Russia reveals wreckage of US Blackbird spyplane shot down in 1983

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Western observers stunned as Russian Ministry of Defence shares evidence that a US spyplane was shot down over the USSR during the Cold War. The shoot-down of the seemingly invulnerable jet, capable of flight at over 2,000mph, has not been acknowledged by either side until now.

Yesterday, at a press conference in Moscow, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation spokesperson Alexei Obmanov shared images and documents that conclusively prove a US SR-71 Blackbird spyplane was downed close to a remote Siberian village in 1983. According to Obmanov, the aircraft was intercepted by a pair of Soviet Air Defence Forces (PVO) MiG-31 interceptors. The intruding US aircraft was tracked for 93 miles (150 km), and five radio warnings issued, before the Soviet aircraft opened fire. Three missiles were fired, with the second two hitting and destroying the American aircraft. The two aircrew successfully ejected from the aircraft. The wreckage, which was recovered from the Siberian village of Durakovo, was sent to the Gromov Flight Research Institute 25 miles (40 km) south-east of Moscow for analysis. 

Cover up

According to Obmanov, a frantic diplomatic effort following the crash saw both sides agree to not publicly acknowledge the incident, an agreement that lasted 35 years. It was feared by both sides that the incident, which occurred at the height of Cold War tensions, could be potentially inflammatory. According to Ben Shearer, from the ANOITO Defence Research Institute, the deal was mutually beneficial as it also cloaked the alleged ‘Submarine 545 incident’. ‘Submarine 545’ refers to a long-denied incident of a Soviet submarine exercise that went badly wrong, and may have inadvertently released radioactive material off the coast of New York in the early 1980s (though no firm proof of the submarine incident has come to light). 

The pilot and reconnaissance systems officer (who remain unnamed) of the downed SR-71 were returned to the United States in 1984 in exchange for two Soviet diplomats arrested for espionage in 1975.

According to one US source we spoke to, “This is stunning news… a Blackbird loss has never been acknowledged. As stunning as the loss itself is the mutual secrecy arrangements…I am now wondering what else is out there.” In a time of mutual distrust between Washington and Moscow it is clear that the revelation is intended to embarrass the US. The US Department of Defense has not commented on the revelation. 

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An air force of my own #3

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Reading about some of the over-priced nonsense the military buys is maddening – but could you make better choices? In the third part of our series we burdened Thomas Newdick with the daunting task of re-equipping the air arms of a notionally oil-rich Ireland. Would his notional air force be combat effective? Good value for money? Most importantly, would it be stylish? 

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Air Force Procurement

Head of procurement: Thomas Newdick

Occupation: Editor of Air Forces Monthly

Nation to defend: Ireland

Year: 2018. In this thought experiment Ireland has found massive oil reserves. Oil rich and with a new government, Ireland massively expands their previously modest air force.

Training

Glider trainer: Not necessary 

Twin-engined prop trainer: Embraer Phenom (12)

Jet/Turboprop/LIFT trainer: Pilatus PC21 (100),  Yakovlev Yak-130 (60)

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Tankers & Transport

Light tactical: Modernised Antonov An2 Colt (40), Alenia C-27Js  Spartans (18)

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Medium: Ilyushin Il-76MF (20) (re-engined with PS90)

Strategic transport: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (12)

Tanker: Ilyushin Il-78 (re-engined with PS90) (12) – also used as Aer Lingus freighters 

Hack: Aforementioned An-2s

VVIP transport:  Convair 880 (1) (in emerald green scheme with silver shamrock on the top)

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Presidential/Governmnetal Transport: Lockheed JetStar (5)

(with modern engines)

Other: None

Combat

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(specify chosen munitions)

Fighter/Attack: Rafale M (140) with Meteor, Python 5, Hammer, Brimstone, ASMPA, SCALP, Kh-31ARM,

Attack, SEAD and long range interception: Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (48), AIM-120, AIM-9X, SDB and JDAM

Close Air Support: Northrop Grumman B-1B Lancer (31) with all weapons integrated on USAF examples

Fixed-wing COIN and FAC: Super Tucano (24)

CSAR: Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk (12)

Other: None

Rotorcraft

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Trainer:Kazan Ansat (24)

Light transport: Mi-35 updated by ATK (36)

Medium transport: 24 Kamov Ka-29 

Heavy transport: Mil Mi-26s (12)

Attack: AH-64E Apache Guardian (48)

Search & rescue/ASW: Kamov Ka-27 (48)

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Other: 

Intelligence & surveillance

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AWACS/AEW:: Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye (10) (Joint force Air Corps/Navy)

ASW: EADS CASA C-295 (12)

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR): GlobalEye (12) (ON ORDER)

Maritime Patrol: MQ-4 Triton (4)

Reconnaissance: Rafale M force is equipped with TALIOS

Other: none

Display teams

Fixed-wing jet: Silver Swallows with Fouga CM.170 Magister (4), Rafale Trio (one green, one white, and one orange)

Rotorcraft: Alouette III

Historical flight: Supermarine Seafire

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Carrier aircraft

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Based on three carrier. Assets pooled with Air Corps.

Fighter/attack: Rafale M (fleet shared with Air Corps)

AEW: Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye (10)

Tanker: Rafale are equipped with buddy-buddy tanks 

Helicopters: Pooled Helix fleet (see above)

Other: None

Misc Aircraft category

Air ambulance/police: Airbus Helicopters H135 (20)

Mountain rescue: Sikorsky H-60 Blackhawk (12)

Coastguard: Sikorsky S-92 (10)

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Air defence systems 

S-400 Triumf, 2K22 Tunguska

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Air force defence regiment

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Camouflage: East German rain

Standard weapon: SIG SG 550

Sidearm: Škorpion vz. 61 

Light support weapon: M249 light machine gun (LMG)

Heavy machine-gun: .50 cal Browning M2-HQCB

Sniper rifle: Sako TRG

Vehicles: Miscellaneous

Our verdict

Cost effectiveness & sense

The new Irish Air Corps/Navy Joint Force is the most powerful and best equipped air force in Europe. The vast prize tag is paid for by the new oil money. For Ireland’s current defence posture the procurement makes little sense, so it is likely this heralds the coming of a New Ireland, a powerful player on the world stage. It is extremely effective but very expensive, quite what the threat that merits this huge military investment is anyone’s guess — certainly a strong enough force to keep Iceland on its toes.

58/100

Political considerations

The Irish government have made some very surprising moves! Spurning British or British-involved aircraft was perhaps to be expected, but turning to Russia was a dramatic surprise. The Ilyushin transport and tanker fleet, combined with the large rotorcraft and trainer order show an unlikely new international relationship. The large US deals ties fit comfortably with Ireland’s long friendship with the United States. Becoming both an operator of intercontinental heavy bombers and ordering three supercarriers may alarm other countries in Europe.

38/100

Aesthetic appeal 

The luxury Convair 880 selection was brilliant as was the JetStar fleet, the return of the charismatic Magister simply divine. Scoring highly in this round.

83/100

Realism

The reopening of the F-22 production line for 48 aircraft? The Russian equipment? The B-1Bs? Utterly and wonderfully bananas. But not impossible

40/100

Imagination

A strong score here. Going from from a handful of PC-9s, the Irish Air Corps is now significantly more powerful than its neighbour Britain.

87/100

Total score: 306/500

Air Forces Monthly is the World’s No. 1Military aviation Magazine

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

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Ask the pilot: RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4

 

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(All images in article Copyright Eurofighter)

Which aircraft do you fly and with which unit, how many do you hours do you have on type? I fly the Eurofighter Typhoon as the Executive Officer on II(AC) Sqn and have 860 hours on type.

What were you first impressions of flying the Typhoon? The thrust that the Typhoon has is ferocious, something that I don’t personally think you ever get used to though the G Force is brutal. The fact that you can ‘back stick’ the controls and know that the aircraft will limit the G means that you can pull straight to 9 G and trust me – that hurts every single time!

 Which three words best describe the Typhoon? Agile, Powerful, Lethal

Do the canards obscure the view down? Only slightly, but if you need to see beneath them then you can just roll upside down!

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Copyright Eurofighter

 

How useful is the helmet and how often is it used? What is it used for? The Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) is exceptional and very useful for all sorts of war fighting. It can be used to see any target or friendly aircraft by using the same symbology that is in the HUD. It is effectively an extension of the HUD which means that you have all the information required wherever you are looking. For Air to Ground missions you have the ability to simply look outside at where a target is then cue the weapon system to look there with the Litening Designator Pod. Due to this capability it means that after identifying a target, you can drop a Paveway IV, 500-lb precision weapon on it in seconds.

What was your most notable mission and why? Please see diary entry 

Which new piece of equipment would you most like to see integrated on Typhoon? Soon we will have the Brimstone missile integrated onto the Typhoon which will provide a precision targeting capability with reduced collateral effects. Storm Shadow and Meteor are also just around the corner.

What are the best and worst things about the Typhoon? The best thing about the Typhoon is it’s Specific Excess Power (SEP) and the worst would be how quickly you burn fuel when you are in reheat!

Tell me something I don’t know about the aircraft?  Ha ha, no can’t do because that would most likely be classified!

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I have been told that nothing can out-climb the Typhoon, would you agree? Absolutely, the SEP of the Typhoon is unmatched.

What’s the best way to defeat an F-16 in within visual range fight? How difficult is it as an opponent? The Typhoon is a superior fighter within visual range though we must always remember that we are not fighting the aircraft but the pilot.

