South Vietnam and Laos. Like the USAF A-1s, Navy A-1s were used extensively as escorts for search and rescue missions. Navy A-1s also achieved two confirmed aerial kills of North Vietnamese MiG-17 jet fighters. The growing effectiveness of North Vietnamese air defences, especially SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, made the Skyraider an easier target over North Vietnam, where the Skyraider’s flights were increasingly limited to search-and-rescue missions. In South Vietnam, the introduction in 1972 of the SA-7 shoulder-launched surface-to-air to North Vietnamese infantry forces limited the survivability of the Skyraider in the close air support role.

The USAF transferred its last A-1s to the VNAF in November 1972, replaced in the SAR support role by the Vought A-7D Corsair II. The VNAF continued to use the A-1 until the nation’s demise in April 1975. Warfare technology eventually surpassed the Skyraider, but in its prime—and for years beyond—it proved itself as a premier close air support aircraft. 

— Richard R. Burgess, author of these books on the Skyraider

Senior Editor, Seapower Magazine



3. Boeing AH-64 Apache 


Though the 1948 Key West Agreement forbade the Army from owning fixed-wing combat aircraft, the US Army never became comfortable with the idea that they must depend on the Air Force for aerial support battlefield support (especially as USAF often fails to prioritise the mission when choosing new aircraft). Denied an inhouse fleet of fixed-wing aircraft, US Army attack helicopters grew faster, more sophisticated and considerably more expensive. After several ambitious attempts in the 60s and 70s to replace the AH-1 failed, the Apache entered service in 1984. The Apache offered unprecedented situational awareness for an attack helicopter, an advantage that was fortified by the addition of a radar on the D model. It was also armed to the teeth, with a trainable 30-mm chain gun, unguided (and later guided) rockets and guided missiles.

In war, such as in Afghanistan, an Apache’s crew of two are busy, perhaps busier than the crew of any aircraft. Comprehending the mass of information from the aircraft’s sensors, off-board information and their own eyes in fast-changing unconventional warfare is an extremely difficult task, but once mastered makes the Apache —as one pilot we interviewed grimly noted: “The ultimate killing machine.”


The AH-64 was not supposed to be a close air support platform. Designed to employ its three weapon systems against enemy tanks from a hover and then move from battle position to battle position flying at treetop height, the Apache was a tank killer from its inception. Two major events in 1972 directly influenced the mission set for the concept that would evolve into the Apache. The April 1972 Battle of An Loc saw High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rocket-armed AH-1G Cobras and TOW missile-armed NUH-
1Bs destroy numerous tanks, blunting the North Vietnamese invasion. While the majority of the actions fought during An Loc were classic Close Air Support missions over friendly troops in contact, the Army focused on the attack helicopter’s successes killing tanks, and the rest as they say, is history. The cancellation of the AH-56 Cheyenne programme in August 1972 was the other. The Cheyenne was designed as a CAS platform from the beginning to support troops on the ground. Able to carry eight 19-
shot rocket pods or a mix of rockets and TOW missiles; and mounting two turreted weapons, a single Cheyenne carried more than twice the combat load of the AH-1G. But the Cheyenne’s technology was not yet mature, and after several years of delays and reduced interest by the Army, the program was cancelled with only ten aircraft built.
The day after Cheyenne’s cancellation, the Army initiated the Advanced Attack Helicopter programme, which would yield the AH-64 just a few years later. Gone was the primary requirement for supporting troops on the ground, and instead, the helicopter was built around the new anti-tank missile; the AGM- 114 Hellfire and designed as a tank killer. The Apache was to be the great equaliser, protecting the Fulda Gap from the Soviet armoured hordes invading Western Europe in a future World War III. It was to
sit at a hover, moving from battle position to battle position, unleashing Hellfires at maximum range and reducing Soviet tank numbers before they got within range of friendly armour. Surprisingly, the Apache’s 1989 combat debut in Panama was as a fire support platform, where its Night Vision System was a key asset in targeting Panamanian resistance and directing troops on the ground.

Lieutenant General Carl Steiner, Commander of XVIII Airborne Corps during Just Cause praised the AH- 64s capabilities by saying it could “Fire a hellfire missile through a window at five miles away, at night”. The ability to precisely engage such a small target from miles away was designed to be effective against tanks, but served the AH-64A well in Operation Desert Storm in January 1991 when AH-64As of 1-101st Aviation Regiment, destroyed several key antiaircraft radar stations along the Iraq-Kuwait border,
knocking out a 20-mile wide portion of the Iraqi early warning Air Defense network and opening the door for coalition air assets to begin striking targets inside Iraq. Apache battalions acquitted themselves well during the short conflict, performing battlefield interdiction missions well forward of the rapidly shrinking front lines, destroying over 500 tanks and hundreds of other vehicles before the cessation of hostilities.

However, as with most combat aircraft, the Apache’s three decades in service have seen its role evolve with the conflicts in which it has participated and its mission capabilities mature. In the aftermath of 9/11, Apaches deployed to Afghanistan to combat Al Qaeda and Taliban forces, where the armour threat was minimal. It was there that the AH-64 returned to the attack helicopter’s roots as a Close Air Support platform.

The operational environment in Afghanistan is harsh. Taliban and Al Qaeda forces are not the pilots’ only concerns, as high altitude and high temperature can have more of an adverse effect on helicopter performance than enemy fire. The hover fire tactics that Apache pilots had trained on since the type went operational in 1984 were not possible in hot/high conditions and pilots were forced to resort to the running/diving fire techniques perfected by their Cobra pilot brethren a generation earlier.


