What crashed near Area 51 last week?

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A mystery aircraft crashed close to Area 51 last week. The pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, later died. The type of aircraft remains a mystery, we speculate on what it might have been. 

Last week a pilot was killed in a plane crash at the Nevada Test and Training Range, the Air Force said. According to the official release, the aircraft was assigned to Air Force Materiel Command and was flying a training mission. Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, 44, died from injuries sustained in the crash, which took place on 5th September at 6 p.m.

“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” according to Maj. Christina Sukach, Chief of Public Affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis. The crash occurred a day before a pair of A-10crashed at the same training range.

Why classified? 

The majority of classified aircraft that have been revealed over the last forty years have been low- or reduced observability designs; aircraft with reduced conspicuity, especially to radar. This have included the Lockheed Have Blue (a technology demonstrator that led to the F-117), Lockheed F-117, Northrop Tacit Blue (a technology demonstrator that influenced the B-2), Northrop B-2, the US Army’s (still secret) stealth helicopter, the Boeing Bird of Prey and the Lockheed RQ-170. The external geometry of a stealth aircraft is not the whole story (much of stealth is materials) but does reveal a great deal. Note that in the case of the F-117 and the B-2, technology demonstrator preceded the operational aircraft. Reconnaissance aircraft also tend to lurk in the shadows. If the aircraft was involved in stealth research (and should be noted that USAF said it was a ‘training’ flight) then it could be in the exotic field of visual stealth. The science of invisibility has long been of interest to USAF and there have been several significant steps forward in this field in recent years.

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This mysterious triangular aircraft from 2014 may show an aircraft that supports the B-21 bomber project or perhaps the RQ-180

Another large aircraft programme at an early stage, and perhaps requiring testbed aircraft is the US’ sixth generation fighter. The B-21 bomber is also in development. The next generation US fighter will be tailless to offer a greater degree of stealth against low bandwidth radars, it is possible that the mystery aircraft is a technology testbed for the 6th Gen fighter and features a new tailless design concept. Again though, the word ‘training’ – if taken on face value- implies an operational aircraft.

Four military aircraft myths you shouldn’t believe here

It also possible that the aircraft may have been a F-117, though why this would have been kept secret is questionable (though rumours of a the officially retired F-117 fleet being loaned to a specific Middle Eastern client nation have long been rumoured). At least two F-117 are still airworthy and were photographed flying in 2016.

Other classified aircraft have included USAF’s fleet of captured Soviet designed fighters operated to train pilots in countering threats by the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron. An officially unacknowledged Su-27 has been photographed training with F-16s.

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Another mystery aircraft from 2014.  Is it possible that there is a manned variant of  the RQ-180?

Triangular and cranked arrow-head designs have been reported over the last ten years. One of the latter being photographed in 2014. Hypersonic aircraft are another area of interest.

Pilot experience

Schultz was a combat veteran and test pilot with over 2,000 hours flying hours. His flying experience was largely with fast jets, mostly in the air-to-ground role, which may offer a clue. He had flown the F-35 and CF-18, Canada’s variant of the F/A-18 Hornet, and the F-15E, in which he flew more than 50 close air support missions in Afghanistan. Perhaps significantly he performed systems engineering for the Airborne Laser programme.

The top ten fighter aircraft here

Not F-35 

While initial speculation pointed to the possibility of the crash featuring the controversial F-35 or F-22 this has since been denied. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, ruled out the idea that aircraft involved may have been an F-35 Lightning II.

We don’t know

There is currently not enough information to work out what the classified aircraft was.

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How to kill a Raptor here

Update

Some have noted that classified aircraft in the past have had cover stories (a crashed F-117 was reported as an A-7) and it is perhaps odd that this one does not. It has been suggested this supports the idea that it was actually a F-35, or F-35 in secret configuration.

 

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Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Four military aircraft myths you shouldn’t believe

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Where do the eternal truths we believe come from? Our culture? The Platonic world of forms? Bill Gunston after a pint of bitter? Who knows. Here are four aviation myths we should not believe. I’m locking myself away for a couple of weeks to avoid the inevitable hate mail this will generate. 

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The Lockheed F-104G Starfighter was terrible 

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An avgeek parallel to the internet’s Godwin’s law, as online discussion on the topic of the German F-104 Starfighter grows longer, the probability of a mention of its allegedly dismal attrition record, or of ‘W****maker’, approaches 1. A total of 292 Lockheed F-104s were lost in German military service, one for each of the words in this article. By 21st-century standards, it’s a catastrophe. In fact, Starfighter attrition was an improvement over its predecessor in Luftwaffe service, the RF/F-84F. Proportionally, it suffered fewer losses than the RAF’s Lightning, that perennial ‘pilot’s aircraft’ (just what aircraft isn’t?). Long before the Tornado was drafted, the F-104G was blazing a trail across inclement European skies as the first true multi-role combat aircraft of the jet age. In Luftwaffe service, the Starfighter was admittedly limited in its roles of interception and reconnaissance, but as a low-level nuclear strike fighter, it provided teeth to back up NATO’s rhetoric into the early 1980s. Substitute the additional fuel pack used in the strike role for the M61 Vulcan cannon (which found its first application on the F-104), and hang as much conventional ordnance as that famous tiny wing would permit, and the Starfighter was equally useful in the conventional attack role. The German Navy might have wanted the Phantom or Buccaneer, but they showed just what ‘Kelly’ Johnson’s design could do low over the chilly Baltic, toting anti-ship missiles or running the important ‘Baltic Express’ reconnaissance mission.
The F-104G was never far from scandal in Germany and elsewhere; even the F-35 would struggle to bring down a Dutch monarch or inspire two concept albums!

The Panavia Tornado F.Mk 3 was rubbish 

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Though the Tornado bomber remains extremely potent 35 years since it entered service, the later interceptor variant is long gone. It had a very bad reputation, which in its early days was justified- it had poor agility, poor high altitude performance and the radar didn’t work. But this turd was successfully polished, by the time it was retired in 2011 it was one of the best beyond-visual range fighters in the world. According to former F3 Nav, Dave Gledhill, speaking to Hush-Kit: “The Stage 3 standard which retired from service in 2011 was light years ahead of that of the F2. At its demise, the F3 was armed with the C-5 standard AMRAAM and ASRAAM missiles, a capable Foxhunter which had automatic track-while-scan, JTIDS data link, secure radios, better identification systems and capable electronic warfare equipment including a radar homing and warning receiver, towed radar decoy, chaff and flares and a Phimat chaff pod. The situation awareness enjoyed by the crews was, arguably, better than even the latest generation American platforms. Regrettably, it still lacked the performance when carrying its role equipment particularly carrying 2250 litre tanks in the upper air but with improved situation awareness and long range weapons, the crew should not have been drawn into the visual arena…if it had been employed against an aggressive opponent, the results would undoubtedly have been surprising as it is unwise to underestimate an opponent. The standard which retired was one of the most capable fighters in the world and, with further enhancements would have been extremely effective.”

The cancellation of the BAC TSR 2 was a tragedy 

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Declinism is the belief that a nation is heading towards decline, and it is paired with a nostalgic view of the past. The usual stance of British aviation enthusiast is that the Government (typically Labour ones) killed wonderful Britain’s wonderful aviation industry (sometimes the evils of America or France are also included). The reality was far more complicated (see David Edgerton’s excellent ‘England and the aeroplane’ for more on this). The martyr for this mythology is the TSR 2. The TSR 2, like the F-35, had a high wing loading, stacks of leading edge electronics and was expected to perform a great many disparate roles. Did the world really need a British Vigilante full of wildly expensive electronics that would be obsolete as soon as the 70s technology explosion took place? Also, as would prove to be the case in the first Gulf War, low-level flying (something the TSR 2 would have excelled at) was the wrong idea*.

