New sixteen kill F-14 pilot interview

Saying goodbye to the British Airways’ Boeing 747 with pilot Lyndsay McGregor (with incredible photos from Rich Cooper)

Rich Cooper/COAP

One moody day in October the ‘Queen of the Skies’ landed for the final time. We spoke to 747 pilot Lyndsay McGregor about the aircraft and her feelings on saying goodbye to this majestic machine.

Which three words best describe the 747? Iconic, majestic, recognisable.

Best and worst things about the aircraft? Best: It’s versatility. Freight, people, military, civil, telescopes, laser beams and space shuttles all in and out of a normal size airport.

Credit: Lyndsay McGregor

Worst: Fuel efficiency and environmental impact. In its day it was amazing but today’s big twins show the 747 is past its prime.

Unlike the 380, the 747 has huge cargo capacity which can make for some really interesting ‘passengers’. As well as the standard dog and cat, it’s been know to transport F1 race cars, horses, exotic animals and tons of bees!

Rich Cooper/COAP

How would you rate it in the following categories:

Ease of flying

7/10. The 747 in comparison to the newer fly-by-wire jets is conventional and requires more ‘piloting’. Controlling the speed with the thrust levers, manual trimming and a large control wheel is not much different to flying a 707 back in the 1950s.

Credit: Lyndsay McGregor

Passenger comfort

6/10. Despite its low cabin altitude, the 747’s air conditioning system don’t compare favourably to modern systems. After long flights the dry atmosphere can make you feel dehydrated. Most 747’s cabins are beginning to show their age and the design of the overhead lockers tend to close the cabin in. But, the 747 is still the private airliner of choice for the rich and famous with plenty of room for your banqueting table, comms suite and lazy boy chairs!

Ease of landing 9/10. The large wing means the 747 is forgiving when it comes to landing. Once in ground effect, get it just right and it will reward you with the smoothest of landings. In strong crosswinds you need to bring your ‘A’ game as even after touching down you have to ‘fly the wing’ as you decelerate to avoid scraping a low-hanging outer engine.

Reliability. 10/10 Joe Sutter, the 747’s designer wanted the Jumbo to be the safest jet in the sky. He engineered systems that were both highly reliable and had plenty of back-up. This redundancy means that failure after failure can occur without compromising the integrity of the flight.

Credit: Lyndsay McGregor

Pilot comfort 10/10 The flight deck is smaller than it’s big twin sisters, it’s noisy as we fly so quickly, and well designed with a few nice touches such as cup holders, foot warmers and an ensuite! I was going to give it 7/10 with 1 point lost for no tray table, another for non electrical seat adjustment and another for temperature control on a hot day, but you can look down on every other jet at the airport and so that alone gets full marks!

Aesthetics

Rich Cooper/COAP

10/10. Recognisable from any direction, the 747 pulls off the trick of being huge and beautiful. In plan form those 37.5 degrees of sweep give it a retro look.

Cockpit displays

7/10. The round dial ‘Classics’ were a marvel; some had mechanical vertical tape engine instruments. The -400 has CRT displays with double the display area of the 767 but they are a few generations behind the technology in the 787s and 350s.

Bill Withers used to fit 747 toilets for Boeing

Agility

Rich Cooper/COAP

7/10 I wouldn’t say the 747 is particularly agile, I would compare her to a cruise liner rather than a speed boat. That said, when flying her, she is very responsive especially in roll – and turns with such elegance.

Climb rate

10/10. With four Rb211 engines punching out 56,000lbs of thrust per engine its climb rate can be awesome.

Top speed

Rich Cooper/COAP

9/10 Due to its swept wing, the 747 can comfortably achieve cruising speeds in the region of Mach .85. It’s great racing other jets home across the Atlantic and winning!

Tell me something I don’t know about the 747:

Bill Withers used to fit 747 toilets for Boeing or; Nobody thought that the 747 would be a success or; A 747 was fitted with a super high-powered laser as the YAL-1 to shoot down nuclear missiles in flight.

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What is the biggest myth about the 747?

Rich Cooper/COAP

That you have to be big and manly to fly such a large aircraft

How did you feel about its final BA flight, what was it like?

Her final flight felt like the end of an era and I was disappointed due to the weather on the day, she didn’t get the send-off she deserved. Whilst sad, it’s a reminder of how aviation is a progressive industry with newer technology and more efficient jets. I felt very proud to have been a part of her legacy and doubt that few airliners will hold the title of ‘Queen of the Skies’.

What was your first flight at the controls like?

Rich Cooper/COAP @coaphoto on Twitter @richcooperuk on Insta

It was such a rush and I couldn’t decide if I was excited, nervous or a mixture of the two! I had never flown a Boeing before let alone the 747 and I will never forget the rumble of the four RB211 engines spool up as we took off on our way to Cape Town. It felt like all the hard work, commitment and sacrifices made through my career had built up to that one moment

Which aircraft will you return to after maternity leave, and how do you feel about the prospect?

Rich Cooper/COAP

I am excited and looking forward to returning to work. Whilst I am kept (very) busy during the day, it will be good to have some sort of structure and normality back to my routine. My hope is to return to the A350 or 787 as I enjoy the lifestyle and operational complexities of long haul operations. Whatever type I fly I know it will come as a shock to the system when I have to engage my brain again and start learning!

Do you have personal preference for Boeings or Airbuses, if so why?

Rich Cooper/COAP

I started my career on the Airbus and spent the first 7 years on the A320 family, so its the jet I feel the most comfortable and at home with. That said, I have enjoyed the Boeing as it feels like a ‘real aircraft’ to fly and I find the manuals and Quick Reference Handbook easier to navigate. When people ask, it’s much cooler to say you fly the Boeing 747, but the Airbus does have a tray table, which makes it a tough call. All things considered, Boeing wins the day

3 reasons why a 747 is better than an A380

Looks. The 747 looks majestic in the sky. When you see her turn it’s with such poise and elegance and the A380, well, you don’t quite get the same vibe.

Convenience. The 747 is nicknamed the ‘ensuite fleet’ as the flightdeck has its own toilet and bunks. You can access all of the home comforts without leaving the fight deck.

Cargo. Unlike the 380, the 747 has huge cargo capacity which can make for some really interesting ‘passengers’. As well as the standard dog and cat, it’s been know to transport F1 race cars, horses, exotic animals and tons of bees!

How would you summarise the BA career of the 747 and its historical importance?

BA really spans the full life of the 747, from joint launch customer of the -100 (as BOAC), to Combis, to launching the -400 in 1989, to losing one to mortar fire in the invasion of Kuwait, to being the largest operator of the 747 for most of its operational life. There were even 747-8Fs in BA colours operated by GSS. For years the 747 was the workhorse of the airline, giving BA its famous ‘billion dollar route’.

Farewell to the ‘Queen of the Skies’ Rich Cooper/COAP @coaphoto on Twitter @richcooperuk on Insta

The greatest aircraft of the Indian Air Force, Part 1: The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 by KS Nair

In the first of our celebrations of the most significant aircraft of the Indian Air Force we’ll look at the MiG-21. Fast, agile and extremely manoeuvrable, this Soviet ‘pocket rocket’ has served for almost 80% of India’s history as an independent nation.

“I once flew a DACT mission against two MiG-29s, I didn’t engage them in a turning fight. I kept my fight vertical and got two kills.” -–– Group Captain MJA Vinod (full interview here)

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 was first inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1963. That was fifty-seven years ago, and the induction was of six aircraft. In the nearly six decades since then, the IAF has flown something approaching nine hundred examples of the type. And three-quarters of that number were built in India. On that basis alone, it is one of the most important Indian warplanes. The acquisition was transformational for the IAF, and in some ways beyond the IAF, for India. For a sense of where the transformation began, for the first ten years after Independence, India had genuine financial incentives to source imports from the UK. Hence the acquisitions of Tempests, Vampires, Hunters and Gnats. By the late 1950s India was seeing value in diversifying its sources of weaponry. Hence that initial batch of six Soviet MiG-21s. The MiG-21 was the first major non-Western weapon system India ever acquired. It was a huge change, going far beyond the language of the manuals. The Soviets had completely different design philosophies and combat doctrines, so completely different maintenance and operational practices.

In what would have been a case study in the private sector, the IAF made a conscious decision to acquire the technology – but to not adopt the procedures and tactics. The IAF planned from the start to use MiG-21s the way Western air forces use their interceptors; in independent squadrons, mobile between bases operating other types as well. This was different from Soviet / Warsaw Pact practice, of operating in regiments, about two or three times the size of a squadron, and generally operating one regiment of a single type from a base. Simplifying somewhat, this was also substantially the way the Luftwaffe had operated in WW2 – their deployable unit was the Gruppe, not the Staffel.

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The IAF used the MiG-21, and other Soviet hardware later, in ways their designers had never intended. The Soviets, planning for massive continent-wide land battles, built and deployed the MiG-21, as they did most of their military kit, in vast numbers, intending to stockpile them at different locations throughout Central Europe. They were essentially disposable assets, to be abandoned after a short cycle of intense operations. Operating life in war would have been measured in days, or at most weeks. India needed different ancillary equipment, maintenance schedules, and much else.

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When she procured the MiG-21, initially largely as a response to Pakistan’s acquisition of F-104 Starfighters, they were considered high-value assets, to be husbanded and carefully used primarily against those Starfighters. This use imposed different maintenance needs, quite different from the Soviet. The IAF developed maintenance processes, schedules for replacing parts, spares inventory requirements, geared in ways the Soviets had never planned for. In the acid test, the MiG-21 met Indian expectations in combat. In Indian hands it outfought some Western types, including USAF F-15s during one of the first exercises with them. The unique ways the IAF operated the MiG-21 were a product of unique times and circumstances.