Which aircraft have you trained against, which was the hardest opponent and why? I fought a Top Gun instructor out of Nellis Air Force base and he was in an F-16. I was not very experienced at the time though managed to defeat him – he did, however, make it very difficult!

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What’s your favourite piece of equipment on the Typhoon and why? The HMSS because it really makes you feel part of the aircraft. It is awesome when everything is working in harmony.

It has been said that Typhoon is less proficient at High Alpha fighting than the Hornet and Flanker/Fulcrum series, is this true and, if so, is it an issue in the close-in fight? A consequence of high Alpha is low speed. Any fighter pilot worth their salt knows that speed is life in close combat. Typhoon’s excess power coupled with +9G ‘carefree handling’ gives us the advantage. On exercise, Typhoon has repeatedly demonstrated that it can exploit this advantage against the Hornet, ‘Fulcrum’ and ‘Flanker’.

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What is the greatest myth about the aircraft? Not sure of any myths to be honest …..

What should I have asked you? What is it like to fly a Performance Departure where you go straight up on take off? It is a bizarre feeling every time we carry out this departure from the airfield, though it always reminds me of the raw power of the aircraft.

 How good is the Typhoon at super-cruising and how often does this occur? The Typhoon is very effective at super-cruising and it does often occur as the tactical situation dictates.

Does Typhoon offer anything not provided by the teen series? In my opinion, we all have different things that we can bring to the fight and that is why we all work together as a team!

Has the RAF enough Typhoons? (personal opinion) Our resources are very stretched due to commitments to Operations and engagements all over the world so, yes, I certainly think that we could do with more Typhoons to match these broad commitments.

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Please tell me about your book 

My mother committed suicide in April 2010 and ever since then I’ve made it my life’s mission to combat the stigma attached to mental health. People should always feel confident to speak to anyone about their own mental health and realise that their mental health should be regarded in exactly the same way as their physical health. I joined forces with a friend of mine, sports psychologist Don MacNaughton who I met after I broke my leg in a ski race and decided to write our book, “Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind” to help raise awareness of mental health by writing about our own experiences. I’ve included photos of the front and back cover of the book which includes a better description of the book. You can either buy the book from Amazon in a Kindle / electronic version at or if anybody would like a paperback then you can follow us on Facebook where you can message me and I will personally send you a copy.

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A fighter pilot’s account of the F-86 Sabre – Part 2: Punch! Pull! Eject! Ejection rejection in a rattling Sabre

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Wing Commander Irfan Masum (Rtd) flew the Sabre in the Pakistan Air Force. In his second interview he shares his dramatic experiences of a low-level Sabre mission that went catastrophically wrong, and his rebellious response to an order to eject.

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“The time I brought a badly damaged F-86F back to base happened during my fighter conversion course, but the details come rushing back, just as if it happened today. It was perhaps the most bizarre experience of my life. A three-ship formation with Flying Officer Tariq Awan in the lead for a low-level mission; No 2 on his wing was my instructor, Flt Lt Farooq Zaman, and I was detailed as No 3 to fly low-level battle formation with the lead. An uneventful take-off was accomplished with a righthand turn out of the traffic area. After 150 degrees, the course was set for the first leg, gradually descending to 250 feet AGL (distance from the ground). At the time of setting course, the instructor had already joined the lead in the wingman position on his right side (somewhat closer than 600 feet). Was I in the correct battle formation (element lead) position at the time? Of course not, I was lagging behind a little. Not wanting my instructor to fire a volley of verbal shots at me, I accelerated to 420 knots to catch up and get in to position. Our low level speed for the mission was 360 knots, so I was a good 60 knots faster to make up the lag.  Approaching the correct position I retarded the throttles to match my speed with the other formation members. Just as soon as I retarded the throttle there was a loud noise and shaking of the aircraft. The Sabre was rattling so badly that I could not read any instrument when I looked inside the cockpit to ascertain what had gone wrong. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew instantly that I had to get out of the aircraft.

 

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Reflex memory reminded me – ‘punch, pull and eject’ — the actions drilled into us every morning in the pre-flight Emergency Session. ‘Punch’ meant jettisoning the drop tanks – and the extra weight of their fuel. ‘Pull’ required pulling up to gain as much height as possible. And ‘Eject’ meant carrying out the ejection sequence.

The Sabre ejection sequence was far from ideal. The seat could not be fired through the canopy, as was the case with Martin Baker seats. Therefore, you had to fire the canopy first. This meant keeping your head down as the canopy would slide backwards to depart the airframe. After this, you had to sit straight with the head against the head rest and feet pulled back and then squeeze the trigger which would fire the rocket in the seat to throw the pilot up cleanly away from the aircraft.

Hence, I started my reflex actions of punch, pull and eject. I punched (ejected) the drop tanks, pulled the nose up to gain height and lowered my head and got hold of the canopy firing trigger – for which I had to leave the stick for that moment. But as soon as left the stick, the Sabre rolled rather rapidly to the left. Within no time I was past the 90 degrees bank and still rolling. This forced me to leave the trigger and grab the stick again. I had to fight the Sabre hard to bring it up-right again. Once upright and somewhat in control, I realized that the Sabre was not going to fall out of the sky as I had thought it would. Gosh!! I must get help from my instructor. So I radioed him, “Papa Leader, Papa 3”, there was no modulation in my transmitter as no voice came out from me. That pretty much summarises my condition, – completely chocked throat, scared to death and trembling. I tried again and this time a squeak came out which I am sure no one could have deciphered it. Taking a deep breath, I yelled into the mike – or almost. Leader heard me but could not locate me as I was already much higher than him. I told him that something is wrong the plane. He advised me to keep flying straight and level and stay calm – and that he will locate me and join up.

Next he asked me to survey the outside structure of my wings etc to see if there is any damage from a bird hit. I looked right and left and did not see any abnormality and told him so.

He joined up on my right wing and told me that everything was fine on that side  After moving to the left, his first call was a far less reassuring, ‘Oh shit!’. That scared me even more and I most hesitantly looked left. I was completely horrified to see that the left wing was cut in half from the wing-root all the way to the tip!”

He joined up on my right wing and told me that everything was fine on that side. After moving to the left, his first call was a far less reassuring, “Oh shit!”. That scared me even more and I most hesitantly looked left. I was completely horrified to see that the left wing was cut in half from the wing-root all the way to the tip! There was no leading edge  and no slats. The drop tank, which I thought I had successfully ‘punched’, was still hanging under the wing with fuel gushing out of it. How could such extensive damage have taken place? Now was not the time to answer this question. I was having difficulty keeping my wings level. I had deflected the stick fully to the right and shoved in the right rudder too to fly straight and level. My instructor made me climb to 18,000 feet to do a controllability check to test the minimum controllable speed. That speed would determine a return and a landing was possible.  

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Computer generated graphics: DCS

As we reduced the speed to 195 knots, the Sabre rolled out of control to the left. Recovering from that roll was extremely hard. Even with full right deflection of the stick and the rudder, it was slow to straighten out, and lost altitude rapidly during the recovery. If I remember correctly our flare out speeds was some 125 knots and so, my instructor decided that we could not land and must carry out a planned ejection.  F/L Farooq started explaining the planned ejection sequence to me, and it went something like this:

  1. Irfan, on my command you will lower your head and fire the canopy.
  2. You will then assume correct posture i.e. sit straight, head against the head rest and withdraw your feet and pull the ejection trigger. Never mind if the plane rolls to the left, we have plenty of height.
  3. Since we are below 14,000 feet, rest of the sequence will be automatic till you will find yourself hanging by the parachute. Make sure you steer to clear area for touching down and make the fall correctly, falling off to your side (if ejection was done above 14,000 feet the seat would free fall till 14,000 feet and then the automatic sequence would start).

I was fine till this stage. But what was explained to me next completely discomposed me. Here is what my instructor explained:

Irfan, if you find yourself tumbling in the seat be sure that the automatic system of the ejection has not functioned. In that case you will have to do the following manually:

  1. While you are tumbling you will have to open the seatbelt yourself.
  2. Then kick the seat away with your feet to separate from it.
  3. Find the ‘D’ ring of the parachute on your chest-strap and pull it.
  4. You will have to pull it to its full extent or else it will not release the small chute, which will then pull the main shoot and deploy it.

While the instructor was briefing me the manual ejection procedure, I was mentally visualising it as a live event – you know, like a slow-motion video. I saw myself tumbling in the seat. I saw myself struggling to find the seat-belt buckle – while still tumbling and my arms and hands flying all over. I saw myself kicking free of the seat while my whole body is fluttering with the gushing air pressure all around me. I saw myself, desperately, getting hold of the ‘D’ ring and trying to pull it with all my might. I saw myself still tumbling and waiting for the chute to open and stabilise my fall. That this slow motion sequence of events was going to take place scared me no end. “Am I not safer inside the cockpit, than throwing myself into the empty space so far above the earth?” I asked myself.  The answer I got was a firm, ‘yes’. So, I decided, in my mind, that I would not eject and attempt to land instead. But I could not convey this decision to my instructor.

Papa 3, eject

The episode, till this point in time, was taking place while we were on the manual frequency allocated to my instructor. Now was the time to let the Base and ATC know of our intentions. So, I was asked to switch to Channel 1 — the radio frequency station of the Air Traffic Controller.  F/L Farooq calmly narrated, briefly, what damage had taken place to the ATC, and advised the controller that we were going to execute a planned ejection in such and such area. He did not fail to mention that he had gone over the ejection procedure with me and that I was ready to undertake the ejection. He also asked for the rescue helicopter to get airborne and head towards the area where the ejection was going to take place to recover me.