If it had gone into service, nobody, other than perhaps Australia and Saudi Arabia (they’ll buy anything) would have bought it. The collaborative Tornado, which led to the Typhoon, would not have happened. The most likely outcome being that Britain would have ended up licence-producing F-15s – which actually would have been very effective (and great deal cheaper) so despite what I was going to say, maybe the TSR 2 would have been a good idea after all.

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The English Electric Lightning was an excellent fighter 

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We all love the Lightning, and are often blind to its terrible limitations. An extremely high price was paid for its ultra-high performance: and that price was combat effectiveness. If you are going to have an aircraft with such a pitiful endurance, at least make sure it has sporting chance of killing the bombers it is sent to destroy. The Lightning’s piss-poor radar and two extremely limited missiles meant there was very very little margin for mistakes, or bad luck, for an actual interception. The single-engined Swedish Draken had half the amount of Avon engines as the Lightning, yet still had a mach 2 top speed, superb weapon systems and a range more than twice the Lightning’s (it was also far easier to maintain, was cheaper and better armed). Another example of a more sensible solution, was the French Mirage III.

There was a small period of time, in the early sixties when the Lightning was the best, but failure to upgrade it made it one of the worst fighters at the time of its retirement. Scandalously, the Lightning entered the 1980s with no beyond-visual range weapons (something carried by the Soviet escort fighters it was expected to face), prehistoric weapon systems, and – out of mindless penny pinching- no radar warning receiver.

Save the Hush-Kit blog. This site is in peril, we are far behind our funding targets. If you enjoy our articles and want to see more please do help. You can donate using the buttons on the top and bottom this screen. Recommended donation £10. Many thanks for your help, it’s people like you that keep us going.

Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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

*The Tornado, also optimised for low level flight became potent when equipped with stand-off munitions and precision bombs that could be accurately used from medium altitude. Tornado would remain penalised by its the small wings built for tree-top flight. I cannot criticise it for its low bypass ratio in this context as the TSR 2’s Olympus would have had a medium bypass ratio.

10 Incredible Cancelled Westland aircraft

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As early as 1848, one John Stringfellow was experimenting with heavier-than-air flight in Somerset in West England. This West English tradition continued with Westland Aircraft, formed by the father of the great aircraft designer Teddy Petter (creator of the Canberra, the Lightning, and the Gnat among other aircraft) in 1915. Westland famously produced the extremely effective Lysander, the almost brilliant Whirlwind and the superb Lynx helicopter, but not all the designs of this innovative company entered production. A delve through the Westland archives reveals a host of fascinating flying machines savagely discarded by history. 

10. Wizard l & ll (1926) ‘The Blackballed Wizard’

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The extremely attractive Wizard fighter started life as a racing aircraft known simply as the ‘Racer’. In an age of biplane and sesquiplane fighters, a parasol monoplane was something of a novelty. Despite the stigma of its unconventional configuration, the first Wizard attracted Air Ministry interest, and Westland was asked to submit the design for  Specification F 20/27, a requirement for a new RAF fighter, a role the Wizard would have performed admirably. The A&AEE’s test pilots praised the Wizard’s performance: it was impressively fast and had a remarkably good climb rate. But they also noted the pilot’s limited forward view and considered the aileron control loads too great. So, the Air Ministry gave Westland a contract to refine the Wizard. The Wizard II that followed was fitted with a new, all-metal wing of increased span and reduced chord. By mounting the wing on more conventional struts and reducing the central section, the pilot’s forward view was improved. The engine was also replaced with a supercharged 500 hp Rolls-Royce F.XIS. The changes that created the Wizard II, which were probably unnecessary, marred the aircraft’s performance. The RAF were unimpressed and did not order it into production.  Many at Westland believed the Wizard’s failure was less to do with the aircraft, which was superb, and more to do with the RAF’s prejudice against monoplanes. 

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9. Fairey Rotodyne (1957) ‘The Screaming Commuter’

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The merger of Fairey’s aviation interests with Westland Aircraft took place in 1960. Westland now had the intriguing, and much hyped, Fairey Rotodyne project.

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

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

8. C.O.W. Gun Fighter (1930) ‘Schräge Moo-sick’

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The Westland C.O.W. Gun Fighter was a response to Air Ministry specification F.29/27 for an interceptor fighter armed with the ferocious Coventry Ordnance Works 37 mm autocannon. The aircraft which resulted was based on the earlier Interceptor. Vickers created a rival design, the bizarre Vickers 161 COW-gun fighter. The gun of the Westland C.O.W Gun Fighter was mounted at  55º in order to fire up into an enemy bomber when the fighter was manoeuvred directly below. Trials were discouraging, with the aircraft displaying ‘alarming’ handling characteristics, and the experiment was dropped. The concept of upward firing guns, established in World War One, returned in World War Two, when German ‘Schräge Musik’ night fighters achieved considerable success.

7. Westland Dreadnought (1924) ‘Wetland Dreadful’

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The Dreadnought was an attempt by Westland to perfect the new German-Dutch technology of metal aircraft construction, and explore an aerodynamic configuration with a continuous aerofoil section over all parts of the aircraft. The story of the Dreadnought begins with the Chairman of Airco sending William Wilkins to Russia to study the possibility of licence-production of the de Havilland DH4 and DH6. Mr. Wilkins returned to the United Kingdom with something far more interesting, the inventor Nikolai Stepanovich Voevodsky. Voevodsky had been in correspondence with Airco for several years with ideas for aerodynamically clean monocoque blended wing aircraft. But these plans for Anglo-Russian collaboration could not bear fruit during the Russian civil war (with Britain supporting the losing side). Voevodsky’s plans were adopted by the Aeronautical Research Committee, who were embarrassed by the German and Dutch advances and wished to leapfrog their technological lead.

The concept was given to Westland Aircraft to construct an aircraft. The machine was extremely ambitious –  a 70 ft wingspan aircraft. Unfortunately the aircraft was terrible, and couldn’t fly – the first attempt at flight took the unfortunate test pilot’s legs off. As Bill Gunston put it “It was perhaps the worst form of all metal construction, the underlying skeleton of the very large wing being of enormous complexity…yet with the skin doing very little to bear loads”.

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6. Westland Westminster (1958) ‘No, Prime Minister’ 

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The Westminster was based on the rotor and transmission system of the S-56. Other than this, it was an all-new design.  Whereas the S-56 used massive radial engines, the Westminster was an extremely advanced design powered by two Napier Eland 229 turbines. The use of a proven rotor and transmission system was a wise one, as the cost of developing one from scratch was well beyond Westland’s budget. As it was the project cost £1,350,000 (equivalent to around £50 million in 2017) of company money. This large experimental helicopter could have led to a productionised machine capable of carry 40 passengers at 150mph for 100 miles. Two variants were proposed a civil transport version and a flying crane.

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5. W-37 Jet trainer (1954) ‘Jetboy’

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The aircraft project types with the lowest survival rate are as follows: counter-insurgency aircraft, supersonic business jets and jet trainers. Every major and minor aircraft manufacturer has had a go at some or all of these, and almost all of them fall at the wayside. Westland was no exception, and in the mid 1950s they offered the RAF the W-37 jet trainer. The idea was to get rid of initial (called ab initio in Britain to remind pilots that the RAF is posh) training in piston-engined aircraft. The RAF didn’t go for the W-37, but did embrace all-jet training for a while.