Many of them have now changed, and the IAF is able, and recognised for its ability, to mix and match technologies from different sources. This makes for less than optimal fleet management and inventory constraints, certainly – but it does say something about Indian ingenuity and jugaad. Some difficulties notwithstanding, particularly during the disruption of spares supplies in the 1990s, a new generation of Indian aviators still fly the MiG-21. They include some of the first few Indian women combat pilots. At a time when more modern types are in the news, we might remember that India has used MiG-21s on a scale that even their designers didn’t think of.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR K S Nair has written two books, most recently The Forgotten Few, and about 70 articles on the Indian Air Force and military issues in developing countries. His next book, to be published by HarperCollins in 2021, will cover the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, during which the MiG-21 came into its own.

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In the cockpit with real Topgun instructor: Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek takes us for a brief history of fighter cockpits, F-106 to F-35

Super Hornet cockpit

Flying twice as fast as an AR15 round and capable of pulling G forces that leave pilots with the same painful lack of mobility as if they weighed an actual ton, a fighter aircraft asks a lot of its pilot.

Fighting and surviving in such a hostile environment requires lightning-fast assimilation and response to a mass of information. Not only this, but today most fighters are multi-role and are tasked with destroying both air and surface targets. This is possible thanks to the wonder of the modern cockpit. We asked former Topgun instructor and F-14 Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek to give us the lowdown. Let’s slam the canopy shut and take a flight through 65 years of cockpit design.

“Sixty-five years seems like a long time, but the F-106 Delta Dart with which I start could be a threat today if still operational. And its near-contemporary, the F-4 Phantom, is still in service with five countries.

I was a Topgun instructor and an F-14 RIO, but for this article I’ll move into the front seat and look at instrumentation and controls. This is not an exhaustive survey, but a look at representative types that I selected. I’ll address the earliest version of each type because later developments had more to do with technical advancements than the state of aircraft design. Imagine a Spitfire Mk 24 with a podded radar, helmet mounted cueing system, and ASRAAM – with the controls and displays to support it all – and you get the idea.

“ICS check.” “Loud and clear.” “Okay, let’s get going.”

F-106A Delta Dart (first flight: 1956). I chose the F-106 to start because it is a memorable aircraft design of the 1950s. As a latter century series aircraft, I will argue it was part of the beginning of modern fighters. The Delta Dart was called a development of the F-102, but is significantly improved. In fact, the F-102 cockpit looks like something out of a hobbyist’s basement, while the -106 looks like a fairly modern fighter/interceptor, at least before the dawn of glass cockpits. The tape instruments add a modern touch, and the fact that it’s single-engine allows the panel to be less cluttered than dual engine types. I’ve read that the procedure to select weapons was “cumbersome” and would be difficult to accomplish under combat conditions. Such realisations were sweeping the aviation industry and led to modern HOTAS cockpits.

As a teenager I met a pilot who flew F-106s in the Florida Air National Guard, based in my hometown, and he arranged for me to fly their simulator during one of my visits to watch them fly. I was pretty excited, and to my surprise discovered that I was able to avoid crashing – with a lot of coaching from the simulator control console. The moving map display in front of the control stick was cool, it seemed futuristic in the 1970s. 

F-4B front cockpit

F-4B and F-4C Phantom II (first flights: 1961, 1963, respectively). I selected early Phantoms to help form a baseline, and the pilot instrument panel is similar to the F-106 in level of complexity. With a back-seater to handle the radar, the F-4 didn’t need a two-headed stick like the F-106. One element that doesn’t show up in the cockpit photos is the relatively poor outside visibility of both of these early aircraft; it just wasn’t a priority. But at least the F-4 pilot had a head up display (HUD), while the F-106 pilot had a large radar scope in front of his face. The Phantom HUD was likely deemed essential to its strike-fighter role.

F-14A Tomcat (first flight: 1970)

As a former Tomcat RIO I did not spend much time in the front seat, only a few sessions in simulators, and to keep the playing field level I am basing these comments on cockpit photos. I like the arrangement of critical flight instruments in an upper tier, with engine instruments and a situation display below them. The stick and throttle have numerous switches and buttons supporting HOTAS. The forward control panel looks relatively simple compared to the contemporary F-15A (which I am not evaluating), which can be at least partly attributed to the Tomcat having a rear cockpit for armament control switches and other controls. (F-15A first flight: 1972) The F-14A pilot’s primary tactical display was a repeat of the RIO’s TID, so crew coordination was important.  The F-14A HUD was helpful in some situations but most pilots decided it wasn’t that good: when it displayed all info it was cluttered and not what a pilot really wanted, and in the declutter mode it didn’t display very much. This was finally fixed in the F-14D, which got an improved HUD. The large canopy provided excellent visibility, which was one of many lessons from Vietnam air combat incorporated into the F-14.

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F-16A Fighting Falcon (1974)

A relatively uncluttered cockpit for a multi-role fighter, can be attributed to factors such as single-engine, limited air-to-air radar in the A-model, and emphasis on the HUD, as well as good design, of course. The monochrome tactical display is low and centred, with primary flight instruments immediately above. Cockpit visibility was outstanding due to the lack of a canopy windscreen bow and high-mounted seat. The side-mounted control stick pioneered in the F-16 has become familiar on other modern fighters and some commercial aircraft.

Su-27 ‘Flanker B’ (1977)

Approximately similar to the F-14 and Tornado in terms of visual complexity, with a major difference: no video screen in the centre. Some images show a video screen to the right side of the control panel. Lack of a tactical overview display seems to me a reduction in situational awareness, even if the pilot is using a helmet-mounted display (the early Flanker pilot had a rudimentary helmet cueing system rather than a display). Equipped with the now-standard HUD and HOTAS. The high seating position and bubble canopy provide excellent visibility. The cockpit looks less cluttered than the MiG-29, which also had first flight in 1977, probably because the bigger size provides more real estate for displays and controls.

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Tornado F3 (ADV; first flight: 1979). This is another pilot cockpit that benefits from being able to shift some controls and switches to the back seat. The F3 instrument panel is uncluttered, and features two medium-size video screens (I’ve seen smaller), one directly in front of the pilot. HOTAS – check … HUD – check, with extra points for wide angle … and of course there’s the wingsweep controller. The more I look at it, the more I like the neat and well-organised layout. One reason is the gauges are one of three sizes; in many American fighter cockpits each instrument seems to have a unique size. Tornado is probably one of the best cockpits before “glass” took over and gave us MFDs. Tornado also has a generous canopy, although it doesn’t have the 360-degree view of other fighters.

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Reader, from this point forward, please assume a HUD and HOTAS. They are now as standard as the wheel-shaped landing gear handle on the left side, as common as black and yellow stripes in a fighter cockpit. In addition, the remaining aircraft have multi-function displays instead of analogue instruments.

Rafale (first flight of Rafale C: 1991). Hard to believe it has been around 30 years since its first flight! The cockpit still looks modern and uncluttered. This is possibly due to the control stick being on the right side instead of central. The throttle has display image controls, ensuring a strong finish in the battle for who has the most HOTAS buttons. The wide-angle HUD, bigger than on previous aircraft, has to be a welcome development for almost any mission. The central screen is a ‘Head Level Display’ in Dassault terminology: larger than the side screens, which improves the pilot’s view of the image from a targeting pod. A large display was something F-14 RIOs enjoyed when viewing LANTIRN on our Tactical Information Display (TID or Programmable TID) compared to other fighter displays of the mid-1990s. The Rafale’s HLD is also focused at a greater distance than the screen’s actual distance from the pilot, which allows the pilot’s eye to remain focused at near infinity whether looking through the HUD or at the HLD, instead of changing focus between infinity and 1 metre. This may not sound significant, but it’s something I learned when I studied HUDs as a college student; a fine point that is very important.

Typhoon (first flight: 1994). To my eye, the Typhoon cockpit doesn’t look as sleek as the Rafale’s, because Typhoon has more controls and the MFDs look more familiar. Typhoon is more spacious, although I must admit Rafale appears adequate. Like the Rafale, the Typhoon also has a wide-angle HUD. These two aircraft are frequently compared, with this Hush-Kit article an excellent example but they have different purposes and strengths. The Typhoon’s multiple MFDs and pilot-tailorable displays look like a great way to display huge volumes of information very effectively. Like Rafale, Typhoon has a voice input system. I know these things are tested extensively before being fielded, so I’ll hope it works well, but based on current voice controls I am suspicious. Typhoon also has the benefit of a mature helmet display/cueing system, something only just entering the Rafale community (for at least one export customer).

An F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot assigned to the “Rampagers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 83 waves from the cockpit at Naval Air Station Oceana after a regularly scheduled deployment in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations. c. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Thomas Mahmod)

F/A-18E Super Hornet (first flight: 1995). For the purposes of this overview, the Super Hornet cockpit appears similar to the Typhoon – modern and well-organized – with some notable exceptions. First, the Super Hornet doesn’t have a wide-angle HUD. I like the glare shields protruding from the top of the SH panel.

BF-02; Flight 126; LtCol Frederick Schenk; LtCol Scheck performing a STO and VL from the USS Wasp.

F-35 Lightning II (first flight: 2006). The biggest attention-grabber in this cockpit is the single large screen, with touch controls so extensive we see relatively few switches and controls elsewhere in the cockpit. The originator of the big screen was Gene Adam and he was at Macs in St Louis. He was predicting big picture flat screens in aircraft way back when a TV was the size of a camping rucksack.