So, we are now on the ATC channel, which is recorded. The most dreaded call of my life came crackling through the radio: “Papa 3, Eject”. I was snuggly numb, seated in the cockpit, and did not respond. Second call came through, “Papa 3 start the ejection procedure”. My silence must have been eerie. The third call was stern to say the least, “Papa 3 go manual and check!”. I quickly changed to the manual frequency beyond the reach of the listening ATC.

 

Ejection rejection 

“What seems to be the problem?” was a hard question to answer, but I plucked up the courage to explain that I did not want to eject. “You know the aircraft and you can not stay in the air for the rest of your life” was the funny response from my instructor.  I was scared of the ejection – but I could not bring myself to say that. Instead, I shared my plan. It was a simple one. I will go for landing maintain speed of 210 knots – some 15 knots above the speed where the Sabre would get out of control. I will flare really close to the runway surface still at 210 knots, then retard the throttle to idle. When the speed will drop to 195 knots the left wing will fall and the left gear will immediately touch the runway, followed by the right gear. Later, if I can not stop the aircraft, I will engage the barrier. I thought it was good plan. However, it was shredded to pieces by F/L Farooq Zaman: gear lowering at that speed had never been tested and there is no knowing what how the change of the airflow with gears down will affect controllability; Flaps might get twisted if you try and lower them at that speed or might not extend at all; Both main tyres will burst on touch down because of excess speed on touch down. Thirdly, you will burn the brakes while trying to stop on the runway with that kind of touch down speed and cause a fire. Besides, he could not allow me to take a chance, especially on the approach, if the speed drops to 195 knots. I would have neither the time or the altitude to eject. Hence, you have to eject. I stood firm in carrying out my plan and conveyed to him that I am ready to take the chances, but I will not eject.

Back on the ATC frequency, F/L Farooq Zaman conveyed our plan to the ATC and was very specific in stating that Papa 3 does not want to eject in spite of having been explained the perils that lie in attempting to land.

A frightening approach 

As we started our descent for the approach I realised I was trembling. I was tired from holding the full deflection of the stick and the rudder to the rightside required to keep wings level. Also, I was mindful of the fact that I had very little margin available to turn right, so I must not allow myself to drift off the centreline on the approach and not have enough control input to correct it. My total focus was on the speed. I recall that I kept reminding myself aloud to keep speed 210 knots — 210 knots  — 210 knots. Time to lower the gears – speed 210 kts. My instructor, who was in close formation on my right wing during the chase down, confirmed that all three gears seemed down — and locked; I confirmed the same with three green indication lights. Phew, that went alright. My instructor was talking me down every step of the way. Papa 3 don’t lower flaps – can’t afford to disrupt the airflow or cause further damage.  That was fine with me.

Still 210 knots, good. Entering the threshold area, I got another reminder not to retard the throttles till I was instructed by him. Completing the flare, the call to retard throttles came after what seemed like an eternity after the flare. I really can’t recall when the touch down took place. All I knew was that I was on the runway and belting down towards the barrier. Breaking hard didn’t seem to be slowing me enough. The Sabre did not have a drag chute to slow the plane as other fighters did. With trembling legs and feet I did not let go of the brakes and managed to stop before engaging the barrier. Tyres did not burst. Brakes did not catch fire. I did not engage the barrier. Once the ATC spotted me stationary on the runway, it asked me to taxi forward and clear the runway at the end. No way I was going to do that. Didn’t have the energy. With a short call of ‘negative’ I switched off the engine. By this time all the crash tenders had surrounded me and the fire marshal was climbing up to the cockpit with an axe in hand.  Silly of me to think that he had fatal intensions with that axe. He actually had to rescue me in case the canopy wouldn’t open  Fortunately, he didn’t have to use it. While this ordeal left me completely sapped of energy to even get out of the cockpit on my own strength, what I feared most was disciplinary action against me with the thought of getting suspended from fighter flying was bothering me the most.

Off the hook? 

I was taken in the ambulance by the Flight Surgeon to the hospital, where they took my blood for testing.  While I was still there, my instructor arrived and took me in the crew van straight back to my room in the Officer’s Mess.

He told me to go to sleep and not to open the door for anyone or answer any phone calls. I knew there was trouble in store for me in the days to come.  However, the next day when I reported to the Squadron, all seemed well, though a technical investigation had been ordered. I wasn’t asked to give any statement. My instructor had already done that being the Formation Leader and Instructor. I saw my name on the flying schedule, which meant that I was off the hook. How F/L Farooq Zaman managed to shield me from any negative fall-out remains a mystery to this day.

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Mission 13 over Iraq: Hush-Kit speaks to RAF Typhoon pilot & DFC winner, Roger Cruickshank on his most dangerous mission

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Photo copyright of author

Pinned down in a desperate firefight against well-armed Daesh forces it looked like the end for a group of Iraqi soldiers. But thanks to the bravery and clear-headedness of RAF Typhoon pilot Squadron Leader Roger Cruickshank, they were saved. Here Cruickshank describes the hair-raising ‘Mission 13’ over Iraq in 2016 to Hush-Kit. 

Mission 13, 27 May 16 2016

6:50 Day 4 air-to air refuelling brackets
“Every mission was different and something unexpected almost always happened. So I woke up fairly nervous as I always did before every mission. It was more the anticipation of not knowing what could happen. That and the fact you are flying in a hostile environment where a large proportion of the people on the ground want to kill you.  However, I had already flown 12 missions by this point so I knew I could do it. I had the confidence that my formation would be able to deal with whatever was thrown at us. We had a long transit into theatre so plenty of time to get comfortable in the cockpit and even time for a quick pee which requires practice in itself when flying a Eurofighter Typhoon single-seat aircraft! It had been ridiculously hot when crewing into the aircraft — at around 40 deg — so I had to keep adjusting the temperature in cockpit as my sweat cooled. The Typhoon cockpit environmental control system is good though it is a bit cramped for someone who is 6 ft 4 and carrying a lot of gear in order to survive if we had to eject into enemy territory.
We arrived into theatre nice and early, put in the stack above a pair of Dutch F-16s who were prosecuting an attack against some enemy fighters who were hiding in the trees. We were initially tasked to help them with tracking the enemy fighters where we could, though we were then handed over to the secondary Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), a sure sign that this was going to be a busy day! Straight away this got my adrenaline pumping – reacting to the tone in the JTAC’s voice made me on edge because there was obviously a lot going on in this fight.
A ‘9-line’ was passed to drop a single Paveway IV bomb on a large building housing an enemy sniper, so we immediately set to getting everything in the kit. We soon got the clearance and I prosecuted the attack with everything going as planned. I sat looking at my Litening Designator Pod screen, waiting for the impact. The Paveway IV (PW4) went in causing the desired effect but the JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) came back saying that there was continued fire and they needed a re-attack. Probably because the sniper had moved to another part of the bullding before the strike and survived the blast.

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We soon got the authority for the re-attack though almost immediately the JTAC came back with another tasking of equally high priority. We were getting to the point where we had to go air-to-air Refuelling (AAR) but decided to take the 9 line to try and prosecute it before we needed to get fuel. My wingman was taking the 9 line as I was lining up for my re-attack – busy times! The JTAC paused midway through his 9 line to give me clearance to drop and the 2nd bomb went in. The PW4 worked as advertised and the remaining part of the building was completely vaporised and the sniper killed in the process.

 

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We managed to get a quick bit of Battle Damage Assessment done (BDA) as we flowed straight onto the next target which was another building housing enemy fighters with friendly forces (FF) close by at ‘Danger Close’ – just metres from the building. It was a high priority because friendlies (the Iraqi Defence Force) were getting shot at by fighters within the building and had nowhere to go, trapped by enemy fire. We were now right on minimum fuel and after a bit of a fuel check/discussion we decided to drop down to a lower fuel and prosecute the attack, utilising a closer diversion which was much more dangerous but had a useable runway. I also managed to quickly get a hold of our UK Voyager tanker aircraft to ensure that they could track directly towards us so that we wouldn’t have to transit far before air-to-air refuelling with them. The attack was successful with the building destroyed and several enemy fighters killed. The JTAC said “You guys better go get some fuel before you fall out the sky!” He was extremely grateful of the work we had just done and very aware of the fact we had pushed the line to make the successful attack and save the lives of the friendly forces under fire. Luckily, the join up to the Voyager was seamless and they were extremely helpful to ensure we got fuel into our Typhoons as quick as possible to avoid us having to divert into a hostile airfield.

After air-to-air refuelling we came back and were told to search between two points, a road that was running beside a canal. We ended up tracking loads of suspicious-looking vehicles and enemy fighters then when I was doing my scan looking outside of the cockpit using the HMSS, there was a massive explosion. The biggest one I have ever seen with my own eyes, with the smoke cloud obscuring the sight of anything below it for a good while. Larger than anything from a PW4 or similar. It gave me a horrible tight sensation in my chest, witnessing something so catastrophic and final. I’m sure it must have been related to the enemy fighters on the ground as we had been previously told by the JTAC that there had been a lot of exchange of fire across the canal.

