Could Europe survive a war against the US?

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The unpredictability of President Elect Donald Trump is making a great deal of people around the world extremely nervous. He has previously expressed both his approval for ‘mad dog’ posturing on the international stage and reviewing traditional alliances. With this in mind, if the worst were to happen and the US and Europe were to go to war, would the armed forces of the old continent stand a chance? We spoke to Justin Bronk, a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal to find out more. 

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For this thought experiment we imagined a war following a deteriorating relationship over a five year period.  As those who know Betteridge’s law of headlines will have anticipated, the answer was bleak for European readers.

“To be honest there would be absolutely no contest – the US, even with a five year warning period – could take on all of Europe twice over without breaking much of a sweat in the military arena…” 

Despite politically-motivated complaints to the contrary, the US military remains supremely well funded and well equipped.

“Even without the nuclear option, Europe has no ability outside the UK (and at a pinch Germany) to deploy division scale ground forces – far less command them and support them, nor to move heavy equipment fast at scale. The US can deploy multiple divisions with heavy armour support and full combat enablers (e.g. dynamic targeting support, SATCOMs etc). Without the US, we in Europe have almost no access to SATCOM, GPS targeting, strategic mobility etc etc.”

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Non-US NATO forces are also essentially ancillary parts of the US war machine, dependent on US support to fight large wars and tied to US-made and supported equipment to function.

“In air force terms, the US have a large advantage in relevant frontline types, whilst European fighter forces are chronically dependent on US tanker, AWACS, ELINT and EW support. What’s more, even the few top-tier European air forces have no answers to the F-22, B-2 or the high-end jamming that the US deploys with the Growler, B-52 etc.”

If the air offers Europe a chance, the sea does not. “In naval forces…. It’s around 15 nuclear attack submarines, mostly British and French capability, with a smattering of littoral-based but capable electric boats from Sweden and Germany vs 57 nuclear attack boats from the US. The surface combatant ratios are even worse and doesn’t even contain the 10 CVN’s with associated air wings.”

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Even the US’ Navy’s army is the match for two of the most powerful European nations: “Then there’s the USMC which alone can field almost as much combat power as Britain or Germany…”

In summary, Bronk declares it- “No contest”

We must all hope that this subject remains firmly in the armchair.

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You may also enjoy B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airlinersTen 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 10 coolest cancelled airliners

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Every now and again, I get a pang of guilt for celebrating military aircraft and ignoring the world of commercial aviation. But as soon as I start reading about modern airliners I start remembering important tasks that need doing, like buying biros or cleaning my shoes. However, not all airliners are dull – the following would have been extremely beautiful, brutish or decadent- or in some cases all three.

 Unfortunately they were all destined to be discarded in the overhead locker of history.

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Choosing number 10 was particularly hard: one of the proposed Northrop flying-wings as seen in the picture above? Barnes Wallis’ supersonic swing-wing Swallow? The Ye-155 business jet variant based on the MiG-25? The Horten 70-ton transport? All would have been deserving aircraft but we could only have ten. I hope you enjoy our selection. 

10. Norman Bel Geddes Air Liner 4 (1929) ‘Steam-punk dream-liner’

BelGeddes_AirlinerPlan2.jpgDrawing inspiration from the Dornier X, the ‘4 would have been a flying ocean liner- complete with a crew of 155 to serve the 451 passengers. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes and Otto Kröller, this swept flying-wing design would have offered lucky passengers viewing verandas, baths, private suites and a stylish bar. Sadly nobody was crazy, or forward-looking, enough to build this wonderful machine and it remained firmly on the drawing board.

9. Tupolev Tu-244 ‘The lost Red hope’

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Rarely discussed is the fact that from 1979-1993 Tupolev were working on a ‘super Concordski’, faster than Concorde and capable of carrying an additional 200 passengers. Building on experience with the Tu-144 and Tu-160, the Tu-244 would have been a remarkable aircraft to showcase the Soviet Union’s aeronautical prowess. Unfortunately for the project, the Soviet Union ceased to be from 1991, and Russia’s situation in the 1990s made the completion of the aircraft impossible. It was reported that it would have been powered by a hydrogen-powered variant of the engine that powered the Tu-160 and ‘144LL but this seems unlikely.

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8. Fairey Rotodyne (1957) ‘The screaming commuter’

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Streaking from city centre to city centre with a top speed twice that of helicopters of the time, the Rotodyne, could have been a major transport innovation. As the world’s first vertical take-off airliner it could have revolutionised air travel, removing the need for remote airports for everything but long haul journeys. 

The concept was extremely innovative: for takeoff and landing, the rotor was driven by tip-mounted jet engines. These engines did not have intakes or compressors, but were fed from compressed air piped from the main turboprop engines. The turboprop-powered propellers on the wings provided thrust for horizontal flight while the rotor autorotated (‘autorotation’ is when rotors turn around while unpowered, but in flight). Thanks to its tip-mounted jets, the Rotodyne was exceptionally noisy, an undesirable trait in a city centre airliner, and was cancelled. Debate still rages about the degree to which the Rotodyne’s noise levels could have been reduced.

7. Bristol Brabazon ‘The Filton Stilton’

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On 4 November 1909, John-Moore Brabazon put a small pig in a bin tied to a wing-strut of his aeroplane, to prove that pigs could fly. He later headed the wartime Brabazon Committee, an effort to ensure Britain had a strong start in the postwar airliner industry. Though well-meaning, not all of the predictions of the committee would prove accurate. It imagined that transatlantic flights would largely be for exceptionally wealthy people requiring a (very) comfortable journey. The Brabazon would have made today’s A380-business class passengers green with envy: each passenger in luxury class would have had 270 ft³ (8 m³) of room, and access to a sleeping berth, a dining room, a 37-seat cinema, a promenade and a bar. This titan was to have a wingspan greater than that of the biggest 747 and was ten metres longer than a B-1B bomber. One demolished village later (levelled to make room for the runway) the vast Brabazon flew in 1949. It was a brilliant piece of engineering, with superb handling and an exceptionally smooth ride- however, an aircraft of this size would have to wait for the arrival of the high bypass turbofan engine (rather than eight radial engines driving four sets of contra-rotating propellers) to make economical sense. 

6. Tupolev Tu-344 ‘Twisted Backfire-starter’ 

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I’m not sure a biz-jet counts as an airliner, but there’s no way I’m ignoring this one.

If you want to make an impression, travel to business meetings in a supersonic swing-wing converted soviet bomber – and make the owners of Gulfstreams look like a bunch of total arseholes. Hard to think of a way to burn more fuel for only 8-12 passengers, but this isn’t about being sensible. c0jyis9xcaafilh

Based as it was on the Tu-22M, it’s hard to imagine that the ‘334 would have offered similar ride quality and cabin noise levels to a Dassault Falcon, but who gives a shit- this aircraft would have been incredible. 

5. Saunders-Roe Princess ‘Maritime people’s Princess’

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Imagine an airline that put the magic realist writer Italo Calvino in charge of procurement and you can be sure they would have had a large fleet of Princesses. The aircraft was vast, gorgeous and could land on water. Sadly by 1952 (when it first flew) the days of flying boats were over. With innovative rocket fighters, jet-powered seaplane fighters and giant flying boats, Saunder-Roe’s remarkable designs were out of step with the rest of the world. The Princess was the last true aircraft they built, though they did make some hovercraft.