4. Westland W-81 (1951) ‘Merlin’s Grandma’

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In the early 1950s Britain was creating the most advanced turbine engines in the world. The W-81 was a bold attempt to harness the turbine to build a helicopter far in advance of any other. In fact, the specs of the W-81 would still be respectable in 2017: a maximum cruising speed of 180 mph, a payload of 32 fully-armed troops or four tons of cargo and maximum range of 950 miles.

3. Compound concept (1979) ‘The Yeovil Speedhawk’

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A coaxial design concept from 1979. Coaxial rotors, popular in Russia with the Kamov design bureau, have several advantages including increased payload for a given amount power. Co-axials do not have the torque issues of conventional helicopters, so do not have to waste precious power on a tail rotor – this means all power is devoted to lift and thrust. This design harvests the extra power to a ducted propeller providing extra ‘push’. The combination of a slick design, co-axial rotors and a pusher propeller would have made this design much faster than a conventional helicopter. In 2007 flew a similar design, the Piasecki X-49 ‘SpeedHawk’ (OK, I admit the X-49 also had vectoring thrust and wings). As an aside, Westland has held the absolute speed record for conventional helicopters for 31 years- a modified Westland Lynx achieved a speed of 249 mph in 1986.

2. Westland W-90 (1957) ‘The Ark’

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The titanic W-90 would have been the biggest helicopter in the world by a huge margin. It was planned that the W-90 would carry 450 soldiers; the largest aircraft that actually went into production, the Mi-26, could only carry 90. The W-90 was to be powered by three large Armstrong Siddeley turbojets mounted one to each blade. At 196 feet in diameter, the main rotor would have been almost twice that of the Mi-26’s, and at 200,000 Ib the W-90 was also almost twice as heavy. Troops would occupy the three separate decks, sharing the lower floor with cargo, military vehicles or artillery.

1. Westland Pterodactyl Mk V Fighter (1934) ‘The Cursed Dinosaur’

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J. W. Dunne (1875-1949) developed some fascinating theories on the nature of time and consciousness, and he also pioneered stable aircraft and swept wings. At the age of 13 he had a dream he was flying an aeroplane that needed no steering — a significant anecdote, as Dunne was a firm believer in precognition in dreams (in fact he did not believe in the linear progression of time, something he thought was merely an illusion brought about by human consciousness – see Slaughterhouse-Five for a similar idea).

Here was a man who had the idea of tailless swept-wing aircraft years before the Me 163 was melting its groundcrew. His work inspired the brilliant engineer G.T.R Hill (designers have designations rather than names) who was looking for a way to save the many lives lost in air crashes. Dunne’s designs were the first inherently stable aeroplanes and thus had a degree of inherent safety, to this Hill added pivoting wingtip controllers which could act as ailerons and (when activated in unison) elevators. The Pterodactyl series had good handling and explored several new ideas (including variable geometry wings in the IV version).

An all-metal fighter variant, the Mk V, was built powered by a steam-cooled 650h.p Goshawk engine. As you’d expect from such a revolutionary design, it was beset with problems (the worst being the collapse of the entire wing during an early taxiing trial). But this, and other teething problems, were overcome (like the appalling Nieuport-Delage NiD 37 Type Course, the aircraft was a sesquiplane). The aircraft proved 10mph faster than the RAF’s best in-service fighter, the Demon. It was armed with two fixed .303 machine-guns, racks light bombs and a two-way radio. The addition of an electrically powered gun turret did not reduce the aircraft’s impressive 190 mph top speed (there is some debate as to whether this was actually fitted). The fighter was considered in two configurations: one with a tractor engine and rear-mounted gun turret (the Mk V) and the other a pusher aircraft with a front-mounted turret (the unflown Mk VI). Though promising, the RAF deemed the advantages of such a radical new design too small compared to the potential risks.

Save the Hush-Kit blog. This site is in peril, we are far behind our funding targets. If you enjoy our articles and want to see more please do help. You can donate using the buttons on the top and bottom this screen. Recommended donation £10. Many thanks for your help, it’s people like you that keep us going.

Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

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

 

 

 

How to kill a Raptor 

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America’s F-22 Raptor is generally regarded as being vastly superior to other operational fighters. Its combination of low radar observability, high situational awareness and high energy kinematics appear to put it in a class of its own, but it is not invincible. Here are several ways the F-22 could be countered. 

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On the ground 

Nazi Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 was the Raptor of it age, with far superior capabilities to any Allied fighter. The simple way to counter the Me 262 was to destroy it on the ground or when it was taking-off or landing. The Raptor is, like any aircraft, similarly vulnerable on the ground. Adding to their vulnerability is their small overall fleet size –and high dependence on maintenance. It is inevitable that any potential aggressor to the US has studied the viability of Special Forces raids on Raptor bases (as well as other high value assists, such as AWACS bases). Historical examples of the cost and military effectiveness of such raids are many, and include those of the British SAS in World War II and the Falklands, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Today unmanned aircraft offer a lower risk attack option for would-be attackers. The Raptor’s aircrew themselves are the most vulnerable part of the US air dominance principle and would also be targeted.

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Quantity again quality  

Considering a F-22 has six AMRAAMs, and assuming (an unlikely) 100% probability of kill for each missile, it is easy to see that swamping US defences with low quality unmanned threats (with the odd high level fighter mixed in to prevent complacency) could be a good way to exhaust AMRAAM stocks and distract the small Raptor force- or to allow the real fighters to get closer to the F-22s.

Distraction & HVA attack

The emphasis on long range for the USAF’s next fighter may be a tacit acknowledgement that the Raptor’s endurance has proved disappointing. Certainly several official graphics published in the 1990s regarding range performance of the F-22 seem to challenge credibility. With this in mind another way to strain the small F-22 force is to drag it into the wrong section of sky with repeated advances and withdrawals by widely spaced formations.

The F-22, like every fighter, is dependent on air-to-air tanking. Knocking out tankers will be a priority to any peer air force facing the F-22.

Non conventional sensors 

Much has been made of infra-red search and track’s potential for the detection of F-22s, but it should be noted that Typhoon pilots – who have at their command the best IRST in service- only believe their fighter has a chance against the Raptor in the WVR arena. Though a IRST is useful (and almost everyone other than the Raptor and older F-16s carries one nowadays) it has a far shorter range in most conceivable scenarios than the Raptor’s APG-77 radar. It is probably fair to say that the current state of IRST technology is not sufficient to make any aircraft safe from a Raptor. Similarly L-band radar (a frequency range that the F-22 is not designed to counter) is not currently at a level of maturity to offer much. Bi-static radar refers to two or more radars in an actual (or relatively, in the case of aircraft) static position to each other and sharing information. A stealth aircraft flying between them will find it hard to hide.

The F-22’s second generation stealth design is vulnerable to longer wavelength radars, and USAF knows it: note that all 6th generation fighter concepts are tail-less.