These fast moving techniques allowed better freedom of movement and coordination with troops on the ground, and became the standard for Apache operations in Afghanistan. The following year saw the invasion of Iraq and the combat debut of the AH-64D, which brought the Apache into the digital age and increased its ability to conduct the CAS mission even further.



ah-64-apache-apach-udarnyy.jpgThe Longbow Apache’s digital cockpit greatly enhanced situational awareness for both crewmembers, and the introduction of the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire allowed crews to attack targets that were blocked by smoke or other obscurant that the helicopter’s laser designator could not penetrate. Now troops on the ground only needed to pass along a GPS grid coordinate to the Apache crew, and the Longbow Hellfire could be fired right at those coordinates. The first Longbow Hellfire used in combat was fired against an Iraqi T-72, but many more would be fired at a multitude of targets in the first weeks of the invasion of Iraq.

The operational environments in Afghanistan and Iraq forced a return to providing close support (now called Close Combat Attack by the Army) to troops on the ground. They became so effective that enemy combatants often refused to engage US forces if Apaches were in the area. New versions of the Hellfire like the AGM-114N thermobaric Hellfire were ideal for taking out caves or buildings with minimal collateral damage. The night vision system was updated in 2008 with the addition of the Modernized Target Acquisition/Designation Sight and Arrowhead Pilot’s Night Vision System, allowing unprecedented image clarity from miles away in complete darkness. In 2010, the capability to receive UAV video feed was incorporated into the Apache’s repertoire, even further increasing the coordination between the helicopter and the troops it supports. Lastly, in 2012 the adoption of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System turned the standard Hydra 70 rocket family into precision guided munitions and boosting the Apache’s lethality against precision targets. The ideal melding of evolving sensors, weapons and techniques have evolved the Apache into not only the world’s premiere attack helicopter, but the premiere Close Combat Attack platform in the world. Operational necessity brought the AH-64 back to the role it was destined to fill, even though shortsightedness initially overlooked that role.

  • Jonathan Bernstein is the Supervisory Museum Curator, US Army Air Defense Artillery Museum at US Army

He has written these books on the Apache, P-47 and AH-1.



2. Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II


During its development what became the A-10 endured the toughest testing of any US military aircraft before or since. Parts were exposed to large volumes of actual gunfire, in rigorous evaluations that created the most survivable of modern aircraft. The A-10 was built around a massive gun, a 30-mm rotary gun longer than a VW Beetle, capable of spewing out 4000 milk-bottle sized rounds a minute. Designed to support soldiers in the battlefield and kill tanks, this slow low-cost aircraft was not wanted by many in USAF. The air force did not want a subordinate position to the army and loved fast high technology aircraft, and so loathed this project.


It was largely thanks to the ‘Fighter Mafia’, a rebellious group of reformers that the programme survived. One member, Pierre Sprey, had interviewed Skyraider pilots who had fought in Vietnam. Analysis of these interviews showed what was needed was a “long loiter time, low-speed manoeuvrability, massive cannon firepower, and extreme survivability” – so in many ways the success of the Skyraider informed the design of the A-10. Before it fought, many doubted such a slow aircraft could survive in combat,  but the A-10 proved ferociously effective in Desert Storm, and fought with distinction in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Its planned replacement by the F-35 is controversial and shows a return to faith in expensive high technology. Repeatedly threatened with retirement, the A-10 has enjoyed repeated reprieves and is proving typically hard to kill.


  1. Il-2 Shturmovik: Stalin’s Hammer, Novikov’s Sickle


In the Great Patriotic War, ground attack aircraft were the main offensive element of the Red Army Air Force. The importance of such aircraft kept grew steadily over the course of the war. Before the war less than 0.2 percent of the total number of frontline combat aircraft was Il-2s; by autumn 1942, this had become 31 percent, before levelling off at whopping 29-32 percent for the rest of the fighting (by comparison, the share of daytime bombers never exceeded 15 percent). The importance of close air support, which was possible only from low heights (600m to 800m) where the targets were clearly visible — was proved without a shadow of a doubt.

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A destroyed tank column in Belorussia, 1944. Black & white images: Oleg Rastrenin

With strikes delivered from different altitudes in groups of six-nine Il-2s at distances over 1,000 to 1,200 meters from the forward formations of advancing troops, two to four kilometres of enemy held territory was taken per day – not more. But the in case of concentrated and massive air strikes combined with multi-layered actions by regimental and divisional groups at a distance of approximately 200 -300 meres from friendly troops, the breakthrough pace grew dramatically to 10-15 kilometres per day. Such a pace prevented the German command from having sufficient time ‘closing’ the gaps in their defences and creating adequate concentrating combat groups in order to make flanking counter-attacks. There simply was not enough time.

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A German tank column wrecked by Il-2s.

Under such combat conditions, the Il-2s were subjected to extremely heavy fire from enemy ground- and air forces. According to the Red Army Air Force Air Gunnery Service Administration, it was not unusual for 8,000 to 9,000 large-calibre (13-mm) bullets and 200 to 300 small-calibre (20-mm to 37-mm) rounds to be fired at an attacking Il-2. Given that the ground attack aircraft remained above the battlefield for, on average, 10-20 minutes at a height of 200 to 1,000 metres, the crew faced a seemingly untraversable ‘sea of fire’. What saved them was the combat survivability features implemented on the Il-2; these included the armoured hull, self-sealing fuel tanks, the filling of fuel tanks with inert gas and the duplicated elevator controls. The armour reliably protected the pilot and the vital elements of the aeroplane from rifle calibre weapons and offered partial protection from larger artillery. Furthermore, the immense strength that the Il-2’s airframe had always had contributed to the enhanced combat survivability of the aircraft.

10_Over Berlin.jpg

Il-2s over Berlin. The Il-2’s wing featuring the Clark-YH airfoil did not lose its lifting efficiency even in conditions of a severe skin failure. This enabled the pilots to make it to friendly territory or airfield and to land with a damaged wing.