4. Republic RC-2 ‘Sequel to the Arsey One’

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In many ways, the XF-12 Rainbow was the most advanced piston-engined aircraft ever built, and it was also one the most beautiful. Disobeying comedians’ rule of threes- the Rainbow  ‘flew on all fours’: four engines, 400 mph cruise, 4,000 mile range, at 40,000 feet. It was the only four-engined piston-engined aircraft to achieve 450mph. Intended to serve in the high altitude reconnaissance role, Republic also envisioned an airliner variant. The RC-2, as it became known, would have been five feet longer than the spyplane and would have carried 46 passengers in style and comfort. But the radial-engined Rainbow first flew in ’46, in a world about to turn to turboprops and jet engines for high performance aircraft. USAF refused to buy the Rainbow, deciding instead to use the plentiful B-29s and ‘50s until the new generation jet B-47 entered service. Without military backing, the project died.

3. Tupolev Tu-404 ‘Aeroflot flapjack’

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As the Soviet Union chaotically disintegrated in 1991, designers at Tupolev escaped into happy fantasies of incredibly advanced concepts. The Tu-404 studies for an ultra-large long-range airliner included a flying-wing powered by six giant turboprops capable of carrying 1214 passengers over 13,000 kms. Tupolev remains interested in unconventional designs lacking a traditional tubular fuselage, as can be seen by the illustrations of the proposed PAK DA bomber, which may or may not enter service in the 2020s.

2. Avro Atlantic ‘Are you a Vul-can or Vul-can’t?’

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There’s nothing that warms the cockles of a British aviation enthusiast more than the Avro Vulcan. Sure, it was designed to indiscriminately vaporise millions of Soviet civilians, but what a great noise! Exceptionally advanced for its time, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that an airliner variant was proposed.

The 1952 Avro Atlantic would have taken around 100 passengers over the Atlantic at Mach 0.9 (a smidgeon faster than modern airliners).The airliner lost out to a rival bid from Vickers, the V-1000. Delta wings for subsonic airliners would prove a non-starter. 

  1. Convair 58-9 SST ‘Hustler’s Unconvention’

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The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational bomber capable of Mach 2, so why not create an enlarged version (hypothetically) suitable for taking 52 brave passengers on holiday at Mach 2.4? General Dynamics promised they would be able to get a prototype into the air within three years of an order being placed- because everyone wants such an ambitious project to be rushed. An even more alarming idea can be seen below, this is a five person external pod- an ‘intermediate’ step toward the final supersonic airliner, and presumably toward five heart attacks.

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Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit
We need you to keep Hush-Kit going! 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 B-52 pilot chooses Top 10 Cold War bombers, Flying & Fighting in the Mirage 2000: a pilot interview, The World’s Worst Air Force, 10 most formidable dogfight missiles, The ten coolest cancelled airliners, 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

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The 70-ton Horten just missed inclusion on this list.

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We had to share this biz-jet MiG-25 variant.

Bomber pilot selects the Top Ten Cold War Bombers

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We’ve avoided a top 10 of bombers until now as it seemed too ghoulish. Two things made it palatable: setting it in the past, and finding an actual bomber pilot to create it. Keith Shiban  flew the B-52 in the nuclear deterrent role, and in combat missions over Iraq. Over to Keith: 

“To be included in this list the aircraft had to be first of all a bomber and it had to be operational between the years 1947 and 1991. That ruled out experimental aircraft and prototypes like the XB-70. That also ruled out fighter-bombers like the F-111 and Buccaneer. Even so a few of these blur the lines between bomber and fighter-bomber.

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What makes a good bomber?

Range is important. The primary job of a bomber is to go into enemy territory and “hit ‘em where it hurts”.

If it’s going to fly all that way it should be able to actually do something when it gets there, so weapons load is important.

It needs to be able to survive enemy defences at least long enough to do its mission. This can be through speed, stealth, countermeasures, defensive armament, or simply staying out of range (standoff capability). Most bombers use a combination of these.

Versatility is nice. It costs a lot of money to design a bomber so it’s useful if it can be adapted to more than one mission. For the same reason longevity is a good thing. After spending all that money it’s nice to get more than a few years use out of these planes.

Finally, because this is Hush Kit, I’ll throw in the “cool factor”.

Admittedly my list is biased. Your mileage may vary. Depending on how much weight you give each factor you can easily change the winners.

I had a tough time with number ten. There were  many contenders but none of them exemplary.

B-36: Expensive, dismally slow, prone to fires, only around for ten years.

Victor: Short career as a bomber, spent most of its life as a tanker.

Valiant: Short career as a bomber.

B-58: Killed a lot of people (all of them on our side), high-maintenance.

B-47: Dangerous, relatively short career.

FB-111: High-maintenance. Never did much. Technically a fighter-bomber.

Myasishchev M-4: Never had enough range to do its primary mission.

Tu-22: Deadly – to everyone that flew on it.

B-66: Too small to be a true bomber.

Vatour: Same issue as the B-66.

After much indecision I decided to go with the B-47.

10. Boeing B-47 Stratojet

6c2cd84132a4b7c953a0191889c79a93.jpgI went with the B-47 because it was such a ground-breaking aircraft when first introduced and it laid the groundwork for the B-52. While definitely flawed, it was the plane we needed in the early days of the Cold War.

The type proved fairly versatile, the reconnaissance and electronic warfare versions served well past its days as a bomber.

One thing I find odd is that the B-47 is one of the few USAF aircraft never to have a nickname, at least not one that I know of.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium-low (altitude, manoeuvrability, guns)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: Medium

Cool factor: JATO takeoffs

9. English Electric Canberra

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The Canberra might seem like an odd pick but it’s one of the more successful designs to come out of the Cold War. First introduced in 1951: it served 55 years with the RAF, was exported to several countries and was even produced in the US as the Martin B-57. While not particularly fast, it had an impressive service ceiling, exceeded only by the U-2.

Like the Tu-16, it’s just an honest, rugged design that proved highly adaptable.

Obviously these would be hopelessly obsolete today, but I give it a high rating for its day.

There are still three modified Canberras flying with NASA as high altitude research aircraft.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium-low

Survivability: Medium-low (altitude, manoeuvrability)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Prehistoric

Cool factor: Engines in the wing.

8. Tupolev Tu-22M ‘Backfire’

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I realise there are four Tupolevs on this list, but that’s just how it shook out.

First introduced in 1972 to replace the woefully inadequate Tu-22, the Tu-22M is almost a completely different aircraft from its predecessor.

It’s an odd sized aircraft: smaller than a B-1 but a good bit larger than an FB-111. It makes sense when you realise it was primarily intended for use in the European Theater and as a naval weapon.

In a hypothetical US/Soviet conflict these would have gone against our carrier battle groups in an attempt to saturate the defences with missiles.

With roughly 150 still in service, it’s a mainstay of the Russian bomber force and has seen service in every conflict since Afghanistan.

They lost one of these, probably to an SA-11, in the recent Russia/Georgia conflict. If they’re anything like us, their countermeasures are probably not optimized to go against their own systems.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium (speed, countermeasures, standoff capability, guns)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: High

Cool factor: Variable Geometry

7. Mirage IV

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Only four countries actually fielded a jet bomber during the Cold War, which is why the French Mirage IV makes the list. Plus I just like the looks of it.

With a top speed of Mach 2.2 the Mirage IV is part of the very exclusive supersonic bomber club. With upgrades it managed an impressive 42 year run as a strategic bomber. The recce version lived on for another decade.

Relatively small for a bomber, the Mirage IV suffered from short range. Had it been required to perform its Cold War mission, it likely would have been a one-way trip. But then, I think it would have been a one-way trip for most of us.

Range: Medium-low

Payload: Low

Survivability: Medium (speed, countermeasures, stand-off capability in later versions)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: High

Cool factor: Delta wing. JATO takeoffs. It’s French.

