The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes project is launched: 100% funded reached

Thank you! We’ve done it!

I’m extremely excited to announce The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes has reached 100% funding thanks to your support. We can now commence with work on what promises to be an exceptional coffee table book.

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More updates to follow soon.

How to crash and survive in an F-8: The US Navy Crusader fighter pilot who cheated death


“There comes a time for me to recount my last flight at the controls of a military aircraft. A flight of four launched out of NAS Miramar on a beautiful, clear, California Fall morning, October 3, 1968. It was a flight of four F-8H Crusaders belonging to the VF-111 Sundowners, out for an air-to-ground weapons training flight.


The F-8’s cockpit visibility wasn’t the greatest, so you always raised your seat as much as you could. But you didn’t want it so high that you would have trouble grabbing the two yellow-and-black-striped handles above your helmet, the handles that fired your ejection seat.


The last thing I always did before taking the runway was make a reflexive grab for the face curtain handles. That turned out to be a useful exercise.
After a short flight east, over the mountains into the southern California desert, we reached the target, radio call sign ‘Inky Barley.’ Loaded with both 20-mm machine gun ammunition and practice bombs, we set up a race track strafing pattern around the target at 4000 feet, 450 knots.

As the target went past 90 degrees to your left, you’d roll into a 25-degree dive and accelerate to 500 knots as you lined up your gun sight on the target. Since this aircraft lacked a heads-up display, you had to watch the unwinding altimeter out of the corner of your eye. You wanted to be sure you initiated recovery early enough to avoid ‘controlled flight into terrain.’

I didn’t.



When Tom Garrett, the flight leader, called “last pass,” I was determined to ‘fire out’ (to expend all my ammunition). Word was that it was a lot of extra work for the aviation ordnance crews to disarm unexpended munitions. Trying to be helpful, I hosed away at the target with the F-8’s four Colt 20-mm cannon. A phenomenon called target fixation caused me to miss a revolution of the altimeter.


As I pulled four G’s to recover, I looked up and to the left, looking for the aircraft ahead of me in the pattern. I have a vague memory of seeing sage brush, zooming by to my lower left. I felt a slight bump, which was the tail of the aircraft brushing a sand dune. I had hit the ground in a wings-level, slightly nose-up attitude, at 500 knots, about 550 mph. I reflexively grabbed for the face curtain.

I was strapped into a Martin-Baker Mk-F5A ejection seat, the last of the ballistic models. Pulling the face curtain handles fired a charge that set the seat moving up and out of the cockpit on a telescoping tube. As the seat moved up, two successive charges were fired by the hot gasses from the first. Ideally the three successive charges propelled you high enough for separation from the seat and deployment of your main parachute.

My situation wasn’t ideal. For one thing, ground-level was 100 feet too low for the speed of 500 knots. The seat delayed main chute deployment until a small drogue chute had slowed you down enough to avoid damage to the main chute. But a larger problem was that the ejection gun, the telescoping tube, ruptured as the aircraft was disintegrating. I only got one of the three charges; the other two were recovered unexpended from the wreckage.
I didn’t clear the aircraft’s vertical tail. It chopped off my right heel like a guillotine.



My main chute streamed but didn’t fill. On the plus side, it snagged in sagebrush, keeping me from tumbling. I hit the ground feet and butt first. Femurs stayed together but tibias and fibulas broke; remaining ankle bones were shattered. The five-inch-thick seat pan, containing life raft and other supplies, acted as a crush- zone, but I still ended up with a fractured pelvis.
The first thing I remember upon regaining consciousness, face up on my back, was a cool breeze across my face. That wasn’t right, because I should have been wearing a hot, rubber oxygen mask. It had been dislodged somewhere along the way. Then I heard the sound of another aircraft, orbiting overhead. That reminded me I had been flying my own aircraft a moment ago.

I was in shock. I felt no pain. I tried to sit up, but the broken pelvis and legs, as well as the parachute harness, made that problematic. I raised my arms and notice that my left forefinger had been dislocated. Well, I didn’t particularly want to see that.
I had no sensation of time passing. Next thing I knew, one of the target crew appeared in my field of view. I asked him if I still had any legs. He said I did, but they didn’t look so good.


Meanwhile, back in the strafing pattern, my flight leader, Tom Garrett, was directly across from me. He said later that he thought I was pulling out too low. He keyed his mic to say “Pull up,” but instead transmitted “Oh shit” as my aircraft erupted into the typical black mushroom cloud.
Recovering quickly, Tom immediately lit burner to climb high enough to get line- of-sight radio contact back to Sundowner base at Miramar. He ordered Hugh Risseeuw, the less experienced pilot to return to Miramar independently and the more experienced pilot, Tom Laughter, to orbit low and maintain contact with the target crew.


Since there was no rocket exhaust from my ballistic seat and since no chute had blossomed, Tom assumed I was spread over a mile or so with my aircraft. When he returned to target frequency the target crew reported that I was not only alive but also conscious. Tom got on the horn to MCAS Yuma, some 40 miles to the southeast. Yuma scrambled an H-34 helicopter, but its oil sump chip light came on en route. It had to make an emergency landing in the desert.


Tom then called NAF El Centro. Listening in on tower frequency was a Navy reserve flight surgeon, getting in his required flight time in a C-130 doing touch- and-go landings. He called for a full-stop, transferred to a helicopter, and was on his way to Inky Barley.


All I remember about the helicopter was being loaded into it. I heard somebody cry out in pain. I realized somewhere in my shock-anesthetized brain that it was I.


Back to El Centro and into the C-130 for the flight back west over the mountains to Miramar. Time had no meaning; I was only marginally conscious. At one point, I noticed a placard on the bulkhead, “Do not store body bags aft of frame 58.” I asked the doctor what frame we were next to. He told me not to worry about it.


Next thing I know, I’m being transferred to an ambulance bound for Balboa Naval Hospital. I see the faces of squadron mates and CDR Finney, the skipper. “Sorry I fucked up, skipper” I remember saying. “Don’t worry about it” he said.

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Next memory is the Balboa ER. The anesthesiologist is explaining that he’s about to intubate me. I will feel a choking sensation, he warned, but then the tube would slip into place and everything would be fine. Then he commences shoving a broomstick or something down my throat. Well, hell yeah I felt a choking sensation! Then I tried to tell him that, yes, it did slip into place, and everything was fine. All that come out was a whisper of breath. “Oh, don’t try to talk; you can’t; the tube goes through your vocal cords.” Oh, OK.


I come to in the recovery room or ICU or who knows? The patient is the last to know. Turns out that I have tubes everywhere: a nasogastric tube, wound drains in open reductions of fractures on both legs, a Foley catheter, a cephalic vein IV, and a jugular intracath. I have a plaster cast on my left hand, where the dislocated metacarpophalangeal joint was reduced. I have a splint on my right elbow, where a large laceration was sewn up. I have a plaster boot on my left foot. I have a bivalve cast on my right leg, along with a Steinmann pin through what’s left of the heel. And I have an ugly-looking incision from sternum to pubis, thanks to a laparotomy that allowed repair of a lacerated liver.


Thanks to better living through chemistry, the only pain I felt through all this was a dull ache from the fractured pelvis. At one point, I thought I was dying as consciousness slowly faded. Turns out I was only falling asleep.
My orthopedist characterized my recovery as “stormy.” That is a euphemism for raging pseudomonas infection in the huge defect that used to be my right heel, plus uremia. My kidneys had shut down—distal tubular necrosis, consequent to shock.

I was raving insane and had to be restrained lest I pull out my IV’s. I was told I was about to be dialyzed before my kidneys rebooted and my BUN peaked at 180.


I did a tour in the Balboa ICU. The Red Cross flew my parents out from Maryland, something they do, I later learned, only in situations expected to be terminal. I was recovering from uremia then, so I don’t remember much about the visit.
The worst part was being NPO (Latin for nulla per os, nothing by mouth). I could have only a shot class of D5W, sugar water, every hour. It’s a great weight-loss regimen—see the picture below. I’d live for that shot. The nurses would never let me have it early, but they didn’t seem bothered if it was late.


Toward the end of my ICU stay, I was visited once by one of the members of my last flight of four, Hugh Risseeuw. I enviously watched him finish a cup of coffee. Hmmm, there was a container of D5W on my table. He had a cup. Why not? “Hugh, sneak me a slug of water from that jug.” There was a little ring of coffee left in the bottom of his cup. After weeks of nothing but sugar water, I still remember that sip as the richest, most exotic thing I have ever tasted. This is when I realized I had turned the corner.


I have a load of hospital stories. I was shipped back home to Maryland to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Finally had my right foot amputated. Met the Navy nurse whom I later married. But this is supposed to be the story of how my last Crusader flight ended. To this day, every time the wheels squeal against the runway, I say to my seat-mate, “Cheated death again!”

RATE THE F-8 IN THE FOLLOWING CATEGORIES

Joe, I’m not an aeronautical engineer, nor have I ever flown another fleet-type aircraft. Consequently my ratings are purely anecdotal.

INSTANTANEOUS TURN

“Excellent.”

SUSTAINED TURN

“Good, with burner.”

ACCELERATION

“Excellent, with burner.”

ENERGY PRESERVATION

I have no idea.

CLIMB RATE

“Excellent, with burner.”

COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS

No experience. See Peter Mersky or Barrett Tillman’s books.

COCKPIT ERGONOMICS

“Small canopy made cockpit visibility poor. Raising the seat to improve visibility reduced clearance for face-curtain ejection grips.”

Which units did you fly with?

“VF-111 Sundowners.”

How does it feel to take-off and land from a carrier in an F-8?

“Catapult shot is straightforward. The variable incidence wing eliminated need for nose-up rotation off the bow.”

Landing was assisted by the approach power compensator, engaged in the groove with a press-switch on the throttle grip. In APC, the pilot uses only the stick to keep the ball (the yellow light of the lens landing system) centered between the green datum lights. The APC (an analog computer system) adjusted the throttle to maintain optimum (max lift/drag) angle of attack.

The H model was the only version I operated on/off carriers, and it handled well. Pilots of the J model tell a different story. Air was bled from the engine for boundary layer control. Experienced friends have told me that on bolter or wave-off in basic engine, one could either climb out straight ahead or turn downwind—but not both at the same time!

Did it have any nicknames?

“The usual shipboard one was ‘Sader’ from Crusader, of course. Rolling into the groove, the pilot would call, “[Modex, e.g., AH-107], ‘Sader, ball, [fuel state].” Now that it’s obsolete, it’s usually called ‘Gator’ because of the long, thin fuselage and the spindly main gear.