The next revolution in radar technology is likely to be ‘quantum radar‘(QR). This radical new technology, which is being actively researched in the US, China and the UK, would have no difficulty in finding a second generation (the F-117 was the first generation) stealth aircraft like the F-22. There are several- very different- proposed models of how a QR would work, one being put forward by Lockheed Martin. China claimed to have tested the first QR in 2016.  QR technology is in its infancy and it will be some time before it neutralises the advantages of current reduced RCS aircraft.   quantum-radar-2.jpg

 

 

Achilles’ heel 

The question of how to survive a Raptor attack could be rephrased as how to defeat the AMRAAM. The AMRAAM is the sole truly beyond visual range air-to-air weapon of the F-22; defeat that and the F-22 is just another agile fighter – and a large one without a helmet mounted sight, and a small amount of heat seekers (two as opposed to most fighter’s four).

Though the latest AMRAAMs are very different weapon to the first ones, it is still the weapon that most US’ adversaries would concentrate learning to counter, and is thus a vulnerable point in the Raptor concept. Though a handful of non-Russian nations use the Sparrow or indigenous weapons, the vast majority use AMRAAM, so it is the most studied air-to-air weapon. So few radar-guided missiles are launched against high-end aircraft defence systems that nobody really knows whether the advantage lies with the attacker or defender. Certainly digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammers will offer a real challenge to AMRAAM. Though it is traditionally thought that the Russians (the forever, and probably unjustified, notional threat) specialise in offensive jamming, and the West in defensive systems, it would be unwise to assume that countering AMRAAM has not been a high priority.

Though the latest AIM-120D is far cry from the original ‘Slammer’, it is a weapon urgently in need of replacement. That USAF is only now looking into this may offer some solace to America’s potential enemies, as developing a new air-to-air missile can take 20 years (or even longer in the case of the MBDA Meteor).

Does it need to be countered? 

One analyst Hush-Kit spoke to noted, “The best way to counter the F-22? Certainly don’t try to match it with a fighter, dollar to dollar. Don’t waste money on countering it. The F-22 is a sink-trap, you can’t outspend it. But even trying to (match it) will cripple your procurement and R&D budget… invest in sensors, SA (situational awareness) and SAM (surface to air missiles) – and intelligent systems not platforms… Russia was too smart to build a F-22 analogue, the Su-57 is a more modest aircraft (but even with this, the air force won’t get many). The Su-57 is more about pride and marketing anyway… If the Third Offset proves a sound idea (and many doubt it is) – then the US enemies will crack it and this will defeat current stealth aircraft. Though to be honest, the F-22 is a red herring. Look how it is used over the Middle East now, look what it delivers: a great ‘Big Picture’ view and the delivery of a few guided munitions. The US only picks fights with failed states with low technology. Did we need the ATF, and all the billions it soaked up, to do that?” 

F-22-Code-One-2

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Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

 

 

 

A Crook in Russia: Our man at Zhukovsky air show

YAK40-HUDWashMachine

Yak-40 with a unique head-up display that seems to be made from old washing-machine parts.

Dorian Crook is an air traffic controller, stand-up comedian and occasional Maule pilot. As far as we know, he is the only Hush-Kit contributor to have performed with Reeves & Mortimer. In an attempt to escape his Spinner addiction, leave his Aswad cover-band and ogle rare aeroplanes — he headed to Russia to see the MAKS airshow at Zhukovsky. 

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Dorian Crook: svelte bouncer or Soho chauffeur?

For the first time since my teenage years, I joined an organised tour of aircraft enthusiasts. As I explained in my article, Confessions of a Plane Spotter, I no longer write down numbers, but I still had memories of a coachload of spotty herberts (note to American readers: a ‘herbert’ is a doofus) and their smelly sandwiches going from Southampton (US readers: think St. Louis) to the Biggin Hill Air Fair, and that bothered me. I need not have worried. We were going to Moscow. These were grown-ups. One was reading Private Eye. These were a  more sophisticated bunch, and our merry band included an Iranian-American Surgeon, and a Commonwealth Air Force B-25 pilot.

Helis

Lots and lots of vyertalots above a duck-nose.

I had treated myself to the luxury of the new Premier Inn at Heathrow Terminal 4 ,the night before, and I was disappointed to find there was no Hotel notepaper or envelopes so that I could boast to my friends of my exotic travels. I met up with the group and had coffee with a couple of them before reaching the departure gate, where I tried not to succumb to MLE, or Male Lens Envy. The others were already brandishing their Dynakron 800s at the apron, whilst I had borrowed a 70-200 zoom from a generous friend. I even considered lying about my focal length.

I warned them that I had been to art college, so most of my photos would be taken at a 45 degree angle, and would very probably come out in Black and White.

Incredible photos from Zhukovsky here

The main attraction of the trip, for me, was a visit to Monino, the Russian air museum which has been under threat of closing/moving for a while, but seems safe for the time being. But there were two days at MAKS, the bi-annual airshow, and it’s a while since I’ve been exposed to noisy afterburners.

T50.JPG

Mastering stealth and super-cruise is easy, but getting a service designation is impossible. Two Su-47s (maybe).

The evening of arrival, our genial tour manager took us off-menu (i.e. into the real world, real people) of Moscow. Well, we went to a park:  a monument to the Cosmonauts and the VDNKh park where we found a the Buran space shuttle-lookalike and a Vostok spacecraft. We saw non-aviation people, arm-in-arm eating popcorn, and on the way home, I caught one of our number recording the Moscow metro train numbers.

Mil26.JPG

Time to wake up the controllers….

Interestingly, one of the first sights to greet us at Zhukovsky next day was a modified Myasischev M3, used to transport fuel for the Shuttle programme, with something resembling a large outside toilet on its roof (see photo).

Aztec2 (1).JPG

You can keep your vectored thrust: what I want to see is a Piper Aztec doing a display.

We arrived early and after photographing the Myasischev M3, I lost the rest of the group. About an hour into the flying, a storm developed, and the crowds were forced to hide inside the exhibitor’s chalets. Normally, a bit aloof to Joe Public, and more interested in their corporate swagger, these aviation estate-agents were forced to give refuge to tired and bored children, and myself. After I’d denied the teenage inner voice to collect stickers, I parked myself on the floor of the ILA Airshow-Berlin stand, and ate my Warsaw-Pact Lunch. It seemed more welcoming than that of the Belarus Defence Industry with its array of missile launchers. There’s no such thing as a free launch.

MyaschevM4.JPG

Myasischev M3 with optional cargo pack for skiing holidays, and small nephew.

However, an hour in such places makes you realise how the once-lauded names of aviation are now just like Estee Lauder or Gillette, with their nonsense videos and sloganeering. Look at them: Leonardo (didn’t they used to be Westland?) : “Ingenuity at your service”.

What next?  Supermarine:“Because you’re worth it”?

Mikoyan -Gurevich  “Safety in Numbers”?

More amusing was SKAT Systems, which surprisingly is not German, providers of UAVs. Presumably to the voyeur community.

Returning to the coach, we had been exhorted not to try to breach any security fences, to get closer to the rusting hulks in the research area. It hadn’t occurred to me, but apparently every year the enthusiastic Dutch spotters get a bit carried away. By the police.

MiG 35.JPG

Upskirt shot of a MiG-35. Feeling weird about this metaphor already.

Worst outfit: A T-shirt with an airbrush-style portrait of a female aerobatic pilot, and the legend “Angel of Ukraine”. Given the relatively high mortality rate of aerobatic pilots, to call her an angel whilst still alive seemed insensitive.

Next episode: Aircraft Graveyard

Please support this site by donating using the button at the bottom of this page, it cannot survive without you. Many thanks. 