6. Tupolev Tu-16/ Xian H-6 ‘Badger’

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Here’s another Soviet blast from the past. The ‘Badger’ spent four decades in Russian service and the license-built H-6 is still the mainstay of the Chinese bomber force in 2016.

I think what’s special about the Tu-16/H-6 is that there’s nothing special about it. It’s just a solid, generic design that has been adapted to many roles over the years. Strategic bomber, missile carrier, naval aviation, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, there’s probably been a Tu-16 model for the job.

While the H-6 is nothing special it can carry a mix of twelve anti-ship missiles and land attack cruise missiles with a range of several hundred miles. This makes it a potential long-range threat to US naval forces in the region. Even an old bomber can still hurt you if it’s carrying good missiles.

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium (standoff capability, countermeasures, guns)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Jurassic Era

Cool factor: Engines mounted in the wing roots. They don’t build ‘em that way any more (for good reason).

5. Avro Vulcan

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If I was going by looks alone, the iconic Vulcan would be my #1 or #2 pick. It’s one of those all-time great designs that manages to look both retro and futuristic at the same time.

The Vulcan has a great mix of speed, manoeuvrability plus a relatively small radar signature for its day. It didn’t have the range or payload of a B-52, but it didn’t have nearly as far to go to reach targets in Russia from its bases in England.

Plus we all cheered when they used these in the Falklands.

Seriously though, who’s bright idea was it to only give ejection seats to the pilots?

Range: Medium

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium (speed, low observable, manoeuvrability)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: High

Cool factor: Just look at it!

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4. Tupolev Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’/’Beliy Lebed’

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The Tu-160 looks a lot like a B-1, but it was designed to primarily be a missile carrier rather than a low-level penetrator. It beats the B-1 on speed and range but the B-1 has the edge on payload. The Tu-160 carries a relatively small load-out of 12 long-range cruise missiles or 24 short-range missiles.

I don’t know how capable the electronic countermeasures are on this aircraft. I have to assume they’re at least as good as other Russian ECM systems and therefore pretty good.

Before you start having nightmares about this thing, keep in mind that they only have 16 of them in service.

Range: High

Payload: Medium

Survivability: Medium-High (speed, low observable, standoff capability)

Versatility: Medium

Longevity: Medium

Cool factor: Variable Geometry

3. Rockwell B-1B Lancer

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It’s a tough call between the B-1 and the Tu-160. I give the B-1 the edge mostly because I’m more familiar with it. While controversial when introduced, the B-1 has proven its worth in recent conflicts.

Every USAF aircraft has an official name that nobody ever uses and then the name that everybody actually calls it. I have never heard a B-1 referred to as a ‘Lancer’. It’s either just a ‘B-1’ or ‘the Bone’ (B-One).

I’m told it’s a great flying aircraft with impressive speed at low altitude and fighter-like handling. Not only is it fast, it carries enough gas to go fast for a long time.

What makes the B-1 great is that it can carry a massive amount of ordnance, loiter for a very long time, and then dash to where it’s needed in a hurry. In our recent conflicts we like to have these on call for that reason.

The only drawback is that it’s a complicated aircraft with the associated high maintenance costs.

Range: High

Payload: High

Survivability: Medium-High (speed, low observable, maneuverability, countermeasures)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Medium

Cool factor: Variable Geometry

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2. Tupolev Tu-95 ‘Bear’

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When the Russians build something that gets the job done, they stick with it. The TU-95 has been around almost as long as the B-52. Sure it’s propeller driven and so noisy that submarines can hear it, but the damn thing works. Continuous upgrades have kept the Bear relevant even today.

While turboprops may seem primitive, they’re very efficient engines. This pays off with impressive range and endurance without sacrificing that much in the way of speed.

The Tu-95 (or the B-52 for that matter) probably wouldn’t do well against modern air defences. That’s not the point of this aircraft, however. The Bear isn’t really the threat, it’s his skinny wingmen you need to worry about.

The Tu-95MS version can carry up to 16 advanced Kh-55 cruise missiles, meaning he can hit you from 1,300 miles away! He’s not really worried about your air defences because he doesn’t plan on getting that close.

Range: High

Payload: High

Survivability: Medium (standoff capability, countermeasures, guns)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Ancient

Cool factor: Contra-rotating props.

1. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

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Seriously folks, how could the B-52 not be my #1 pick? It’s tough to argue with 61 years of continuous operational service. These things were old when I flew them and that was 25 years ago!

I think what has kept the B-52 relevant is that it’s such a generic design. This has allowed it to adapt to new missions while more specialised aircraft have come and gone. High-level bomber, low-level penetrator, cruise-missile carrier, anti-shipping, close air support (yes really) the old BUFF just keeps on going.

Is the B-1 better? I say we won’t know until the year 2047.

The B-52 brings an impressive mix of range, payload and endurance to the fight. It will carry 50,000 pounds of whatever bombs or missiles you care to hang off it halfway around the world.

I wouldn’t expect it to go up against modern air defences, but that’s not how we’re using them these days.

Range: High

Payload: High

Survivability: Medium (countermeasures, standoff capability, guns prior to 1992)

Versatility: High

Longevity: Just shy of the Big Bang

Cool factor: Eight engines ” 

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 A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guide,Interview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft,and 10 worst British aircraft

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

b52-arc-light1573cd03a568c35200b370d86e840a347.jpg

Ten most formidable dogfight missiles

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Modern heat-seeking missiles are particularly nasty weapons. Long-ranged, fast, accurate and hard to fool – facing them is a sobering prospect for the modern fighter pilot. As the age of stealth fast approaches (and digital radar jammers become more effective), radar-guided missiles will become less important – the greatest air-to-air hazard to the next generation of fighters will come from the following ten weapons. Actual weapon parameters are classified, information is from best available public sources.

No classified information has been included. Usual limitations of the top ten format apply so don’t get angry.

Any adverts you see on Hush-Kit are not from us, to stay impartial and to give you a better experience we avoid them. That means we can only carry with donations, though we are currently well below our targets. If you enjoy the site and want to contribute then do please use the donate buttons. Many thanks to all who help. Cheers, HK. 

Terms used:

LOAL: Not to be confused with LOL (laugh out loud), LOAL means Lock On After Launch. Traditionally infra-red guided missiles would lock-on (the start of the automatic tracking of a target) before the weapon was launched. Modern missiles can be launched blind allowing them to take cues from other remote sensors via datalink- this can enable them to hit targets at extreme angles, such as behind the aircraft (firing a missile at target in the rear hemisphere is a ‘Parthian’ or ‘over-the-shoulder’ shot).

Imaging: The infra-red seeker heads that ‘see’ the heat of the target used to ‘see’ a blob of different temperatures. Today, thanks to imaging technology, they can interpret the different parts of a target aircraft- so imaging seekerheads are hard to fool with hot flares (a traditional countermeasure) and tend not to be distracted by the sun. All the following missiles have imaging seekerheads apart from the legacy R-73.

10. Denel Dynamics A-Darter ‘Boer constrictor

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When this South African missile is truly operational it will deserve a place in the top five -as it is an exceptionally potent weapon. A unique feature is that it is virtually smokeless- a real boon as the trail of a missile is often what alerts pilots to a  missile’s presence. This is because, unlike most other air-to-air missiles, there is no aluminium used in its rocket propellant.The A-Darter is long-ranged compared to 4th generation weapons, with a powerful motor, and has an impressive 90-degree look angle. LOAL over-the-shoulder shots will be possible, and it is reported that some SAAF Gripen pilots believe it has advantages over the highly-respected IRIS-T. It is only a lack of maturity that loses the A-Darter a higher position- it remains to be seen whether it gains this maturity and true operational status.