The armament of the Il-2 —two 23-mm VYa cannons, unguided rockets, and 400-600kg of bombs — were the right weapons for close combat air support. The variety of weaponry took into account the typical targets over the battlefield (artillery, mortars, motor vehicles, firing points, and infantry), against which ground attack aircraft had to act during the war. Armed with dispensers carry small anti-armour bomblets (312 bombs carried onboard) and 132mm armour-piercing and high-explosive rockets enabled the Il-2s to fight medium and heavy Wehrmacht tanks with confidence.

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German aircraft destroyed at Khersones in 1944.

In terms of reliability and maintainability, the aircraft quite conformed to the level that the Soviet aviation industry was able to provide at that time. Against the background of other Soviet-made combat aircraft, the build quality of the Il-2 looked more than decent.

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A German column devastated by IL-2s.

Vitally, the construction of the Il-2 met the requirements of large-scale manufacture, the rough conditions of operation, and of rapid repair in a wartime environment. The aircraft was easy to manufacture and undemanding to repair; it utilised low-quality materials and could be assembled by semi-skilled labour. Production could be geared up quickly, saturating frontline units with the much-needed aircraft within miraculously short times.

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Il-2s about to take-off.

The mass use of the Il-2 on the frontline was devastating. Well-developed tactics in concert with ground troops and covering fighters finally resulted in staggering successes. The phenomenon of the Il-2, one of the best attack aircraft of the Second World War, was born.


Let us assume, as comparison criterion, the probability of success in providing air support for advancing troops. This involves the suppression of a battalion area which comprises: an anti-tank defensive post and three company defence areas with reinforcements, we will find that the Il-2 armed with VYa cannons was 2.3 times as good as the Junkers Ju 87D-5, 5.3 times as good as the Henschel Hs129B-2/R3, and twice as good as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190F-8.


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A later series Il-2.

In terms of combatting lightly armoured vehicles and medium tanks in the course of repelling the enemy’s counter strikes, the Il-2 was 2.7 times better than the Ju 87D-5, 2.8 times as good as the Hs 129B-2/R3, and 1.8 times better than the Fw 190F. Accordingly, to achieve an equal result, a lower amount of Il-2s was required in comparison with German aircraft.

3_Over the front line.jpg

In total throughout the war, the Red Army Air Force received 31,949 Il-2s of all versions (1,258 in 1941; 7,105 in 1942; 10,599 in 1943; 9,988 in 1944; 2,999 as of 01 June 1945) including 8,067 single-seat Il-2s and 23,882 two-seat Il-2s.

Combat losses of the Il-2s totalled 11,448 aircraft (503 in 1941; 1,676 in 1942; 3,649 in 1943; 3,727 in 1944; 1,893 as of 1 June 1945).

In conclusion, the following is the opinion expressed in respect of the Il-2 by strike pilot, twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Marshal of Aviation A.N. Efimov (288 combat sorties): “The Il-2 ground attack aircraft is not simply another step in the development of the engineering thought: it is an entire era in the history of Soviet military aviation.”

— Oleg Rastrenin

Oleg Rastrenin graduated from the Moscow Applied Physics Institute in 1986 and commenced military service. He subsequently graduated from the Zhukovskiy Air Force Academy. He holds the rank of major and the title of doctor of science. Rastrenin has been working on the history of Soviet aviation since 1992, with his major research projects focusing on air tactics and the combat employment of aircraft. He has published more than 20 articles on the history of attack aircraft in Russian and foreign magazines, and is also the author of the books Red Army Attack Aircraft (1941-1945), Red Army Attack Aviation – Tough Experience and The Il-10.

He is the author of this book on the Il-2


2_Airplanes on takeoff.jpg


“Our Red Army now needs Il-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats.” These were the words Stalin used to express his dissatisfaction with an aircraft factory behind on production rates. This might just tell you something about how important the Shturmovik (“ground attack” in Russian) was on the Eastern Front. Forget your A-10s, forget your Harriers, when an aircraft is so good at its role that it defines the nature of an air theatre, you know it’s formidable.

This was the original tank-killer. The aircraft that devastated German mechanised columns, that frustrated Luftwaffe aces, that scared Wehrmacht troops so much they dubbed it “The Flying Tank.” German pilots would report emptying their entire ammunition loads into Il-2s, only to watch them carry on flying. AA crews could get direct hits and the Shturmovik would shrug it off like a babushka when she’s told her farm’s been collectivised. While Soviet reports of combat destruction were, without a doubt, exaggerated, the impact that the Il-2 had on harrying and disrupting the German war machine was vital to the Red Army’s success and progress on the front.

4_Hitting the targets.jpg

In typical, glorious Soviet style, Il-2 pilots were ordered to never return with unspent ammunition – fine for the guy in front, sitting in his armoured bathtub, less so for the rear-gunner who had very little protection at all. Soviet troops on the ground would even request passes from the CAS aircraft even after they had expended all their ammunition simply because of the effect it had on German soldiers. But life was cheap in the USSR, and there was never a shortage of crews for the Ilyusha.

5_Destroyed enemy column view from air.jpg

Nor was there ever a shortage of aircraft. Much like the famous T-34 tank, Soviet factories produced absurd numbers of Il-2s. The true sign of how significant the Shturmovik is as a CAS aircraft, the role it played in the battlefield and how much it changed the course of the war comes in this fact: the Il-2 Shturmovik is the most produced military aircraft in history . Enough said.


— Sam Wise


Sam Wise spends far too much time thinking about aeroplanes, and occasionally tweets about them and anything else



Sadly, this site will pause operations in December if it does not hit its funding targets. There is now less than a week. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here.


Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

 Special thanks to Gennady Sloutskiy, Minal Daswan and Thomas Newdick. 