The biggest attention-grabber is the side-stick location – yet another is the lack of a HUD – replaced by the pilot’s helmet-mounted display (HMD). The F-35 is establishing a new standard for fighter cockpits, with a similar large single display planned for the Gripen NG and Super Hornet Block III upgrade. The designed integration of the large display and the HMD will give F-35 pilots a very high level of situational awareness on any mission. I will complete this review by relating a candid discussion I had with unnamed F-35 pilots, who knew my service background. I felt they would have unloaded if they had any complaints. Instead, they smiled and said the new jet was – “Incredible,” with a big smile. Or maybe it was, “Awesome.”

Before leaving, let me offer a thought, something any aviator can tell you. If you look at these images and think the cockpits look complex, it’s because you don’t have experience in that type. The first time I saw the rear cockpit of an F-14, with dozens of panels and controls, I was stunned. But after completing my training and then flying more frequently (I averaged 39 hours a month my first few months in a fleet squadron in 1981), I realised I was reaching for switches and adjusting controls almost subconsciously. Training will be the key for pilots to employ these cockpits, no matter the design features or flaws.”

Former Topgun instructor and F-14 Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek has a new book out: ‘Tomcat RIO’. It tells the story of his return to the F-14 community after his tour as a Topgun instructor, as well as his eventual command of an F-14 squadron. It includes some of his best stories and unexpected challenges. It is available now in hardcover and e-book versions, and includes more than 50 of his amazing photographs. Here is his website.

Article idea suggested by book pledge supporter Greg Cruz. The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature the finest cuts from Hush-Kit along with exclusive new articles, explosive photography and gorgeous bespoke illustrations. Order The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes here.

170829-N-NQ487-234 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 29, 2017) Lt. Neil Armstrong waits in the cockpit of an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Knighthawks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VAW) 211 during flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). Harry S. Truman has successfully completed flight deck certifications and is underway preparing for a tailored ship’s training availability and final evaluation problem. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaysee Lohmann/Released)

Top 12 Dictator’s Aircraft

Though rumours persist of a VVIP Petlyakov Pe-8, Stalin never used a Pe-8. The Soviet leader was terrified of flying and flew only twice – to Tehran and back. Both journeys were in a nicely fitted out Douglas C-47: not a Li-2 even but a proper US built Skytrain. The Pe-8 was the only Soviet heavy bomber of the war, and bombed Berlin.

You cannot be a world-class psychopathic narcissist unless you have your own aircraft. Now, while one man’s ‘strong leader’ is another’s dictator we can be certain that all the human entrants in this list are or were prize bell-ends. Stephen Caulfield chooses 12 infamous aeroplanes that have perfected despot delivery.

When the Italian government had Mussolini arrested in 1943, the Germans mounted a daring raid to rescue him. He was successfully extracted by Fieseler Fi 156 Storch, but this was not his aircraft of choice.

12. Fokker F28 Fellowship Kalayaan (Republic of the Philippines)

Autocrat or not, the leader of an archipelago nation has good reason to fly.  Hence, the Philippine people find themselves supporting the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing.  That unit operated a Fokker F28-3000 Fellowship for state executive purposes starting in the stupidly decadent days of the Marcos family.  The Fellowship was replaced only last year with a brand-new Gulfstream G280.  This new aircraft lends a much slicker, up-to-the-minute corporate look to the law-and-order strongman presiding over a nation where vast economic inequalities are entrenched in daily life.

Non-political technical point: F28s feature a split tail cone air brake like that on a Blackburn Buccaneer strike aircraft.


11. Hawker-Siddeley HS-121 Trident
People’s Republic of China

Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou-en-lai shared a British-built Trident airliner.  The Trident supplemented, and then replaced, an Ilyushin Il-18 Coot.  Zhou-en-lai was the first Premier of China and served as Mao Zedong’s right hand.  They were among the post-war world’s longest serving leaders, lasting from 1949 until the days of the Sex Pistols.  Considering the poverty and turmoil of China in these years the idea of leaders looking down at the put-upon masses from a private jet strikes one now as something Communism would have eradicated.  Or at least limited to really, really special occasions.  Oh well, plus ca change.  Though to be fair, the Trident was used as a domestic aircraft by the state owned airline CAAC who had a fleet of about 35. Having a British-made VVIP plane wasn’t entirely about looking down on the masses as China is a big country and the leadership needed to get around, but the optics were still far from perfect.

Once a common sight flying between the UK and western and southern Europe none remain in service anywhere.  China’s VIP transport example bounced around for a time after retiring.  Last word, the tired Trident was being dragged off from the shopping mall where it had been on display.  It was increasingly found to just be in the way of people parking their BMWs.  China’s all-business political elites now have access to Boeing 747s.

Non-political technical point: the Trident began life as a de Havilland design referred to as the DH.121 



10. Airbus A319 (Bolivarian State of Venezuela)

Does oil and gas wealth ever bring a country happiness? Ignoring the Black Swan of Norway, consider Venezuela.  In 2002 twelve protesters are gunned down by security forces loyal to President Hugo Chavez.  Days later, he takes delivery of an Airbus.  Apparently he’d seen one owned by an Emirati Sheik at some international conference.  One phone call and US$65 million later he has a replacement for the ageing Boeing 737 he’d been putting up with.  This and the massacre of his own citizens became twinned unforgivable moments for the majority of Venezuelans.  Many of whom live in utter poverty despite the country’s huge fossil fuel reserves.  The military then remove Senor Chavez from power.  Two days later he’s back in office.  He keeps the Airbus and some other privileges until his death from cancer in 2013.  George Orwell weeps.  So do a few others.

Non-political technical point: the A319/A320 program was a pioneer of commercial fly-by-wire and side stick control systems.

9. Airbus A340 (State of Libya)


Moammar Gadaffi typifies the classical career path of dozens of post-1945 liberationist revolutionaries who morphed into police-state despots.  While seemingly an eccentric individual he ruled the masses with the an unimaginative mix of bribery and deep brutality.  He relied on a privileged clique of family and close confidants to maintain power for forty-one years.  None of this nonsense ever ends well.  To wit, his last official plane has been rotting at an airport in southern France for years now.  Another thriftless monument to dictatorship in a world littered with them.  His choice of such a full on machine capable of transoceanic journeys seems a little off, too.  This guy was welcome in fewer and fewer places worth visiting until his death at the hands of angry rivals in 2011.  Grey leather sofas, a luxury suite with shower and a flat-screen TV should have made this jetliner a quick sell but post-coup legalities have complicated its disposal.

Non-political technical point: the A340 was the world’s longest airliner until the Boeing 747-8 appeared.     

8. Ilyushin Il-62 Classic Chammae-1
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


It’s unclear what level of interior customization Chairman Kim Jong-Un’s official aircraft has been given.  A safe bet is something superior to what you experienced on your last flight.  Kim Jong-Un’s father used this handsome plane, one of only three designs ever configured with four engines mounted in twin nacelles under a T-tail.  It seems everything in North Korea is subsumed into a military- and prison-industrial complex of the harshest kind.  So, planning for a new airplane for the dictator of North Korea is probably the least excessive thing on the go there at the moment.  North Korea is a hefty importer of cognac, luxury cars and pianos.  This suggests an epic hypocrisy by the elites behind an old school Stalinist facade.  Until a Prague Spring arrives in Pyongyang we won’t know the truth around this aircraft, it’s VIP passengers or the country employing it.  What an unfortunate use for a wonderful plane.  Bigger and faster than a Vickers VC-10 the Il-62 continues to impress. 

Non-political technical point: the Il-62’s first Aeroflot passenger run was in 1967 with a non-stop trip from Moscow to Montreal.

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7. Boeing 707
Socialist Republic of Romania

A dictator’s aircraft you could actually go online and buy this year!  You’d have had to outbid a private aerial refuelling contractor to get it.  In storage for years, this 707 was bought by Omega Air and converted to approximate a Boeing KC-135 aerial refuelling tanker.  The opportunity for this was, ahem, dictated by the underperformance of USAF programmes intended to replace their fast-ageing KC-135s.  Where to start with the ironies?  A long-time Marxist leader travelling about in a symbol of western privilege and consumerism from the heyday of mid-century air travel?  Now it’s a privately-owned gas truck for the Pentagon in its so-called ‘Forever Wars’.  As Ceausescu’s nepotistic regime became unpopular he imposed a ferocious austerity with a cruel rationing of daily essentials for the masses.  His cult of personality falters and collapses.  His own country is left an economic cripple and international pariah.  Even Moscow starts to find Ceausescu repellent and before long a coup sweeps him from power and into the next world with a bullet.  Unlike the Shah of Iran, Ceausescu, and his equally detested wife, were not able to flee in their luxury, long range airliner with a custom interior said to be equal to America’s Air Force One.   

Non-political technical point: the tube protruding forward from the top of the 707’s vertical tail is an HF radio antenna.      


6. Boeing 747
Imperial State of Iran

From 1953 until 1978 Iran was perhaps America’s single most important client state.  Washington took its management of the oil-rich, strategically-placed nation with extreme seriousness.  Braced by US patronage and unchecked police brutality, Shah Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran for a quarter century. 

Oil and gas export revenue let Iran spend lavishly on infrastructure and imported food and weapons from the west.  In such a reality a wide-bodied, twin-aisle, two-deck passenger jet would have seemed like a natural platform for conversion into a super-luxury air yacht for the Shah.

By 1978, he had done so much harm he managed to trigger an unstoppable Muslim fundamentalist counter attack.  The collapse of US-Iranian relations sent shock waves through the Middle East.  Indeed the world felt them and continues to watch the Persian Gulf with a weary geopolitical eye.  How bad had it all gone by 1978?  Well, the man who modelled his governance on the great Persian emperors had to flee for his life in that personal Jumbo Jet.  The one with gold toilet fittings.    



Non-political technical point:  maximum takeoff weight for -200 and -300 series 747s is equal to about 378 Jaguar E-type FHC sports cars.     