 

9. Vympel R-73 ‘Peri-striker’

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High off-foresight abilities and helmet-cued: The Soviet R-73 defined the modern air-to-air missile.  When the German Luftwaffe inherited a load of R-73s from the East German air force, the test results were mortifying. A MiG-29 with R-73s and the simple but effective Schmel helmet-cueing system were virtually unbeatable in within-visual range fights. Cueing a target by simply looking at was a huge advantage, and this was combined with the ability to fire the missile across a much wider cone (it could be fired to the side of the aircraft) than the then ubiquitous AIM-9L/M – this created a very effective weapon system. The missile is large with a power motor gifting the R-73 with superior kinematics. It was the first missile to include thrust vectoring, gifting it with astonishing manoeuvrability. Formidable in its time, it has now been eclipsed by a generation of weapons created to counter it, but retains a robust high-off boresight capability.

8. MBDA MICA-ER Jacques of all trades’

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The French MICA is unique among Western missiles in being available in both infra-red- and radar-guided variants. MICA, which entered service in 1996, was the first Western air-to-air missile to use thrust vectoring (the infra-red variant was operational from 2000, three years ahead of the US’ AIM-9X). It has replaced both short-range (Magic) and medium-range (Super 530) weapons – in doing so it has anticipated the move of IR missiles into the beyond-visual range, but compromises have being made in making it a jack of trades: it is neither as manoeuvrable as the IRIS-T at short ranges, nor as fast (though it is very fast for some of its mission, peaking at a remarkable Mach 4) and lethal at medium ranges as a late AMRAAM. On the Rafale, the MICA IR can provide IR imagery to the central data processing system, thus acting as an extremely useful extra sensor.  The MICA IR was one of the more controversial entries discussed by our panel- some pointed to France’s historical track record of producing poor air-to-air missiles (a highly contentious point in itself), while some noted MBDA (and France’s)  current excellence in electronics as evidenced on many systems on Rafale; MBDA is considered by some to be the most experienced missile house in the world.  The MICA is a fast and manoeuvrable missile at short ranges with lock-on after launch capabilities, and in 2007 became the first operational missile to demonstrate a Parthian over-the-shoulder shot. It loses a higher placing as is not believed to have a mature integration with a helmet cueing system- when it does, it is likely to be with IAF Mirage 2000s.

7. China Air-to-Air Guided Missile Research Institute PL-10 ‘Iris stew’

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The PL-10 uses the broad-chord narrow-span wing and TVC configuration that has become common for modern IR AAMs. The missile is fitted with an imaging infra-red seeker capable of +/-90 degree off boresight angles. Considering the missile’s timeline – the project started in 2004- it should be a very capable weapon. As it is intended for use with stealthy aircraft, notably the J-20, it is likely to have LOAL capabilities with datalink connectivity. Little is known about it at the moment. Intriguingly, J-20 appears to have a ‘dogfight mode’ where the missile is moves to an external position to give its seeker a view of the outside world, while doors close behind it to minimise radar returns from the weapon bay cavity.

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6. Vympel R-74M ‘Robin Hoodski

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Russia’s R-73 (NATO reporting name AA-11 ‘Archer’) is one of the best-known air-to-air missiles. It is in large-scale service, has seen combat, and its appearance in the early 1980s drove the development of an array of Western counterparts.

Less publicised is this missile’s intended successor, or RVV-MD (meaning short-range air-to-air missile), which entered service with the Russian Air Force in 2012 and is rumoured to have been deployed in Syria: since it’s almost identical to the R-73, this is hard to verify. On service entry, the missile designation switched from the developmental K-74M to the in-service R-74M.

Work on the R-74M actually began around the time the ‘Archer’ was entering service, and it was originally intended for rearwards launch to defend the hemisphere behind the launch aircraft. This mode was tested, but never properly refined, and was abandoned in the mid-1990s.

However, development of the missile continued for conventional launch. This yielded the R-74M, which allies the R-73 aerodynamics and motor with a new two-band infrared seeker that increases off-bore-sight angles to +/-60 and extends acquisition range to 15-20km. Russia also worked on an all-new short-range air-to-air missile, the K-30 project, but this fell by the wayside.

Since Russia’s relations with Ukraine broke down, a new source of seeker was required for the R-74M, and, after some delay, production was supposed to switch to Radiozavod this year. Meanwhile, the prime contractor for the missile is Vympel, who also built the R-73.

Work is now under way on an improved K-74M2, primarily to arm the PAK FA fighter. This is adapted for launch from internal weapons bays and has a new seeker and rocket motor. Adding a datalink means it will have a lock-on-after-launch mode (its lack of LOAL is one reason it is does not rank higher in this list). The new version is now reportedly undergoing flight test.

Thomas Newdick, Deputy Editor, Combat Aircraft Magazine  – Follow  him on Twitter @CombatAir

5. Mitsubishi AAM-5B ‘Mitsubishi Pistachio-crusher’

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Seldom discussed is the Japanese AAM-5B. Like most 5th generation AAMs it has broad chord wings, thrust-vectoring and an imaging seeker.  Entering service in 2004 the AAM-5 is one of the most modern weapons on this list, and considering Japan’s excellence in the electronics field it is likely that this is an extremely capable weapon. Due to a ban on the export of weapons, relatively few AAM-5s will be produced so, like the ASRAAM, it is likely to be extremely expensive. The small number also means it does not enjoy the benefits of mass testing. The B upgrade offers increased resistance to infra-red countermeasures and greater range.

4. Raytheon AIM-9X Block II ‘X-ray Volvo’

AF-3, Flt 230, Major Andrew "Stone" Rollins, Tanking for First T
Reliable and economical, the AIM-9X is the Volvo of modern air-to-air missiles. When choosing a new missile in the 1990s the US opted for the least ambitious option – combining a new seeker and thrust-vectoring to the existing Sidewinder motor. Benefiting from a massive production run, the largest number of test-firings and a long lineage, the AIM-9X is a dependable weapon. It also is very well integrated with the JHMCS helmet system, offering a huge advantage against opponents lacking an advanced helmet system. Raytheon’s AIM-9X Block II  is the latest version and brings the AIM-9X up to the technological standards of advanced rivals. Parthian shots are possible and unlike other AAMs it can be used reliably against ground targets. It is expected that the next variant AIM-9X may have a very long range.

3. Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Python 5 ‘Python’s meaning of lift’

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The Python 5 is an exceptionally manoeuvrable missile that is hard to shake off. It can ‘see through’ infra-red countermeasures by the inclusion of a dual-band seeker head that sees both infra-red, and more unusually, ultra-violet light. Though its eighteen control surfaces imbue the missile with remarkable agility, they also create a great deal of drag and it is likely that weapon has less energy than others out at longer ranges. Though it does not have thrust vectoring, according to the manufacturer it is as agile as any missile that does. In July 2014 – the US State Department approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to Israel for AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and associated equipment- it is not known what advantages the AIM-9X would offer over the Python 5. The 5 is based on the Python 4, and has a proven ability to take down low-IR signature drones.