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to WarplanesFlying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US


Eurocanards compared

The following table shows what is in operational service as of late 2019 based on best available open source material.


Notes: Gripen has completed integration work with a cruise missile but this has not been seen on frontline aircraft. HMS/D may be at early stage of use with Qatari Rafale but no photos have emerged to support this. EW DRFM status is a guess based on available open source information but is most questionable. Rafale can access IR imagery from Mica IR missiles, dual waveband DDM-NG (missile warning system) and IR channel of Talios pod (Nav FLIR/IRST) and close to IR bandwidths from optical system. Much test and integration work has been done on Typhoon AESA.



Sadly, this site will pause operations in December if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here.


Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Every donation helps us- thank you. Donations buttons can be spotted by the eagle-eyed on this page.

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US







The Soviet missile used by the US Navy


The end of the Cold War in the 1990s, and the former Soviet Union’s free and easy export of armaments, led to some utterly bizarre events. One of these is the surprising fact that the US Navy operated an advanced Soviet missile until 2007. 

The Kh-31 anti-shipping missile terrified the US navy, skimming across the sea at close to Mach 3 and packing a 200-Ib high explosive warhead it had the potential to make mincemeat of the US Navy. The far slower (Mach 0.92) Exocet missile had wrought havoc on the Royal Navy in the 1982 Falklands War, so the Soviet Kh-31 was an extremely credible threat.


To develop counter tactics and test defensive weapons the Navy needed a target drone that could accurately simulate the weapon’s attack profile and performance. The Martin Marietta AQM-127 Supersonic Low-Altitude Target (SLAT) began test flights in 1987, but the project proved a joke – with only one of the initial test flights going to plan. Martin Marietta went back to the drawing board for twenty two months, before test flying a new improved SLAT in November 1990, however this test also failed – as did another attempt in 1991. While this was happening, the US’ traditional ‘cold’ enemy, the Soviet Union had disintegrated.


In the chaos that followed, the cash-strapped republics and individuals sold everything that could be sold, and made unlikely alliances (the fruits of one of these collaborations —  the F-35B’s propulsion system — can be observed today). So it was that the US Navy bought the best possible system to portray the Kh-31, the Kh-31 itself!


In 1995, a contract was awarded to McDonnell Douglas for evaluation of the Kh-31 in the Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target role, this was an FCT (Foreign Comparative Testing) programme, which would evaluate a version of the Zveda-Strela Kh-31A missile as a target drone.


The Kh-31 was fitted with a US tracking beacon, telemetry and self-termination systems — and suitable suitable interfaces for fitment on the QF-4 Phantom II (the F-16N was also considered). Designated MA-31 for US service, the first launch of the missile took place in August 1996. It was evaluated against an improved MQM-8, and unsurprisingly proved superior.  A contract for 34 missiles was placed in 1999.

The MA-31 targets were expended by the end of 2007. With the Duma now refusing export clearance, Boeing’s further upgraded proposal rejected and the arrival of the new GQM-163 Coyote – the MA-31 was retired.

— Special thanks to Thomas Newdick 

Sadly, this site will pause operations in December if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here.


Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

This blog can only carry on with donations, please hit the donation button and share what you can. Every donation helps us- thank you. Donations buttons can be spotted by the eagle-eyed on this page.

You may also enjoy Ten incredible cancelled Soviet fighter aircraftTen worst Soviet aircraftTen incredible cancelled military aircraftFighter aircraft news round-up,  11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US










Flying & fighting in the Dassault Rafale: Interview with a Rafale combat veteran


 From the perilous deck of an aircraft carrier, Pierre-Henri ‘Até’ Chuet took the Dassault Rafale M into combat in Iraq. We spoke to him to find out more about the Rafale, a remarkable fighting machine, a masterpiece of design and a strong contender for the title of best combat aircraft ‘all-rounder’. 

Pierre-Heniri-Chuet_Pic2-419x314.jpgFirst Impressions of Rafale?
It’s a space shuttle!’ was my first impression. It is very agile, very responsive* when you’re light and very very manoeuvrable… you can easily bump your head, I bumped my head twice on the first flight! Flight controls are very different as you can barely move the stick, it’s just centimetres compared to the former flight control system of the Super Étendard, so it took me couple of hours to get used to that. That’s the big difference. A lot of fun on that. First impression was the thrust, speed, comfort – the fact the aircraft was really sanitised for sound so you have no clue what speed you’re flying at — you really have to look at the instruments. And extremely responsive.”

(*Até actually used the English word ‘nervous’, not responsive, throughout his descriptions of Rafale. In French,  the word ‘nerveux’ is often used to describe a twitchy, responsive car that is quick to accelerate, I have replaced nervous with ‘responsive’)

Best thing

“Best thing about it. It is very very responsive, very good situational awareness if you know how to manage all the screens and everything. A lot of capabilities. the omni-role stuff is very impressive it can really switch extremely fast from air-to-ground to the air-to-air mission.”

And the worst thing? “The worst thing would be the noise. Pretty noisy aircraft. Like most of them, the ECS (environmental control system) is pretty noisy. Not the engines really, it’s the ECS.”



 How you rate the Rafale M in the following categories?

Instantaneous turn/High alpha/Sustained turn 
“It’s good, it’s very good. you have two types of ‘flying the aircraft’: you have the air-to air mode where you pull +9 Gs up to 11.Then you have with bombs and full tanks, when your performance is not as good: about +5g and about 200 degree roll rate less – so it’s two different aircraft. When you’re in air-to-air all this stuff is pretty good. Instantaneous turn and sustained turn pretty good.  So it’s two different aircraft – when it’s in air-to-air mode it’s very good. It depends what you make of it – I’ve never had any issues.”

Sustained turn

“Sustained turn is good.”