 

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Soon we were then moved out of there and given a 9 line which was friendly forces under attack, again in the Fallujah area. We got our sensors in there and correlated the co-ords with a building housing enemy fighters. It was a Heavy Machine Gun team with additional enemy fighters in the area who had managed to pin down the Iraqi forces who were again Danger Close and taking casualties. They were trying to get us to positively identify the fighters in the open so that we could drop on them at the same time but in the end they deemed it necessary to drop the building immediately. I quickly got myself set up and began the attack. All was looking good until the moment I pressed COMMIT and after a couple of seconds, due to the constraints required on this particular attack, the symbology for the weapon release region just disappeared. I remember feeling the pang of guilt that I wouldn’t be able to prosecute the attack, thinking that I must have done something wrong or missed a particular switch selection. I kept holding the commit button then there was a thud as the PW4 dropped off my aircraft. There was a massive sigh of relief from me as I watched it destroy the building though soon we were working hard trying to track any escaping enemy fighters from the vicinity of this building. Soon they were lining us up for another attack to get the fighters in the open who were still clearly firing at the Iraqis and we actually witnessed a couple of explosions on the pod. They were using everything they had including Rocket Propelled Grenades and Heavy Machine Guns. My wingman dropped 2 PW4s first on a group of 2 fighters then on a group of 3 fighters in the open. I was providing cover and checking the area for any friendlies or unknown activity as well as tracking the enemy fighters who were constantly on the move. We managed to neutralise the threat from the enemy fighters and started to relax as the tone of the JTAC started to relax. We were all still running high on adrenaline which was evident from how fast we were speaking! We had been working hard and it really was a successful mission.

The transit home was uneventful but gave us plenty of time to reflect. As I started to calm down and try to remember exactly what had happened, I found myself very anxious to find out whether we had done enough to save the lives of our allied troops on the ground. It had been so busy that we were just getting moved straight onto the next attack and concentrating on what was next rather than what we had just done. You can’t help but harbour some doubt in your mind, especially when the pressure was on, but I simply focused on the fact that we had done our very best in what was a hugely dynamic environment.

When we landed, we found out that we had indeed saved the lives of all the Iraqi Platoon soldiers as they had been completely pinned down until we arrived and had been taking casualties on both occasions. Definitely my best mission in the air force and it was a day where I was truly proud to have been part of a team who worked so hard and saved peoples’ lives.”

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Sqn Ldr R A Cruickshank DFC CFS RAF

Sqn Ldr Roger Cruickshank (35) is a II (AC) Sqn Eurofighter Typhoon pilot currently based at RAF Lossiemouth. He has served in the RAF for 16 years and been deployed all over the world, including operations over Iraq & Syria. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in the Operational Honours List 2017 for an act of bravery when he saved the lives of Iraqi solders who were pinned down by Daesh fighters.

Roger is an Olympian who competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics Downhill and Super G Alpine Skiing events. Though not without complication as he had a big ski crash just 10 months before the Olympics, which resulted in 9 titanium pins and a plate being used to reconstruct his leg. He also has 4 metal coils in his face after a mountain bike crash which required reconstructive facial surgery. On both occasions he lost his medical category that allowed him to be a pilot, having to fight back to full fitness and pass extensive testing to achieve his dream of being a fighter pilot.

He has been campaigning towards mental health awareness for the last 7 years and recently wrote a book called, “Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind”. His various charity work, including selling around 850 copies of his book worldwide, has raised over £10,000 for multiple charities including the Scottish Association of Mental Health, Help 4 Heroes and Heads Together.

First female combat pilot and mother of the air ambulance: The remarkable story of Marie Marvingt

Amelia Earhart was all very well, but did she cycle the Tour de France? Amy Johnson was pretty good but did she swim the length of the Seine? Jackie Cochran achieved a lot but was she the champion precision shooter of all France? No. And how many people fly in a supersonic Voodoo jet on their 80th birthday? The remarkable story of Marie Marvingt.

La Fiancee de Danger, Marie Marvingt remains the most decorated woman in French history and one of the most remarkable people to have ever lived. Curiously, despite the greater portion of her life’s work being dedicated to using aircraft to save lives, she holds the warlike distinction of being the first woman ever to fly combat missions during a time of war.

Born in 1875, Marvingt displayed an early and remarkable talent for sports of all kinds. By the age of five she is alleged to have swum 4km in a single day, at 15 she canoed over 400km from Nancy to Koblenz and in 1905 became the first woman to swim the length of the Seine – a feat which earned her the nickname l’amphibie rouge due to the colour of her swimming costume. Not content with aquatic ventures she dominated the winter sports scene, winning prizes in ski-jumping, speed-skating, age and bobsleigh. She enjoyed mountain climbing as well as countless other sports Marvingt was also a committed cyclist, on one occasion riding from Nancy to Naples to watch the eruption of Vesuvius (a journey of over 1300km). In 1908 she attempted to enter the Tour de France but was barred as entry was open only to men, she completed the course anyway after the race had ended – notably only 36 of the 114 male riders managed to finish. Amazingly she also found time to win an international military shooting competition with a French Army carbine in 1907 as well as prizes for ballooning in 1909 and 1910 (she was the first woman to cross the Channel by balloon). So great and wide ranging were her sporting successes that the Académie des Sports awarded her a gold medal in 1910 ‘for all sports’, the only multi-discipline award they have ever presented.

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By 1910 Marvingt was in possession of a driving licence (issued 1899) and a ballooning licence so a flying licence seemed the logical next step and thus by the end of the year she had qualified as France’s third female pilot, becoming the only woman to do so in the notoriously tricky-to-fly Antoinette monoplane in the process. In the years between then and the outbreak of war she flew some 900 times and not once suffered an accident, a feat more or less unheard of at that time.

Wings of mercy

It was during this period that Marvingt began to conceive of using aircraft as air ambulances, a pursuit that was to dominate the rest of her life. As early as 1912 she had worked with the talented designer Louis Becherau (who was to be responsible for the superlative SPAD series of fighters) at the Deperdussin aircraft company on the design of the first practical air ambulance. After mounting a successful campaign to raise money for the revolutionary new aircraft type, Marvingt ordered the air ambulance from Deperdussin. Unfortunately the Deperdussin company went bankrupt in 1913 and the air ambulance was never built, nor was the money ever recovered. 

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Within a year of this setback France found itself at war and Marvingt was determined to ‘do her bit’ even if it required disguising herself as a man. With the connivance of a sympathetic infantry lieutenant Marvingt served at the front with the 42ième Bataillon de Chasseurs à Pied as a regular (male) soldier until her subterfuge was discovered by higher authorities and she was sent home. Despite this she later accompanied Italian troops on the Dolomite front, allegedly at the direct request of Marshal Foch. Later in the war she served, in a more conventional role for the era, as a surgical nurse. Before that, however, she was to achieve the greatest single aviation milestone of her career.

Marie_Marvingt_by_Emile_Friant_1914By 1915, bombing missions were becoming more commonplace but France was desperately short of trained pilots. Marie Marvingt offered her services as a volunteer and, somewhat surprisingly, was accepted. It is worth noting that in aviation circles she was a noted pre-war pilot of considerable renown and proven skill and this may have outweighed the standard contemporary prejudice of employing a woman in a combat role. Initially she flew reconnaissance missions but in 1915 she made history by flying a bombing mission over Metz (in a curious twist of fate the very town in which her parents had married 54 years earlier), becoming the first woman ever to fly a combat mission and earning herself the Croix de Guerre in the process.  To put this into context it would be, for example, another 83 years before a female pilot in the USAF was allowed to fly a bombing mission. Marvingt was so far ahead of her time that it was only in 1999 that France would present Caroline Aigle, its second woman combat pilot, with her fighter pilot’s wings.

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Marvingt’s great achievement was merely a blip in her ongoing passion for aeromedical evacuation Between the wars she created a prize, the Challenge Capitaine-Écheman, for the aircraft most readily convertible into an air ambulance, co founded the organisation Les Amies De L’Aviation Sanitaire dedicated to promoting air ambulance services, established a civil air ambulance service in Morocco, became the world’s first certified Flight nurse, made two documentary films promoting air ambulances, invented metal skis and suggested their use for aircraft operating from sand, was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1935 was for her promotion of air ambulance services, and worked to set up the Flying Ambulance Corps which employed women pilots to deploy trained doctors and nurses by landing at designated sites or dropping them by parachute to aid the wounded. With the outbreak of a new world war this service was of obvious appeal, it had already been supported by authority figures such as Marshals Foch and Joffre in the interwar years, and in 1939 under the leadership of famous French flier, Maryse Hilsz, hundreds of volunteers sought to join. During the war Marvingt set up a convalescent centre for wounded aviators and invented a new type of surgical suture.

To celebrate her 80th birthday Marvingt flew supersonic over Nancy in a USAF F-101 Voodoo and commenced helicopter lessons (though she never attained her helicopter licence). Marie Marvingt died in 1963 at the age of 88, just two years after cycling from Nancy to Paris – a mere 350km or so.

By Edward Ward

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Top 10 beyond visual range fighter aircraft 2018: selection process and the science of BVR combat

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‘The Infinity of Lists’ by Umberto Eco is book that covers the topic of lists. Examples cited in the book range from Hesiod‘s list of the progeny of gods to Rabelais’ list of bottom-wipes. Listing, the compulsive mind’s attempt to impose order on a chaotic universe is everywhere, and is especially popular on the odious and wonderful thing you’re now using, the internet.