2. MBDA AIM-132 ASRAAM ‘British hotrod’

 

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Credit: MBDA

 

ASRAAM, with its massively powerful motor uses acceleration and speed to its advantage. Though not as agile as other weapons at close ranges, its long range and massive No-Escape Zone give it a substantial beyond-visual range capability. In the 1980s it was decided that NATO needed new air-to-air missiles: the UK would develop the next generation infra-red guided missile and the US would develop the next radar-guided missiles.  When the West learnt of the astonishing capabilities of the R-73 the nascent ASRAAM’s capabilities (especially its manoeuvrability) were called into question. Citing this, and the economy of a Sidewinder upgrade, the US and the other partners, left the agreement. Now alone, the UK raised the specifications adding an exceptionally advanced imaging seeker head (the first missile to carry one in service, later to be used by the ‘9X).  ASRAAM has an extremely long range for its class and is very fast (around mach 3.3) – though other missiles in this list boast higher top speeds, it is believed that ASRAAM’s bigger motor allows it to better retain its speed. It is a very expensive missile and it is notable that none of the Eurofighter export customers have chosen the ASRAAM, opting instead for the IRIS-T.

 

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The only export customer has been Australia (India would like them for its Jaguar). In 2009 an RAAF F/A-18 destroyed a test target 5 km behind it using ASRAAM, demonstrating a real ‘over the shoulder’ capability.

 

1. Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T ‘European acrobat’

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Credit: Geoffrey Lee/Eurofighter

Extremely agile and almost impossible to distract with decoy flares, the IRIS-T is a fighter pilot’s nightmare. At least eleven air arms have opted for the IRIS-T, spurning the Sidewinder for this masterpiece of European engineering. The design was German-led, fed by the Luftwaffe’s desire for a super agile weapon to counter the Archer threat. Entering service in 2005, it was the third Western AAM (following the MICA and 9X) to feature thrust vectoring. Several of the nations, notably Norway, that selected the IRIS-T did so after an in-depth comparison with the AIM-9X.

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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 world’s worst air force

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The illustrator Edward Ward approached Hush-Kit complaining that life seemed pointless. As he sat in the park in the rain bemoaning the downfall of civilisation, I decided he needed something to distract him. With this in mind I gave Ed the enviable task of equipping a notional 1940s air force – with one proviso: he could only pick from the worst aeroplanes then flying. Over to Ed. 

“Picture the scene: It is the 1940s. The Republic of Hushkonia has been taken over by a benevolent dictatorship of disgruntled aviation enthusiasts. Somewhat ironically the air force (and national airline ‘Air Hush’) remains under the control of officers loyal to the old regime. Furious with their new ineffectual overlords, yet too timid to stage a coup, they decide instead to make the Hushkonian armed forces as bad as possible to attempt to encourage takeover by a foreign power and restoration of the old order. To add at least some credibility to their actions they decide to select aircraft that actually saw service in their specified roles with other nations. No crazy prototypes or mad schemes here, only tried and tested flops.

Here are the aircraft they have ordered, starting with at least 5000 of each.

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Fighter

Messerschmitt 163

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“Hello Messerschmitt? Luftwaffe here, we’d like a new fighter please.”

“Righto, what kind of thing would you like?”

“Well we were hoping for something that looks really cool and everything and is really really fast, mmm,  in fact would it be too much to ask for it to be fast enough that the closing speed between it and any potential target would be so high as to make it more or less impossible to aim and fire the guns at anything with any realistic chance of success? And could it have a cannon with a really low muzzle velocity to properly compound that problem? Also we were wondering if it might have no range at all, and it’d be good if we could have it land on a ski or something, preferably as a glider, and we want it to blow up all the time for no apparent reason so it’d be best if it was full of crazy volatile fuels. Oh and if possible we’d like the fuel to dissolve the pilot. Talking of the pilot we thought it might be nice to design in a terrifying aerodynamic flaw that will definitely kill him like maybe an unrecoverable dive if he lets the aircraft exceed Mach 0.84” 

“Would you like it to be pressurised?”

“No”

“Ejection seat?”

“No”

“Anything else?”

“Did we say we wanted it to look really cool?”

On the basis of this conversation, which actually really actually happened, the fighter arm of Hushkonia was equipped with its premier air superiority asset.

See the 10 best fighters of World War II here

Long range escort fighter

Boeing YB-40 Flying Fortress

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This fighter is, as you have no doubt spotted, a B-17. Imagine ‘mixing it’ with the 109s in this. In 1942 the Eighth Air force thought they might create an effective escort by slinging a massive amount of guns into a bomb-free Flying Fortress. No aircraft has ever flown with such a formidable defensive armament. Unfortunately this made the aircraft so draggy and heavy that it couldn’t keep up with the bombers it was supposed to be protecting. In a totally irrelevant but oddly satisfying aside, the YB-40 is the only aircraft on this list to feature in an Oscar-winning film, two of them appear in the scrapyard scene at RFC Ontario towards the end of William Wyler’s ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ which won nine Academy awards in 1947. Its film career was notably more successful than its operational one but did not save it from the scrapman’s torch.

See the worst US airplanes here

Strategic Bomber

Heinkel He 177 Greif (Griffon)

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When it comes to long range strategic bombers there’s really only one choice, the Luftwaffenfeuerzeug, Heinkel’s flaming coffin, the dyslexically accurately named Greif. It is worth pointing out that when it worked properly the He 177 was a stupendous performer, powerful and fast, the trouble was that it didn’t work properly very often. Furthermore when things started to go wrong in a Greif, they tended to go wrong quickly, catastrophically and inflammably.

My time in a French superfighter: A pilot’s story here

The statistics are enlightening: for example of 13 missions flown on flak-suppression duties at Stalingrad, seven 177s were lost to fire, none of which were attributable to enemy action. The problem all stemmed from the He 177’s powerplant (consisting of a pair of Daimler Benz V-12 engines mounted on a common crankshaft in each wing) and their incredibly tight fit into their cowlings. Both engines shared a common central exhaust manifold serving a total of 12 cylinders, the two inner cylinder banks of the component engines.

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This central exhaust system would often became extremely hot, causing oil and grease which routinely accumulated in the bottom of each engine cowling to catch fire. this problem was compounded by the fact that there was a tendency for the fuel injection pump on each engine to lag in their response to the pilot throttling back in such situations, deliver more fuel than was required and thus fuel the fire, in addition the fuel injection pump connections often leaked. Furthermore, to reduce the aircraft’s weight no firewall was provided, and the back of each engine was fitted so close to the main spar, with two-thirds of each engine being placed behind the wing’s leading edge, that fuel and oil fluid lines and electrical harnesses were crammed in with insufficient space and the engines were often covered with fuel and oil from leaking fuel lines and connections.

The Top 10 fictional aircraft here

At high altitude the poorly designed lubrication pump led to the oil foaming, reducing its lubricating qualities. Insufficient lubrication ultimately resulted in connecting rod bearings failing (which also befell the Avro Manchester but that aircraft was quickly altered into the superlative Lancaster), resulting in the conrods sometimes bursting through the crankcases and puncturing the oil tanks, the contents of which would then empty onto the white hot central exhaust manifold. The tightly packed nacelles in which the engines were installed on the He 177A, with many of the engine’s components buried within the wing led to very poor ventilation as well as poor maintenance access. essentially the He 177 was a fire waiting to happen. Whilst the constant fires were by far the most serious issue affecting the Greif the big Heinkel also had to contend with an overly heavy undercarriage, a dangerous swing on take-off, due to the massive torque of the enormous propellors, an inadequate defensive armament, some unpleasant handling characteristics, famed test pilot Eric Brown suggested the elevator control was “dangerously light”, and lingering concerns about its structural strength, Brown noting that “it really was nailbiting to have to treat a giant like this immense Heinkel bomber as if it was made of glass.”

See the worst British military aircraft here

The French finished a version of the He 177 after the war with four separate engines and it served reliably for years on test programmes, proving that if Heinkel hadn’t inexplicably persisted with the coupled-engine concept they could have had an effective, reliable strategic bomber from 1942. An amazing 1169 of these terrible bombers were built, however, slightly sadly, none survive (except of course for thousands being built for Hushkonia).