What is the biggest myth about the F-8?

“Not really a ‘myth’ but…. It was common to speak of raising or lowering the variable incidence wing. Aerodynamically, the wing maintained its angle of attack, while the fuselage was lowering or raising respectively.”

Have you flown a combat mission, if so what are your strongest recollections?

I managed to avoid combat missions by failing to see and avoid planet earth, i.e., target fixation followed by controlled flight into terrain. Hospitalized and retired for disability.

How important were guns to the Crusader?

Critical to its image as the last of the gunfighters (at least in the Vietnam era)! The VN rules of engagement required a visual ID pass before engaging an enemy, which ruled out long-range AIM-7 Sparrow shots or sneaky AIM-9 Sidewinders. The Navy added a gun-pod to its F-4 Phantoms. Mersky and Tillman books have the details on missile-vs.-gun combat effectiveness.

The problem with the Crusader’s guns was performance under G-load. They worked great at one G. As G-loads increased in air-combat manoeuvring, the likelihood of jamming the Colts increased proportionally. Dick Schaffert will tell you the guns were useless at five G’s.

Complete this phrase: An F-8 is better than a F-4 because…

“F-4 pilots/rios were taught (back in 1968) that long-range Sparrow capability meant no more worries about dog-fighting. I remember F-8-vs.-F-4 syllabus flights when F-8’s of VF-124 went against F-4’s of VF-121. (Those were the two squadrons, colloquially known as RAG’s, for Replacement Air Groups, at then NAS Miramar in 1968.) As the engagement began beyond visual range, the F-4 would gleefully transmit, “Fox away!” (Such a scenario should not have happened under the then-current rules of engagement, which required a visual ID pass.) Then reality would intrude, as the F-8 neatly turned inside the F-4. The F-4 would use the vertical, giving the F-8 driver a spectacular view of twin J-79’s, blazing in zone-5 afterburner. The F-4 seemed to zoom higher, but the F-8 could simply turn inside it as it headed back down. Repeat until bingo.

How easy is a F-4 to defeat in DACT? How would you do this?

“The key is to avoid a BVR Sparrow. Then see the foregoing paragraph. The F-8 could yo-yo with the F-4, frequently in position to use guns (without all those pesky G’s).”

What equipment would you have liked to have seen added to the F-8?

“That’s an easy question for me 😊: a HUD!! In strafing, the pilot would be accelerating from 400 to 450 knots in a 25-degree dive, concentrating on lining up the reticle’s pipper on the target, while glancing down at the altimeter to check progress. Why, for a novice, this sounds like a recipe for target fixation and CFIT!”

Tell me something I don’t know about the F-8…

It had flaps, rudimentary though they were. In the landing configuration, the ailerons drooped 20 degrees, looking like huge flaps. But they still operated as ailerons, while there was a small, fixed flap next to the fuselage.

How would you describe the Crusader in 3 words?

“Fun to fly.”

What was the best thing about it?

Performance in afterburner. P&W J-57 went from 10000 lbs. thrust to 17000 lbs. in a single-stage light-off.

And the worst?

“Cockpit visibility.”

— George Wright

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy here

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

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17 heaviest armed gunfighters/gunniest warplanes

Guns: before viruses took away the work of honest guns, people used these quaint objects to deprive others of life. Guns are horrible, but also exciting, things. Adding the excitement of the gun to the innately thrilling aeroplane produces a particularly compelling machine. Here are 17 designs that took this idea to extremes. Bang! 

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If Chekhov had a drone. Russian company Almaz-Antey developed a flying AK. A flying gun is not the same as an aeroplane with a gun so this will not be included.
B-17G-20-BO 42-31435 SU-S ‘West End’ (544BS, 384BG) with a six-gun chin turret modification.

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Nakajima G10N Fugaku, project Z (dis)honourable mention

Nakajima-Fugaku-10.jpg
What compares to forty rifle-calibre machine guns firing directly downwards from the belly of a huge aircraft? If nothing springs to mind, meet the Fugaku, proof that the Third Reich was not the only nation clutching at mad technical straws on the road to strategic ruin. The Fugaku project grew from the Imperial Japanese Army’s ‘Project Z’ calling for a bomber capable of attacking North America from the Kuril Islands. One of the proposed variants was a gunship version capable of firing 640 rounds a second, vertically downwards, from 40 bomb-bay mounted machine guns. Had the balance of resources in the Pacific war been a little different such a terrifying machine, possessed of an intercontinental range, may well have caused considerable disquiet to anyone liable to find themselves underneath it.

The Soviet toyed with arming a Tu-2 with 88 downward firing sub-machine guns. The guns took a long time to load, were prone to jamming –– and such was their limited range that they would have taken the Tu-2 well in range of every German anti-aircraft gun on the battlefield.

17. Naval Aircraft Factory N-1

Navies love big guns. When the age of the aeroplane arrived, navies of all nations decided to bolt the largest guns they could find to the newfangled flying machines. The fact that early aircraft were simply not ready for this sort of mighty weaponry doesn’t seem to have thwarted anybody’s enthusiasm. But then, if massive, seemingly unstoppable Zeppelins were bombing pubs and places of worship where you lived, well, you’d probably be willing to give something like the N-1/Davis Gun combination a go too. The aircraft was an underpowered float-equipped pusher biplane, something which wasn’t unusual in 1917. The Davis Gun was a little different though, the first relatively successful recoilless rifle it came in 40-mm, 62-mm and 76.2-mm versions, all aimed with a co-axial Lewis gun. It employed a counter charge firing a blast of steel balls packed in heavy grease out of the rear of the barrel to cancel the recoil generated from the round leaving the muzzle.

Four N-1s were built and none saw action unless one was to count two serious crashes as ‘action’. The Davis gun meanwhile was attached to various other more capable aircraft and several fairly incapable ones such as:

16. Pemberton-Billing P.B.29E/Supermarine Nighthawk

An interceptor with an endurance of up to 18 hours is pretty ambitious stuff, even by contemporary standards and was sensational for 1917. So was a closed and heated cockpit/observation compartment with an off-duty bunk for a crew of 3-5 men, a Davis gun, and an electric searchlight powered by an onboard generator. The only things it seemed to be missing were a baby grand piano and a humidor. The Nighthawk had everything, including massive drag. Hardly surprising when you have a stack of four 60-foot span wings. One thing it lacked in abundance however was horsepower. The combined output of its (unreliable) Anzani engines amounted to less than that of a mildly tuned Ford Fiesta and the ungainly Nighthawk could only drag itself to a maximum of 60 mph – thus rendering it slower than the Zeppelins it was supposed to chase down and destroy. This was R.J. Mitchell’s first ever aeroplane and it’s fair to say he went on to better things.

15. Robey-Peters Gun Carrier

It is difficult to overstate the effect that the initial Zeppelin raids had on Britain. These quite modest attacks, by modern standards at least, spurred a frenzied response from British aircraft manufacturers. One of the more impressive and least successful was the Robey-Peters Gun carrier. What could be more devastating than an aircraft mounting a Davis gun? Why, an aircraft mounting two Davis guns of course! Apparently ignoring petty concerns such as airworthiness and practicality, the Robey-Peters featured two tiny gondolas for gunners, armed with Davis guns, on either side of the fuselage under the top wing. Meanwhile the pilot was banished to a lonely outpost near the tail to perform his lowly duties in solitude. Alas, the Gun Carrier, in a fit of self-destructive irony, crashed into a mental institution on its first flight. No one was hurt but allegedly the President of the Robey Company considered it a bad omen and had the prototype burned. Meanwhile conventional machine-guns on existing aircraft were found to be reasonably effective against the dastardly German airships and interest in the various radical Zeppelin-killing aircraft with big guns had largely evaporated by 1918.

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14. Tupolev I-12

Two sections of municipal-grade steel pipe, each containing a 76.2-mm recoilless rifle were utilised to make this cannon fighter. Its push-pull mounted engines and twin boom layout make this a truly freakish artefact, even for the Soviet Union in 1931. Valid concerns regarding the pilot’s ability to escape in an emergency resulted in the grand total of one being built and flown.

13. Grigorovich I-Z

Designed, like the I-12 also to carry a pair of 76.2-mm recoilless rifles, the I-Z was a second Soviet attempt at a cannon-armed fighter. This one however, with its blast-reinforced fuselage to protect against self-inflicted damage, was a moderate success (by the decidedly mixed standards of this category of warplane at least). Although recoil had been eliminated, there were other serious issues to contend with. Sighting was problematic and rate of fire was non-existent as neither gun could be reloaded. Meanwhile shock waves emanating from the muzzle, smoke from burning propellant and spent casing discharge were also issues. Under 100 of these aircraft were eventually built, no doubt the machine’s two-round salvo was seen as a limiting factor though employment in numbers might have countered this deficiency somewhat. The I-Z was employed during development of the advanced Zveno parasite attack aircraft project but wound up little more than a curiosity.

 

12. Spad S.XII

Spad S.XII


Improved Spad S.VIIs with 37-mm cannon were envisaged to supplement squadrons equipped with the superb Spad S.XIII with its regular armament of two .303 Vickers guns. While that extra hitting power was welcome, getting there proved troublesome. All kinds of adjustments and compromises were made to accommodate the cannon and this resulted in a prolonged development period. The result was an aircraft completely different from the S.VII but ultimately not as good as the S.XIII. A geared V-8 engine was required to allow the weapon to fire through the propellor shaft and structural changes were dictated as well. The breech of the cannon, a Le-Puteaux quick firing infantry support gun with 12 rounds, also protruded into the cockpit obstructing the controls and compelling a change from an ordinary central control column to a trickier paired arrangement. Firing the gun was also said to fill the cockpit with smoke and the S.XII was unpopular in comparison to the S.XIII which was fast becoming a legendary warplane. Despite support and good results from aces, including Georges Guynemer and American ace Charles Biddle (the American Expeditionary force operated a single example), the project to add a big gun to Spad’s lineup can be fairly described as a case of fixing something that wasn’t broken. About 20 are thought to have been built of an order for 300.

11. Salmson-Moineau S.M. 1 A3

11. Salmson-Moineau S.M. 1 A3

From early 1915 onward it was apparent that First World War pilots would have to direct a little more than dirty looks and half a dozen pistol rounds at their kind on the other side. An impressively heavily-armed early aircraft, the boxy S.M. 1 mounted a pair of 37-mm cannon. Sadly, two unconventional design approaches hindered what should have been a hard-punching aircraft. The first was the selection of a gearbox and shaft system for connecting a single 240-hp engine in the fuselage to propellers mounted on struts between the wings. This odd arrangement gave a good field of fire to the two gunners but the transmission system was maintenance heavy and prone to failure. The second was the employment of an auxiliary wheel below the nose. The latter gives the S.M. 1 a quirky appearance, looking as if it were trying to be a taildragger and tricycle gear configured aircraft at the same time. The nose wheel was merely designed to prevent the aircraft going over on landing rather than to accept the weight of landing. In service however, the nose wheel arrangement was weak and prone to collapse. Nonetheless 155 were built and despite being generally unpopular a few were used right through to the Armistice.