The top ten format of ‘listicle’ has long haunted the internet, leading me to take the rather lazy step of adopting it for this blog. Since this site started five years ago I’ve created a bunch of top 10s, ranging from the predictable (like the ‘Best fighters of World Two‘) to the deliberately silly (Top ten pusher aircraft, allegedly- but not actually – written by Werner Herzog). The furious responses the selections generated is both puzzling and to be expected. It’s odd in that you wouldn’t expect anyone to believe that reality actually conforms to a ‘top ten’ approach, and predictable in that the articles are intended to provoke debate; in some cases we have made deliberately contentious choices in our top 10s to catalyse such responses. Curiously, the fact that these articles could be said to trivialise or possibly celebrate war machines by using a format conceived for promoting pop music has not provoked any response.

Which, almost, neatly brings us to the Top 10 BVR fighters. BVR may be a daunting term, but simply stands for ‘beyond visual range’. Our top 10 is an attempt to choose the ten fighters that are best at shooting down other aircraft at ranges where the pilot cannot see the opponent with his or her eyes. That I decided to separate the aircraft into within-visual range (WVR) and BVR categories is a completely artificial device, but I hope, an interesting way to consider their relative merits. Each time I have assembled this annual list I have quizzed experts in the field (though many, including Jim Smith, may not self identify as such) to help me reach my conclusions. Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. When I asked him to order operational fighter aircraft in a top 10, he asked me to consider the nature of BVR combat and sub-categories within it. As his answers were fascinating in themselves, I have presented them here as a teaser preceding the sharing of our top 10 BVR fighters of 2018. Over to Jim….

BVR Fighter Assessment

Birds of a feather ...

OVER VIRGINIA — An F-15 Eagle is joined in formation by F-16 Fighting Falcons during a training sortie here April 19. The F-15 is assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and the F-16 is assigned to the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing in Richmond. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

I am going to start by considering what is different about BVR combat, and what system characteristics are needed to succeed? From there, I’ll go on to examine whether the scenario or setting for the air combat makes a difference to the system requirements, and then have a go at ranking aircraft in different scenarios.

I’ll leave it to you, to draw on your sources on the current state of development of the various systems. Were I to attempt this, I’d need to be aware of material I certainly could not bring to this forum.

What is required to deliver a BVR air combat capability?

Here’s how I look at BVR as a capability:

The 4 things you need to achieve, all in the context of survival, are:

Locate the target

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at a sufficient distance to be able to decide what to do

– preferably without being detected yourself

These two elements of locate then push you towards platforms that

– have powerful on-board detection systems, such as Electronically-scanned radars, big radars, Low Probability of Exploitation (LPE) radars, and Infra-Red Seeker Trackers (IRST)

– and/or operate in a well-integrated system of systems, with datalink support, off-board and third-party sensors

– and may be supported by other systems countering opposition sensors, including surface and airborne radars

– and/or can operate with stealth including secure LPE communications and datalinks

As a consequence of the above, interoperability becomes important, as third parties may be providing target information, datalinks, tankers and logistics. This drives towards

compatible secure communications, IFF, tanker/refuelling systems, in turn requiring

trusted information sharing protocols and procedures between coalition allies

or the alternative approach of a self-sufficient integrated air defence system (e.g. Russia, China, Sweden)

Engage and defeat the target

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Outside the opposition’s ability to engage effectively, and ideally inside your missile no escape zone

This drives you towards

 – long range missiles such as Meteor

– Third-party support, including targeting and datalink support

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Disengage at will

This is to allow you to either re-position for another engagement, or to withdraw

This favours

– Platforms with high energy manoeuvrability

– or all aspect stealth (generally not both high energy manoeuvrability and stealth, at least without compromise e.g in number of weapons carried)

– AESA radar to allow high-off boresight datalinks

– or third-party datalinks

Repeat as necessary

This requires the ability to

– carry enough weapons

– have good combat persistence

– and, often ignored, have sufficient availability and numbers to deliver a campaign rather than just an engagement

What does this imply for the top ten candidates ?

Situational awareness, weapons capability and combat persistence are probably more important than manoeuvre capability (g), although transonic and supersonic acceleration is helpful in creating opportunities to survive/win multiple engagements.

Situational awareness (SA) is vital because Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat, by definition, precludes visual identification of opposing systems. Electronic systems must be used instead, and so on-board and off-board radars and electronic surveillance and protection measures become very important.

There is also the interaction between SA and stealth. If you have a stealthy airframe (F-22, F-35 for example) there are likely to be big benefits in the engaging fighters running in passive and using third-party sensors to set up the engagement. If you don’t do this your stealth advantage evaporates, as the opposition knows where you are.

If you are not very stealthy, and if your primary concern is to knock down enemy strike aircraft and bombers. what you want is a very long-range missile with a large no escape zone, like Meteor. This allows you to stand off outside the kill zone of the opposition.

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Another big issue is the effectiveness of any detection technologies against stealthy aircraft. Ground-based multi-static radars; lower frequency radars; AESA radars and IR Seeker Trackers will all have some capability. And who knows whether means exist of exploiting the LPE radars and comms. systems of stealthy aircraft. Once missiles are deployed, other detection opportunities may exist, including increases in signature as weapons are deployed; launch detection; detection of the missile plume etc.

Then you have the problem of numbers, closely connected to the number of BVR weapons carried, and the effectiveness of those weapons in a modern counter-measures environment. Not to mention tactics … and whether multiple engagements will be required.

Good things to have:

1) Situational Awareness

    Active Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radars are better than Passively Scanned Arrays; either of these is better than mechanically scanned radar

    Off-board sensors able to provide big picture good; better still if 3rd party targeting available.

2) Low observability

    But caution if this means less weapons; less platform performance; less persistence and need for 3rd party EW to avoid compromising LO by transmitting

3) High-capability weapons

    Long-range, high-speed, large No Escape Zone

    High resistance to countermeasures

    More than 2 BVR shots (ideally)

4) Sufficient combat fuel available

    To take advantage of the weapons load out

5) Good energy manoeuvrability

    To engage and did-engage at will

    To rapidly accelerate to maximise weapon effectiveness

6) Good EW and countermeasures available

    To decrease opposition situational awareness and increase survivability.

Scenarios and broader requirements

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One of the key problems to be addressed is ‘what is the scenario?’ And are other attributes also required?

What about considering 2 different views of BVR combat – Air Superiority, where the battle is taken to the opposition, and Air Defence, where the focus is on deterring and preventing incursion.

Starting with Air Defence, let’s suppose you have a small-ish nation, where the Government does not have global dominance in its agenda. For such a nation, the key aim is deterrence, ensuring that any country wishing to invade or dominate you cannot easily do so. For such a nation, Gripen/Meteor might be the ultimate air defender, especially if you have a well-integrated air defence system and dispersed bases. Never being far from the border or a base, fuel volume and even weapons load don’t matter so much, because you’ll scoot back to your cave and re-arm/refuel. Having a big stick, however, is great, because you can defeat threats while keeping out of their missile range.

On the other hand, Air Defence of Russia drives you towards the MiG-31. You have to have a big, fast, aircraft because you can’t avoid the possibility of having to cover a fair distance at high speed to meet the threat. Being big means a big sensor and long-range weapons are available, and both are likely to be needed. You may be less concerned about signature and platform manoeuvrability because your ideal approach will be to stand back and hit bombers rather than engage fighters.

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Air Superiority, or perhaps Air Superiority and Offensive Counter Air is a bit of a different proposition. A key difference is that you are seeking to dominate outside your borders (or your host Nation’s borders when deployed elsewhere). It helps to be big, because you can carry a lot of fuel to allow you to be a penetrating escort to strike packages. But it also helps to be stealthy to reduce your vulnerability to ground-based systems and air defence aircraft. And it may help to be really agile – if you are going to need to disengage and re-engage, for example, or against the contingency you get forced into WVR combat.

So F-22 should be excellent at most of this, but might lack a bit in the way of combat persistence. As an OCA adjunct, able to use surface weapons to hit radars, and anti-air weapons to counter opposition Air Defence aircraft, F-35 would be excellent, but perhaps best with its pal in the F-22 nearby to ensure the F-35s could stay out of WVR.

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The Su-35 and Chinese derivatives would also be strong players here. These Su-27 developments have plenty of fuel, plenty of weapons and plenty of agility. In Air Superiority some of the older variants may be looking a bit dated, but their fuel capacity, general availability in significant numbers and weapons and EW capability mean that they could be quite challenging as escorts. I think the size is driven by the geographic challenge (like the MiG-31); once you’ve got the size, fuel weapons and agility the escort role is a natural. But signature differences would give an initial advantage to stealthier systems.

The strength of Rafale and Eurofighter is their ability to take different weapons loads so they can swing between the Air Superiority role at the start of a conflict (particularly once Meteor and AESA come along) and the OCA/strike role with an Air Defence capability once Air Superiority is established.

I’d expect China to be doing dome different things with the J-20. With a hypothetical really long-range anti-air weapon, this relatively stealthy platform could force essential support assets such as tankers and AEW platforms to stand back, reducing situational awareness and combat persistence for opposition aircraft. It might also be a deterrent to maritime operations if an air-surface strike weapon were to be available. Perhaps the J-20 should be thought of as a stealthy MiG-31, aimed at large area airspace denial rather than air superiority per se.

Broader requirements may also arise, particularly given the interplay between National aspirations, geography and budget. It is only the largest economic powerhouses with global aspirations that can afford optimised specialist solutions for Strategic Strike, Tactical Strike, Air Superiority and Air Defence.