Tactical Bomber

Fairey Battle

Fairey_Battle_ExCC.jpgAll the fighting powers of the Second world war really pulled out the stops to produce dreadful light and medium bombers apparently designed solely for killing aircrew but the Battle lowered the bar of uselessness to an effectively unassailable depth.

Despite being the first RAF aircraft to shoot down an enemy aircraft in the Second World War, and the first aircraft fitted with the superlative Merlin engine, the Battle was woeful. It was a kind of anti-Mosquito, being too slow to evade enemy fighters yet too badly armed to defend itself, too small to carry a decent bombload yet too large for a single-engined aircraft and lumbered with an extra crewman to no real purpose. The Battle was unable to survive against any modern fighter aircraft and loss rates during 1940 regularly exceeded 50% and achieved 100% on at least two occasions. It does not require a degree in mathematics to realise that losses at these levels are untenable.

The Empire’s Ironclad: Flying & Fighting in the B-52 here

Its shortcomings had been recognised before the war but the Battle had one overriding trump card: it was cheap. In late thirties Britain it was decided that to have lots of crappy bombers was better than having none at all, especially when announcing production totals to a hostile parliament and press. It is not a coincidence that more Battles were built than any other aircraft on this list.

10 Incredible Soviet Fighter Aircraft that never entered service here

To be fair to the Battle, its contemporaries the Blenheim, Hampden and Wellington were also cut to pieces by day and all suffered far fewer losses by night, yet with its weedy bombload the Battle was the most ineffectual of the lot, even if it managed to survive. In the end it found its niche as a training aircraft, being of a useful size, reliable, and free of vices and it remained in service until 1949, but in operational service it was a death trap put into service in large numbers for cynical reasons of economy and political disinformation. As such it is the ideal light bomber for the Hushkonian air force.

Ground attack

Breda Ba 88 Lince (Lynx)

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Do you like aircraft that can go round corners? Breda thought that was overrated.

Proof that the adage ‘if it looks right, it’ll fly right’ is a load of old cobblers, the Lince looked fast and purposeful yet was so overweight, draggy and underpowered that it frequently failed to fly. On the first day of the Italian offensive against British forces in Egypt for example, three Bredas were committed from Sicily, one failed to take off and another was found to be unable to turn and was therefore compelled to fly straight and level until it arrived at Sidi Rezegh airfield in Libya (which fairly evidently isn’t Egypt). Later, when sand filters were fitted to the engines the Lince could not exceed 155 mph and there were occasions when entire units failed to take off. Various items of equipment were left behind in an attempt to make the benighted craft viable including the rear machine gun, one of the crew (leaving the pilot all on his own), and half the fuel and bombload but it never worked and the Lince was adapted to a role it fulfilled admirably – being parked on airfields to draw enemy fire. A noble task.

A disrespectful history of Italian fighters here

Reconnaissance

Curtiss SO3C Seamew

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Proof that the adage ‘if it looks right, it’ll fly right’ is totally accurate, the Seamew looked awkward and just, somehow, wrong. From the unlovely lines of its engine cowling via its horrible rectangular winglets to the worryingly truncated rear fuselage the Seamew inspired a total lack of confidence. With good reason as it turned out for the poor little Curtiss was a dreadful aircraft. It didn’t even win the competition that selected it for service, a rival design by Vought was judged superior but Vought were busy with the F4U and Curtiss had spare capacity so into production it went, and in no small terms as 795 of these unpleasant little aircraft were released into the wild. If it had been merely slow and uninspiring it could be written off as a humdrum mediocrity but the Seamew was also dangerous. Its main tank could hold 300 gallons of fuel but it wouldn’t take off with more than 80 gallons on board.

Fiendishly Hard Aircraft Quiz 3 here

Even if the Ranger engine didn’t pack up (which it did – often, a bad start for a single engined aircraft intended to mainly operate over the sea) the Seamew had other tricks up its sleeve as, according to the improbably named Lettice Curtiss, ‘it was possible to take off in an attitude from which it was both impossible to recover and in which there was no aileron control’ which sounds like an enervating experience. Eventually the Seamew became one of that select band of aircraft which were replaced by the very aircraft they were supposed to succeed, the biplane Curtiss SOC being restored on the catapults of several USN capital ships. In an admirable gesture of inclusiveness Curtiss made the SO3C available with either wheels or floats so its unpleasant characteristics could be experienced equally by those on land or at sea.

See the worst Soviet aircraft here

Trainer

LWS-6 Żubr

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When it comes to ungulates, the Mustang probably got the best deal in terms of aeronautical namesakes. The Bison by contrast has lent its sturdy name to the Indian MiG-21 variant, a hilariously ungainly Avro biplane and this, the ‘Żubr’, which is Polish for Bison according to Wikipedia. Though Google Translate thinks it means Aurochs. Hmm.

Contemporary nomenclature translation ambiguity aside, the Żubr was probably the worst training aircraft ever, in fact it may have been the worst aircraft to enter service anywhere, at any time. Plus it was fantastically ugly, just look at its chin and that rictus grin of windows (proof that the adage if it looks right etc etc). It’s like a massive aerial Bruce Forsyth. Unlike Bruce Forsyth however the hideous Żubr had a terrifying propensity to fall apart at inopportune moments which was ironic as the Żubr, was intended as a ‘low risk’ alternative to the superlative PZL-37 Łoś (which means ‘Elk’ for all you ungulate translation fans), this after it had already been touted as an airliner but lost out to the DC-2. The problems started with the engines, the Żubr had been designed for the 420hp Wasp Junior but was re-engined with the 700hp Bristol Pegasus and the greater stresses imposed by the much more powerful engine were dealt with by ignoring them. A crash in 1936 led to a strengthening programme which added to the weight and reduced the bombload.

Ten incredible cancelled military aircraft here

Then there was the landing gear which required the crew to disconnect several of the aircraft’s other electrical systems to function, eventually it was just locked down and forgotten about with obvious effects on the already pedestrian performance of the aircraft. More serious was the Żubr’s tendency to come unstuck, the Żubr seems to have been made out of bits of whatever was lying around at the PZL works in 1936 and featured wood, steel tube, aluminium, and sheet steel at various points of the airframe. Whilst not in itself a problem, there were plenty of exceptional ‘mixed construction’ aircraft in the forties, it is as well to make sure the glue you’re using for the wooden bits is up to par. Sadly for the Żubr it was not, and after dazzling two Romanian officers who were evaluating the machine with its dizzying 100 mph performance, the Żubr in question simply fell apart, killing all aboard. The factory immediately went into damage limitation and scurrilously put out a story that one of the Romanians had opened a door during the flight, though quite why opening a door should cause the whole aircraft to disintegrate was never adequately answered.

Flying and fighting in the Lightning

An attempt to improve the aircraft by adding a twin tail failed when the added weight of the ‘improvements’ reduced the payload to zero. And thus the failed airliner turned failed bomber failed to get its export order and chugged along training Polish bomber crews to fly better aircraft. Amazingly those that survived the German invasion were pressed into Luftwaffe service as trainers. The last survivor of the 17 built was put into the Zeughaus museum in Berlin, presumably to scare the children, and it was there that it was destroyed by vastly better Allied bombers in 1944.

Transport

Bristol Buckingham C1

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5000 horsepower for four passengers. British aviation at its most economical. Plus it handled like a pig.