10. Blackburn R.B.3A Perth

An inter-war artillerist, the Perth, a large tri-motor seaplane, was the RAF’s largest ever biplane seaplane. As such it was seen as a natural candidate for a large calibre weapon. Its armament of a 37-mm Coventry Ordnance Works gun was unprecedented in 1934 and this mighty weapon was envisioned to mete out damage to such diverse threats as smugglers, pirates, enemy seaplanes, blimps, submarines, torpedo boats, and lighthouses should the occasion call for it. As it was it never saw action. Four were built and the type’s service life was barely five years in length.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz1MSHglGP4

9. Hawker Hurricane IID

Everybody’s second favourite aeroplane may be a surprise appearance on this list but it shouldn’t be. A pair of 40-mm Vickers S Guns saw the Battle of Britain veteran cracking tanks in North Africa before the Kanonenvogel (of which more later) got into action. A small production run of Hurricanes with extra armour was made available for ground support and by all accounts the results were good. Deletion of six out of the normal eight .303 machine guns found on most Hurricane variants compensated for the weight of the bigger guns but their drag still chopped this Hurricane’s maximum speed to below three hundred miles-per-hour. Each S Gun salvo is said to have depressed the nose of a Hurricane IID by five degrees, demanding constant re-sighting for a multiple shot run. The flying can opener badge is still to be found on the tails of 6 Squadron RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons a lifetime later.

Two Typhoon Aircraft from 6 Sqn based at RAF Leuchars, Fife, Scotland fly in a close formation over the Forth Rail and Forth Road Bridges, Edinburgh, Fife, Scotland. They then flew over St Andrews Old Course. The flight marked the stand up of 1 (Fighter) Squadron, Royal Air Force, equipped with the Typhoon, at RAF Leuchars.

8. Messerschmitt Me-262A-1a/U5 Schwalbe

A conventionally armed Schwalbe with its four 30-mm cannon might have found an honorary mention in the flying artillery hall of fame anyway but a 50-mm anti tank gun in that shark-like nose definitely guarantees a place. Fortunately for Allied bomber crews the entire 262 programme, including two versions earmarked for either a Mauser or Rheinmetall 50-mm autocannon, was hamstrung by administrative stupidity and huge technical headaches. One to three 50-mm rounds were calculated to be enough to destroy a B-24 or B-17. Extra points are awarded for its intimidating appearance.

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7. Douglas AC-47 Spooky


Terrifying rivers of lead and brass poured from this aircraft at 6000 rounds a minute when the AC-47 pilot activated his guns. Already a transport with an enviable list of achievements on its resume the C-47 popped up in green-and-brown camouflage as a fire support aircraft in the Vietnam war. Envisioned as a cost-effective alternative to greater numbers of existing ground attack aircraft, the Spooky was an innovative approach that proved terrifically effective. After field-based modifications using .30 calibre machine guns in pods and some rotary gun trials in the United States it was decided that three 7.62-mm electric motor driven Gatling guns firing through window ports on the pilot’s side of the aircraft would be optimal. A simple pylon turn with the left wing pointing at the target resulted in a sustained sweeping effect over a large enough ground area to disrupt enemy ambushes and assaults with dramatic success. The Spooky would soon find itself in serious demand all over South Vietnam and experience with it directly fostered our number one aircraft.

6. North American B-25G/H Mitchell

North American B-25H during ground checks with engines running. Note muzzle of 76-mm gun below the quartet of .50 cals. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Complete with a gun of the same calibre as its ground-based equivalent, these two models of the ubiquitous Mitchell effectively became the Sherman tanks of the air war. Intended for the strike and anti-shipping roles they were offered to the RAF, USN and the USSR but only adopted by the USAAF. The short nose and squarish fuselage of the proven B-25 allowed for easy installation and operation (the weapon was hand loaded by the navigator) of a lightened version of the standard US medium tank gun. Considering that rockets, bombs, and no less than fourteen .50 calibre machine guns could be packaged on this platform it is a wonder it didn’t win the entire Pacific war single-handed. The aircraft was particularly effective against shipping, sinking barges, freighters and small craft and it was noted that a single well-placed hit could inflict considerable damage, even to a destroyer.

North American B-25G-5-NA “Blondies Vengeance” in the South Pacific. Note the massive gun in the nose contrasting with the laundry hanging from the tail. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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5. de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk. XVIII ‘Tsetse’

Intended as a tank destroyer, the ‘Tsetse’ (named for an African biting fly) was created by fitting a 57-mm quick-firing anti-tank weapon called a Molins gun into a standard fighter-bomber Mosquito. This formidable weapon could fire 55 rounds per minute in fully automatic mode. The Molins gun replaced the Mosquito’s normal primary armament of four 20-mm cannon but two or four .303 machine guns were retained in the nose to sight the large gun (the aircraft retained the ability to carry bombs or rockets on its underwing hardpoints). By the time the conversion flew, the 57-mm weapon was no longer competitive against armour so it was decided to operate the new variant in the anti-shipping role instead. The results were spectacular.


In about 14 months, eight U-boats were destroyed wholly or in part by Mosquito Mk. XVIIs, suggesting a cost-to-benefit ratio of impressive proportions. Enigma decrypted information was used to place the Molins-equipped Mosquitoes on top of the U-boats at the approaches to their pens in French ports and to coordinate anti-shipping strikes. At least one Ju 88 was destroyed by a Tsetse Mosquito in a fight during which a single 57-mm round was seen to rip one engine clean off the unfortunate Junkers. If you think all that was impressive, a 96-mm gun was apparently tested successfully right at the very end of the war in a single aircraft though photographs of this machine are suspiciously elusive.

4. Junkers Ju 87 Stuka Kanonenvogel

The Hs 129 had so many teething problems that Luftwaffe management decided to rehabilitate the Stuka as an interim tank buster. Although something of a lash-up, it was sickeningly successful at this job, utilising a 37-mm FLAK gun under each wing firing tungsten-cored ammunition. The Stuka pilot flying low and slow was able to select a line of fire onto the less-armoured upper and rear surfaces of Red Army tanks. It is said that Fairchild Republic engineers starting out on what would ultimately become the A-10 Thunderbolt II were each locked in a box with nothing but a lamp and a copy of Stuka Ace (and unrepentant Nazi) Hans-Ulrich Rudel’s memoir of his days as the eastern front’s top Luftwaffe tank destroyer. Rudel himself was employed as a consultant on the A-10 project which was a practical, though morally problematic, idea.

3. Henschel Hs 129B-3 Panzerknacker

The Hs 129 was an emergency effort to create a ground attack aircraft that could visit as much hate as possible on the armoured fighting vehicles of the Third Reich’s enemies. For size, its 75-mm gun is only matched by the armament of the B-25 and only exceeded by the AC-130. With 870 units manufactured it is also the most prolific of these big gunners. In the end, however, the 129 was another too-hasty technical fix brought on when the biggest criminal enterprise in human history, Operation Barbarossa, went bad.

Visibility was impeded by three inch thick armoured cockpit glass and stick forces were said to be high, both bad news for an aircraft meant to fly and fight so close to the ground. It could also have used more powerful, less seizure-prone, engines and better armour for its large fuel tanks. This aircraft’s standout feature remains the enormous auto cannon on the B models, the Rheinmetall Bk 75mm. This weapon was well engineered for installation in a plane, it was lighter than previous aircraft-installed versions of the 75-mm with a hydraulic recoil damping system, a rotary magazine and an improved muzzle brake design. Yes, the Hs 129 killed plenty of tanks and trucks but it got killed a lot itself.

2. Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II

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Letting this rugged aircraft retire seems to be impossible for the USAF. The chunky, turbofan-powered, straight-winged A-10 has written a whole new and lethally superlative chapter in all this ghoulish gun worship thanks to its hydraulically-operated, multi-barrel rotary cannon. Certainly, the wrecked Soviet-pattern tanks and other vehicles of the 1991 Gulf War alone attest to this weapon system’s effectiveness in terms of hitting power, rate of fire, accuracy and range. Consider the GAU-8A Avenger cannon for its weight alone at just over 600 lbs. That’s equivalent to more than two early examples of the PT6A turbine engine. Before a GAU-8 is removed from an A-10 for servicing a jack is placed under the tail so it will not drop to the ground, that’s how much influence the gun has on the design’s centre of gravity. Both the plane and the gun were called into existence in the wake of ground attack experience gained in the Vietnam war and with future possible conflict against the big battalions of the Warsaw Pact in mind. The war it was designed to fight thankfully never occurred but the straightforward A-10 has proved so relentlessly useful in a string of grubby conflicts over the years that it seems it will never be retired.

The GAU-8 was further developed into the 25-mm GAU-22 used by the F-35, a very powerful gun in its own right. Another aircraft that carried a 25-mm ‘gatling’ cannon was the Rutan Ares, with its GAU-12U.

It is a fact often overlooked that the Soviet MiG-27 also had a 30-mm rotary cannon. Whereas the A-10 was custom-made to handle such a big weapon the MiG-27 was an adaptation of a light fighter; the ‘Gasha’ was rather more gun than the MiG-27 could handle and its use came with a variety of technical issues.


1. Lockheed AC-130 Spectre


An armed version of a very familiar transport aircraft, with a history nearly as long as the Boeing B-52, the Spectre remains the most powerfully gun-armed aircraft yet flown. Guns including 105-mm howitzers, rapid fire 20-mm and later 25-mm and 30-mm rotary cannon, 40-mm Bofors guns (and even 120mm mortars in some versions) have been at the core of the AC-130’s strike capability since their introduction to the Vietnam war in 1967. The most recent version, the AC-130U, was still being accepted into service in 2017. Upgrade programmes for multiple sensor, targeting and navigation systems and a vast array of other weapons have been layered onto the AC-130 for decades now. Wherever the US has found itself fighting ground enemies this plane has been kept busy. Like the AC-47 did in its day, the AC-130 adds higher altitude loitering, allowing for an endurance no helicopter can match. When called by an observer to provide support the AC-130 can do so, with (mostly) great accuracy regardless of environmental conditions and with systems to protect it from hostile fire. None of this comes cheap but for fulsome effectiveness the Inspector Harry Callahan Lifetime Achievement Award goes to the AC-130.