As an example, due to its perceived role in regional security, the UK is looking to mush of its future air capability being delivered by a mix of Typhoon and JSF. Strategic strike would be delivered by other systems such as cruise missiles, and it appears Typhoon will swing between Air Superiority and Strike roles as required, while JSF provides a stealthy strike capability.

Making an Assessment

So, how to go about defining a Top Ten? A decision needs to be made about whether the Top Ten focuses solely on Air Superiority, or whether the flexibility of role, which may suit many Nations economically, is an additional measure. Further, where do the specialist Air Defence aircraft like MiG-31 and Gripen fit in? If the somewhat platform focussed approach of the 2017 list is followed these should do well, as with a long-range weapon either could be a very effective deterrent against a threat strike package.

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A Governmental approach to ranking these systems would be reliant on extensive system modelling, intelligence data, consideration of whole life costs and so on. Even them, great care would be required to ensure the modelling represented like with like – for example matching projected future capabilities against realistic projected threat capability rather than current capability.

None of these techniques are available to me, and if they were, I could not report the outcome! Instead the assessments below are judgement-based against various roles for which the candidate aircraft might be used.

Air superiority:

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1: F-22

2: Typhoon and Rafale (once Meteor and AESA are integrated)

3: F-15 and Su-35 [I’d need to know more about these systems to separate them] 

4. J-11, Su-30

Air Defence:

Rafale-Typhoon

1: F-22 (but should be doing Air Superiority)

2: Gripen and MiG-31 – noting a limitation to Defence of the homeland 

3: Typhoon and Rafale (with or without Meteor, but would be better with Meteor and would then place above Gripen)

4: F-15, Su-35, J-11, F-35 (unsure about where to place F-35; its lack of energy manoeuvrability and low number of long-range weapons is offset by stealth)

5: J-20 (likely to improve as system matures)

6: Su-30/ F-18E/F

Escort

1: F-22 (but should be doing Air Superiority)

2: Su-35/J-11/Su-30 (Primarily because of fuel capacity)

3: F-35 (self-escort role)

4: Typhoon/Rafale (with or without Meteor, but with Meteor would be better)

 Offensive Counter Air/Strike

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1: JSF (stealth, fuel)

2: Swing-role Typhoon and Rafale

3: J-20 as specialist AEW and tanker killer, and threat to maritime systems 

4: F-18E/F

5: F-16

This excludes specific strike systems such as F-15E, Su-34

Taken overall, it depends what you are looking for. The best out-and-out BVR fighter is the F-22, and it would be good for Air Defence as well.

A champion all-round capability for a non-US, Western nation, would be Typhoon or Rafale plus JSF. For Russia or China, Su-35 plus MiG-31 or J-20 plus J-11, plus specialist strike aircraft

If your focus is only on defence, then F-22, Gripen, MiG-31 and perhaps J-20 are all strong.

If your budget is limited to one combat aircraft type and your geography is limited, Gripen would be excellent. If you have a large geographic area to manage Su-35, or F-35 with tanker support.

Jim’s opinions and observations will be used in the compilation of the top 10 BVR fighters of 2018 coming very soon to hushkit.net

 

Without the generosity of our readers we could not exist, please donate here. We are extremely grateful to all those who choose to donate. Recommended donation £11. 

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An Idiot’s Guide to air force roundels

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At the start of World War I, the Royal Flying Corps commander Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson was considering how he could mark his aircraft to avoid friendly forces shooting them down. On attending a concert by the rock band ‘The Who’ he was impressed by the ‘roundel’ design worn by the band and some of its Mod fans. The next day he decreed that all RFC should carry the design for identification purposes.

Of course, that is not true. However, the roundel – a circular design derived from medieval heraldry –  is the standard way of telling your friends and enemies the nationality of your military aircraft. Though strictly speaking, the word ‘roundel’ describes a round symbol, today it is popularly used to describe an air arm’s main insignia, whatever the shape.

The ubiquitous aeroplane roundel has been a sure-fire way of identifying who a military aircraft belongs to for over a century now – in fact, it’s the law, though how you’re meant to catch anyone not using them has never really been explained. Pretty much every country has its own form of roundel or other, usually based on the country’s national flag or colours, (because otherwise, what’s the point really?) although some get a bit more abstract and experimental at times. There have been some interesting designs over the years; some that have become iconic, some gaudy and camp, and some that really stretch the meaning of the word “roundel” (looking at you, Hungary). This totally non-exhaustive and utterly subjective lists picks out some of the roundels of the world, and rates them using completely arbitrary methods based pretty much on how good I think it looks and not much else.

Note that this doesn’t take into account the “low viz” form that many roundels take these days – which are still better than the monochromatic F-35 symbols which are forcing airshow spectators into habitual Ayahuasca use.

France

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It makes sense to start with the grandaddy of them all, the French cockade, iconic symbol of the French Revolution, which first appeared on French Army aircraft in the First World War as a way of making sure they weren’t confused with the hated Germans or worse, the British. I suppose they didn’t really have much to work with, given that no one else was doing it at the time, but you’d think that the French of all people would come up with something a little more creative. It does the job, but doesn’t carry the flair one would expect of such a stylish country. Shame, France.

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Props to the French Navy for their version, though. It’s got a pretty dope anchor on it, what’s not to like?

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I’m rating the looks a little down too as I don’t think the dominant red is quite as nice. Invert the colours and you’d have a pretty nice roundel, I reckon.

 

Identifiability: 8/10 Originality: 10/10 (first ever) Looks: 6/10
Iconicity: 5/10

UK

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What did I say? Much nicer, much more balanced. The British military’s roundel has definitely become one of the most iconic the world over, brought to the world’s attention by the epic imagery of the Battle of Britain but made truly famous by the Mod movement of the 1960s (and ’90s revival).

Famously, and sadly, the red circle in the middle was too close to the Japanese roundel in the Second World War and many confused American pilots struggled to tell the difference, so it was changed in that theatre to a fairly ugly two-tone blue. Not a fan. The origins of the British roundel are based on a similar desire to avoid confusion; British aircraft originally carried the Union Flag, which at a distance could be confused with Germany’s cross design.

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I have to mark this one down for originality though. I mean, it’s literally just the French one inside out. “Mind if I copy your homework” “Sure, but just change it up a bit so it’s not obvious”.

Identifiability: 8/10 Originality: 2/10 Looks: 8/10 Iconicity: 9/10

Click here for the top ten aircraft camo schemes of 2017.

Ethiopia

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This is a pretty nice roundel. It certainly matches the colours of the country’s flag, and is simple enough to go on a wing pretty quickly. I reckon if you saw this, you’d know it was Ethiopia. Interestingly, though, there’s already a pretty dope symbol in the middle of Ethiopia’s flag, so I’m not sure why they didn’t use that? It’s definitely cooler plus looks a little bit occult so might spook superstitious enemies, giving you a crucial advantage in a tight battle. Seemingly, there’s an unwritten rule that African roundels must contain green, red, yellow or black (nobody told Somalia). 

Identifiability: 6/10 Originality: 6/10 Looks: 6/10 Iconicity: 3/10

Ireland

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This is definitely what you’d call an interesting take on the roundel design, but it scores very highly on the identifiability scale for it. I’d love to know where the inspiration for the swirl design come from, unless the designer was just a very big fan of ice cream (pistachio and orange sherbet have topped Ireland’s favourite flavours for over 120 years). Ireland is a neutral country but does have combat capable PC-9s, which proudly wear the roundel on the side rather largely so there’s still some call for them to serve their intended purpose.

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Honestly, I really like this one, it works really well, it represents the country as much as it needs to, and it stands out among the concentric rings brigade. It gains minor points in iconicity for being on Fouga Magisters, which are indisputably some of the prettiest aircraft ever.

Identifiability: 8/10 Originality: 8/10 Looks: 8/10 Iconicity: 5/10

Denmark

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I like the simplicity of the Danish roundel. Matches the national flag colours spot on, nothing extraneous, not trying to be something other than what it is – a sign that says “This plane is Danish, you better respect it.” It’s sometimes brave for a military to go with a minimalist design, but this looks good on pretty much any aircraft – special mention must go to the now-retired blue Lynx Mk 90s (R.I.P.).

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Sadly I’ve got to take points off the originality rank here – compared with the sister Scandinavian countries, there was surely room for a bit more Danish identity in here? Maybe a Lego block or something. Actually, that’s a great idea for my fantasy air force.

Identifiability: 7/10 Originality: 3/10 Looks: 6/10 Iconicity: 5/10

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Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard fast-ropes down onto Jean-Paul Sartre’s boat to extoll the virtues of existentialism. 

Colombia

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Wow. Gosh, there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there? This almost modern-art style roundel really goes all in in the “show your national colours” role here – it doubles down on the flag, in fact (honestly not sure where the little star comes from though. Nice little personal touch, I guess). It’s a little known fact that the Colombian Air Force, struggling to come up with an original design, actually took this straight off the TV colour test card in a fit of frustration, and to this very day it makes monitors flicker in confusion. Astonishingly there is a low-viz version of this one. 

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I’m going to give this one quite a low looks score – I mean, yeesh – but you might be surprised to see it receive a fairly high iconicity because in my mind this roundel is synonymous with the fantastic images of Colombian Kfirs that do the rounds fairly regularly, and does it get much better than Kfirs?

No.