High alpha

“Less than a Hornet, but still good. High alpha could be better, but it’s really what you make out of it — I’ve never had any issue.”

Acceleration & Climb rate
“The acceleration is insane! Climb rate is firm – to give you an idea: if we’re at 500 knots & 500 feet… put the afterburner on — wait for the afterburner to kick in — then put the nose up at 60 degrees so you’re feeling like you’re vertical because of the angle of the seat (that’s 30 degrees) and at some point you have to throttle back in the afterburner to make sure it doesn’t go supersonic…in the climb 60 degree nose up! So that’s for the climb rate.”

“Typhoon is a joke, very easy to shoot.”

As a carrier aircraft?

“And as a carrier aircraft it’s a good jet. Very versatile. Very robust. Really no issue on the carrier side. Fuel is efficient. You have enough fuel and it’s pretty fuel efficient. You’re burning less fuel in afterburner at high altitudes than Typhoon does without the afterburner.”

 What was your most memorable mission?
“The best ones are air shows. Air shows are insane. Yeovilton air show was a blast. But combat mission wise, I had a mission back in 2016. I was leader to two Rafale in Northern Iraq. I was fitted with GBU-12. He was fitted with SBU-38 (Hammer) . My laser designation pod wasn’t working. My wingman’s one wasn’t working. And with ten minutes left of flying time basically on station and then hitting the refueller and transit back to the aircraft carrier that was in the Gulf. We were then instructed to go East, as US Marine Special Forces from a recon got ambushed and were getting shot at by a few snipers. So about 80 miles of transit and we had to redo everything. And my wingman and I had already dropped some bombs on enemy guys. And we had to redo everything: negotiate a new tanker; advise the carrier we’ll be late; come up with a game-plan. Pretty rushed and then on arrive on scene. It was quite difficult to spot the first group of snipers. They had ‘IR shields’ and stuff like that so we found them with the help of the SF on the ground using small UAVs and compare my footage with this SF UAV footage. I got rid of those two guys. They told me I had to drop on a third guy to the south. And I was completely ‘bingo’ on fuel…don’t tell anyone! The tanker was coming, so basically I decided to take my chances I couldn’t find a guy and my laser pod wasn’t very good that day. So I just went, ‘OK one or two metres‘, knowing there were virtually no civilians as it was in the desert, so I took my chance and it ended with me being at three metres to be efficient. But that was pretty memorable as sometimes you just have to take actions. And I guess it was a lucky bet…I’m not saying it’s a good thing to bet…it wasn’t that much of a bet as I had so much information and I actually had a very precise view on the enemy guys. So that as a pretty memorable mission. It went very well, the result was great. Everyone was happy. It took me out of my comfort zone and at that point it was one of the longest missions from the boat.”


“So come and get me with your S-400 if I’m at 200 feet above the ground — that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So I’m not afraid”

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against?
“Against F-16, against Typhoon, against Super Hornets. Against Harrier. Against Alpha Jet. Against Mirage 2000.”

…which was the most challenging? 9.52
“The F-16 is pretty cool. Typhoon is a joke, very easy to shoot. F-16 actually was a good surprise actually, I found it to be a pretty good aircraft. I think the most challenging was the F-16, it’s a pretty small jet so it’s easy to lose sight of it. So I think that was the big one.  The Harrier can really turn around pretty fast, so you have to play it very close so you have to be careful with that. And with the Alpha Jet don’t go into a slow fight with it. It can manoeuvre and do some rolls at pretty low speed, some barrel rolls at pretty low speeds so you really want to pay attention. You can easily be tricked at low speed by an Alpha Jet. So you want to keep your energy high.”

How good are the sensors? 


“Sensors — we haves some pretty good sensors. The laser tracking device is being replaced now. It was ‘old skool‘ and not as good as it could have been. There’re doing a better job with the new one I’ve heard. Otherwise the other sensors are extremely good. The radar —— with the new one — is insanely great. The electronic warfare stuff is great as well. So it’s pretty good sensors. We have radar, we have electronic sensors, we have laser. We have basically, all the stuff. We have the small camera on the aircraft, it’s pretty good at day. You can use it air-ground or air-to-air – it’s a pretty good tool to have.”

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


“It’s an aircraft that’s easy to fly. It’s designed to be an easy aircraft to fly but one thing is you have a lack of feedback, you have no clue if you’re flying at 200 knots or mach 1.5. Same noise, same altitude, everything. It’s a big big trick and big concern in this generation of aircraft is feedback is poor, so deal with it. Be careful about time slipping by, be very very careful about your environment as you can be easily trapped we’ve had lots of close calls with young pilots getting trapped. Be very very careful about time slipping by or acceleration kicking in so you really want to be careful about that. So the lack of feedback is a difficult thing about the aircraft.”


What are the differences between the C and the M? Are there performance differences? “C and M difference is about 650 kg, we have a bigger landing gear, bigger structure, a small hydraulic pump, we have access to the flight-deck that’s integrated in the aircraft – and we have much better pilots of course. In terms of performance, because you have a 650-kg difference, the nose is going to feel heavier in a Rafale M. Rafale C might be able to endure better in air-to-air combat because it’s lighter. But it’s no major difference – no concern.”


How would you rate the cockpit? Do you like the head-level display?
“The cockpit is great. Very very immersive. Everything is well designed – maybe the position of the safety horizon at 30 / 30 degrees to the right and down isn’t optimum, but you prioritise other instruments. It’s not something you have to use very often in real life  — like I never had to use it. I never had to use it in SE, never had any screen issues. So it’s a very reliable aircraft. The HUD is awesome – it’s pretty big. We’d all like to have head-up displays in our helmets, but that’s life – we don’t have it right now. But it should be in the pipeline for the future.”