– Stephen Caulfield/Ed Ward/ Joe Coles

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

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Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10 for a 10% discount on the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes

The other BRRRRRRT: we talk to a MiG-27 pilot about firing the devastating 30-mm ‘Gatling’ gun

Three years before the A-10 ‘Warthog’ was casting its jolie laide shadow over South Carolina, another, far faster, warplane was chewing targets to pieces with the awe-inspiring power of a 30-mm rotary cannon. The weapon was the GSh-6-30 and the aircraft was the MiG-27. Nicknamed ‘Gasha’, the 9A-21 gun was far lighter than the A-10’s GAU-8, with a greater rate of fire and a heavier projectile — it was very accurate and extremely loud. Anshuman Mainkar flew the MiG-27 with the Indian Air Force, here he gives the low-down on the other BRRRRRT.

What was the gun model and how was it mounted?  “Gryazev-Shipunov GSh – 6 – 30. It was a six-barrel, Gatling-type cannon mounted on the centre fuselage. It fired 30mm calibre rounds.”

How heavy and long was the gun?
“145 kilograms and I think it was just over 6 feet in length. Anyone by the name ‘Gasha’ come to mind?”

The GSh-6-30 should not be confused with the other famous Gasha, the Afrobeats Soul singer from Cameroon.

How many rounds did the gun have and how quickly could you expend them?“It fired 260 rounds at 5000 rounds/min, taking just over 3 seconds to expend. It may seem too little, but is actually considerable for air-air bursts or air-ground tracking. Of course, cannon overheating and gun-life considerations limited the burst to about 100 rounds (one-second bursts). For practice missions, 60 rounds were sufficient, and if you were smart with the trigger, you could actually pull off two passes.”



Was the airframe/gun combination a good one? “I am not aware of the actual details going into the development/mating of the gun into the airframe, but for a cannon originally designed for shipborne (ground-to-air) operations, modifying it for aerial use must have meant shedding weight, refining balance, and mating it perfectly with the airframe. It may be appreciated that the gun-sight had to cater to a variety of weapons and on-board stations, rendering limits to rigging/placement/positioning. 

It is believable that during design/limit assurance tests, there would have been a few unfortunate incidents. For one, the gun was extremely potent. Also, located centrally on the fuselage, the vibrations would definitely have been felt in every rivet and frame. Not for nothing do they say that Russian flight manuals are written in red ink, the red signifying the ‘blood’ sacrificed in proving systems and operating limits. We owe all those brave stalwarts (including those in other Warsaw Pact / partner nations who did follow-up development work) our happy landings!
Regarding the bad press on this subject, I think the cannon had matured into a good fit with the airframe by the time it entered service with the IAF. Provided it was treated and maintained well, there was absolutely no problem with it. There were laid out firing limits in the air, the anti-surge system kicked in seamlessly, and maintenance was top-notch too. Gun stoppage in the air was rare, and I always looked forward to front gun firing sorties. At ranges of 1.6 km, the target was hardly bigger than a full stop but the rounds tracked their way as if they had a will of their own (on more than a few occasions, quite literally).  

Come to think of it, some people later had the audacity to put an electronic warfare support measures ‘bulb’ antenna on the chin of the aircraft. No way was the ‘Gasha’ having any of that nonsense. One gun sortie and the chin had tucked in, never to be seen again, a rather violent end to its short shared life with that beast of a gun.”

Did the gun cause damage to the aircraft? 
“Rarely. Gun operations were on the whole, pretty safe, thanks to a refined design, wonderful maintenance, talented engineers and loving pilots 🙂

Did the recoil slow the aircraft down? What was it like to fire the gun? Trigger press was something like going into a dream state. Inception-like. Imagine the clock’s second-hand decelerating to almost nothing. To break it down for you, while doing a front gun pass on a ground target, so engrossing is the cockpit workload – rolling out perfectly, gently riding up without push-pull forces (and catering to winds), and aiming to mate the gunsight to the target at the right height/speed combination, that the feeling can best be described as minutely observing your favourite single-celled organism through an electron microscope. Oh, and all this while descending at a rate exceeding 100 m/s and accelerating to 900 kmph. Picture that – using an electron microscope on a roller coaster!

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Then comes the trigger press. Earthquakes may not be a common experience, but imagine the vibration on your game controllers times 500. In that instant, your carefully and patiently cajoled target picture (that you’ve birthed for the past 30 seconds) shakes all over the place, so much so that you can’t even observe the target anymore. The recoil is strong and were you not already peering into the gun-sight, you’d realise you’ve been pushed forward in your seat. There is the odour of cordite, smoke, and your instincts have already pulled your finger off the trigger. 
There is so much violence in that moment, that the subsequent actions of getting wings level and pulling up seem almost at a snail’s pace. The speed would have washed off by 100-150 kmph in that moment, but don’t ask me how. 

If you observe it from outside, as the Range officer does through his window, you’d only hear a shudder, smoke lines streaking to the  target, a momentary ‘pause’ (to the trained eye, since the rounds passing provide an illusion of speed) before the aircraft turns heavenward, in bliss. 

The vibrations and the force of the gun were momentary, but significant, and the possibility of disturbed airflow meant careful handling during the recovery.”

Could the weapon knock out a tank?
“Knocking out a tank can come in three forms – Mobility Kill (M-Kill), Firepower Kill (F-Kill) and Catastrophic Kill (K-Kill). I’ll wager on M-Kill and F-Kill. But how? Considering modern Active Protection Systems (APS), it would be prudent to use the platform as part of a system, rather than a lone gunslinger. Its advantages include:Confronting the adversary with a higher volume of fire, more guns, more confusion; Direct/Indirect degradation fire can neutralise sensors and mountings, rendering armour blind, immobile and exposed; Bringing a vertical dimension to the tank fight, extending the arc of detection/countermeasures and complicating the tank’s tracking work.

Also, use of cannon in conjunction with a combination of anti-armour ordnance and platforms would be a better bet in a conventional fight.  
Tactics aside, hearing the BRRRRTTTT would likely have a more than average psychological impact on the adversary. Don’t think anyone staring down a Gasha-30 barrel would come out feeling all happy and well with the world.”

 

Did it cause engine surges? 
It was a possibility but the anti-surge system kicked in automatically. The modified anti-surge system even expanded the envelop of front gun firing from 8000m to 9000m (altitude).It was impressive how it automatically regulated fuel supply (cut-off and on in time-fractions) to prevent overheat. As a side-effect, this caused a visible stop-start effect in-flight. 
If the aircraft wasn’t mishandled during dive recovery, she wouldn’t complain, except in the rare case. And even then, recovery actions were standard.

What was the best and worst thing about the gun? 
“The best thing about the gun was the confidence it gave you. In my opinion it was the crowning jewel of the Flogger. Made it a unique customer. 
The worst thing about the gun was that it couldn’t be lugged around easily and had a poor memory for faces. I couldn’t, for all my trying, smuggle it out of the base even once. It simply refused to recognise me. After all the kind words showered on her.

Tell me something I don’t know about the gun. 
“The initiation/charging process was pneumatic. It then used the gas trapped in the barrel (in contrast to hydraulic motors) to work the gun mechanism. In a sense, you could call it self-powered. This feature made it compact and modifiable for aircraft mounting (it was originally designed as a anti-air gun for shipborne operation).”

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy here

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy here.

RAF Typhoon to get new radar in time to detect third horseman of apocalypse

After an exceptionally long development and definition phase that dates back to the 20th century, it appears that there is finally a roadmap in place for the RAF’s Typhoon force to receive an active electronic scanning array (AESA) radar.

An early priority for Sir Hugh Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff 1919–1930, was to modernise Britain’s Royal Air Force. In 1921, he declared the two most challenging problems he faced were fitting the Typhoon with a modern AESA radar and ensuring fighter pilots had the skills needed to leave the air force and become motivational talkers, airline pilots or YouTubers. While the latter effort proved a huge success, a century later Typhoon’s are still using an archaic sensor made from a Bakelite bowl filled with travel sweets and bumblebees. But progress is being made.

“Roadmap” is just one of the metaphors that will be used during the definitely definitely final project definition stage of the new sensor.

Jezzer gets active

In a written statement on July 18, 2020, U.K. Minister for Defense Procurement Jezza ‘Hot Pants‘ Quin stated: “The Ministry of Defence is committed to implementing an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar on our Typhoon fleet. A contract was signed with our European partners to develop a common integration solution across the Typhoon radar enterprise. The RAF’s Typhoon’s AESA radars will come into operational service in time to detect the third horseman of the apocalypse.” When asked exactly when that will be the minister replied, “We have a fantastic relationship between the Eurofighter partner companies and operator services and we are on schedule in testing and development.”

The RAF is expected to meet a variety of new threats across the 21st century.

Capability holidays from hell

When pressed for a specific date, Quin noted “The first horseman is on a white horse, carrying a bow, and given a crown, riding forward as a figure of conquest invoking pestilence, Christ, or the Antichrist. This is easily detected at considerable range by current mechanically scanned radar. The second carries a sword and rides a red horse and is the creator of war. This is harder to detect but through datalinks and offboard sensors, the current, very capable, Typhoon can meet the threat. The third is a food merchant riding upon a black horse, symbolising famine. This will have a very low radar signature as horses don’t have much metal in them. For this we will need an AESA radar and Typhoon will be there to meet the threat in a flexible, agile, errrr agile flexible way. Did I say agile?”

Critics, including pewter enthusiast Pierre de Terre from the G.U.N.G.E think-tank are less impressed, “Will there even be aeroplanes or people by the time this thing comes on line? Our best future modelling suggests that there will be like pterodactyls and women in furry bikinis on quad bikes then..it will be a very different battlespace.”

Related story: Dassault confident that internet will be able to spell Rafael correctly by 2045: three injured in press briefing

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy here

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy here.

TOPGUN instructor (and former F-14/F/A-18 crew) assesses Tomcat versus Meteor-armed Typhoon fight & list top 5 BVR fighters 2020

Doug ‘Boog’ Denneny is a former TOPGUN Instructor and F-14 RIO/Super 
Hornet WSO. He commanded VF-2 and VFA-2 and has over 3500 hours in Navy fighters. After retirement from the US Navy he has continued to work in the defense industry and is currently the CEO of a US company, CoAspire, 
LLC. These are his personal views and not representative of any company 
or government.
Special thanks to Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek.

Imagine a beyond visual range duel between the F-14 Tomcat and Typhoon. Both would be armed with phenomenally long ranged weapons, and both would be piloted by well trained aircrew with powerful sensors. So who would win?