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5. Ilyushin Il-96-300PU
Russian Federation
Oil and gas revenue mixing with nationalist oligarchy results in some interesting privileges for the ones in charge.  Post-Communist Russia is no exception.  Rappers, Saudi Princes, upper echelon athletes, tech billionaires, hedge fund managers and even Donald Trump may have something to envy in Vladimir Putin’s executive airplane.  With its sheer size, long range and very shiny interiors this aircraft embodies concentrated political and economic power in the age of a fractious global economy gone hog wild.  Where a western lottery winner or mid-level celebrity gets an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom Vlad gets a flying five-star-plus hotel and command post.  Naturally enough, the top dog in a nuclear-armed country physically larger than all others should have a hot, thoroughly modern aircraft at his disposal.  This is absolutely what that looks like.  Mr. Putin was elected, yes, but Russia’s recent backsliding on democracy and the fact he embodies the deeply historical Russian preference for ultra-strong leaders earns this ex-KGB officer and his ride a place on our list. 

Non-political technical point: the long dorsal fairing on the 300PU model is not found on the commercial versions of the Il-96 and suggests an allocation of communications and protective electronic warfare systems deemed appropriate to Mr. Putin.

4. Mil Mi-8 Hip EW-001DA
Republic of Belarus

Credit: https://www.aeroexpo.online

And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!  So goes the nursery rhyme in 1984, George Orwell’s chilling novel of totalitarian life.  Official news clips from Belarus this summer show us that novel will probably never be irrelevant.  In them, we see President Victor Lukashenko flying back to Minsk in a Mil Mi-8, AKS-74U at his knee.  Clad in a tactical vest we see the unsmiling leader of a nation in turmoil barking orders into a phone.  He surveys a highway jammed with protestors he has earlier that day referred to as vermin.  On the ground to oversee forceful countermeasures to a sustained democracy movement, Lukashenko stops to hail a squad of black-clad riot police.  Having rigged his country’s last election to appear to have given him an 80% majority the autocratic and corrupt Lukashenko must now cope with a massive populist backlash.  Delivering Eastern Europe’s equivalent of Tony Montana that day in August was an absolute classic of Soviet era helicopter development, a Mil Mi-8.  The one-time workhorse of the Warsaw Pact is a wonderful platform and in the case of Belarus case probably highly effective in all the wrong jobs.

Non-political technical point: the ‘Hip’ series made its first flight in 1961 and is still in production making it the most-produced helicopter in history.


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3. Dassault Aviation Falcon 900
Syrian Arab Republic

The brutal news from Syria’s civil war, amplified at every turn by foreign intervention, makes the presence of any luxury jet a bit of a mind-bender.  And what a toy for the man residing over such a heartbreaking mess, Bashar al-Assad.  At the factory gate in France a Falcon 900 is worth over US$40 million.  Adding a luxury master suite with full bathroom and then communications and security gear for someone with a serious penchant for control and this aircraft comes to symbolise high privilege wrapped in a cloak of evil.  Fast moving and capable of unrefuelled trips of many thousands of kilometres the Falcon is perfect for the diplomatic pouch and other high-level errands. Fleeing from disaster should also be easy in a Falcon.  As long as you had a place to go and could trust the crew and your security detail, that is.  Soon enough, neither may be a reasonable expectation for Mr. Assad.

Non-political technical point: the 900 series Falcons feed air to the centre engine via an S-duct like the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar did.   

2. Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor Immelman I
Third Reich


Hitler didn’t like flying.  As an aspiring European land emperor he would have been fine with luxurious working trips on a well-protected private train.  Before his ascension to power, Hitler overcame his fear to tap the time-saving economics of flying to rallies and appointments.  Nazi propaganda made strong use of imagery of Hitler rushing about the country in planes or coming down from the clouds to Nuremberg.  His rich sponsors supported his air travel at first.  Then official aircraft were available after 1933.  The Junkers Ju-52/3m, sensible and rugged with its corrugated metal skin and three engines, was just right for the hectic early days.  Later, the speed and altitude performance of a four-engined aircraft was recommended by his personal pilot, an SS officer named Hans Bauer.  Remembered for an early period of success in the Battle of the Atlantic, the elegant Condor was a natural choice of transport for Hitler.  Bauer was an important part of a retinue that catered to the führer. He carried the registration numbers two-six-zero-zero over to the Condor in deference to Hitler’s superstitiousness, for example.  He also saw to the aircraft’s meticulous inspections including Hitler’s comfy chair which had an armoured back plate half an inch thick.  Extreme secrecy and a flight of single-engine fighters usually saw to the Condor’s protection.

Non-political technical point: in 1938 a Condor prototype was the first aeroplane to fly from Berlin to New York City non-stop and did so fitted with two-bladed propellers. It was fitted with a fuselage full of temporary fuel tanks so wasn’t a standard flight. With passengers and baggage a more normal range would be Berlin to Athens, which was still quite good for the era.

1. Savoia-Marchetti S.M. 81 Pipistrello Tataruga
Fascist Italy

Of all the murderous idiots upending the world in the last century Mussolini is perhaps the one who most embodies the inextricable relationship between Fascism and aviation.  As a young journalist he was thrilled by the speed and dynamism of this new, new thing.  The conquest of the air meant a radical new world.  In power after 1922 Mussolini invested heavily in Italy’s civil and military aviation. 

Il Duce, thanks to Allied wartime propaganda, is remembered as a nasty clown with a case of Hitler envy.  He was a qualified pilot in his younger days, however.  Later, Mussolini’s personal enthusiasm for aviation informed his choice of executive aircraft.  For flights from Rome to Italy’s regions or countries neighbouring his own the Pipistrello was perfect.  A militarised version of an airliner of moderate performance it was given a special white paint job, too.  Mussolini’s Pipistrello was camouflage painted as the war ground on and notably it managed to survive Italy’s defeat.  

In service until the 1950s, the Pipistrello had an easier fate than its most privileged passenger.  When he was deposed and waiting for his execution by Communist partisans Mussolini must have looked back on his Pipistrello and so many life moments in the air with  fondness, even gratitude.  The hour he spent at the controls of Hitler’s Kondor perhaps cheered Il Duce a little before he was shot then hung up and mutilated in public.  Hitler had invited his ally to tour their diabolical handiwork in Russia and Ukraine.  On the way back, Mussolini asked to fly the big Condor.  Intra-dictator etiquette being what it was nobody could refuse.  Accounts of the flight record an increase in cabin tension as Mussolini  adjusted his seat straps and took the controls.  Hans Bauer remained in the cockpit as co-pilot.  Mussolini flew steadily westward asking Bauer to work the throttles as the Itailan dictator gently completed a half dozen wide banking turns because he could.  How many perished in the greatest war in human history during that single hour of airborne indulgence?              

Non-political technical point: the Pipistrello entered service before the S.M. 79 Sparviero the much more powerful bomber/torpedo bomber it closely resembles.

(Dishonourable mention: Erich Honecker’s An-26)

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Extremely obscure aeroplanes we have so far neglected

Here are some brilliant machines we’ve been thinking about for a while and not known what to do with.

XC-120 Packplane

The Fairchild XC-120 Packplane was an experimental transport aircraft developed from the company’s C-119 Flying Boxcar. It was unique (for a fixed wing design) in the unconventional use of removable cargo pods that were attached below the fuselage, in place of a fixed internal cargo compartment.

Its greatest cultural legacy was as the inspiration for Thunderbird 2, a fictional aeroplane from a British children’s TV show.

Budd RB Conestoga

The Conestoga was the tragic answer to the eternal-man-in-the-bar question “Why don’t they build planes from the stuff they built black boxes from?” Well they did. Worried about a limited supply of aluminium, bus manufacturer Budd came forward with a wealth of largely irrelevant experience. The Conestoga was a tough as hell wartime transport built largely from steel. Its strength proved an asset, as the type was very prone to crashing. It was said that you wait half an hour for one Conestoga crash and then three crash at once.

Cunliffe-Owen Concordia

Built at Southampton Airport, where our regular contributor (and Maule pilot) Dorian Crook learned to fly, the Concordia was a feederliner designed by the brother of Paddy Garrow-Fisher (holder of the London-Calcutta car speed record). The Cunliffe-Owen factory later went on to be the home of the Ford Transit. It’s rumoured that a dusty prototype Concordia was scrawled with the legend “I wish my wife was as dirty as this unlucky feederliner”.

Helio Courier -Super STOL utility machine, psy-ops propaganda-monger and Air America workhorse. A cloak & dagger-man’s Beaver, if you will. The Courier did a bunch of deeply spooky stuff during the misery-fest of America’s South East asian wars. See its more COIN sibling here.

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Jurca MJ54 Silas

What could be more lovely than touring remote regions in a small car-carrying aeroplane? Once at your destination you may drive around and explore surrounding area before sleeping in the cosy fuselage of your aeroplane. The type could have been adapted as an air ambulance, parachutist carrier or transport for a physically disabled pilot but despite winning French invention of the year, it was not to be.

Hurel-Dubois HD.34

Note the importance of a double-barrelled name in the manufacturer, be it English or French.

The HD34 is a perfect example of the French going it alone*, in this case to an absurd degree considering the aircraft’s very limited role of aerial mapping. Whereas less proud nations might have procured a clapped-out airliner and drill holes in the floor (the more conscientious might even attach a camera), the French followed the HD series 31 and 32, with 34. It shared the high aspect ratio wing concept of the earlier types, as favoured by designer Maurice Hurel and was powered by two Wright Cyclone radial engines. Its sole operator was the French National Geographic Institute (Institut Geographique National).