The cockpit seems very snug, are there large Rafale pilots?

“We do have larger Rafale pilots! But trust me, when you come from the Super Étendard you find the cockpit to be large! So really, no concern about that.”


Have you fired live weapons- if so, what was it like?
“Yes. Dropped bombs, shot missiles — it’s pretty cool. The aircraft is a very stable platform. I’ve shot with the gun too. The firing system is well done. It’s a bit stressful because you don’t want to fuck up when you’re dealing with real ordnance. You really don’t want to fuck up. From a general point of view every time you step into an aircraft you really have to be careful – so just keeping up the mindset and dealing with the pressure. Making sure you are prepared.”


Against a Super Hornet? “Honestly the issue is comparing aircraft all the time. Life isn’t that easy. Combat is unfair. It’s never going to be fair. It isn’t designed to be fair. If you get into fair close combat you’re a bad pilot. Don’t put yourself in a fair fight in real life as that’s stupid. Manoeuvre — take advantage and surprise your enemy. It’s not about one individual defeating an enemy, you’re here to get results. We are result-driven personnel. It’s not all about me. You’ve got thousands of people building a Rafale, and building and maintaining carrier. There’s thousands of people making sure I can take-off -— if I want to go fair-against-fair, I’m stupid. What I want to is make sure I win. Why do I say that? If I’m going to fight against a Super Hornet, I’m going to find a tricky way to defeat him. Look at the Messerschmitt 262 back in World War Two, most of them got shot down on landing. An aircraft shot down still makes the count. If we have to face the US Navy, it’s going to be disproportionate in terms of numbers – it’s going bring entire tactics to another level. Now, you want me to do a fair 1-v-1 fight with a Hornet in close combat, actually I’d rather a Super Hornet; I find the C to be more manoeuvrable than the Super Hornet. As a Rafale we can take an advantage on a Hornet again.  What I would be careful of is their AIM-9X and helmet visors. So I would be very careful about that.”

Interview with a Super Hornet pilot here


The Rafale and Typhoon are often compared, how confident would you be fighting against a Typhoon? And why?

“I don’t know why they’re compared so often – it’s really not the same design, ideas or  philosophy. We’re a truly omnirole platform. Typhoons are great, they like to use their big engines at 40,000 feet. I can’t count how many times I’ve shot down Typhoons at 45,000 feet in the contrails. And my radar off, everything off, I was coming from 100 feet below, supersonic in the climb from below. Absolutely undetected. So I have absolutely no fear of the Typhoons. Both the tactics used by the Typhoons, the agility and the cockpit of the aircraft make it easier for us to take the advantage — basically we have better fusion of the sensors — so we can be way more aggressive in terms of tactics. It’s a great aircraft at high level, but we’re not dumb enough to try to fight Typhoons at 50,000 feet or 45,000 feet. We’re going to put them outside their comfort zone. Against devious tactics. Now if you want to rate a Typhoon with AMRAAMs against a Rafale at 50,000 ft, then, yeah, Typhoon is going to have better performances for sure. But as a Rafale pilot, I’m stupid if I take him on like that, so I’m going to move the combat a bit. I”l fake a combat at 50,000 feet and I’m going to send a guy sneakily low level to surprise the Typhoon, it’s more easy than you think!”

Interview with Typhoon pilot here.

Sadly, this site will pause operations in December if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here.


Biggest myth? 

“It is an aircraft that didn’t sell. It was truly finished before 2014 anyway in terms of omnirole. Once the aircraft was fully operational it sold right away. It’s not a bad aircraft, but it just took a while to develop, a lot of strategic reasons behind that, and now it’s developed it’s an awesome jet.”

How combat effective is it?

“It is really combat effective. You can switch to one mission from another.”

It is easy to maintain?

“I’m not a maintainer, but It looks easier to maintain than Super E and we have less emergencies than earlier generations.”

Something I don’t know about Rafale? 

“I don’t know what you know! Oooh…ECS is loud as fuck! You lose the ECS and you think you have a two engine fire! It happened to me once.”


Tips for new Rafale pilots?

“Keep it simple and stupid. Back to basics. Fly the aircraft first and don’t get tricked into trying all the buttons and the screens. Make sure you fly the aircraft. It isn’t giving you any feedback so you’re your own worst enemy in the cockpit — so make sure you don’t fuck up. It’s going to accelerate very fast. Scan your instruments and make sure you keep that airspeed under control.”

How would you rate the Rafale’s ability to land back on deck with a heavy load of unused munitions and fuel? “It’s much less of an issue than it was maybe for the Super E, you have a better and more reactive engine so honestly when you come back heavy there is not a big difference for the pilot.

Hardest manoeuvre to pull off?


“Downward combat spiral from, maybe 45,000 feet to 5,000 feet, you are extremely close to your enemy — and it takes practice. You are metres away and spirally down together. Slow airspeed. And you’re just spirally down together at an extremely close distant, you are so close you can basically see what is on the other guy’s knees! And then spiralling further down – and first time you have to do that single-seat it’s quite an experience. You cannot do that in a Super E because you’re using the delta to sit the aircraft at a high AoA.”

Personal opinion: what should the Indian Aircraft Force procure? 

“Pass. I’m not an expert. Recent experiences show, they could do with a couple of Rafale, maybe with full French stuff or maybe working with a mix of a different type of technology is good. French is good because there’s not as many limits as the US (like trade restrictions) and there’s some pretty nice stuff. I think the Indians are getting a really nice advanced version of Rafale. They should just get more.”

What should I have asked you?
“What was the biggest shock on Rafale? When you reduce the power. Go idle power power, airbrakes out at a low level — it’s impressive how fast it decelerates. It’s just insane. It’s actually almost more astonishing than the acceleration. When you cut the engine, go to idle power and put the ‘boards’ out – it’s impressive. On the other side, above mach 0.69 on the afterburner at low levels at air shows you’re just holding on to the stick and it’s a pretty unique sensation.”