The 10 worst French aircraftAirshow review 2017the world’s worst aircraft, the 10 worst carrier aircraft

Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

An Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers

 

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Dear Hush-Kit, 

I am generally a happy man, but there is one thing in life that leaves me confused and angry: I can’t get my head around all the different Chinese Flankers (I refuse to put that word in inverted commas). Please please could you explain the differences, without drowning me in details? 

Yours hopefully, 

Jeffrey Bainbridge, Luton 

OK Jeffrey, no problem. I will do my best. Where I fail, better informed readers will gently correct me in the comments section.

So, first of all we have the Shenyang J-11.

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The J-11 was just a Russian Su-27SK provided as a kit and assembled in China (China also got a batch of Russian-built Su-27SKs). The J-11B is a Chinese-made version with indigenous engines, avionics and a lighter composite airframe. Importantly, the J-11B can deliver smart bombs.

So pretty good then? 

Yes, probably is. It also added a glass cockpit. It has some good weapons too, the PL-12 is analogous to the AMRAAM- and the US Navy, for one, is terrified of it. The Chinese WS-10 engines were initially shit though- and the aircraft had to be refitted with Russian AL-31Fs, but they’ve since sorted the ’10 and they’ve gone back to it.

Think crap Su-35.

Wait, so early Flankers didn’t have glass cockpits?

I know, pretty lame right? The Russians lagged behind the West with glass cockpits. The original Su-27 cockpit was jokes.

Is the J-11 a ‘pirate’ copy?

It’s complicated. The Russian did give them a licence to build some on the condition that they had Russian-built engines and avionics, but the J-11B broke that agreement and is a pirate (it’s 90% Chinese so doesn’t benefit Russia much). Initially Russian aircraft manufacturers were vocally pissed off, but now (realising they can’t do anything about it) they say it’s all fine, though they do have a vested interest in selling them more stuff. Intellectual property rights have only been around in China since 1979, and the attitude of both Communism and China to the protection of ideas/things is a different one to the West (to be fair Russia is also pretty laissez-faire on this matter). The Chinese aren’t allowed to export J-11s, an agreement they have honoured.

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Good radar? 

The Chinese thought the early Su-27SK and J-11 radar (the N001) was pretty rubbish. There was a big argument about upgrading (the Russians dragged there heels) and eventually it was upgraded to N001VE (for the J-11A) standard (kinda like an early F-15 radar). The J-11B got the Chinese Type 1474 set which is far better, and is now being tested with an AESA.

J-11B prototype 524 - 06 Chinese J-11B Flanker Fighter Jet Spotted With Grey Radome modifed radardome active radar scanned, AESA In Play (5)

My head is starting to hurt. What else is in the J-11B family? 

Before we get to that you must know that they also bought a combat capable two-seater called the Su-27UBK.

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Two-seats and square-tipped fins identify this as a Su-30MK. Inserted in the wrong part of this article to confuse you.

OK, that I can deal with. So now can we go back to the other J-11 variants?

No, because we need to know about the Russian-built, Russian-equipped Su-35.

So what’s that? 

A Russian-made top of the range ‘Super Flanker’. Chinese has bought 24, probably just so they can filch the technology.

Super eh? So that’s the best Flanker of all?

In some ways. But it has a PESA radar. AESA is what everyone wants, and the Chinese already have it on their J-11Ds (more on this later). So in terms of radar technology it’s not the best. In most other respects – notably its fly-by-wire system, integrated avionics and use of composite materials- it probably is.

Can you stop teasing me about the J-11 family now? 

OK. We have:

  • J-11BS – A twin-seat version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BH – Naval (but not carrier compatible) version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BSH – Naval version of the J-11BS.

Hey, are you just stealing this bit from Wikipedia? 

I’ve got a friend coming ’round soon and I’m getting bored of your questions.

Alright, tell me quickly what the other ones are…

J-15

China’s first carrier-borne J15 fighter jets were displayed for public to see Wednesday in Xi’an of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province (2).jpg

The J-15 has canard foreplanes and naval markings.

Carrier-based version based on the J-11B, that also has some bits nicked from the Su-33 design. Mercifully easy to identify as it has canard foreplanes and lives on carriers. 

Wait, why haven’t you mentioned the Su-30s yet? 

34300

The most formidable fighter-bombers in PLA service are the Su-30MKKs.

Jeez, be patient, I was going to explain. The Su-30 is a two-seat fighter-bomber. It’s heavier than an old Flanker and more versatile. It can carry a whole bunch of horribly effective air-to-ground weapons. China has the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2. They have the longest range radar of any Chinese Flankers- the Zhuk-MS. As you can expect the Chinese ripped off this design to produce a variant they called the J-16 (though some claim it is based on the J-11BS)

Did you mention a J-11D? Yes I did. This is the probably the most badass of all. It has AESA, reduced conspicuity to radar, and new electronic warfare systems, but it isn’t yet in frontline service.

j-11d_1

The J-11D has a funny looking nose.

You failed, my head still hurts. 

 

Please support this site by donating using the button at the bottom of this page, it cannot survive without you. Many thanks. 

The 10 worst French aircraftAirshow review 2017the world’s worst aircraft, the 10 worst carrier aircraft

Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Ж is for Zhukovsky: The Russian MAKS airshow in breathtaking photos

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Every year Flanker fanciers head East to Russia to gaze in terrified wonder at the flying feast displayed above Zhukovsky airport. The Aviationist‘s Jacek Siminski survived the airshow, and returned grinning like a Cheshire cat (and stinking of jet fuel and vodka) to tell us what happened, and share some stunning photos. 

All pictures: Jacek Siminski
Best thing? 
“Russkiye Vityazi display, witnessed from the media platform. The 12 Saturn engines working simultaneously sound like a symphony. Being a geek who watched ‘Wings of the Red Star’ narrated by Peter Ustinov, I knew that sound instantly. I did not know, at the time, when I was watching this TV series, whether the sound in the show was somehow artificially generated. Now I know – it was not. You just need a bloody awful lot of engines to achieve this. A total eargasm. Equally good was a tactical display staged by two Su-30SMs of the Russian Navy, flown in the humid Moscovian air. It’s just stunning what that jet can do to the laws of physics, and to the humid air around it.”
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Best swag? 
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Greg

“A military hat bought at the Monino Air Force Museum by a friend of mine. Featuring a shitload of gold military pins on one side. Greg looked as if he fled from Stalingrad.”
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Worst dressed? 
“A guy wearing socks and sandals at the same time. Probably came from Poland, like me. Luckily my English is good enough to pretend that I am a foreigner.”
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Best cocktails? 
“Cocktails? In Russia? Seriously? Only pure Stolnichnaya in big glasses.”
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Worst display?
“For me? Al Fursan‘s display was a bit disappointing,  highly reminiscent of what Frecce Tricolori are doing. But again this is a matter of context. When you are a Soviet/Russian aviation fanatic, who goes crazy when he sees anything reminiscent of a Flanker, then you do not really care about the western pieces of hardware in the sky.”
Best thing you bought? 
“MAKS ‘Remove Before Flight’ keychain. A unicorn. On Saturday, which was a day open to the general public, I probably bought the last of these keychains”
_DSC9339-Edit
Best static display? 
“Oh come on, do you really need to ask? Tupolev Tu-95 Bear, alongside Tu-160 and Miasischev Atlant. Oh, and the MiG 1.44. Not to mention the Tu-144.”
(pics of these coming to Hush-Kit soon!)
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Best vintage flying item? 
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“Only a single vintage flying item, but blows everything I’ve seen in Europe out of the water – Il-2 Sturmovik, ‘die Schwarzer Tod‘ (The Black Death). Reportedly there is one more flying example in the US, however I have never even seen a YouTube clip featuring that airframe. Would anyone care to help?”
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Most missed display item? 
“I did miss some irisations – though this is not an aircraft, I know. I would have loved to have seen the MiG-25, MiG-31 or Geofizyka – but it was sadly absent. The Tu-95 ‘Bear’ with its supersonic propeller-tips would have been an amazing thing to witness. They say that this year’s flying programme at MAKS was modest, when compared to the previous years. Maybe the Western sanctions are working? Next year is the TSAGI 100th anniversary, maybe then we will see some of that unique stuff flying.”
_DSC9414-Edit
Best entrepreneurs? 
“Guys in the Russian trains playing guitar and selling homemade CDs!”
Worst haircut? 
_DSC0863-Edit-2

The Ilyushin Il-114 is a rare beast: only twenty were ever produced.