–– Joe Coles & Dorian Crook

Contest: name the British Aerospace P.1214-3 jet fighter

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes will feature some superb profile illustrations. The first we commissioned was the BAe 1214-3, an unrealised Harrier replacement I’ve been in love with since I learnt about it in Bill Gunston’s ‘Warplanes of the Future’ in the 1980s. Now we’re offering you the chance to name* the 1214-3.

Here’s a couple of teasers from our forthcoming book:

The Pegasus engine with its steerable thrust blesses the Harrier with the ability to take-off and land vertically — and even fly backwards. Unfortunately you can’t put conventional afterburners on a Pegasus engine; there are several reasons for this – the hot and cold air is separated, the inlets do not slow the airflow sufficiently for serious supersonic flight, and the jet-pipes would be too short- and it would also set fire to everything (it was tried from the 1960s and proved problematic). This is a shame as a Harrier is desperate for thrust on take-off and could do with the ability to perform a decent high-speed dash. Though conventional afterburners are out of the question, you could however use plenum chamber burning (PCB). This technology was developed for the Mach 2 Hawker Siddeley P.1154 (think the lovechild of a Harrier and a F-4, with the wingspan of a Messerschmitt Bf 109) – which never entered service. PCB chucks additional fuel into a turbofan’s cold bypass air only and ignites it (a conventional afterburner puts the burning fuel into the combined cold and hot gas flows). This is great, but how do you incorporate this into swivelling nozzles without destroying the rear fuselage with heat and vibration? BAe thought it found the answer – get ride of the rear fuselage altogether, and mount the tail onto two booms. Worried that this already eccentric idea might seem too conventional, BAe decided to add an ‘X-wing’ configuration with swept forward wings (which were in vogue in the early 1980s). This did produce the coolest fighter concept of the 1980s, even in the -3 variant shown which had conventional tails.

The P.1214 would have been extremely agile (and short-ranged), probably comparable to the Yak-41. The P.1214 lost its swept forward wings when further studies revealed them to be of no great value. It now became the P.1216, which was intended to satisfy the USMC and RN’s desire for a supersonic jump-jet (a need eventually met by the F-35B). A full-sized wooden P.1216 was built to distract Thatcher from stealing children’s milk, predictably (as it was British) the whole project was scrapped. This was arguably a good thing as British military hardware testing and development was at its lowest ebb in the 1980s (see the Nimrod AEW.3, SA80 battle rifle, Foxhunter radar, Harrier GR5 compared to the US AV-8B, etc for details).

Prize for winning entry: your chosen name will be used in the book as the name of the P1214-3.

How to enter: we will only accept submissions in the comments section below this article at hushkit.net.

(*The name is unofficial and this competition is not affiliated with BAE Systems)

Profile illustrations by The Teasel Studio.

Halloween Warplanes!


It’s that time of year again. The time when we all dress in masks and think about death! Oh wait, that sounds like all of 2020. To hell with reality… here are ten (plus) aircraft named after monsters, ghouls, dark forces, supernatural beings, and other Halloween things that go ‘bump’ or roar in the night. Arghhhhhhhhhh!

10. Lockheed AC-130 Spectre/Spooky/Ghostrider

What better aircraft to personify the spooky season than one that not only wields monstrous firepower but literally has “Spooky” in its name? (The now-retired AC-130U variant, anyway, named in homage to the gunship Herc’s predecessor, the venerable AC-47.)

9. Grumman Goblin

There must be an unwritten rule stipulating a porky aesthetic for any aircraft named ‘Goblin.’ The Grumman Goblin—Canada’s name for the FF-1 (its nickname of ‘Fifi’ was the opposite of scary) biplane fighter, built under license by Canadian Car & Foundry—is svelte and elegant compared to the other Goblin, the McDonnell XF-85 parasite fighter from around two decades later, but could still benefit from a few treadmill sessions.
RCAF Goblins were used early in World War II on the home front, even though Ottawa viewed them (correctly) as horrendously obsolete. A handful of Canadian-built Goblins were used by the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, one even shooting down a Heinkel biplane. But these were renamed ‘Delfin’ (Dolphin), so they forfeit their Halloween cred.

8. McDonnell F2H Banshee

In Irish folklore, the bean sí is a female spirit whose wailing heralds death. A number of them keening together means the death of a king or priest. Doesn’t get much more haunting than that!


While folklorists have sometimes erroneously described the song of a banshee as mellifluous and alluring, we now know that they sound like a pair of Westinghouse J34 turbojets. After all, the F2H was said to “scream like a banshee,” hence its official name. And these are people with an intimate knowledge of the metaphysical.


While the Banshee performed well, with excellent agility and high-altitude performance that made it the ideal escort for USAF bombers early in the Korean War, the boost in Halloween-ness that comes from being named for a Celtic myth is somewhat offset by the fact that it saw virtually no combat, being quickly outclassed by swept-wing types and doing its best work as a reconnaissance aircraft.

7. Yakovlev Yak-25RV ‘Mandrake’

While on the subject of beings with harrowing voices, how about an aircraft named for a plant used in witchcraft, whose root screams when it’s dug up and kills all who hear it?


This rather haphazard attempt at an answer to the U-2 spy plane is a bit more innocuous than its NATO reporting name suggests…except maybe to its pilots. Produced by taking a Yak-25 interceptor—known by the decidedly less Halloweeny code name of ‘Flashlight’—and replacing its swept wings with straight wings more than twice the span of the fighter, then offloading the cannons in favour of cameras, the end result was something that probably should’ve gotten an entirely new manufacturer’s designation, as the tail assembly was all the Mandrake had in common with its armed progenitor.
The aircraft proved challenging to fly at stratospheric altitudes—the margin between its maximum safe operating speed and stalling speed was only six miles per hour—which, combined with primitive systems, poor engine performance, and a reputation for excessive vibration made it a very taxing aircraft for its crew. A planned high-altitude interceptor variant was never built.

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6. Nakajima Ki-49 Donryu ‘Storm Dragon’

There is perhaps no beast as terrifying as a dragon. Seriously, have you not seen Game of Thrones? Didn’t you read The Hobbit? (You would be forgiven for not seeing the films, or forgetting that you had.) These are extremely accurate retellings of verifiable historical events!
These beasts have lent their names to a plethora of aircraft, from the excellent (Saab J35 Draken) to the useless (Douglas B-23 Dragon). But to see dragonized aircraft reach their most alluring, we’ve got to travel East.
Now, it’s prudent to remember that Eastern mythology regards dragons quite differently than that of the West. They’re less Drogon than they are demigods. The Chengdu J-10’s nickname of ‘Vigorous Dragon’ is probably the coolest ever bestowed upon an aircraft, but in China, dragons are often benevolent beings. In Japan, on the other hand, they’re usually not so friendly, and ‘Storm Dragon’ sounds pretty badass, too.


The Ki-49, officially the Army Type 100 Heavy Bomber (a misnomer if there ever was one, as its maximum bomb load was less than half that of a Vickers Wellington), was intended as a bomber that wouldn’t need a fighter escort. Contrary to the common narrative about Japanese aircraft, it was heavily armed and armoured, and later versions had self-sealing fuel tanks, and therefore, should’ve ranked high on the scary scale. However, the type proved underpowered and ultimately vulnerable, and was eventually relegated to less draconian tasks like transport and maritime patrol.

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5. Westland Wyvern

It’s interesting how many Asian aircraft are named after dragons, as dragons are usually sea creatures in their myths and don’t have wings. Wyverns, on the other hand, do have wings. In fact, it’s been noted that many of the ‘dragons’ found in our contemporary stories are, in fact, wyverns.


Alas, the aircraft that bears their name was infernal in all the wrong ways. Though it did see some combat in the Suez Canal crisis, the Westland Wyvern was plagued by a litany of mechanical and performance issues; most notably, early carrier trials revealed a tendency for the turboprop engine to flame out under the high g-forces of a catapult launch. This particular problem would eventually be rectified, but more than thirty percent of the production run was written off, and the type served only five years.

4. McDonnell F3H Demon

When you name your aircraft the Demon, it’s either got to be either menacing or murderous. Alas, the F3H was very much the latter, seemingly in competition with the Vought F7U Cutlass to create the most dangerous (for its pilots) naval aircraft in history.


Awkwardly proportioned and ungainly in appearance when viewed from the side, the Demon nonetheless looks like it should be a very fast aircraft. But as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. Despite its sleek shape, sharply swept wings, and afterburning turbojet engine, it was resolutely subsonic. Most of the type’s demons—pun somewhat intended—arose from poor powerplant choices. The F3H-1 featured the diabolical Westinghouse J40, which delivered only half the thrust it was supposed to and suffered from pitiful reliability. Eleven Demons were lost in accidents in just over three years, resulting in the deaths of four pilots, the entire fleet being grounded, a damning exposé in Time magazine, and a Congressional inquiry into the Navy’s aircraft acquisition process. The F3H-2M variant, upgraded to carry the then-new AIM-7 Sparrow missile, was fitted with the Allison J71, since unlike the far superior Pratt & Whitney J57, that engine could be inserted into the airframe without significant modification. With barely enough range to fly out of sight of the carrier, the new Demon was just as cursed.


But not all about the F3H was as devilish as things might seem. The type’s cockpit did possess excellent visibility—great for seeing the water rushing up to meet the doomed pilot as his mount plummeted off the catapult, its engine struggling to produce enough thrust to move a child’s wagon, if it hadn’t flamed out already—and it would go on to sire the #2 finalist on this list, which fared just a wee bit better.