What did you feel on your first deck launch and recovery? 
“First deck launch is fun, you don’t have to do much. First recovery you’re stressed, you’re getting graded… there’s a lot of pressure and you’re just relieved.”

Navy or air force pilots…and why?

“Not sure I even have to answer that question. People will know anyway. Jokes aside, if the air force could land on a boat they would be doing it. We’re truly omni-role, we don’t have a choice. And also we have a more diverse type of flying. I was flying airshows and then I deployed like two weeks after switching from airshows to combat mission in a very short amount of time develops unique sets of adaptability. And most important a respect of timing – In Navy we try to go plus or minus two second s when we land. Lots of reasons behind it, but a small aircraft carrier gives you lost of constraints. so we’re really into precision and we’re more disciplined than the air force guys. I’ve got nothing against air force pilots, my dad was air force fighter pilot — they’re good guys. It’s just a bit different- our environment is so much more complex — so we have that increased discipline that really makes a difference.”


 What equipment would you like to see integrated on the Rafale?
“A remote jammer that you can carry behind you — I think the Indians are going to get it — that’s something I’d like to see- like a towed decoy. It’s great. I think it would be good to communicate with the onboard systems, you can trick the missiles. And you can be more aggressive in terms of tactics if know the first missile is not going to hit you but is going to destroy your towed decoy.”

How would you rate the MICA?

“Is great… I like the singer. Jokes aside. MICA is a good missile. What really surprises people is its IR/EM capability – you can really switch. Overall it’s a good missile. I can’t complain but I haven’t used it in combat yet — a good training missile. Good stuff. I think it’s going to be good with the Meteor as well. Not unhappy with my missiles, but never used it in combat.”

How good is the high altitude performance?

“High altitude performance is great. It can take a couple of Gs even at 50,000 ft – you have two engines – and you can tell.”

Has the Rafale sufficient engine power, would you like more?

“You never have enough power. You find a guy who tells you he has too much power- he’s a liar – or he’s not manoeuvring his aircraft hard enough. The aircraft is overpowered in air show conditions — you know when you’re flying with all the bombs and stuff it’s not the same aircraft at all. Air-to-air it’s a good jet, but we could always always use more power – but then that means using more fuel maybe. I’ll go with a nine ton version – right now its 7.5 tons per engine – I’d go with a 9 ton version any day. That’s just how we are – we want extra power all the time.”

Do you feel confident flying against modern air defences in a non-stealthy aircraft?

“Great question. I’m not sure an aircraft’s stealthiness is going to make much difference anyway against very modern stuff. We’re not afraid of low level penetrations in the french air force. So come and get me with your S-400 if I’m at 200 feet above the ground — that’s not going to happen anytime soon so. I’m not afraid. It’s something we’re trained in and so it’s part of the job. And if you want a lot munitions or stores you’re going to lose on your stealthy signature anyway. So it’s not something of much concern – that’s why we train to keep current at very low level penetration. Which is really good as we get to fly at low level – which is awesome. I can’t complain.”

Rafale is described by many as the most beautiful fighter in production – how do you rate the aesthetics of Rafale?

Rafale-M-002.jpgI like it, I must confess I find the Mirage 2000 very good looking as well… and slimmer and maybe faster looking — and it is faster than the Rafale. Rafale is slower than the Mirage 2000. We’re talking Mach 1.8 against 2.2. But I like the design of Rafale aircraft a lot. I think it’s a good-looking aircraft, but then again, it’s like asking a dad if he thinks his kids are good-looking or not! So we’re biased anyway. But compared to Typhoon you can tell it’s a good-looking aircraft. I like the Hornet’s shape, I think that’s a good-looking aircraft too. And the F-22 is one of my favourite looking aircraft! The F-35? I really don’t like the design, I think it’s a shitty looking aircraft to be honest…but don’t quote me on that!”

 How confident would you feel fighting a F-22 in WVR DACT? 

How confident would you be fighting a F-22 Raptor in within-visual range air combat?
“Obviously you have seen videos (see above). Is it going to be guns only? Is it going to be Sidewinders? If it’s gun only I don’t have any issue – if it’s Sidewinders — and he has his helmet-mounted stuff* and 9X then I’m going to be careful — I would be concerned. I definitely don’t have no concerns otherwise: it would be tougher for me because he has his 9X and mounted vizor. If I play my cards correctly there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be OK. I have questions, like what is the set-up? Is it going to be ‘Butterfly’ with one close to the other one? It really depends on these situation. But guns only? Honestly, no concern. And it’s a big aircraft so it’s easy to shoot at.”

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*Editor note: as far as I know Raptors have not been fitted with HMS.

When did the French Navy procure the Rafale M and where were you trained?
“We got it in 2000/2001 as a replacement for the F-8 Crusader. I got trained back in 2014. I got my ground training with the French air force and I was fully trained. We all had different trainings possible and I went the full solo direct. I never flew with the air force. I only flew single seat Rafale M directly. So ground school with the air force and back to Landivisiau. Taxi the aircraft up to 200<100?> knots, abort the take-off. Then next mission you take off and you fly on your own, you break through the sound barrier and all that stuff. I did all my training on a single-seat Rafale never flew a two-seater.”

Sadly, this site will pause operations in December if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here.

You may also enjoy interviews with pilots of the following IAF types: MiG-21MiG-25MiG-27MiG-29Mirage 2000 & Su-30 ‘Flanker and PAF types: MiG-19F-86 SabreJF-17 Thunder.