“Did not notice one.”
Gone AWOL award? 
“Strizhi and Vityazhi joint barrel roll or a flypast in a single formation. I was hoping they’d do it again.”
_DSC7587-Edit
Worst use of social media? 
“Probably me. Not posting too much (enough) throughout my stay in Moscow.”
_DSC0017-Edit

Я is for Yakovlev (Яковлев)

Fashion must-have?
“Vityazi or Sukhoi tie-dye T-shirts. Bonkers.”
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Worst static display item?
“None that I have noticed. But I am an avid Russian aviation fanatic. Everything within the static display was giving me a weird feeling in my pants.”
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Coolest sounding plane?
“Undoubtedly, the aforementioned six Su-30SM formation.”
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Hottest pilots? 
“All Russian women are equally beautiful, and you fall in love every step of the way. I am sure there were some pilots among them.”
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 Is PAK FA the coolest thing in the world?
“I will disappoint you and say: No, it is not: the Su-34 is way cooler, with its brutal and violent display of air combat manoeuvring-  and the resultant formation of clouds and rainbows around it. But again, the PAK FA programme is still in its infancy. You can’t expect a toddler to be as cool as Maverick in ‘Top Gun’, saying ‘Because I was Inverted’ and putting his Ray Bans on. The prototype won’t be flown as violently as an aircraft that is already being used operationally. Unique? Hell yes. Cool? Su-34 is the coolest jet of all them Sukhois, at least for now. The wider front section of the fuselage acts as a great catalyst for the vapour cones to form.”
_DSC5010-Edit
 How is MAKS different to a Western airshow?
“People are friendlier, more helpful and open, with their ‘hearts given to you in their hands’, as one the old Polish sayings puts it. For me, the show was less commercial than any Western one, and very well organised. Ah, detailed security checks should be expected. You have to put your bag through a Heimann X-ray every time you enter a train station, then before you get on the bus, and then, before you get into the show area. At the beginning it could be viewed as a nuisance, but one can get used to it. And the Russians are super-nice about this, hence throughout the whole procedure you are treated more like a guest, less like a terrorist. I was being warned by my friends: you’ll end up with a bullet in your head, and your camera gear being sold on the Russian counterpart of eBay. Nothing like that ever happened. I began to like Russia, maybe even becoming a bit of a Russophile. People say that it is those at the top who create the hostility — the ordinary men and women are as heart-meltingly warm as it gets.”
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В is for vyertalyot (вертолет).

Best place to get vodka?
“Any local shop with low prices. We did it in a convenience store, located at the corner of the street where our hotel was.”
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 Ж is for Zhukovsky (Жуко́вский)

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More articles you may enjoy

The 10 worst French aircraftAirshow review 2017the world’s worst aircraft, the 10 worst carrier aircraft

Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. _DSC9176-Edit

Flying the F-4 Phantom II, British-style

Phantom_FG.1_of_892_NAS_launching_from_HMS_Ark_Royal_(R09)_1972.jpg

Life for British Phantom pilots was seldom boring. Whether it was training for near suicidal night attacks against the Soviet Navy, intercepting ‘Bear’s or performing low-level attacks. During the Cold War Chris Bolton flew the mighty F-4 for both the RAF and the Royal Navy. Hush-Kit met him to find out more. 

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

Hush-Kit: It seems the F-4 wasn’t particularly agile for its generation – is that fair? 

“It could roll remarkably well, though it didn’t turn like the other aircraft. The other RAF fighter, the Lightning, could manoeuvre really well – it was just like a really powerful supersonic Hunter in handling characteristics (and noise levels in the cockpit for that matter). But the Lightning couldn’t stay up for very long. Everything is a compromise, with the Phantom it could stay up a very long time and carry eight missiles; the Lightning had two guns and two missiles, so take your choice. The Phantom had a very powerful radar and a bloke to operate it. The Lightning had a ‘one-armed paper hanger‘ working exceptionally hard for a very short time. The Lightning was great for short fast interceptions, the Phantom could stay longer unsupported and with more missiles. It was also better for long Combat Air Patrols – it depends how you want to fight. I had a quick ride in a two-seat Lightning, and compared to the Phantom it was quieter and it didn’t buffet so much. A very pleasing aeroplane in my very limited experience. And a beautiful beast, designed maybe eight or ten years earlier than the Phantom.”

And how would a Phantom perform in air combat against a Hunter? 

“A Hunter can well out-turn a Phantom. No Phantom would try and stay with you and turn behind you – but the Phantom could do the vertical bit because it had the power. Also, the Phantom had layout weapons that could be used beyond sight, like the head-on Sparrow or tail-on Sidewinder. You wouldn’t try to get into a gunfight with a Hunter.”

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How best to fight to fight a Lightning from a Phantom?

“You have to take advantage of the things that work for you and don’t work for him. He can out-turn you, he can out-climb you, but he ain’t going to be able to do it for very long. You can see him from a long distance, so you can get your shots off without him even seeing you. If that failed, it would be best to remain unseen. You wouldn’t voluntarily get into a turning gunfight with a Lightning, as you’re probably going to lose. Then whoever runs out of fuel first – and it’s probably him- has lost the fight. He’s got to bug out. As I said, take advantage of your own strengths and exploit the weaknesses of your opponent.”

 Which types have you flown?

“In training Jet Provosts and Gnats. Operationally Hunters and Phantoms.”

How long did you fly the Hunter?

“Just one flying tour, just under two years with 208 squadron, Bahrain. Occasionally I flew the Hunter with the Navy for combat training against the Phantom.”

In Phantoms, what did you fly against?

“In my first tour we did very little air combat training because it was a specialist night ground attack squadron based at Coningsby. 

Subsequently when I went to 892 squadron I was tasked with air defence of the fleet. So we would practice against each other and other aircraft, and we would intercept Russians. That would not get into the papers, especially if it was up North of the coast of Scotland. We practiced against land-based Phantoms – against shore-based Lightnings and RAF Phantoms out of Leuchars. Targets of opportunity in low-flying areas could be Jaguars, USAF aircraft, US Navy aircraft from carriers — such as other Phantoms. There was a lot of air combat practice.”

What was the most challenging dissimilar type?

“The most challenging was 1 versus 1 against another Phantom where it was pilot-v-pilot and the best man won. Unless he cheated, and it was 2 V 1 or 4 against one.

Bear in mind not all fighting was visual. Fighting could take place at night in cloud with no eyeballs, so it was dependent on the weapons systems – and a good Observer Navigator in the backseat with radar.”