Hypothetical BVR duel between a F-14D with Phoenix Missiles and Typhoon with Meteor:

For any comparison in a BVR duel, you have to first look at the platform (ability to detect or be detected based upon RCS) and its sensors (radar or other sensors). There are multiple spectra to consider these days, like RF, IR, and visual, that when combined with ECM, ECCM, and the all-important launch altitude and airspeed of your aircraft and the enemy aircraft, that can make the duel very interesting. Think Stealth, Speed, Altitude and Sensors.


And then you need to look at the aircrew. Their training, their propensity to commit to a deadly head-to-head BVR missile dual. Do I want to risk my life today for the dictator/autocrat/party official who told me to go launch against NATO/Coalition forces? So, you look at the people, and the aircraft first even before looking at the missile. Manfred von Richthofen said, “The quality of the box matters little. Success depends on the man who sits in it.” However, at TOPGUN, we also said, “But the box does matter!”
And then the missile. When can the seeker go active? Do I even need a radar track? Can I just shoot and leave immediately? How fast is the enemy’s missile? Can I launch undetected? Can I detect incoming
fire? Will I get the first shot off? If I don’t get the first shot off, can I run away before shooting my missiles, defeat his first volley, then turn around and run him down with my excessive speed and gas and kill him when he is trying to get back to base? Remember, Chuck Yeager shot down an Me 262 that was in the landing pattern.


Now, putting all of that together. Meteor is a very long-range missile with an active seeker and an impressive throttleable ducted ramjet. The missile gets high and fast, just not incredibly high or incredibly fast since it is breathing air and zipping along in the thin air, just not the really thin air. But
very formidable when you look at its estimated no escape zones in all quarters. Typhoon, as your readers know, is an extremely impressive fighter with great sensors and can get high and fast to launch. It only
has a fraction of the gas of the TOMCAT and is feeding two engines as well.
So to the comparison, the Typhoon, with its AESA (editor note: AESA should be operational on the Typhoon later this year) and IRST would see the big (huge RCS) Tomcat at long range coming at it at just under Mach 2, and track the Tomcat to achieve launch parameters with the METEOR at range.
The F-14D with all of its sensors, high power out, IRST, Data Links and SA, and trained two-person aircrew with ability to artfully manage launch acceptability regions, would be formidable. The F-14D with
its massive GE motors and 20,000 lbs. of gas at takeoff, and its swing wings allowing very high speeds, and would be up in the thinnest air possible to try to out-stick the METEOR with its AIM-54C+ missiles. It could get a firing solution at an extremely long range. The TOMCAT would likely be able to see the Typhoon at Phoenix launch range. -The METEOR can go farther than the Phoenix downrange, but speed in this case is extremely important
and the quality of the seeker is paramount. The AIM-54C+ had a phenomenal seeker with digital processing tricks that would blow your mind, and with a large active radar in its nose and high power out,
could go active way out at range, and allow the TOMCAT to turn (at Mach 2 it’s a big turn!) and run away…possibly before the METEOR could run it down.

Sadly, this site will pause operations if it does not hit its funding targets. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here and keep this aviation site going. Many thanks


So, what is the bottom line? Somebody with a high-speed supercomputer and hundreds of hours of computer time and experience could figure it out for you, but my gut says, since the METEOR can just go forever – I think the advantage here could go to the METEOR (launched from a Typhoon) in a 1V1 head-on BVR matchup with the Phoenix (launched from the F-14D). But it would be really close. Great question.


 Today with the PL-15, R-33 and Meteor other aircraft have very long range AAMs- has the US temporarily lost the advantage in long range AAMs or are they an unlikely weapon for the real world? 
This one is easy to answer. The US has unparalleled stealth aircraft and that counters the threat missiles and aircraft mentioned. But the US is never interested in parity or just countering a threat. It has and will
continue to invest heavily in missile technology, and is really good at keeping secret what it actually has and will pull out on day one of the war. The threat from China and Russia is real, and the US takes their
actions very seriously. The US industry supplies the best ‘kit’ in the world and that remains a deterrent to potential adversaries.

What would you consider the top 5 BVR platforms in service today and why?

Remember what I told you in question 1, for the platform it is stealth,
sensors, speed and altitude. For BVR, in order:

  1. F-22 – stealth, sensors, speed and altitude
  2. F-35 – stealth, sensors, altitude
  3. Su-35 – speed, altitude, weapon loadout; a very formidable threat in many categories

4. F-15 – sensors, speed, altitude, endurance, AAM loadout (qty)

5. F/A-18E/F Block II/III – sensors, altitude, endurance, partial stealth, AAM loadout (qty). In a tie with: Typhoon – sensors, altitude, speed, limited stealth, METEOR

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy here

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10 for a 10% discount on the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes

Flying & Fighting in the F-14 Tomcat: We ask a real TopGun instructor to rate the movie’s realism and talk F-14 Tomcats

The F-14 Tomcat was a no compromise carrier warplane operated by the US Navy. Bristling with the most capable weapons in the world it was utterly formidable, and rose to international fame as the star of the 1986 film Top Gun, which celebrated the Navy’s TopGun fighter school. Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek was a TopGun instructor and Radar Intercept Officer, here he describes flying and fighting in the awe-inspiring Tomcat.

What were your first impressions of the F-14?
“I’ll think back to the first time I saw an F-14 in person, at an air show in 1977, when I was in college. After reading about it in aviation magazines, I was excited. To me it looked like a spaceship, but also a very complex form instead of just a fuselage with wings sticking out of it. When I got to NAS Miramar for training, I was surprised at (1) how big the jet was and (2) how dirty many Tomcats were, with footprints, greasy smudges, and leaking fluids. First impressions: large and complex.”


What is the best thing about the F-14?
“It had a great weapon system. Go back to the F-14’s introduction into Navy service and first deployment in 1974. It had long-range, multi-shot, look-down/shoot-down capability. I think the next American fighter to have all of these came along seventeen years later, when the AIM-120 became operational on other teen-series fighters.


I’ll add another item as the second-best thing: endurance. I’m going to throw the engines under the bus, so I might as well give them a little due credit. At throttle settings for maximum endurance, the total fuel flow was around 4,400 pounds per hour. (Of course this would require a permissive environment, but even bumping up the speed to increase survivability still gave decent time on station.) With the relatively large fuel capacity, this gave a healthy on-station time while maintaining a combat package. But light the burners and follow an acceleration and climb profile, and you could meet a high-fast flyer, or be at tactical airspeed in a minute or so.”


..and the worst?
“I’m going to sound like a broken record: the TF30 engines of the F-14A. Probably no surprise, and I’ll come back to this topic later.”


What was your most notable mission?
“There were actually a lot, but I’ll spotlight two of them. The first one was a training mission that was part of Project Rising Fighter, which was a series of flights on the TACTS Range near Yuma, Arizona, that was overseen by the Center for Naval Analyses. The purpose of the project was to investigate tactics against the then-new MiG-23 Flogger. To simulate the Flogger, they used full-up F-4N Phantoms operated by regular fleet squadron aircrews. There were no limits on their weapon system or manoeuvring; they were a decent approximation of a MiG-23. Meanwhile, our F-14A tomcats were armed (simulated) with AIM-7 s and AIM-9s – the same missiles as the bandits – plus our gun, of course. The set-up was a 35-mile start for a forward quarter intercept, with two Tomcats versus an unknown number of Phantoms, a 2vUNK. The bandits always presented between 4 and 6 Phantoms. The notable mission started as a 2v6, and each side lost one aircraft during the intercept. These were the days before forward quarter tactics. So my pilot and I engaged in a 1v5, and for me it was a fantastic experience of the F-14’s manoeuvrability, weapon system versatility, and crew coordination. I was flying with the pilot I had gone through the Topgun class with just a few weeks before, and we worked very well together. We killed at least three Phantoms in the engagement and then bugged out. I would pay $1,000 for a tape of that engagement. On the next engagement, we were kill-removed on the intercept, so that wasn’t memorable.”

Aircrew with the ‘MiG-28’


The second was a large coordinated simulated strike over Iraq during Operation Southern Watch (OSW). Our air wing flew simulated strikes all the time, but this was the ‘strike of the month’, so it involved the US Marine Corps, US Air Force, and coalition forces. Strike packages came in from many different points and ‘hit’ different targets, supported by counter-air packages, electronic warfare, and other elements. Routing, timing, deconfliction were all complex and planned in detail. The memorable part for me was that it was radio-silent. In my cockpit we used our radar and eyeballs to watch as much as we could see: multiple elements flowing with precision, all silent. It was an impressive event.


Other memorable missions involved training against F-16s, low-level TARPS, and more, and I describe many of them in my new book, Tomcat RIO. I’m including a photo of a water-colour camouflaged F-14 from one of the training events because it was very cool to man-up a giant camo-painted fighter.”


What is the biggest myth about the F-14?

“That is was designed as an interceptor. I see this statement all over the place, often made by people presenting themselves as aviation experts, and it really sets me off. The F-14 was designed as the replacement for the F-4 Phantom – a multi-mission aircraft – and incorporated many lessons from close-in aerial combat in Vietnam. These lessons showed up as features that would not be necessary on an ‘interceptor’: excellent visibility through a bubble canopy, manoeuvring flaps and slats, a gun, dogfight modes on the radar, and more. Yes, it had a big radar and carried the AIM-54 (designed as a long-range bomber-killer but also capable against fighters, especially as the AIM-54C), but the F-14 was the Navy’s power projection fighter, intended to perform Sweeps, Strike Escorts, and all “fighter” missions. When new, the F-14 was renowned for power and manoeuvrability, as evidenced by the reaction to its display at the Paris Air Show in 1973. But of course other new fighters came along in the 1970s and soon they too had spectacular airshow displays.”


Complete this sentence.. “The Tomcat is better than the F-15 because…”
“The Tomcat had a more versatile weapons system. In addition to the attributes already mentioned, the AWG-9 had high power for a fighter radar and its analog processing and displays would help the RIO to identify and counter some forms of jamming. The F-14 also had the television camera set (TCS), which allowed long-range identification under good conditions, and may help the aircrew get a count of the number of aircraft in a formation, if they didn’t break out on radar. TCS was a passive sensor that was integrated into the weapons system to the point that it supported some missile launch modes. As for the AIM-54, it had active terminal radar and good anti-jamming capabilities, so it was tenacious about attacking something.
The Tomcat also had a second set of eyeballs.