Identifiability: 7/10 Originality: 4/10 Looks: 3/10 Iconicity: 7/10

Australia

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Well, it was never going to be original, what with the Queen and colonialism and all that stuff, but it’s got a kangaroo (easily one of the top ten animals) in the middle and that’s freaking awesome, so I’m rating it pretty highly. The only air force insignia to feature an animal with three vaginas. 

Identifiability: 9/10 (hello, where do kangaroos come from?) Originality: 1/10 Looks: 8/10 Iconicity: 7/10

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Turkmenistan

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Turkmenistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. If you didn’t already know then before you spotted one of their military aircraft, then you sure did afterwards. There’s quite a lot going on in this one and if you’re not picking up on the religious overtones then I don’t know what to say. This is the first of our non-round roundels and it’s a strong entry into this category – the colours are decent, it does a pretty good job of showing which country it is and, actually when compared with the country’s flag it’s pretty restrained. That said, when you see it on the side of jets, you definitely think it’s probably better framed and on someone’s wall than on ten-odd tonnes of war machine, so marks down on iconicity.

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Identifiability: 6/10 Originality: 5/10 Looks: 6/10 Iconicity: 3/10

Belarus

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If you tell Belarus that the USSR broke up nearly twenty years ago, it firmly sticks its fingers in its ears and shouts “La la la, I can’t hear you” until your five-day visa expires. It just doesn’t want to know (I mean, it still has an organisation called the KGB…) and, well, isn’t that just reflected here. Russia at least threw a bit of new twist on its star with some sick flag styling, but Belarus just sticking resolutely with that good old Soviet symbol like it’s 1989 and Moscow’s still calling the shots. Well, more than it still is, I mean. Pretty low scores overall here (similar for their ranking for human rights), extremely low effort and I don’t like to see countries stuck with their heads in the past.

Get with the times, Belarus.

Identifiability: 0/10 Originality: 0/10
Looks: 6/10 (classic design) Iconicity: 2/10

Kazakhstan

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Hey, way to make Belarus look bad, Kazakhstan. Taking a classic design with a fresh new look, Kazakhstan matches the gold and red of communism that we’ve all come to know and love with a definite home-grown look that marks it out as an aeroplane of the Steppe. I’m loving the stylised eagle at the bottom especially – there are quite a lot of roundels with birds on but this one is the nicest in my opinion.

Identifiability: 7/10 Originality: 5/10 Looks: 7/10 Iconicity: 4/10

Uganda

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FORGET WHAT I JUST SAID. Woah! Check out that guy in the middle, he’s amazing! Honestly, why would Uganda even have fighter jets, just send that guy in, game over, war won. Google tells me he’s a grey crowned crane and is the national bird of Uganda, and they seriously made the right choice in putting him in their roundel because if I saw him coming my way I’d surrender on the spot. That said, details like this aren’t obvious from particularly far away and the full effect won’t be immediately obvious, so some points got docked for that. Purely because I want this guy to be the first thing you notice about any Ugandan aircraft. Plus I’m getting a pretty good “West London chicken shop logo” vibe which is definitely working for me right now.

Identifiability: 6.5/10 Originality: 8/10 Looks: 10/10 Iconicity: 4/10

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Can’t see that great punk bird on this Ugandan ‘Flanker’. 

Philippines

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Choosing to take their military’s roundel straight out of Gundam (ED: I’m hyperlinking that as I’ve never heard it) or something, this might just be the most futuristic one out there. My assumption here is that the Philippines (god, that’s hard to spell right first time) is banking on being a pretty big player in the eventual space wars that mankind will fight over the solar system’s precious resources, because they’re investing early in the ‘future-chic’ game. Honestly, big fan of this one but mostly because I’m a bit of a sci-fi nerd.

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Mitchell Brother War escalates. 

Identifiability: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Looks: 10/10
Iconicity: 8/10 (awarded from the future)

Iraq

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Well. There’s no mistaking who owns this plane, huh? Most people just write it on the side of the plane but I guess the Iraqis took the “identifying marks and insignia” line pretty literally. Not sure the significance of the Trump hair with a green stripe and a cock’s comb on it though. The bird of prey looks seriously pissed off, perhaps because being in the Iraqi Air Force has long been a pretty terrifying gig. 

Good on them, I guess.
Seriously, it actually says it on the roundel.

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Osirak One calling base, please can I have a different callsign?”

Identifiability: 10/10
Originality: 4/10
Looks: 3/10 (I’m sorry but just writing your name on it is pretty rubbish)
Iconicity: 5/10

Sam Wise found a job since the last time he wrote for Hush-Kit! When not working, and quite often when he’s supposed to be as well, he can be found retweeting other people’s opinions at @SamWise24 

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Top 10 Attack Helicopters

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Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer (think Weapon Systems Officer) who has since spent far too much time arguing about helicopters while working at Joint Helicopter Command, and the Army Air Corps Centre at Middle Wallop. We asked Bing to choose the ten best attack helicopters in service today. 

“Attack helicopters, because if you thought normal ones were as ugly as an aircraft could get, the world’s defence contractors conspired to prove you wrong.  To get on the list, the aircraft has to be in service and armed with an integrated gun and missiles.  Disappointingly. this meant I had to exclude the Alouette III, one of which managed to shoot down an Islander with a 20-mm door gun — providing a service to aviation enthusiasts everywhere.

 

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

10. Eurocopter/Airbus Helicopters Tiger ‘Tyger Tyger, burning crap’ 

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The Tiger is essentially only on this list because it appeared in the film Goldeneye and I’d ruled out the Harbin Z-19 and Kawasaki OH-1 for not having guns. Although admittedly some Tigers don’t have guns either because it’s that bad an attack helicopter.  As an example of European cooperation it’s up there with the Seven Years War, except that didn’t take as long to reach a conclusion.  A joint Franco-German requirement was issued in 1984, and the maiden flight of a Tiger took place in 1991.  Fast forward 11 years and they finally start rolling off the production line, reaching full operational capability at the end of 2008, the JSF programme office are probably the only people in the world to view that as rapid development.  Meanwhile even when delivered the aircraft were found to be faulty, Germany at one point suspending deliveries due to serious defects, while in 2012 Australian pilots refused to fly their aircraft due to the number of cockpit fume incidents.  In fact so enamoured of the Tiger are the Australians that despite only reaching full operating capability in 2011 they’re already planning on replacing it from the mid 2020s. Meanwhile investigators still haven’t determined why a German aircraft operating in Mali flew into the ground from 1800’, guidance limiting max speed and autopilot use hardly being reassuring.  Still that scene in Goldeneye when they eject out of it is totally worth the €14.5Bn development cost.

9. HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ‘Backseat Dhruver’

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The Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Light Combat Helicopter was developed from that companies Dhruv utility helicopter, which itself looks suspiciously like an MBB Bo 105. Well not that suspiciously, MBB helped develop it.  The LCH takes what you’ll soon discover reading this list is a tediously formulaic approach to producing an attack helicopter, i.e. give it a narrow fuselage, seat the crew in tandem, tail dragger undercarriage, gun and sensors somewhere near the front and stub wings for rockets and missiles.  The usual features of helmet mounted sights, laser and radar warning receivers, missile approach warning receivers, data links etc. are all present, however at the moment only a limited number have been produced, with full rate production only starting last year, making it too early to establish its actual capabilities.

8. Denel Rooivalk Tshwane’s World’ 

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Eventually, even Britain and France were banned from selling the South African apartheid regime with weapon systems, leading the pariah state to create its own. With a fast moving border war and the threat of Soviet armour, the South African army looked with envy to the gunship helicopters by the US and the USSR. The Rooivalk, or Red Kestrel, was developed from the mid-1980s by Denel building on earlier work that had made a proof-of-concept gunship out of an Alouette III.  To simplify the task while operating under a UN embargo the dynamics were taken from the Atlas Oryx, a licence built Puma, while it also used the Turbomeca Makila engines of the Super Puma.  This allowed for a reasonably large helicopter, the Rooivalk being noticeably bigger than the similar looking Mangusta, with an empty weight of 5739kg —more than the Mangusta’s maximum takeoff weight! The embargo that had led to the creation of their attack helicopter also forestalled a range of weapons being integrated on to it. The solution to this was the development of indigenous systems, such as the ZT6 Mokopa anti-tank missile. This seriously limited the export potential as most countries include Hellfire integration as a key user requirement. Attempts were made to market the aircraft to the UK, Malaysia, and Turkey however all selected alternatives or suffered an economic crash that led to the cancellation of any planned procurement.  Consequently the Rooivalk is most notable for having the smallest production run of any aircraft on this list with only 12 rolling out of the factory for use by the SAAF’s 16 squadron.

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7. Agusta/Agusta Westland/Leonardo Helicopters Mangusta ‘Alpine Mongoose’

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The Mangusta was developed in the late 70s and early 80s by Agusta to fulfil an Italian Army requirement for a light observation and anti-tank helicopter.  This was intended to guard against a potential Warsaw Pact armoured thrust against Italy’s border with Yugoslavia, the only effective direction of attack thanks to the Alps. Coming to the same conclusions as the design teams for the Cobra and Apache, the Mangusta followed the emerging trend for attack helicopter design that would soon become drearily monotonous.  Operations in Somalia in the early ‘90s revealed several shortcomings, leading to the requirement for a gun, full NVG capability, and an improved navigation system.  Agusta incorporated all of these features on the A129 International variant as well as replacing the original licence built Gem gas turbines with LHTEC T800s (developed for the cancelled RAH-66 Comanche) for improved performance, the A129 having had to operate at the edge of its ability in the scorching heat of Somalia.  The Italian Army meanwhile had the improvements retrospectively applied to its aircraft (apart from the engine upgrade).  The TAI/Leonardo T129 ATAK is essentially the A129 International with modifications to meet Turkish requirements, and presumably to update components that had become obsolete in the 20 years between the International being proposed and someone actually buying it.  In 2015 the Italian Army announced they were planning on upgrading their Mangusta to improve endurance, speed, and situational awareness, the alternative of developing a new attack helicopter from the AW149 being considered too risky.