 

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How good were the weapons systems on the Phantom? 

“Well they were sure better than eyeballs, but if you couldn’t see it you couldn’t do anything. With the radar you could pick something up (depending on the signature size), on a good day, at 30 miles. So you could set up your attack profile from a long distance with plenty of time. So, ideally in this scenario – with a big target – we’d start with a head-on shot and then move ’round the back for a Sidewinder, and then at very close, a guns kill (if you carried a gun, which the Navy didn’t).

 

At Coningsby we specialised in night ground attack and night sea attack. Self illuminated we used things called Lepus flares. These were about four or five feet long and about six inches in diameter. These we would toss and they would free-fall flight and after a finite time a parachute would come out, and the Lepus flare would illuminate (lots of magnesium I guess). So that would be over the target. You hoped that you tossed it in the right place. From there, subsequent aircraft would visually identify the target and select the appropriate weapon, slide underneath and have at. And we could do three or four runs at that at night over the sea.”

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A 892 Phantom armed with ten 1,000-Ib freefall bombs.

And what weapons would you use? 

“Depending on what height you were, how close you were, you would say ‘OK good’ I can make a free-fall 1,000-lb practice bomb on that. Or rocket attack if you were carrying those simulated weapons.”

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Would you feel vulnerable as an attacking aircraft illuminated as you were by the flares? 

“Had it come to the real thing- yes you certainly would. The flares would light up your aircraft as you dive beneath them so you’d be visible to everyone. For example if you’re going to do a high-drag bomb run for a 1,000-pounder you probably want to go quite high at release which would leave you visible. Also you would be maneuvering the aircraft quite violently so disorientation would be a problem – a big problem. Hopefully you’re not just looking out to see the target, but also in to keep orientation.”

That sounds very demanding!

“Yes, it was. None us particularly enjoyed it. Our squadron was a specialist night attack, and I continued doing that until late 1973, then I went to the Navy on exchange for the first time. I was with 892 Squadron with Phantoms FG.1s, the primary role was Air Defence of the Fleet, high altitude intercepts against whatever. There was a secondary role of ground/ship attack using 1,000-Ib bombs or two inch rockets.”

Was your training with No.6 Squadron useful preparation for this? 

“In some ways it was. But with 6 Squadron you very seldom flew much above 1,000 feet (except for transiting or refuelling). Whereas with the Navy a lot of it was quite high. But we did keep the practice when we shore-based, for example when the ship was having the barnacles scraped. We practice shore-based at Leuchars and a couple of ranges up in Scotland where we could practice the full range of our weapons. Once or twice a month we would be firing rockets or dropping bombs, just to keep a hand in. At sea, being miles out, our target for practice ordnance was a ‘splash target’ towed by the ship 500 yards astern. At speeds 10+ knots the splash target gives off plume – and that was the aiming index. The marking of the drop accuracy would be done by the quadrant of a helicopter and observations from the ship. Everyone is watching it from the back-end, so making a dick of yourself is not very pleasing. Quite a lot of pressure, and with pressure comes pride.”

892 Naval Air Squadron at RAF Leuchars 1976 Ready to Embark to HMS Ark Royal.

“Well I’d seen quite a lot with the Americans flying it around East Anglia and Cambridge bases. It was a very impressive, very large fighter. A lot of people wanted to fly it— I didn’t think that much about it, it just came around. I was on Hunters in the late 60s, which was very satisfactory. On the completion of my time in the Hunter it was almost the completion of Hunter squadrons. Our choices (not always choices) were Harrier, Buccaneer or Phantom (Jaguar hadn’t quite come along). Canberras were even available. I was very pleased to be posted onto the Phantom. It was still pretty new when I got to Coningsby. It had an underserved bad reputation as it was a big beast with odd characteristics at low speed. But if you knew how to handle the aeroplane, which of course you didn’t when you started, it was just a large beast with a very high wing loading. I think it was about 85 pounds per square foot – so it wouldn’t turn like a Hunter. It had disadvantages, but it also had its advantages, as a pilot you had to learn to play it to its strengths.”

What were its quirks at low speeds? 

“With conventional aeroplanes you put left aileron on you’re going to roll left. At high angles of attack in the Phantom, put left aileron on and you’re quite likely to roll right. So instead of taking the conventional approach of rolling with the ailerons all the time, you use the rudders. The aircraft had a bit of that built-in called ‘Aileron Rudder Interconnect’. People frightened themselves doing tight turns at high angles of attack at low level, using ailerons, and finding themselves rolling into the ground. They learnt quickly from making one mistake like that. Unlike modern aircraft which have their adverse characteristics heavily compensated for by computers, in the old days it was all stick, rudder and eyeball and you took what you were dealt with on an aeroplane.

The Phantom had pretty unpleasant handling if it didn’t have its flight augmentation computers on.  There was some augmentation in the pitch, yaw and roll. Pitching with  the pitch augmentation turned off the F-4 the aircraft would continue to pitch where you wanted it to. Which could be quite exciting at higher speeds because you could easily exceed the G-limits, and possibly make yourself black-out. Admittedly roll and yaw were also considerations – if you rolled without the roll augmentation the aircraft would just continue rolling.”

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“When we were at sea, the Russians were always sending ‘Bear’s, normally the delta (Bear-D) variant around the North Cape to have a look just to check out our readiness, intelligence-gathering and this, that and the other. How long did it take us to pick them up? Where did we pick them up? Which squadron was it? Etc, etc. It was just testing us.”

Did you ever get close enough to make eye contact with the Russians? “Frequently. Once we’d picked them (it may have been an air defence unit or the ship’s radar, even the Gannet with its early warning radar), we’d latch on to them, go and take photographs of them (as they did of us). So we’d be in very close formation. No great drama everyone seemed to enjoy it. Yes, it was fairly routine.”

HK: Could you hear the ‘Bear’?

“Not in the Phantom. I’m not sure what the Lighting guys would say. The noise inside our own aeroplane was quite high from the engine and the airflow around the ‘frame. The Bear had for great big turboprop engines – I never heard it, never even thought about it until you asked the question!”

HK: Do you think you had adequate training? In terms of flight hours etc?

“It was getting tighter and tighter, I came out in ’78. In the mid 60s I was instructing and could expect 50 or 60 hours a month; when I was on Hunters I’d probably get 30/35 hours a month. On Phantoms it was down to about 25-30 hours when I started, and probably 20 when I finished. These were economy measures. The cost of running the aeroplane in 1975/76 was £7000 an hour which is peanuts. People would hire it at the  weekend these days, but back then it was big bucks. Economies were made all around the place. Fuel was tight. We didn’t have good simulators, but today we do. You can practice a lot of things in a modern simulator but back then we had to physically practice the manoeuvres. We could learn from talking to the experienced and inexperienced (‘God, I never would have made that mistake’ sort of thing) people, and swapping stories at the bar. You pick up a lot however you can.”

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Did you notice any difference in quality between Navy and Air Force pilots?

“Yes I did. It’s not a popular thing to say, but generally the Navy where of a higher standard on the fixed-wing side. Because they only had fast jets- there wasn’t much in the way of slow fixed-wings. They were either fast jet pilots or rotary wings, the limitations were finer, less restrictive. They had a different attitude to accidents and flying generally.  There wouldn’t be an instant court-marshal or a change of rules to not allow what went wrong – it was more realistic in many ways. It wasn’t hugely different, but I noticed it. I went from an Air Force squadron to a Navy squadron and back to an RAF conversion unit to a Navy squadron. So I was able to make comparisons in two directions, twice.”