“The final version of the F-14, the F-14D, was a better fighter and strike fighter than the F-15C and F-15E, in one aircraft. If you take a snapshot of time and compare the capabilities of the F-14D from 2003 (OIF) until its retirement in 2006, the jet had capabilities that were unrivalled. Here is a short list: Digital Flight Controls with DLC; Wide HUD; Mach 2.0+; GE-110 motors; APG-71 high power and long range Medium PRF radar incorporated in a full MFD digital suite with a large programmable TID; IRST that could detect targets, including low observable aircraft, at range and provide with the new digital suite a tracking solution for the AIM-54C+ missiles; full digital sensor fusing; TCS; ALR-67 V3; high capacity Bol chaff dispenser; ALQ-167; JTIDS/Link 16 and Fighter to Fighter Data Link; LANTIRN pod; TARPS; IFF Interrogator; three secure voice channels; real-time digital and secure transfer of imagery back to the CAOC or ship; TARPS; JDAM series; LGBs; MK-20 Rockeye series; extensive range and on-station time perfectly matched the two person cockpit for FAC(A)/JTAC mission. RIOs carried an IZLID and could mark and laze targets with the LANTIRN while also roping in forces using an IR pointer. Task sharing and task shedding allowed for excellent management of the CAS stack, positioning, and eliminating ground targets either organically, through buddy lasing or by coordinating other air and ground assets.


While over 450 Ds were in the initial buy, the limited jets that were actually produced had a robust spare parts locker and good availability.”


What did F-14 pilots think of the Top Gun movie?
“I can’t speak for the community but I’ll tell you my perceptions from being at Miramar when the movie came out. I think F-14 pilots and RIOs enjoyed the movie and took it with some humour. It put us in the spotlight and made our aircraft look good. When the aircraft was the villain (poor Goose, but somebody had to die), the real villain was the engines, and we all knew their problems. Yes, the personalities were exaggerated, and the squabbles were petty, but it was a movie, not a documentary. Beyond all of that, it made flying Navy fighters look fun – which it was. The Miramar O-club was actually livelier than shown in the movie, and squadron gatherings around San Diego were great. Getting back to flying: who wouldn’t want to dogfight among the hills and valleys around Fallon? The F-14 was best at low altitude and maneuvering at low altitude was very cool. (But we didn’t routinely fly like that for safety reasons; the whole soft deck / hard deck thing.)


This is a good time to establish a convention: I’ll refer to the movie as two words and the Navy organisation as one word.”

The Super Hornet, star of the 2020 Top Gun movie isn’t as cool as the F-14, what do you think?

I understand that to some, ‘Top Gun’ means Tomcat, and I appreciate this
enthusiasm. But like my answer about when the Navy retired the F-14,
it’s a fact of aviation life that airplanes have to be retired. I was
pleased that the Tomcat starred in the original, but now I’m ready to
watch the Super Hornet in action. Something that helped was reading the
book ‘Lions of the Sky’ by Paco Chierichi. That made me a Super Hornet
fan.”


What was your involvement in the Top Gun movie?
“I was an instructor at the Topgun school when Paramount filmed the movie, one of the 16 listed in the credits as “Topgun Instructors and MiG Pilots.” I think we all contributed to the movie. One afternoon many of the instructors hung out with the actors for an hour or so at a local bar, telling stories. Writers asked many people for their favorite saying or line from flying; that’s where, “Do some pilot shit” came from. A RIO actually used to say that. The line that I contributed to the movie was, “Watch the mountains!” which I once said during a bugout. So we all contributed.
In addition, after filming was complete John “Smegs” Semcken and I flew to Hollywood for two days to help edit the flying scenes and provide dialogue for them. Smegs was a former F-14 pilot who is listed in the movie credits as Cooperation and Support Officer: U.S. Navy. It was fascinating to get the inside look at Paramount Studios, and we helped the film editors piece together many aerial segments into sequences that made sense. Smegs and I also contributed lines such as, “Contact. Multiple bogeys. Two miles. Looks like they’re going away from us.” I know, right?! But they had no idea what pilots and RIOs said in the jet. We did NOT say, “I’ll clean them and fry them.” That was the writers. We also contributed some plot ideas, but I don’t have those well-documented.
I remember these things, but let me put the movie experience in perspective for the time: I did not take a single photo of the instructors hanging out with the actors or my trip to Paramount. The movie just did not make a big impression on me, my real life as a Topgun instructor was enough.”

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What was the most unrealistic thing about the movie?
“There are a lot of technical errors, but to me as a former instructor and RIO, the biggest one was the close range of aircraft in the flying and dogfight scenes. The training rules had minimum ranges for many situations, which were for safety considerations. In combat you would have minimum ranges for weapons, as well as not wanting to frag yourself by flying through the debris of the plane you just blew up. The problem was that realistic ranges would make aircraft look too small on the screen, so we flew a lot closer than normal. It wasn’t a safety violation of the training rules because were not in a dynamic ACM engagement, but a scripted situation.


I was in a flight where we filmed some head-on passes used at the beginning and near the end of the movie. On our first pass we adhered to the safe 500-foot separation of the ACM Training Rules, but producer Tony Scott (flying alongside in Clay Lacy’s Learjet) knew that wouldn’t look good, so he had us fly closer, and then closer again. Fortunately the flight leads, in this case “Rat” Willard for Topgun’s black F-5s and “Bozo” Abel for the F-14s, discussed refinements real-time and we all felt safe getting the close pass we needed. But it was still exciting to see a couple of Tomcats flash past so close that I could hear them.
The second-most unrealistic thing was how they conveyed the advice, “never leave your wingman.” At Topgun we taught mutual support as a basic concept, but you did not execute by flying in formation during an engagement.


I don’t want to disappoint you, but there is no “Top Gun Trophy.”


Tell me something I don’t know about the movie
“To film most of the scenes of the F-14s going through the Topgun class, the film crew and one or two Navy advisors climbed to the top of a small mountain near the Naval Air Station at Fallon, Nevada. They went up every morning and came down every evening. Unfortunately the first peak they used overlooked a valley that had another peak at its end, like a box canyon but not that dramatic. So they found a second peak that was better.”


Would US fighters have anything to fear in the Iranian Tomcat force? Is it a serious threat to Super Hornets?
“I’m not sure I would say “fear,” but certainly American fighters should respect the Iranian air force. That was something Topgun taught (when I was there, and probably still do): almost any opposing aircraft that is called a fighter should be respected. They made the point by describing unexpected successes and failures through the history of air combat, and at the time they demonstrated it by “winning” engagements while flying aircraft inferior to the students’ fighters. That is, until the students learned to fly their aircraft to its performance limits. Getting back to Iran, I suspect at least some of their Tomcat aircrews have combat experience or were trained by combat-experienced crews, which is valuable. But US fighters are well-trained and we have programs such as Red Flag and Air Wing Fallon training, so an enemy should fear our fighter pilots and WSOs.”

INTERVIEW WITH IRANIAN F-14 PILOT HERE.


The F-14’s engines have a bad reputation, is this deserved?
“Yes, as long as we are talking about the TF30 engines of the F-14A. You may know that the TF30 was intended as an interim engine for the F-14, but for several reasons it ended up as the primary. Plenty of other sources have described its limitations in a fighter. Something hardly ever mentioned is that in order to improve engine stability and longevity, maximum thrust in afterburner was actually decreased to roughly 17,000 lbs per engine. As I mentioned before, the TF30 did have good fuel specs and it also had good thrust, especially at lower altitude – but these points did not outweigh their poor performance as a fighter engine. But still, I flew A-models my entire career and I can tell you pilots did not sit around complaining about the TF30: they learned its weaknesses, worked around them, and went out and flew the best jet they could. They were Navy fighter pilots.


I’ve only heard good things about the F110 engines in the F-14B and D. It’s just too bad there weren’t more of them.”


Rate the F-14 in the following categories:
Instantaneous turn: Very good. The F-14 had large horizontal stabs with large deflection values and no computer limiters. If the wings were out they generated a lot of lift, and the F-14 belly, the flat area between the engines, also generated a lot of lift. The pilot could easily overstress the airplane at most tactical speeds. As a side note about the horizontal stab’s ability to move the nose: Maverick’s signature manoeuvre in the Topgun class (“I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.”) came about when Rat and Bozo thought about something they could show director Tony Scott that would demonstrate Maverick’s skill. They hit upon the pitch pulse as a dramatic move, it worked, and it was included in the film. The downside in real life would be that the pitch pulse really bled airspeed so the F-14 had better get the kill.


Sustained turn: Excellent compared to other fighters when the Tomcat was new, again due to the wings and the power of the engines. Being turbofans, TF30s experienced a significant thrust increase with airspeed and this helped with sustained turn. Of course B/D Tomcats had the power. But as I’ve mentioned before, newer jets came along with better sustained turn rates.
Acceleration: Very good, even in the A-model, for the reasons just mentioned. I was a Topgun instructor when early Hornets came through the class, and we often had mixed division flights: two F-14As and two F/A-18As. I recall being kill-removed during a big engagement and going overhead to watch. A Tomcat and Hornet were near each other and both called bugging out, and the Tomcat really walked away from the Hornet. As a casual observation, the F-14 also seemed to be less-affected by the addition of combat stores than other aircraft. An unclassified chart in USAF Fighter Weapons Review from 1989 showed the F-14A had a higher top-end at 15,000 feet than all other US fighters except the F-16 and F-111 (all aircraft with representative weapons load). Going to the F-14D again: Although like all Tomcats the D-model was limited by NATOPS to 1.88M, it could obtain and sustain over 2.0M at altitude if it was relatively clean, without external fuel tanks and a large missile load-out.


Energy preservation: Good. I’ve been emphasizing strengths, but I have to admit that the max thrust from two TF30s fell short of the level we wanted. In its early years, when flown in clean configuration and before the engines were detuned, tactics included climbing away from threats. But the reality emerged that a nose-low fight was essential to sustain a good energy package.


Climb rate: Good, for the reasons stated above.
Combat effectiveness: This is a complex question. As a pure fighter, the US Navy had good experience with the Tomcat and aircrews have great stories of missions from Desert Storm. (I missed that one.) But I have to admit that the lack of onboard positive identification (PID) limited full employment of F-14 capabilities in Desert Storm. Later, as a strike fighter in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the F-14 showed real strength and versatility. As a TARPS platform in all of the preceding operations the F-14 was capable and valuable. On the topic of combat, the biggest disappointment for me personally was the lack of US AIM-54 kills, although some of the reasons were mundane (improper weapon arming procedures). I won’t comment on Iranian combat effectiveness.