3. PZL M-15 Belphegor

If naming an aircraft the Demon isn’t hellish enough, then how about one named specifically after one of the seven princes of Hell? Belphegor is an entity often associated with the sin of Sloth, appropriate for the slowest jet aircraft ever built, with a top speed of just 120 mph—significantly slower than that of the Antonov An-2 it was supposed to replace in the agricultural sphere. Being slower than an An-2 is blasphemy against the laws of physics, but the Poles somehow managed it (though the Belphegor’s stalling speed of 67 mph was a good bit higher than the Annushka’s). The prevailing wisdom is that the aircraft’s name was inspired by the fact that it’s so noisy; its Ivchenko AI-25 turbofan infamously sounds like an overpowered leaf blower. It’s also fitting that Belphegor the demon is said to seduce the unwary into thinking they’ve invented something that will make them rich. If that’s what the Soviets (at whose behest the Belphegor was conjured) thought they had with this thing, then the demon had surely deceived them, as it proved far too expensive to produce and operate on a large scale, difficult to handle compared to the famously docile An-2, and while effective enough at dusting crops, not so good as to justify the cost of replacing the trusty old Antonov.
The world’s only jet biplane gains significant Halloween cred because it shares its name with a death metal band. And because it’s ugly as sin. One can only imagine its creators extolling its ability to defend a field without spraying an ounce of chemical—one look at this ghastly thing coming, and every insect in Eastern Europe will instantly flee for its life.
To further highlight the demonic aircraft naming tendencies of a largely and adamantly Catholic (even in Communist times) country, we shan’t forget the seemingly innocuous and rather attractive TS-8 trainer, named the Bies—a folk name for Satan himself. I’m not sure what it says about a country’s aviation industry or its flight training curriculum when one of its instructional airframes is named after the personification of eternal suffering, but then, I’m not Polish.

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2. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

Ice Storm by RadoJavor

You might’ve heard of this aircraft. One was used to fly an organ transplant from North Dakota to San Francisco back in the Eighties. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
(Get it? You didn’t see it, because it’s a phantom? Ha ha, I’m so clever.)

Note from Editor: that joke is unacceptably poor. Carry on.


The F-4 is the second USN jet fighter to be called the Phantom, hence ‘Phantom II,’ but despite (officially) being the first American jet to make a carrier landing, the FH-1 Phantom had few accomplishments beyond being the mount of an unofficial Marine Corps display team, cleverly called the Marine Phantoms, and only sixty production aircraft were built. The Phantom II exceeded that run by the small margin of over five thousand. That’s a spooky amount of warplanes! But, while it’s undeniably a legend, and a good-looking one at that—who are these so-called ‘enthusiasts’ who keep calling the F-4 ugly, and what’s wrong with their eyes?—should it really have been called the Phantom? With a radar cross section somewhere between six and ten square meters, it stands out on a scope like a nudist in a nunnery, and most versions’ J79 turbojets belch out black smoke as if to mark their ethereal territory with it. And, if happen not to see it, you’ll definitely hear it.


Whatever your position, let’s all agree: Phantoms Phorever.

1. de Havilland Vampire

Flames from the engine of de Havilland Vampire NF.10, WP252, of 25 Squadron are caught on start-up as the aircraft is prepared for night sortie from West Malling, Kent, on 25 February 1952. Copyright: © Crown Copyright / Ministry of Defence. Courtesy of Air Historical Branch (RAF)

Were you expecting any other winner than Dracula’s favorite aircraft?
I must say, it’s not a good look the British, and not the land whose gushing veins nurtured Vlad Dracul, produced this entry. Bloody hell, Romania, step up your game!

-SEAN KELLY

Flying & fighting in the Gloster Javelin: Hot & humid in the ‘Flying Flat-iron’ – an interview with an RAF Javelin pilot

The Gloster Javelin was the world’s first twin-jet delta-wing fighter. It was the Royal Air Force’s best interceptor of the 1950s, and was almost brilliant. It did what it was asked to do. It was a large heavily armed (albeit subsonic), day-night all-weather fighter. Unfortunately, the opposition moved the goals by developing air-launched stand-off missiles, requiring the sort of high-speed interceptor performance that simply could not be delivered by the Javelin. We spoke to former Javelin pilot Peter Day to find out if it deserved its bad reputation.

“I joined the RAF Javelin ‘Force’ via an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) in 1965 as a very young pilot with 248 all jet flying hours, as was the habit in those days, and arrived on the frontline in 1966 with an additional 60 hours divided between Javelin T Mk 3 and FAW Mk 9. These recollections are from a frenetic first tour based in Singapore but with frequent detachments to Butterworth in Malaysia, Borneo and ultimately Hong Kong. The role was effectively ‘Colonial Policing’ in the Tropics which as I rapidly discovered was a million miles (5880 nautical miles actually) away from night/all-weather high level air defence as taught on the OCU. I had to immediately get to grips with ISA +15 operations* in 80% humidity at low level over jungle and sea, with the occasional medium level dissimilar combat flight or transit to outstations, not to mention the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Conversion Zone) which conspired to provide dense cloud, rain and lighting at the most inconvenient moments. Quite a first tour education. I eventually flew 565 hours on three Javelin variants.”

“With due regard to Top Gun who probably learnt it from the Javelin, the use of airbrakes to embarrass an opponent in close combat, force a fly through or past or at least negate a guns solution was a well know party trick.”

*15 degrees warmer than International Standard Atmosphere for a given altitude

60 Sqn over the Malacca Straits with the legendary ‘fish traps’ in the background. The fish traps look like the stars at night, which is very disorienting and cluttered the radar.

Which units were you with on the Javelin and when? 

“No 228 OCU RAF Leuchars Dec 1965 – Apr 1966. No 60 Squadron RAF Tengah Apr 1966 – May 1968.”

How would you describe the Javelin in 3 words? 

“Stable, controllable, effective.”

What was the best thing about it?

Peter Day today, standing next to a Folland Gnat.

“Relative simplicity, if it started it would fly and the systems were robust and would usually work, mostly due to the considerable efforts of the groundcrew.”

And the worst?

“1950s design e.g. Sapphire engine, a quaint starting system of electrically fired cartridge initiated AVPIN, Wellington ‘bomb slips’ as undercarriage uplocks, the relative inaccessibility of most aircraft components – Gloster must have had shares in the panel screw makers. Finally there were flight envelope peculiarities due to the ‘delta’ configuration.”

“A complete box of Tiger Beer would fit into each gun magazine and be perfectly cooled after flight”

 The Javelin has a bad reputation, is this deserved? 

“It was routinely developed in line with contemporary knowledge, modified and updated by Mark in service to compete with ‘Warsaw Pact’ aircraft development, but as a 1950s night/all-weather bomber destroyer it was very effective. If pilot’s took liberties with the flight envelope, which in fairness was not very well described, bad things would happen e.g. at very low speed the elevator artificial feel system would command nose-down pitch, reminiscent of a recent Boeing ‘safety’ device, which was unhelpful in vertical manoeuvring demanding a large increase in pilot stick input to overcome which lead to looping being banned for all the wrong reasons. The ‘rolling ‘g’ limit’ was eventually discovered to be +2g at full aileron deflection.”

How would you rate the weapons effectiveness?

“The four Aden cannon cross-harmonised for tail intercept were very effective indeed and provided a great surprise fired air-into-air at high level during the OCU course accompanied by gun clatter, cordite smell and a flame enveloped upper wing. Air-to air gunnery on the flag was very hit and miss as the ‘cold war’ gun harmonisation did you no favours with a calculated ‘in-range’ bracket of 10yds, one hit was a triumph. The air-to-ground ‘sniping’ carried out towards the end of it’s career was usually very enthusiastic and very inaccurate. 

The de Havilland Firestreak fitted from 1959 was an infra-red target seeker with an effective range of about 3km in a 30º tail cone in Northern Europe. In warmer climes the seeker head would follow anything but the desired target, sun, water reflection, moon on occasions but luckily the 4.5inch parachute flare which was the firing target for missile practice launches. My allocated Firestreak worked as advertised and the flare dropping Canberra crew didn’t get too excited but it did cost beer. 

How would you rate the radar’s effectiveness?

The airborne radar AI17 was basic having developed from wartime radar technology. B/C scopes (range+azimuth, range+elevation) without PPI so relatively poor situational awareness unless very experienced. Intercepts without Ground Control were not in any way guaranteed and reliance on scan with some height/range clues made for a lot of ‘seat of the pants’ intercept geometry. “A peep is worth several sweeps” came into play a lot. Fighter lane operations were planned in the UK in the event of total GCI outage.

 Operation at low level with ground clutter and high temperature/humidity rendered it a very fine art form indeed. Interestingly there was the capability to reproduce the ‘locked-on’ blip on the pilot’s collimator gunsight with an added horizon reference for close quarters identification operations. However, this could be inaccurate, misinterpreted and lead to some very unusual aircraft attitudes at very low level. Definitely used with enormous caution, mostly verbal from the back seat.”

What is the biggest myth/misunderstanding about the Javelin? 

“It couldn’t turn. Thrust/weight ratio was 0.79 with a relatively low wing loading of 34 lb/sq ft (170 kg/m2) so with 4+g available it could corner high or low but at altitude it was very effective with reheat engaged.”

Was it well made? 

“The airframe was pretty impervious – ‘boiler plate’ weighing 14 tonnes unfuelled. Some individual electrical components e.g. fuel contents sensors, radio aids and radar were frequently in need of attention due to poor waterproofing.”

Hunter versus Javelin: which cockpit would you choose to be in if they faced each other in a dogfight and why? 

“Assuming my Hunter had the ‘shiny switches mod’ and it was a clear air mass then turning performance should win the day. There is some HOTAS in my Javelin and two-person cockpit helps with radar ranging and missile lock but I would have to see first and sneak round to 6 o’clock, so night or weather (NAW) preferred. Hunter for day, Javelin for NAW.”

INSTANTANEOUS TURN

“Very moderate at low level as relatively low power, low ‘g’ could not take advantage of the low wing loading. At altitude increased power and sufficient ‘g’ would produce quite a good turn but speed would be sacrificed.”