Airliner

Avro Tudor

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Knowing that the postwar aviation world would demand shit British aircraft to take the piss out of, Avro bravely sacrificed their credibility and chief designer in the name of Unassailable Mediocrity. Poor Roy Chadwick was killed when the prototype Tudor II crashed, through no fault of the aircraft (surprisingly), the aileron cables had been reversed. Chadwick had designed the Lancaster and was a great loss to British aviation but the Tudor should really have been put out of its misery long before. Despite being heavier and slower than either a Constellation or DC-4 (which were already in service) the Tudor was designed to carry a lousy 12 passengers. It had an outdated tailwheel undercarriage and the four Merlins it was fitted with were not ideal for civil use, mainly due to their being amongst the loudest piston engines ever developed. Aviation enthusiasts seem to fall into paroxysms of joy on hearing a Merlin but sitting next to four of them for twelve hours might make you think twice about calling it “the sweetest sound in the world” or “the sound of freedom”. Handling problems were never entirely fixed, and “The Tudor was built like a battleship. It was noisy, I had no confidence in its engines and its systems were hopeless. The Americans were fifty years ahead of us in systems engineering. All the hydraulics, the air conditioning equipment and the recircling [sic] fans were crammed together underneath the floor without any thought. There were fuel-burning heaters that would never work; we had the floorboards up in flight again and again.”

The 10 best-looking US Navy aircraft here

Although that last sentence sounds like a 1930s housewife bewailing her time in a terraced house in Bradford, this was in fact Gordon Store, the chief pilot and operations manager of British South American Airlines. The Tudor would be totally forgotten by history if it weren’t for the fact that two disappeared without trace in the spooky area known as the Bermuda Triangle. Right now, presumably, there are some disgruntled aliens with the floorboards up trying to get the heaters to work so they can resume their studies of primitive Earth culture.

Maritime Patrol

Saro Lerwick

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Alliot Verdon Roe, who founded Avro, and later Saro, was a fully paid up member of the Fascist party. This may serve to explain the horrible Lerwick and its effect on the RAF. You could be forgiven for thinking that designing an aircraft to fly around slowly for ages in the hope that someone might see a submarine and then drop something on it might be a relatively simple task but the Saro Lerwick serves to prove that, apparently, it is not. 21 were built, 11 were lost (10 in accidents, one disappeared). Its main problems were simple lack of power coupled with an inexplicable lack of stability. The Lerwick could not be flown hands-off, which is rubbish for a long range patrol aircraft nor could it maintain height on one engine. It was prone to porpoising on landing and take off and possessed a vicious stall. Added to this structural headaches (the floats regularly broke off) and a woefully unreliable hydraulic system and it becomes obvious that the Lerwick should be ordered in massive numbers at once for Hushkonia.

AND FOR THE FLEET:

Carrier Fighter

Blackburn Roc

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The wrong concept applied to the wrong airframe at the wrong time, the Roc was the answer to a question that should never been asked, namely “Where’s the Navy’s Boulton & Paul Defiant?”.

Boulton & Paul had gone to great lengths to make their turret armed fighter as fast and handy as possible. Despite carrying around a turret and a gunner which added about a ton to the loaded weight of the aircraft, the performance wasn’t much worse than a contemporary Hurricane and although the concept was flawed, the aircraft was excellent. Imagine what they must have thought when the Navy asked them to mount the same turret in the less-than-stellar Blackburn Skua to produce an aircraft 85 mph slower and infinitely less able to survive, let alone fight, in the skies over Europe. Exactly how an aircraft, derived from a dive bomber, barely able to reach 200 mph and with no forward firing armament was supposed to combat a Messerschmitt 109 was apparently not a major concern for the powers that be.

Luckily for all concerned (except the Luftwaffe) the Roc was little used but amazingly it did score one confirmed kill against a Ju 88 over Belgium, an aircraft nearly 100 mph faster than the unlovely Roc. Despite this unlikely success the Roc remains the worst operational carrier fighter ever to grace a flightdeck and as such is the shoe-in for the noble Hushkonian fleet.

Carrier Torpedo bomber

Douglas TBD Devastator

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The Devastator’s chronic vulnerability has become infamous. It was required to fly straight and level at a stately 115 mph to deliver its torpedo, a speed that meant it could be easily intercepted by an SE5a of 1917 vintage, which is somewhat unfortunate for an aircraft touted as the most advanced naval aircraft in the world on its debut. By contrast the contemporary Japanese Nakajima B5N could launch its superlative Type 91 torpedo at over 200 mph. Furthermore the poor old TBD had a woeful defensive armament and lacked manoeuvrability. Its problems did not stop there as its main armament, the Mark 13 torpedo, was a dreadful weapon plagued with reliability issues and frequently observed to score a hit but fail to explode. Considered as a weapons system, the TBD/Mk 13 torpedo combination was probably the least satisfactory of the entire air war. Instead of the torpedo, the TBD could also carry 1200 lbs of bombs thus extending the scope of its inadequacy into two roles. At least it could go a bit faster and higher when dropping its bombs. If it had never been required to enter combat the TBD would have been nothing more than another forgettable mid-thirties design, Dick Best, who flew an SBD dive bomber at the Battle of Midway remembered the Devastator as a “nice-flying airplane” but, like the Fairey Battle, it was committed to combat in a world that had overtaken it. Only 130 were ever built. a pathetic amount for a US aircraft of this vintage and weirdly only six fewer than the equally dismal Blackburn Roc above. A match made in mediocre naval aviation heaven.”

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You’ll like Edward Ward’s site.

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Incredible photos from North Korea’s airshow

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Like birdwatching, drug addiction or sex tourism –  plane-spotting can take you to some pretty strange places. This September, North Korea held an airshow to publicise the hardware of the most secretive air force in the world. Few westerners were there for this extraordinary show, but Sam Wise was, and fortunately he took his camera. 

“I never thought I’d fly on a North Korean special forces aeroplane. It was just one of those things that at no point in my life did I ever think ‘Well, you know, there’s a chance.’ But late September this year I found myself, along with 180-odd aviation enthusiasts, journalists and I’ve no doubt more than a few intelligence operatives, at Wonsan International Airport in North Korea, watching the most ludicrously implausible airshow on the planet, the Wonsan International Air Festival.

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The best fighter aircraft in the Korean People’s Army Air Force is the MiG-29B. With only 35 MiG-29s, the South Korean air force would enjoy massive air superiority in the event of a war.

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Complete in a wonderful camo scheme that would not look out of place on a poundshop Action Man rip-off was this magnificent Shijiazhuang Y5. The Y5 is a Chinese-built An-2. It is used for special forces assault and insertions.

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The vast majority of KPAF aircraft are of Soviet origin. Here we see a MiG-29, a Su-25 and a MiG-21.

The Korean People’s Army Air Force, possibly the most secretive in the world, was actually flying their jets for our entertainment, and there wasn’t a head of state in sight – it was just for us and about 15,000 North Koreans. Aircraft that the world hadn’t seen fly for over 15 years were right there in the sky like it was a totally normal thing to be doing. I’d be lying if I said I absolutely believed it was happening at the time. I’m not sure I still quite believe it happened even now.

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KPAF has around 34 Su-25 ground attack aircraft. They have both Ks, and UBK two-seaters.

The Koreans were great hosts. As surprising for veteran tourists and even the tour organisers as it was for us first-timers, we were allowed free rein to walk around the ‘Air Festival’, buy from the many stalls there (not that there was much for us – mostly it was the locals buying their wares) and even chat with the local visitors, all without any accompaniment from our government guides.

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A major feature of the event was the North Korean beer festival and it really has to be said – the beer was good. Sadly most of us were at the front of the crowd photographing the Soviet delights in the air and didn’t get to sample the full range but a few wily foreigners spent their days at the beer tents, downing glasses and swapping stories with the Koreans who were incredibly curious to speak with us.