Cockpit ergonomics: Very good overall. Manufacturers were learning and improving all the time, but the F-14 was one of the first (if not the first) to have HOTAS, a HUD, and other modern ergonomics that improved aircrew effectiveness. On the downside, depending on the radar mode and range scales used by the RIO, the tactical picture could be difficult to be seen and interpreted by the pilot. (I think the A-7 Corsair II was the first US aircraft to have a modern HUD.)


Please describe DACT against the following types
Phantom: I fought a lot of Phantoms and you could count on Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews to fly their jet to its limits, so you had to fly a good Tomcat. By the time I joined the fleet (1981) Phantoms had learned what to do and what not to do. But in an engagement the Tomcat demonstrated that it was an improvement, with better sustained turn and energy sustainment.


Hornet: This was a challenge because one of the Hornet’s strengths was engaged manoeuvring. A well-flown Tomcat could definitely compete against a Hornet, especially if the Hornet pilot was not flying the jet well. This is also a case where aircraft configuration was important, as the Hornet seemed to be more adversely affected by external loads.


F-5: Similar to the Phantom in terms of considerations, except it was much harder to see, especially in an engagement. Remember that anyone flying an F-5 in the US Navy was a trained adversary pilot who probably had 1,000 hours or more in their primary aircraft type.


F-15: This was a challenge for an F-14A from intercept to engagement, because the F-15 is an impressive aircraft and the pilots I met were usually well-trained. The only thing going against it was that of all the aircraft we’re discussing, it was the easiest to see (besides me in the F-14). But it wasn’t impossible for the Tomcat to win. The Eagle driver would probably fly a smart jet and go 2-circle, while the Tomcat driver would want to go out of plane (nose-low) and try to go one circle, giving up energy to try to get a shot. My best experiences fighting F-15s were always multi-aircraft, when my jet occasionally called valid shots. When you asked this question, it really made me wish that when I was in VF-211 at Oceana 1996-98 (I was the executive officer and then commanding officer), I had pushed for fighting F-15s from Langley. But we had an outstanding Operations Officer and department and they had a full schedule with the Navy’s Strike Fighter Weapons and Tactics training program, so it all worked out in the big picture.


F-16: This was another challenge, especially when the Navy received F-16Ns in the 1980s. With the 110 engine, no gun, and usually carrying only wingtip blue tubes / TACTS pods, these jets had boatloads of power and minimal drag. In other words, a very tough fight. I write quite a bit about fighting them in Tomcat RIO. They were a real challenge – which meant good training – and when you stayed alive or got a kill it was a sense of satisfaction. Later in my career, when I was CO of VF-211, our crews fought operational F-16s. I was proud of our junior pilots flying F-14As when they came back with video of valid missile and gun shots.


A-4F: Some readers may wonder why an A-4 Skyhawk would even be on this list. The A-4 ‘Super Fox’ ‘had a very powerful motor and when light on gas, had a thrust-to-weight ratio of close to 1:1. The A-4Fs were flown by talented USN adversary pilots and were some of the most challenging 1v1 opponents. A Super Fox with its 720 degree per second roll rate and leading-edge slats extended at about 225 knots could aggressively visually intimidate F-14 pilots and get them to enter the ‘phone booth.’ Once in the phone booth, the A-4 could employ a variety of strategies to maintain the offensive, and camp aft of the Tomcat’s 3-9 line. Additionally, in a 2vUNK fight against A-4s, they were small and hard to see and keep track of under G.


Any interesting foreign types you have ‘fought’? “On deployment in 1987 I fought Super Étendards and Crusaders from the Clemenceau, when USS Ranger operated near them in the North Arabian Sea. While it was cool to see them, the engagements were similar to what we were used to in training. Thinking back, I would characterise the Super-E as similar to an A-7, and the Crusader as somewhat similar to a Phantom. By the way, I like both of those airframes so as an aviation enthusiast it was cool to fight them.”

Biggest regret: I did not break into the flow of the mission for 2 minutes and set up a photo.”


What equipment would you have liked to have seen added to the aircraft?
“I really wish the Navy would’ve been able to bring in the Digital Flight Control (DFCS) system much earlier than they did. I retired from the Navy in 1999 and DFCS arrived in 2000. I heard from several guys who flew DFCS-equipped F-14s that the system significantly improved handling, especially where a pilot would really appreciate it, such as low-airspeed / high-AOA when engaged, and in the carrier landing pattern. It allowed pilots to maneuver more aggressively during an engagement. The F-14 had some adverse handling characteristics known from the start of the program and the Navy investigated a correction in the early 1980s called Aileron-Rudder Interconnect (ARI), but the Navy never “found the money” to fix them until DFCS.”


What were the most and least reliable systems?
“One of the most reliable systems was the wingsweep. For a system that was in operation a lot as Mach number varied, took a lot of stress, and was a technological accomplishment, the wingsweep system was remarkably trouble-free. I’ll bring it up again later.
As for least reliable, it could depend on the timeframe. Early in my career (VF-24, 1981-84) we had some problems with AWG-9 reliability. Not things that compromised squadron readiness, but more of an irritation. In my next fleet squadron (VF-2, 1987-90) the radars and other systems were much more reliable. When I thought back on it, I concluded that it could have been the time-in-service of the airframes. I remember several people in VF-24 saying we had the high-time F-14 (at the time, of course), and other aircraft were also fairly well-worn jets, while in VF-2 we had brand new jets. During my final fleet tour (VF-211, 1996-98) our maintainers worked hard but the payoff was good system availability.


Continuing with the idea of reliability issues, the Tomcat’s fuel transfer system occasionally caused trouble. It was designed to be ingenious and simple, using things like motive flow pumps (no moving parts) and automatic interconnect valves. But almost any failure caused a major problem due to fuel that the engines could not get to. A pilot and I once lost an engine on a cat shot. He handled it well, which took real skill, but as we flew around we discovered that we could not get to about half of our fuel. When we landed on the carrier we were above landing weight, which stresses the arresting gear, but we also had only 10 minutes of fuel remaining, so we had to land ‘right now.’
The environmental control system (ECS) could also cause problems. The Tomcat had great air conditioning, but an ECS turbine failure could start a catastrophic fire, and the emergency procedures included, “Land as soon as possible.” I once dealt with this, too, and after landing the aircraft skin around the ECS turbine was very hot.


But to keep it in perspective, these ‘failures’ were a small percentage of my flights. Most of my flights went well and are thus unremarkable, so this aircraft that was first new American fighter in ten years proved to be a pretty good machine. (In terms of air-to-air fighters, the F-4 first flew in 1958 and the F-14 was the next first flight in 1970.)”


How do you rate the AWG-9/AIM-54 combination?
“It was truly amazing when designed and introduced. As I’ve mentioned, the combination provided long-range, multi-shot, look-down/shoot-down, and many more attributes at a time when other friendly fighters were shooting AIM-7Es. Yes, it had limitations due to analog processing, such as false targets overland in some modes, but I’m not here to complain about it. And fortunately the Navy bought the APG-71 for the F-14D and that fixed any flaws in the AWG-9.


In the maritime air superiority environment it provided a realistic capability to counter a large raid by Soviet bombers with anti-ship missiles and jammers. No other platform came close, and during the Cold War these fielded capabilities were important.”


Until the late 1980s we didn’t plan to use the AIM-54 when in the tactical fighter role, reserving them to defend the carrier strike group. If we had gotten into a ‘limited war’ that lasted more than a few days, who knows if things would’ve changed to allow Phoenix use. But by the late 1980s it was apparent that the AIM-54 was the essential counter to the AA-10, and the AIM-54C came along just in time. The -54C added a new digital guidance system, new digital control system, improved rocket motor, and improved target detection device to the active terminal radar and large warhead already present. This made the Phoenix a potent missile for the forward quarter missile battles. Unlike early missile testing, which allowed for tactically limited early versions of the AIM-7 and AIM-9 to be approved, the AIM-54 was repeatedly tested against challenging targets, including manoeuvring fighters, and proved its abilities.


The AWG-9 took a fair level of operator skill to get the most out of it over land. During my first time through the F-14 training squadron (the RAG) and in my first fleet squadron, it was a test of RIO skill to be good over land, and I wanted to be good so I tried hard. Years later I talked to a former F-14A RIO who had converted to the F/A-18F, and asked about the impact of the radar and other systems. He said, “Oh, man, you have so much more SA. You can use all of that brain-power that used to be dedicated to the AWG-9 and work on the big picture.”


What was the most challenging mission you trained for?

“For me this would’ve been my missions as an air wing strike leader during my last fleet assignment, 1996-98. I don’t know if this was “easy” for anyone, and I salute the aviators who did it well. It was challenging to coordinate the many force elements the air wing could bring to a fight, analyse threats and defences, and put together a viable plan. Then as the strike leader I briefed it to men and women who were putting their lives on the line. And once we started engines I managed the deviations from plan that often happened on the ground or in the air. Of course the payoff was a sense of satisfaction upon successful completion – which was usually the case given the talent in every cockpit, all working for the same goal. It took me several flights to qualify as an air wing strike leader, but I made it.
As far as the F-14 missions, I felt like my training was well-designed and prepared me for them. They were different types of challenges. Multi-plane intercepts and engagements took a lot of concentration to process the radar picture and other inputs, and think of directive guidance to position the fighters for the intercept. The outer air battle (which could only be realistically practiced in a simulator) was an exercise in processing a lot of information and getting switchology correct. The TARPS reconnaissance mission required careful planning and good visual interpretation of terrain and comparing that to a chart. All of them, of course, required good crew coordination
Here’s another one, and it was something that everyone in the air wing experienced: “blue water EMCON.” EMCON means emissions control, indicating that the carrier would shut down its navigation equipment – the TACAN and air search radars. Aircraft launched with radars off, we flew out to stations, maybe performed a mission, and then had to shut off our radars and return. Finding the carrier in the open ocean without benefit of electronic aids was an uncomfortable feeling. At least one F-14 crew got lost, ran out of fuel, and ejected. They were very lucky to be found after spending a night in their little survival rafts. I talk more about these blue water EMCON missions in “Tomcat RIO.”