 SUSTAINED TURN

“Quite respectable at low level as the factors combine to produce quite a small radius, likewise at altitude.”

ACCELERATION

“Low level the engines will fly the airframe beyond the speed limit quite quickly which incidentally roughly coincides with maximum available tailplane angle so level flight cannot be maintained. At altitude using reheat acceleration from .7M to .93M is seconds not minutes, but drag e.g. underwing tanks or missiles are a considerable disadvantage low or high.”

 ENERGY PRESERVATION

“High level pretty good, low level very good but thirsty.”

CLIMB RATE

“5400fpm S/L ISA”

COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS

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“As a 1954 era night/all weather bomber destroyer very good. In the  colonial policing role it is difficult to answer as you’d have to interview the insurgents. But it certainly had loiter time and a heavy guns capability albeit inaccurate.

Quite what we were hoping to achieve with the aircraft in Hong Kong during the communist riots escapes me, but it was probably a statement of intent rather than a show of force against a particular threat.”

COCKPIT ERGONOMICS

“It had a large cockpit with everything to hand and easy to operate EXCEPT the TMk3 emergency undercarriage release handle on the right sidewall behind your elbow. Considerable contortions were required to select down as happened one night on the OCU course much to the amusement of my ‘new’ navigator partner in the rear seat. The FAW Mk9 had no such secondary system hence the occasional asymmetric gear landing.”

What was your most notable mission? 

“At the risk of overindulgence – two. Well they won’t be as notable as Mandy weeing into a bottle over the desert.

Staging from Tengah, Singapore to Kai Tak, Hong Kong via Labuan, Malaysia and Clark Field, Manila with a point of no return over the South China Sea on the last leg.

The Hong Kong trip was notable in that it had a nightstop on Labuan Island, a nightstop at Clark Field, Manila and then just over an hour and a half to Kai Tak, Hong Kong with no credible destination alternate other than the other side or end of the main runway and ‘mind the airliners’. The only available ‘crash’ diversion if Kai Tak became unusable was Sek Kong airfield in the New Territories which was a disused WWII airfield with no aids in a bowl in the hills used for Gurkha field regiment driver training. It therefore became a ‘point of no return’ operation from Clark to Kai Tak and once you descended you were going to Hong Kong, no weather alternate and no sensible ‘crash diversion’. During the subsequent week long detachment ‘flag waving’ no-notice practice diversions and low approaches were flown through the hills and over Sek Kong much to the chagrin of the driving instructors and alleged discomfiture of the driver trainees who could be seen taking avoiding action in all directions although I couldn’t possibly comment. Reports were received!

Leading a Diamond 9 formation as a junior pilot ‘lucky winner’.  

The Diamond 9 is a personal thing only and frankly not reportable as it was absolutely routine as a last flight of the month event and the lucky junior pilot got to lead.”

How combat effective do you think it would have been?   

“Very against Soviet era medium bombers at all altitudes Bison, Badger, Bear and Brewer where tail quarter missile attacks or ‘vis-ident’ to line astern guns were high probability kill options. More so in poor weather or at night when bomber awareness would be reduced.

In the Colonial Policing role it was fairly effective, the FAW 9(R) with 4 tanks had good range, heavy firepower and the afterburners lit with an audible bang which anecdotally frightened the dissidents.”

How did it compare with its Russian and American counterparts? 

A Gloster Javelin FAW.9R of No 23 Squadron banks away from the camera showing the missile complement of De Havilland Firestreak infra-red homing air-to-air missiles. IWM (RAF-T 2151)

“The USA was embarking on a whirlwind development of the Century series clear airmass day interceptors to replace the F-86 Sabre; the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-104 Starfighter, F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart and eventually the F-4 Phantom. The direct competition in age and role were the  Northrop F-89 Scorpion 1950 (2 crew, 2 engines, good radar, 6 cannon, A/A rockets and basic IR missiles) and F-101B Voodoo 1957 (2 crew, 2 engine, radar and data link GCI, 4 missiles).

The Scorpion was ‘clunky’, a very basic all-weather fighter with less performance than the Javelin but very similar radar and early IR missile performance. 

The Voodoo was the 2 crew derivative of the F101 ‘one-oh-wonder’ interceptor and had supersonic performance, slightly improved missiles but only fire-control radar relying on data-link for direct control of the aircraft during interception. Not a firm aircrew favourite.

The Soviet (Russian) air order of battle included MiG 17 Fresco, MiG 19 Farmer , MiG 21 Fishbed and Sukhoi Su-9 Fishpot . All relied on GCI and were clear air mass interceptors with GCI assistance. Direct competition was the Yakolev Yak-25 Flashlight ’A’ 1955 (2 crew, 2 engines, good radar, twin cannons, A/A rockets), Yakolev Yak-28P Firebar 1964 (2 crew, 2 engines, 2xAA-3 Anab missiles, one semi-active radar, one IR).

The NATO codename ‘Flashlight’ featured wing installed engines and a fairly aerodynamically efficient fuselage with room for a powerful radar and lots of fuel. On introduction to service only unguided A/A rockets and twin cannon were available, missile technology never caught up with the aircraft and it remained undeveloped. Similar speed as the Javelin but much lower ceiling. 

The ‘Firebar’ was faster and could climb higher than the Javelin with longer endurance. It carried an improved radar over ‘Flashlight’ and a choice of missile guidance but only 2 and no guns.”

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What equipment would you have liked to have seen added to the Javelin? 

“If the fuel control system could have been modified and fuel flow rates improved to allow for efficient reheat at low level the Javelin would have been quite a handful, but there was no identified fighter threat other than the Indonesian “Mad Major” in his Mustang at Medan staging a trophy raid. The usual plea from the back seat for a PPI radar or any range improvement would have had a significant effect.”

Tell me something I don’t know about the Javelin.

“FAW Mk 9(R) carried up to four underwing tanks on cranked pylons to avoid the main undercarriage doors, and a scaffolding pole bolted to the fuselage next to the cockpit canopy as a probe, extending some 5ft beyond the radar nose introducing ‘the sport of kings’ air-to-air refuelling or at least a new jousting  format.

A complete box of Tiger Beer would fit into each gun magazine and be perfectly cooled after flight.”

Did the aircraft have a nickname? 

“The flying flatiron.”

What was it designed to intercept / fight against?

“Soviet medium/heavy strategic bombers 1955-65.”

What was the operational concept?

“Parallel displaced, crossing or overtaking radar or visual interception to stern attack for either vis-ident followed by guns or a heat-seeking missile launch.”

Could it intercept a Victor, or Vulcan, or Canberra PR9 at max altitude?

“Yes.”

How long did the gas last in afterburner?

“Not a simple answer but at low level a matter of a few  minutes. The Javelin had a 12% augmented reheat not afterburner so an unusual fuelling and control design.  It was On/Off, no modulation and had first usage of the FCU fuel available from the HP pumps reducing the feed to the hot core reducing engine rpm. Although 20,000ft and above was the design usage altitude, cross over was about 8000ft depending on entropy and below that it was a ‘local scaring’ fuel dumping device. Real performance improvement was achieved above 20,000ft but loss of RPM at low level could be 15%.”

How good / bad / reliable, etc was the radar?

“The AI17 was a development of the wartime MkIXC and as mentioned above was moderately low power, low definition and a less than desirable mix of presentations. It’s  performance was very yes it’s on or no it’s broken and temperature/humidity had much to do with that. If it switched on, at low level looking up and at medium and high level it was 20nm+ scan on a similar target but lock was unpredictable affecting missile usage, and level or look down at low level was non existent.”

What was it like to fly? Any major operational restrictions?

“It was very pleasant to fly with no heavy stick forces at all but as we eventually discovered it had a very low rolling ‘g’ limit with full aileron defection limited to +2g. This limit either was not included or was so well hidden in the Release to Service that no thought was given to that aspect of the performance envelope. Although night/all weather operations might not have required dynamic manoeuvring, Colonial Policing required more flexibility and it cost an airframe and lives.”

Anything it could do that would surprise an opponent?

“Specifically fitted for use during radar interceptions the ‘barn door’ airbrakes were designed to stop you immediately from your sensible overtake speed into a ‘visual’ position behind a hostile. With due regard to Top Gun who probably learnt it from the Javelin, the use of airbrakes to embarrass an opponent in close combat, force a fly through or past or at least negate a guns solution was a well know party trick. However it did leave you perilously short of energy but 4 Adens went a long way towards rectifying that disadvantage.”

It had an unhappy development history – any problem with stalling behaviour in service?

“No-one in their right mind would deliberately stall a Javelin. There were suitable warning systems in place and the elevator artificial feel system was designed to introduce nose-down pitch at very low speed assuming you had slowed beyond the light aerodynamic warning given by the vanes on the wing top surface. Incidentally these vanes were a serious threat to health on cockpit evacuation if you chose or were forced by water/fuel/ice to slide down the wing towards the tip on your rear. Immersion suits and other things were egg sliced during this manoeuvre.”

Was it reliable? Did it have maintenance bug-bears?

“Although the ground crew liked the aircraft in general there were individual system issues and many were very difficult to access for rectification. If there was an engine starting issue, particularly with the Mk9 and (R) electrically fired cartridge initiated AVPIN, things got out of hand very quickly and rapid evacuations were required upwind. The TMk3 relied on a large gas generating cartridge screwed into the starter motor and fired electrically, simple and effective but very heavy and tricky to change.