Fighter pilot to become uncool job by 2025


(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Madeleine E. Jinks)

According to a study by the Californian Institute of Cool, the long revered job role of fighter pilot is to become uncool by 2025. This alarming development is the result of the increasing safety of the role and the supremacy of digitalisation.  

The paper shows an alarming trend historical trend, one being the nature of the lifestyle. In 1917 many fighter pilots flew while under the influence of cocaine, from an open cockpit firing two machine-guns, wearing a fur coat and facing mortal danger every day; in 1943 things were equally exciting and the jackets were really cool — however by 2019 fighter pilots spend an estimated 43% of their time looking forward to software updates and 4% Googling jobs in civil aviation.

The study is causing shockwaves throughout the fighter pilot fraternity who have been forced to stop speaking in cliches and reading car magazines long enough to read the 80-page paper. One fighter pilot we spoke to on condition that we mentioned his name and the size of his watch* commented, “If I’d known I’d be using middle management jargon, talking about nodes, hubs, situational awareness and software iterations I would have become a firefighter. I feel like a boring guy who just happens to be able to travel really fast to blow up goatherds. I also spent too much of my time killing one AK-armed teenager with a $200,000 weapon dropped by my $65 million jet – with the support of a vast, errrr infrastructure. I mean the optics on that are not great right?” Another pilot, who insisted his callsign was CobraSword, noted that – “We’re not even allowed to blow shit up anymore – we administer kinetic effects. I don’t even have a jet these days – I have an ISR platform. If we’re not considered cool anymore they’re going to have start paying us properly. If I can’t pull a girl in a Cardiff pub off the back of my job, then what’s the point?” 

*Col. Gary ‘Splat’ Doberman, 4-cm wide and 1-cm thick



First impressions of the Airbus LOUT ‘Diamond Bat’ stealth technology demonstrator


Credit: Airbus

Today, Airbus stunned observers by the revealing the existence of the LOUT low observable unmanned air vehicle testbed. Jim Smith shares his first impressions on this exciting news. 

The revelation of the Airbus Defence and Space LO UAV testbed (LOUT) is an interesting development, particularly as it throws down a credibility marker for the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS program, in the same way that Taranis provides a capability indicator for BAE Systems and the Tempest programme.

However, unlike Taranis, LOUT appears to have been focused on exploring the issues associated with designing a credible LO (low observable) concept, rather than building a flying vehicle. So, in some ways, there is a parallel is with earlier UK FOAS (Future Offensive Air System program) and its Replica Demonstrator exploring the issues of fabricating a LO strike aircraft, rather than building a flying demonstrator.


What can we infer from the appearance of the LOUT? It appears to me entirely consistent with the statements reported by Craig Hoyle of, and highlighted on Twitter by Tim Robinson of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and Gareth Jennings.

LOUT has a delta planform with a swept-forward trailing edge, with engine intakes and exhaust on the upper surface of the vehicle. This suggests that the key concern is shielding from ground-based systems, indicative of a design mission focussed on the attack of defended high-value targets.

The stated focus has been on the testing of LO materials, particularly for the engine ducts, and assessing radar signature and IR suppression. Mention was also made of the conduct of aerodynamic testing and acoustic modelling. In addition, LOUT is said to have been used to investigate sensor apertures, and is seen in the photographs to have a cockpit-like feature, and centreline weapons bay.


What else might be inferred from the pictures available, and the statements made by the FCAS program manager, Mario Herzog?

Well, here are some guesses.

My conjecture is that a key role of LOUT is model validation. What do I mean by this? Well, the first step in establishing the confidence and competencies necessary to design a LO air vehicle, is to be able to predict the behaviour of such a vehicle.

To do this one needs the necessary modelling tools to predict the radar, infra-red and acoustic signatures; to predict the aerodynamic characteristics of unusually configured aircraft; to design with confidence propulsion systems, flight control systems and sensors; and to understand the impact of necessary apertures for the weapons bay, cockpit and sensors on both LO design and aircraft configuration.


To ensure that the tools to refine and optimise such a design to meet real, or at least realistic, mission requirements, are reliable and fit for purpose, a demonstrator like LOUD could be very useful. It would provide a reference shape for which aerodynamic, structural, propulsive, signature, control system and sensor models could be developed, and then tested by comparison with ‘real-life’ testing of the demonstrator. The simple shape, and the rather triangular leading-edge profile, are suggestive of this purpose for LOUT, as a step to perhaps a more refined design for which actual flight test could be an objective.

What else? Well, the design is modest in size, but the relevance of this is uncertain. It may be ‘just the right size’ for an affordable LO UAV demonstrator – I am unconvinced that LOUT is intended to actually fly, let alone be a mission capable system. What it is likely to have done is to provide confidence in design methodologies and models which can be applied to a future operational FCAS design, or, indeed, to LO UAV adjuncts to a manned FCAS.

A mission capable system would probably be sized by the carriage of the weapons required to meet its design mission, and by the fuel required to meet the payload-range requirements, with some dependency on the availability of a suitable propulsion system.

Challenges likely to be faced in developing and optimising LOUT-like systems, will include all the usual air vehicle challenges of meeting payload-range and point performance requirements, while also being constrained to provide a solution with low radar, infra-red and acoustic signatures.

In particular, aspects such as designing a flight control system able to cope with highly non-linear aerodynamics, using novel control strategies and effectors to also meet low signature requirements, may prove to be difficult and require innovation.

The inherent characteristics of a near-delta wing are likely to lead to the need to manage relatively high landing speeds, and the lateral-directional characteristics may well result in significant constraints arising from crosswind and/or gust limitations.


— Jim Smith


Special thanks to Jim for a late-night writing session (in Australia) to get this story out quickly)

References – Tweets by Tim Robinson and Gareth Jennings; Article by Craig Hoyle of quoting statements by Mario Herzog, program manager, FCAS

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