Which culture did you enjoy more? 

“I think the Navy one. I don’t go to Air Force reunions. I do go to a Navy reunion every year.”

 Do you remember your first carrier landing? 

“Who can forget their first carrier landing? It wasn’t quality but it was fun and exciting. The briefing is extensive. The practice ashore is also extensive. At the end of every shore-based flight we’d do one or two ‘rollers’ using the projector landing site that was on the side of the runway. This simulated very well the site that was onboard the ship. We were shown films before our first deck landings, these illustrated what happened if you made errors of judgement like being lined up too long, or too far right, too slow. Some of these were illustrated with the crashes that resulted from these errors.  So that’s at the forefront of one’s mind. The first flight, I was catapulted off the Ark Royal. I thought ‘That’s very nice and exhilarating, but in an hour and 20 minutes I’ll be coming back on!’ So I didn’t really concentrate much on what went after going off the front end and coming on the back end for the first three times. My first time there were two rollers with the hook up. That went pretty well, with no one being too frightened. Then the  hook down. The third was a ‘hook on’, I caught the first of the four wires and came to a very graceful arrest at the end of that. Folded the wings, hook up, taxied into what’s called ‘Fly 1’, that’s the front end. Then took the slack for not making a good approach and landing from the landing Safety Officer (NSO).  So you take that. Of course I had a big audience watching the first landing of this Air Force guy. I remember it well. I think the guy in the back seat remembers it well.”

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Was a close relationship with your Observer required to perform the mission?

“Yes it was . In the air defence and interception role it is a team effort. His job was to get the pilot in a position to aim the weapons and carry out the intercept. It was also a team effort in conjunction with the air defence unit. So it was a close relationship, but it was quite a close relationship as a squadron, not big. 12 aeroplanes, 14 crews (so a total 28 aircrew).”

What advice would you give to a new Phantom pilot?

“A bit late now! He should have been here 40 years ago! The first thing is try and know your aeroplane, not just from the lectures (‘chalk and talk’) but by talking to others. Like any new aeroplane, learn as much as you can before you get in it.

There were two models of Phantoms for the British forces: the FG.1, the Navy version, and the FGR. 2, the Air Force version. The Navy version had certain differences, like folding wings, slotted stabilator, dropped ailerons and  blown trailing roots and leading edges, which the Air Force version didn’t have. They both had Rolls-Royce Spey engines. The early Navy engines had a faster wind-up time simply because in the event of missing the wires when hitting the deck, you wanted to have as much as power available, as soon as possible, so they had what was known as ‘rapid reheat’. The Air Force ones didn’t, so took longer to wind-up- it wasn’t critical – as they had longer runways.”

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How did the British Phantoms compare to the American examples? Did you fly with them?

“Yes we did. I never flew on an American one. The British eventually got F-4Js, which were ex-US Navy Phantoms, which formed a squadron at Wattisham. The difference was the engines , the Americans had J79s which were smaller with less thrust, the British had Spey, which were bigger engines with more thrust – but they took up more space, so the cross section of the aircraft actually increased. Someone once compared it to spaying a dog: once you do it, it gets fat at the arse end and slows down. So the Navy Phantoms weren’t as fast the Americans, but this macho thing of flying at twice the speed of sound? I once did it and it took a long time to get there and it wasn’t really worth it, other than being able to say I’d done it.”

How fast could the Phantoms go in full dry thrust?

“Subsonic. It was not capable of going supersonic without reheat other than in a dive. Whereas a Lightning could make low supersonic speeds in full military power.”

How often did you fire live weapons?

“Missiles? I fired Sidewinder once, and Sparrows twice. I shutdown a Jindavik in Cardigan Bay with Sparrow missile when I was on6 Squadron in the early 1970s. And I a hit fast patrol boat target in the Caribbean using a Sparrow missile as an air to-surface weapon. It worked out quite well. There’s a range just off Puerto Rico called the Vieques.

In the Vietnam War they discovered – I think with a Phantom with an early Sparrow, hit the New Zealand (HK note: it was actually HMAS Hobart, so Australian) frigate Hobart which came as a big surprise to everyone. It didn’t explode the warhead- it just punched straight through, which proved it could work.”

Did you have faith in the missiles?

“Yes. Especially the late Sidewinder that came in after my time. The 9L it’s called-  has a far better ability to pick up a low heat target than the earlier ones.”

What was the Hunter like to fly?

“Very docile. A quite delightful aeroplane. For its day, it could have won beauty contests. Quite a good turner with a fairly low wing loading. Something like 60Ibs per square foot, which meant it could turn much better than a Phantom, at 85, or a Harrier at 95lbs per square foot. It was viceless.”

 Opinions on future Royal Navy airpower

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It seems counterintuitive to have such a large aircraft that can only carry STOVL aircraft

“Yes, it does seem counterintuitive and may show how much sway the RAF had in the design of the thing. I believe the Air Force had too much input on that, which is why it doesn’t have catapults and arresting gear. It can operate the F-35B (which has to lug around all the weight of its lift fan) but it can’t operate conventional aircraft which are dependent on wires. Nor would it be able to get them off again if they could land, as it has no catapult. This was very short-sighted. However, the die is cast. Though I now hear that the RAF wants to get some F-35As that don’t carry all this lifting fan around.

Another problem with the F-35B – the weight of fan it carries is a weight of weapons it doesn’t carry in internal carriage, so it is a limited aircraft. It is severely limited in conditions of high temperature, like for instance if it was in the tropics or the Caribbean etc it would have a severe limit on the weight it can take back on board. Vertical landing might not be possible, short landing probably would be, but the conditions would have to be favourable – there’s not a lot off slack in the system, However I don’t know enough about the subject to speak authoritatively. “

Why would that be to the Air Force’s advantage?

“It was planned as an air force carrier. Perhaps the best view on this comes from Sharkey Ward who’s well known in aviation circles. He’s written papers on this which I haven’t studied at great length. The air force may well regret it, but if they want weapon carrying aircraft, they haven’t got it. They have the F-35B – shore based- with less weapons carriage capability, because of the weight of the fan that it is carrying. The inability to host conventional aircraft is a big limitation.”

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Do you think we need new carriers?

“Well you just have to think – on the declining years of our nation would you like to be able to protect the Falklands again? If the Guatemalans decide they want to invade Belize again, would you like to be able to stop that happening? Well you could if you had a carrier, or to be precise if you’d three. You could then guarantee one at sea, possibly two, and one in refit or mini refit: then you would always have a carrier. So then the Prime Minister, when the shit hits the fan, would say ‘Where’s our carrier?’ It’s British Sovereign territory so no one can touch it. You can do what you want legally. It’s our’s, at sea”

I’ll take that as a yes.

“Yes, it is. The air force could not have retaken the Falklands simply using the tanker force. The tankers they used to get Vulcan down there from Ascension Island. One free-fall 1,000Ib bomb on the runway- that’s technology for you!”

Is there one aircraft you would like to fly that you haven’t flown?

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I’ve always quite liked the look of the F/A-18, the Hornet. It’s a carrier aircraft, very capable- you’d get three for the price of one F-35B. The F/A-18 might have been one of the answers. It doesn’t have all the stealth business there, but stealth’s only as good as your paint-job and your polish etc etc. And you have limits on how you can use it.

 

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