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Sapphire engine ‘centreline closure’ (CC) was a ‘thing’ and after several unexplained aircraft losses the problem was identified in 1962 as the compressor casing cooling faster than the drum when in cloud causing the fixed stator shrouds and blades to foul the rotating shrouds catastrophically. The problem had been present since the introduction of the more powerful engine but operations in the Tropics in the ITCZ with Cb penetration increased the severity and incidence. The “Rockide” abrasive compound solution caused the rotating blade tips to be ground down on the coated casing, coarse but effective.

This issue was to cause me, not to mention my ‘first tour’ navigator, several tense minutes during a post CC engine change flight test when half way through the schedule on the ‘new’ engine the existing engine exhibited CC symptoms and failed followed by our expeditious return to Butterworth single engine and retire to the bar.

Added to this, scheduled engine strip-down had discovered harmonic vibration fatigue and operation below 10,000ft other than for take-off or landing was banned in 1965. This was quite quickly rescinded but the the rpm band 86-92% was embargoed so low level operations were conducted one engine up, one engine back.

It was old, fairly fatigued due to enthusiastic low level operation and prone to water ingress issues from standing outside in monsoons. But unless it caught fire or exploded it flew very precisely if sedately and had a small bag of tricks for the unwary opponent.”

Was the Gloster Javelin Actually Terrible?

This FAW 9(R) is over Borneo escorting a Hastings airdrop.

By Jim Smith

What a fabulous, futuristic-looking aircraft was the Javelin. Flown for the first time on November 26 1951, the Javelin was described (admittedly in 1955) as ‘Structurally and aerodynamically, the Javelin night and all-weather interceptor fighter is perhaps the most impressive aircraft yet produced to fulfil this role’. While today one might regard this as a bit of an over-statement, there’s no denying that the Javelin is an impressive looking aircraft.

It is important to recognise that its contemporaries in this field in US service were the F-89 Scorpion, the F-94C Starfire, the F2H Banshee and the F3D Skyknight, all of which would have been easily out-performed by the Javelin. The three US aircraft were to be replaced in service by the F-101D Voodoo, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart and the F-4 Phantom, all much more capable aircraft. Meanwhile, the UK went down a different path leading to the Lightning point-defence interceptor, the F-4K Phantom, and the Tornado F3.

Context and Requirements

When assessing an aircraft, it is important to consider the requirements which drove the design, and consider how they affected the choices made in developing the aircraft. The Javelin was brought into service in an environment where there was intense competition between the US and its Allies, and Russia. The tension had been ramped up by the Russian blockade of Berlin, leading to the Berlin Air Lift, and it was clear that a new Cold War had replaced the conflict of the Second World War. The Korean War had started during the development of the aircraft, and had shown the capabilities of both Soviet and American combat aircraft.

In addition, aircraft and weapons technology was advancing at a furious pace, driven by this contest between Nations and ideologies, and by the opportunities presented by the availability of jet engine technology, allied with (largely) German aerodynamic knowledge. Furthermore, the lead in atomic weapons established by the explosion of the Trinity device on July 16, 1945, was rapidly evaporating, with Soviet  development of the A-Bomb and the H-Bomb following much more closely than expected.

The first Soviet Atomic bomb test had taken place in August 1949, followed by a Thermo-nuclear device in August 1957. With the rapid pace of aeronautical development, it was clear to Defence planners that air defence would soon be required capable of deterring and defeating jet bombers able to carry atomic weapons, and that in the event of an attack, interception of the bombers would need to be achieved before they could reach the UK to drop their weapons.

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Moreover, this new capability would be required at night, and in all weathers, meaning that the air defence aircraft would have to carry radar to allow interceptions to be carried out at night, and in poor visibility. This was not going to be possible in the single-seat fighter aircraft being developed in parallel, the Hunter and the Swift, and a specialised all-weather and night fighter was needed. This was to be the Javelin.

The aircraft was developed in response to specification F4/48, which called for a two-seat, twin-engine all-weather interceptor fighter, that would counter enemy aircraft at heights of up to at least 40,000 feet. It would also have to reach a maximum speed of at least 525 knots at this height, and be able to reach an altitude of 45,000 feet within ten minutes of engine ignition.

Additional requirements included a minimum flight endurance of two hours, a take-off distance of no more than 4500 ft, and the equipment of the aircraft with airborne interception radar, and communication and navigational aids.

The threat that the aircraft was expected to counter would have been nuclear armed jet bombers, with broadly the performance of the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan, which were being developed for RAF service. In practice, the Tupolev Tu-16 ‘Badger’ and Tu-20 ‘Bear’ would have been the main targets of interest. To counter these aircraft, the Javelin was initially armed with 4 30 mm Aden cannon, and later 2 cannon and 4 Firestreak air-to-air guided missiles.

Given the payload, performance and endurance requirements, the Javelin was always going to be a large aircraft. The delta wing configuration was selected to provide a big wing area to meet altitude performance requirements, and significant internal volume to meet endurance requirements. The trade-off here was that the relatively thick wing of the Javelin limited it to subsonic speeds – but that was OK because it was designed to combat a subsonic threat.

The choice of a tailed-delta configuration is of particular interest, and was driven by the requirement to operate off a relatively short 4500 ft runway. To take-off and land the relatively heavy aircraft, which had a loaded weight of up to 19.9 tonne, off such a runway would require some form of high lift system, something that is not normally possible on a pure delta, because of the difficulty of trimming the aircraft once flaps are deployed. The T-tail provided the necessary control authority to trim the aircraft with flaps deployed, and the flaps gave an added benefit for night operations, in avoiding the high angle-of-attack and poor forward visibility on the approach of a pure delta configuration. The relatively thick wing section not only allowed good internal volume for fuel, but would, with the flap system, have allowed a slower approach speed for landing.

The demanding requirement for endurance, heavy armament, two crew, and a large radar drove the size and weight of the design. When combined with equally demanding take-off and landing requirements, the tailed delta became a successful solution, with airbrakes and flaps minimising the approach speed, and improving forward visibility.

Development

Development of the aircraft was a little problematic. The first issue to come to light was the loss of a prototype due to elevator flutter, both elevators being lost in flight, and the aircraft recovered with superb airmanship, using tail trim and engine throttle to  control the aircraft down to a forced landing. Eventually, the aircraft was fitted with an all-moving tailplane to resolve this issue. A second aircraft was lost due to a deep stall accident, and further aircraft were lost after failing to recover from spins. These accidents resulted in aerodynamic modifications, including the fitting of vortex generators to the wing and fitting a stall warning system. In addition, modifications were made to the rear fuselage and engines to cure buffeting of the rudder, and to increase thrust. Two alternative radar systems were also used, the British AI 17 radar, and the American AI 22.

While the development programme is sometimes referred to as protracted, the aircraft transitioned from first flight on 26 November 1951, to entry into service in February ’56, just over 4 years later. Delivery of the final FAW 8/9 variants started in 1957. The FAW 9 was essentially an FAW 7 brought up to a similar standard to the FAW 8. 6 years from first prototype to fully developed capability, with good endurance, and heavy armament really does not seem too bad an achievement.

So far, JSF development has taken 20 years to progress to the delivery of its baseline capability, albeit with a number of outstanding risks and issues. A modernisation program is now underway, albeit (according to the GAO) without a fully defined and costed business case, and FOC has yet to be achieved.

From a slightly later period than the Javelin, it is worth taking a look at the development of the Convair F-102. This was evolved from the less-than-successful XF-92A, which might be seen as a demonstrator aircraft. The first YF-102A flew on 24 October 1953, and the first fully developed aircraft flew in May 1957, in which time the aircraft had acquired a new fuselage, 11 ft longer than the YF-102A, a new canopy, new air intakes, a new larger fin, modified undercarriage and airbrakes, and a new cambered wing. This rather comprehensive development was followed by a modernisation program that added a datalink, changed the fire control system and added an IR tracker.

So, Was the Javelin Actually Terrible?

This sort of question should only be answered in the historical context. Of course, the Javelin’s performance looks pedestrian when you compare it with the Lightning. The P1B first flew in April 1957, and the first Lightning Squadron stood up in July 1960. The early Lightning offered double the speed, but about a quarter of the endurance, and half the armament of the Javelin. It really was a point-defence interceptor.

The Javelin was designed when the threat was essentially subsonic bombers, carrying gravity-drop nuclear weapons. Once the threat had changed to nuclear-armed stand-off weapons, requiring rapid reaction response from either Quick Reaction Alert or standing Combat Air Patrols supported by air-to-air refuelling tankers, the subsonic Javelin became largely irrelevant, at least in terms of the air defence of the UK.

At the time, however, the UK still maintained its interest in air policing the far-flung colonies, particularly those East of Suez or in the Tropics. In these arenas, particularly operating from Tengah, Singapore during Indonesia – Malaysia tensions in the early 60s; in Hong Kong during the Chinese Cultural revolution; and in Zambia during the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence crisis, the Javelin could still play a useful deterrent role.

So, was the Javelin actually terrible? Surprisingly, my answer is no. It did what it said on the packet. Large, heavily armed, with good endurance, and day-night all weather capability, it delivered the specified performance. The real problem was that the unsporting opposition had moved the goalposts. The emerging needs for eye-watering acceleration, climb rate, and dash speed to counter cruise-missile carriers, simply could not be met by the Javelin, with its thick wing.

Relaxation of the short runway requirement, and with the adoption of more powerful engines, a more sophisticated intake system, an area-ruled fuselage, and a thin wing, and the UK might have had a Mirage-like world-beater in the late-fifties. Given the 1957 Duncan Sandys death-blow, leading to an interregnum in manned fighter design, and the fact that the Lightning was already in development, the thin-wing Javelin was a non-starter. The Javelins were withdrawn from operational service in April 1968. A few remained serving the needs of the school of Air Traffic Control at RAF Shawbury for a while, with the very last flying aircraft remaining at Boscombe Down until 1975.

(RAF-T 4036)