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6. Chinese Aircraft Industries Group (CAIC) Z-10 ‘The Changhe Comanche’ 

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In a shock move, the Chinese Z-10 attack helicopter features a crew of two in an armoured tandem cockpit, stub wings for weapons carriage, and a 20mm cannon in a nose turret.  Okay, so essentially it’s the same as the Tiger, Mangusta, Rooivalk or any other modern attack helicopter, and dear reader I’m not convinced I’d identify it correctly in a recce test never mind in flight.  The Z-10 Fiery Thunderbolt is however probably the only aircraft to be named after a knock off MacBook accessory.  The Z-10 is, inadvertently, a true multi-national effort, in the mid-90’s Kamov were contracted to provide an initial design which the Chinese would develop and refine.  Eurocopter and Augusta provided assistance the later being paid $30 million for work related to the transmission system.  Meanwhile to prove they were team players in 2012 the US Government successfully prosecuted United Technologies for breaking ITAR regulations in relation to software exports for the Z-10 programme.  The prototypes originally flew with P&W PT6 turbines but production aircraft have a domestically produced engine along with upturned exhausts to reduce the IR signature.  Combined with at least a modest attempt at RADAR Cross Section reduction through careful matching of external angles the Z-10 has the potential to be an effective light attack helicopter.

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5. Kamov Ka-50/52 (NATO codename ‘Hokum’) ‘See you much later, Alligator’ 

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It was tempting to put Kamov’s entrant higher up the list just because it looks different, however this leads to some disadvantages compared to its contemporaries.  Produced in response to the same requirement that led to the Mi-28 the Hokum features a coaxial twin rotor, and side by side seating.  Chosen to fulfil the requirement the original Ka-50 was a single pilot aircraft, it being thought automation would reduce the workload to an acceptable level.  However as the programme progressed an improved variant with more sensors led to a second crew member and the side by side seating arrangement.  With broadly similar armament to the Havoc the Hokum is disadvantaged by the side by side seating configuration, which restricts each crew members field of view compared to the traditional tandem layout.  Meanwhile although the coaxial rotor system has benefits in terms of yaw inertia and hover performance it has shortcomings in overall manoeuvrability in order to avoid the risk of blades colliding.  Observers have noted that during displays it only makes sharp turns in a climb, and then only to the left as a turn to the right would risk blade collision.  Indeed a 1998 crash of a Ka-50 was put down to hard manoeuvring leading to the blades hitting each other.  Consequently although heavily armed the Hokum is too limited by its design to move higher up this list, it’s almost as if the clone like similarity of attack helicopters is for a good reason.

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4. Mil Mi-24/25/35 (NATO codename ‘Hind’) ‘Krokodilbert’

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The first Soviet attack helicopter was conceived as a flying Infantry Fighting Vehicle, thus as well as a selection of anti-tank missiles and a turret mounted .50 cal machine gun it can also carry 8 combat troops*.  After trialling the idea with the Mi-24A which for some reason grafted a conservatory to the front of the aircraft for the pilot and weapon system operator to sit in, the Russians perfected it with the D variant giving the crew a tandem cockpit to sit under, and the similar E which swapped the .50 cal for a fixed twin barrelled 30mm cannon.  This cockpit was then armour-plated and along with the cabin pressurised to prevent chemical or biological agents getting in.  At least until the troops want to get out.  As well as being heavily armed the ‘Hind’ is also fast and uses this speed to make up for a lack of manoeuvrability if it has to engage with other attack helicopters as happened during the Iran-Iraq war.  During the Soviet War in Afghanistan to ensure aircraft availability in the harsh operating conditions time expired engines were kept on the aircraft until they’d accumulated a further 50 hours of ‘life after death’. Other parts would deliberately only be replaced when they finally failed, which is possibly taking conditional maintenance a step too far but does demonstrate the ruggedness of the design.  The ‘Hind’ has taken part in a bewildering array of conflicts and insurgencies starting in Ethiopia in 1978 and continuing to the present day.  Tough, well armed, and uniquely for an attack helicopter able to deploy a section of troops, the Hind continues to live up to its Mujahideen nickname of the Devil’s Chariot.

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*Re ED. Could the Hind carry troops and substantial weapon loads at the same time? Bing:  It’s a bit of a grey area, looking at some numbers I think the Hind could carry troops and external weapons although probably not the max possible.  They seem to demonstrate the capability in the video of this exercise http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/12267/watch-this-russian-mi-35-hind-do-what-no-other-attack-helicopter-can although the rocket tubes are notably empty at one point that may be a training limitation or they may have fired them already.

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3. Mil Mi-28N ‘Havoc’ ‘Everybody vertalyots sometimes’

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Looking like a Soviet Apache the ‘Havoc’ has suffered a development history about as protracted as the Tiger, except in this case due to a lack of interest from the Russian Defence Ministry rather than German indecisiveness.  Learning from the experience of operating the Mi-24, a requirement was drawn up in the late ‘70s for a new helicopter that would be a dedicated gunship lacking the ability to carry armed troops.  However, a small compartment to carry three personnel remains allowing rescued aircrew to travel in slightly more comfort than sat on the chin pods as they do with the Apache.  First flight was in 1982, but by the end of ’84 the Ka-50 had been chosen as the new anti-tank helicopter.  This is where things should have ended, however Mil continued development, improving the aircrafts capabilities so that by 1995 the Mi-28N emerged with better navigation equipment to allow night and all weather operation.  Showing that perseverance sometimes pays off deliveries of the Mi-28N to the Russian Army started in 2006, over two decades after the first flight.  Russia currently has around 60 Havocs with total orders indicating a final buy of around 130 which sounds a lot until you consider the US Army placed an order with Boeing to remanufacture 224 Apaches to the latest standard.

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2. Bell AH-1Z Viper ‘Huey Lewis gun’

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Born of a need to provide dedicated fire support for US troops in Vietnam, the Huey Cobra was selected as the winner of a competition to provide an interim measure while the AH-56 Cheyenne was developed.  Bell’s model 209 entered service with only a few alterations from the competition entrant, devastatingly for those with an eye to aesthetics the retractable skid undercarriage was one of those alterations.  So many variants of the Huey and Cobra have now been produced that the designation system is in danger of running out of letters, the AH-1W and AH-1Z being in use with the USMC.  The Cobra still shares a transmission, engines, tail etc. with the Huey the UH-1Y having been developed at the same time as the AH-1Z this allowing for a claimed 85% commonality in maintenance significant items.  The most obvious external difference to the legacy Cobras is a new four-bladed main rotor which should reduce the vibration levels at slow speed from ‘shocking’ to ‘really it’s fine the instruments are almost readable’ while also improving overall performance and all up mass.  The stub wing is also increased in span and gains a missile pylon at the tip, the main advantage of the increase in span however is a repositioning of the inner pylon which previously had to be tilted to ensure jettisoned weapons wouldn’t hit the skids limiting what could be carried there.  As an interim measure the Cobra family has now been in service for over 50 years and doesn’t appear to be retiring anytime soon. 

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  1. Hughes/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing AH-64D/E Apache/Guardian ‘Carter’s Unstoppable Death Machine’

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The Apache was developed by Hughes Helicopters for the programme to replace the US Army’s AH-1 Cobra, first flying in 1975.  The first A models entered service in 1986 and three years later were deployed to Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, the following year almost half the US Apache fleet was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  In 1997 the AH-64D was introduced featuring a glass cockpit, the Longbow fire control radar, a data modem to share targeting information and up-rated engines.  The US Army acquired new build D models along with converting their existing A model aircraft, making it the de-facto standard, due to the costs for other users of maintaining the earlier models without the purchasing power of the US driving down the price of parts.  The D itself is now being phased out by the AH-64E Guardian which features improved communications and data processing, more powerful T700 engines, and the ability to control UAVs.  Initially the Es are being paired with RQ-7 Shadow drones, presumably as a prelude to Judgement Day when the drones take over completely and subjugate mankind as their slave work force.  Foreign operators of the Apache include the Netherlands, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UK which selected a modified locally produced variant the WAH-64D.  Apart from folding blades to ease operation from the Royal Navy’s carriers the main difference was a change of engine to the RTM322 giving a useful extra 400SHP.  This did however alter the centre of gravity and lost some of the advantages of having commonality with the 90% of D models that weren’t made in Somerset.  Consequently the UK will from 2020 replace its Apaches with E models from the Boeing production line, reusing high value components where possible.  Current production is expected to run until 2026, 50 years after the first example flew and thanks to continual development it remains the standard to beat.”

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Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer (think Weapon Systems Officer) who has since spent far too much time arguing about helicopters while working at Joint Helicopter Command, and the Army Air Corps Centre at Middle Wallop.

Without the kindness of our dear readers we could not exist, please donate here. We are extremely grateful to all those who choose to donate.

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-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 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.