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The MiG-21 is an elderly design, if conflict broke out with South Korea, these aircraft may end up fighting F-4s or F-5s (the Republic of Korea Air Force still employ both types) they did in Vietnam fifty years ago.

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The only Western aircraft design is the MD 500D. North Korea pretended to import it for civilian use. These aircraft were produced in South Korea (!) and purchased via a German company.

Most of the foreigners, it’s safe to assume, had been to airshows before and knew the deal, but without a shadow of a doubt the Korean crowd was experiencing this for the first time.

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They were all overwhelmingly approving of it, of course, but it must have been a very bizarre occasion for them, given that most will probably have never seen an aeroplane flying at all- let alone anything military. Certainly the Korean guides assigned to each tour group were very curious about air shows abroad and how the Wonsan Air Festival compared, but a good few expressed their confusion as to why you would ever want to go and watch aeroplanes just for the sake of it. But then, I’ve had that said to me at home as well, so I guess some things are universal.

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Gone are the gaudy, but wonderful, bright frog green and blue schemes of the MiG-29 fleet. Today they have a desperately boring grey scheme, perhaps based on USAF’s F-15C colouration.

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You can’t go East of Croydon without seeing a ‘Hip’, and North Korea is no exception. The air force has around forty examples.

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Which MiG-29 pictures shall I keep in this article? How about all of them?

Finding out that I was single, one of my guides suggested that maybe planes is my girlfriend, a remark which hit a little closer to home than I might have liked.

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The beautiful Il-18 showing off its classic curves.

The military was evidently very keen to show how modern and capable its fleet is. Gone were the wonderfully retro British Racing Green paintjobs seen the last time the ‘Fulcrums’ flew, in with a more modern two-tone grey camouflage, just like we’ve already got bored of in the West. At least the roundels weren’t lo-viz. There was even the chance to meet the pilots, stood in front of their rides in leather flying suits, happy to take part in selfies and sign autographs. What they must have thought of the whole affair…especially the two young female ‘Fishbed’ pilots who are as close to mega-celebrities as the country has and who were swarmed by the local press as they arrived. Given that most of us had never really expected the Korean military to actually be there, to then be having photos taken with the pilots left most in something approaching a state of shock. Suffice to say the evening beer session was an animated one!

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One of the promised delights for the visitors was pleasure flights on the Air Koryo fleet of  classic airliners. Short of some of the more remote parts of Siberia there are very few places in the world you can fly on a Tu-134 or Il-62, so even for those people who can’t abide anything that flies with drinks service it was a tasty lineup and getting to experience both the Soviet luxury and airliner standards of the past was pretty spectacular, even if the air-conditioning left much to be desired. But, much to everyone’s utter surprise, two of the options on the list appeared somewhat more military in nature, and, indeed, on the day it transpired that people would be flying on actual military, roundelled, camouflaged KPAAF Y5s and Mi-8s.

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North Korea has some of the most advanced baseball caps in the world.

It’s crazy to think of getting a pleasure flight on an RAF helicopter here in the UK, but for tourists to be having a jolly on a North Korean military aircraft goes past unbelievable into some other realm of insanity – are you paying attention, High Wycombe?

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The military-style stencilling of the serial number is NOT based on the  A-Team logo.

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The crew of the Air Koryo Il-76 seemingly have a choice of hats or shades. Lanyards for all though.

More to the point, these were the Y5s that play more than a regular transport role in the military, and allegedly carry their best of the best troops in some very interesting roles. Parachute cables and lights inside, mystery sensor dish on the bottom, these were not your everyday Colts.

And I took selfies on board one.

Mental.”

-Sam Wise

Sam Wise is an unemployed web developer, but he’s trying his best. He spends far too much time thinking about aeroplanes, and occasionally tweets about them and anything else

 

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Frogfeet.

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Oh go on then- one more MiG-29.

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Fascinating YF-23 DEM/VAL presentation by test pilots Paul Metz and Jim Sandberg

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The Rafale and Peter Collins

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Image: Dassault

I was sad to hear that Peter Collins passed away this Summer. Collins flew Harrier GR3s with the RAF, Sea Harriers in the Falklands on exchange with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, and the VAAC Harrier (which was instrumental in developing the flight control laws for the F-35B). He also flew with the Red Arrows. Flying both the exceptionally demanding Harrier and as a member of one of the world’s best aerobatic teams show him to have been an exceptionally gifted pilot.

Peter later became Flight International’s test pilot. His glowing review of the Rafale was particularly interesting. With his great experience and knowledge of flying fighter aircraft, I was keen to ask his opinion on modern fighters. I was also asked him about the perennial Rafale versus Typhoon question. As he has flown Rafale and has the Typhoon simulator (programmed to represent the latest variant) he was one of the most qualified to discuss this subject. It was last December that I had the chance to bombard him with my schoolboy questions. 

In regards to within-visual range combat he noted:

“This is always difficult to call. The Typhoon helmet mounted display, especially in the yet to be ordered Striker 2 version, is superb. I think the Rafale would eat Typhoon below 10,000ft. The Bug (legacy Hornet) is also superb”

Peter was a staunch supporter of the Rafale, and believed many underestimate it.

“My 2009 article for Flight international stands. If I was buying a multi-role aircraft  I would buy Rafale but an awful lot of politics, economics, offset deals, military preference and bias comes in the way…I’m not paid by Dassault or Eurofighter. Remember that the Rafale is designed to replace seven French types: Jaguar, Marine F-8 Crusader, Marine Super Etendard, Mirage F1, Mirage F1R, M2000C and the M2000N – which is probably why it is optimised for lower levels. It is recce-, nuclear (ASMP)- , carrier-capable (something Typhoon will never be), it has AESA, is getting Meteor, drops SCALP, Hammer and LGB. It has better low-observable shaping, and will stick with Typhoon below 20,000 feet. It has very good electronic countermeasures in SPECTRA, and has better flight control system characteristics (I’ve flown it). It also has GPS based, and therefore silent, auto terrain following. It also has forward optics for visual identification. It is the best fighter aircraft I have ever flown.”

He was also mindful of the pitfalls of writing about military aircraft “Careful you don’t put your name to something and be seen as a ‘useful idiot’ by an aircraft manufacturer.” Indeed, much of aviation ‘journalism’ is the uncritical copy and pasting of press statements, and this is an important thing to remember.

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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

Fiendishly Hard Aircraft Quiz 3

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Here’s a real tricky one, place your answers in the comments section and the answers will be revealed next week. Good luck! 

1. The maximum take-off weight of the Mi-26, the world’s heaviest helicopter, is:

A. 56000 kg

B. 66000 kg

C.76000 kg

D. 112000 kg

2. How many RFC aircraft were lost in ‘Bloody April’ (April 1917)?

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3. The first air victory scored in the Greek-Italian campaign (40-41) was achieved by a Greek pilot, what type of aircraft was he flying?

4. In which country did the first recorded use of napalm in combat take place, and from which aircraft was it deployed?

5. What was the first RAF unit to be declared operational with the Tornado F.Mk 3, and in what year?

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6. What was the greatest number of enemy aircraft destroyed by a US Navy pilot in one mission?

7. What was the nationality of the first pilot to take off and land from Japan’s Hosho aircraft carrier?

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8. What is the thrust-to-weight ratio of a Eurojet EJ200 in full afterburner? Can you name an active fighter engine with a higher thrust-to-weight ratio?

9. In what year did an aircraft first exceed Mach 2?

10. In what year was the electro-mechanical flight simulator invented?

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Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. When we hit out funding target we will be able to give you even better and more frequent reading matter.

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