What advice would you give to someone about to perform their first carrier landing and take-off?
Different comment at different times. While holding overhead or on deck (depending on which event comes first): “You can do this; they wouldn’t bring you to the boat if you weren’t ready.”
Carrier landing: “Work that scan. Fly the ball.”
If I was feeling salty, for the landing I might say: “You own the middle and top half of the meatball (the lend that indicates glideslope), the LSO owns the bottom half. Stay in your half.”
Cat shot: “Check the engines and enjoy the ride.”
Overall: “Hope for the best but be mentally prepared for the worst.”
What are your thoughts about the Tomcats retirement in the US Navy?
The F-14D was retired too early, and the fact that the vast majority of Tomcats were destroyed and not preserved is a real shame. When the D-models left in 2006, the earlier versions of the Super Hornet were inferior in some ways, but had some good capabilities that have now been leveraged and grown into the extremely capable Block III E/F, so I’m good with it. I know this may sound sacrilegious, but I was around when the legendary F-4 was retired from active Navy squadrons and I heard the final Phantom aviators’ laments: It’s the end of an era; nothing will ever replace the Phantom; etc. Of course I respect the Phantom, but all aircraft have their time. So when the F-14 retired, I took my own medicine, saluted its service, and looked forward. It also helped that the decision was really made nearly 15 years earlier, when the Super Hornet was selected over the Super Tomcat. So the fact that the F-14 served for so long after its successor was determined was a testament to the original design…and the dedication of the hard-working Navy maintainers who kept them in the air.”


Tell me something I don’t know about the F-14
“Did you know the F-14’s wingsweep was fully automatic? Many people ask about that. It was controlled by one of the first (if not the first) microprocessors. The reason that this “first” is not better known is that the Navy kept it classified for many years after introduction. The pilot could manually sweep the wings aft of the commanded angle, but could not sweep them forward of it (unless using a backup mode).
If you already knew that, how about the fact that the TF30 had five different stages of afterburner. They were called “zones,” with 1 being minimum and 5 being maximum. The pilot could move the throttles to the stage necessary. You’ve probably already concluded that if he selected afterburner, he usually went to Zone 5 (maximum).


Even though fighting ACM with the main flaps down is a prohibited manoeuvre, some very experienced fighter pilots knew that at low altitude, below 225 KIAS, with the flaps down and the blowers engaged, the Tomcat could out-turn any enemy fighter. It was referred to as bringing down the big boys.


The F-14 doesn’t have ailerons, it has spoilers on the top of the wing that in combination with the large tails were used to turn and roll the jet. Another technical point I already mentioned is that the F-14 gained a significant amount of lift from the tunnel between the engines and shape of the fuselage, which might be news to people. There are a lot of obscure little things like this.”


What should I have asked you?
“Did you ever have to eject?
Yes.”
Well, tell me about it!
“This happened when I was still fairly new, a lieutenant (junior grade) only a few months after joining my first squadron. We were in the middle of a 7 ½-month deployment, also in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was a normal flight and we thought it would be a normal arrested landing, but as soon as we caught the cable, it slowed us down and then basically let-go. We had about one second to make the decision as we rolled down the flight deck, too fast to stop and too slow to fly away. I had my hand on the lower ejection handle but was, uh, processing the situation. My pilot said “Eject! Eject!” and I pulled the handle on the first “E.” I knew what he was going to say.

The plane cleared the deck and started to fall before our seats fired. We both made it out, but it was a low-altitude ejection, so in the water I got tangled in my parachute. The pilot didn’t even get a chute, but he was okay. One of the coolest things I have seen in my entire life was our jet floating on the water with the carrier going by behind it. Just incredible.
I tell the story in detail in my book “Topgun Days.”


Final note
I would like to thank Robert ‘Lex’ Luthy, Mark ‘Tank’ Tankersley, Doug “Boog” Denneny, and Paul “Nick” Nickell for helping me recall some things that made the F-14 a remarkable fighter.

Topgun instructor and F-14 Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek has a new book coming out. His new book is called ‘Tomcat RIO’ and is available starting in August 2020. Besides his insightful answers, Bio also provided some of his amazing photographs. Here is his website.

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10 for a 10% discount on the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes

Fleet Air Arm myths, No. 4: The Inter-War Admiralty had no interest in aviation.

Admiralty Arch in 1934 hoping one day to make the background of Danger Mouse or a Monty Python animation.

It’s popular to say the Admiralty had no interest in aviation between the wars, being obsessed by battle ships. Which to be fair do look more impressive with their serried ranks of 14” guns. [10] In a recent essay in The Times noted university and army drop-out Max Hastings observed that ‘By, say, 1942 the admirals who before the Second World War had gone big on battleships, light on aircraft carriers, bitterly regretted this.’.

Threesome anyone?

The only problem with this is that, much like the rest of Hastings’ essay, it’s bobbins. In 1939 the Royal Navy had six aircraft carriers in service and one in reserve, which compared well to the US and Japanese navies who both had five in service. For those under the delusion that Britain still had the biggest navy in the world at this point and so should have had more, alas the Washington and London naval treaties prevented this. These allowed the UK and USA to build to parity, while the Japanese could have 3/5ths the tonnage of either of those countries. Closer examination reveals that by 1930 the RN had used the most of their aircraft carrier tonnage allowance using 115 out of a possible 135 thousand tonnes for their five flat-tops. [11] The USN having used 76 thousand tonnes and the IJN 54 of their allowed 81 thousand tonnes. So, the only way the Royal Navy could have had more carriers was if they’d made them smaller, something the Japanese tried with the Ryūjō a carrier the weight of a modern destroyer but carrying 48 aircraft on two decks. Stability was problematic.

Ark Royal in 1939


But what about future plans, presumably the stuffy old Admiralty were concentrating on assembling a battleship orgy now they had a small collection of carriers. Well not so much, the King George the Fifth class were being delivered but they were only replacing ships that had to be retired under the afore mentioned treaties. What they were building were six carriers of the Illustrious class which would almost exactly use up their treaty allowance minus the Ark Royal, Courageous, and Glorious. Oh, and an aviation depot ship that due to treaty limitations was definitely not an aircraft carrier. The flight deck being crucial to its role supporting a squadron of three fleet carriers and definitely not something that could be used for offensive operations. [12]

HMS Unicorn definitely not escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic

So, the Admiralty hadn’t just gone big on aircraft carriers, they’d gone bigger than they were really allowed to. That they didn’t go bigger once war was declared was purely down to shipyard capacity in the UK. This also led to the cancellation of any further battleships, some of which were already laid down. Only Vanguard eventually being built to use up some spare guns and placate Churchill who had a battleship fetish.


It’s also worth pointing out the Admiralty had spent two decades trying to regain control of the Fleet Air Arm from the Air Ministry. Hardly the actions of an organisation with no interest in aviation. They’d even created the Observer branch to at least have some Naval officers with specialist aviation knowledge independent of the RAF.


All in all, the only way you can say the Admiralty had no interest in aviation prior to WW2 is if you’re completely oblivious to what happened between the wars. Which is fine for the man in the street but not the sort of misinformation a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society should be spreading.

[10] Size may vary by country and class.
[11] Jordon, John. Warships after Washington: The Development of the Five Major Fleets, 1922-1930, 2011. P 193
[12] Dr Alexander Clarke has an excellent YouTube video on this, even if he’s wrong about the Swordfish being rugged.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10 for a 10% discount on the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes

The Tornado is gone: was it the right aircraft for the RAF?

The Tornado ended its long career with the RAF last year. It had been used in wars, virtually without respite, since its combat debut attacking Iraq in 1991. No RAF aircraft fought for so long, and the type is guaranteed to be remembered for a long time, but was it the right aircraft? 

The Findus Crispy Pancake munching British public of the 1980s knew their massive air force had a word-beating strike aircraft in the Tornado IDS and a top of the line interceptor in the Tornado ADV. Books and magazines celebrated the amazing potency of the aircraft with almost erotic excitement. Here was an advanced combat aircraft that could penetrate the Warsaw Pact nations’ air defences at treetop height (day or night) in appalling weather, and wreak havoc on their airfields and industrial areas. It was all very exciting, but was it true?

When I interviewed a former RAF Tornado pilot last week, I asked her how she felt the Tornado GR4 compared to the US F-15E Strike Eagle. “It’s a tricky question as emotionally I loved flying the GR4, however it would have been fantastic to fly the F15. Would it have been a better investment for the UK, rather than buying the Tornado? Probably!” She also noted “Let’s be honest, it’s not as capable, apart from having a better range, I think that’s the only category on aircraft Top Trumps that the Tornado would win!”

When the Tornado was conceptualised in the late 1960s, the priority was high-speed low-level flight and long range. It was intended to fly low enough to avoid effective radar detection and perform deep interdiction missions, pre-emptively destroying strategic targets. It drew on the earlier AFVG and was heavily influenced by the similar, but larger, US F-111. The design was optimised for low-level high speed flight, but as Tornado Gulf Veteran Alistair Byford pointed out: “However, this all comes at the expense of altitude performance, and a war-loaded Tornado struggles to reach half the cruising height of a typical airliner. Clearly this has hindered its subsequent adaptability, and although the Tornado has provided absolutely sterling service and been repeatedly updated to keep it current as a weapons platform, this has been in spite of (rather than because of) its fundamental design and aerodynamic qualities.” The same was true of the sensors “At night the crew were blind to other aircraft resulting in tactics having a heavy reliance on timing that gave little flexibility to evade and safely avoid air and ground contract.”

The Tornado was a brilliantly engineered answer to the wrong question.

Variable geometry came at too large a cost

Variable geometry or ‘swing wings’ where included to meet the requirement for short field performance, long range and high speed flight. The small heavily-loaded wing area gave the Tornado a very smooth ride at low-level which both reduced crew exhaustion and made for a steady weapons platform. But it requires a heavy, voluminous and labour intensive mechanism. The F/A-18 Hornet, a contemporary of the Tornado, is beefed up to allow carrier operations and has an empty weight of 10,433 kg; Tornado had an empty weight of 13,890 kg. Though conceptually very different aircraft, in reality they ended up performing many similar mission (CAS and precision bombing in general). It is interesting to note that the both types suffered from limitations that arrived from the opposite design compromises. The Tornado lacked power and performance; the Hornet lacked range and payload. Regardless, there is a reason that no VG aircraft projects have been initiated since the early 1970s: the advantages are not worth the increase in weight and complexity.

High attrition in Desert Storm

In Desert Storm against a lesser enemy than the Tornado was created to defeat it suffered badly. Of the 55 Allied aircraft lost in Desert Storm, 8 were Tornados. Only 48 RAF Tornados were sent. This is pretty bad – consider this: the US alone deployed 1,656 armed aircraft to the campaign. The USAF alone flew 65,000 sorties, the RAF Tornado force 2,500.  

Soon after the war reports blamed the JP223* a cluster bomb/land-mine dispenser that ejects dozens of bomblets that required a predictable low-level attack profile, for the high rate of losses. This was only the case for one of the losses (the egress profile not the attack itself causing the loss). This misunderstanding was used to brush aside other observers noting the alarming loss rate of Tornados in the war. Considering the aircraft was intended to be used against the far bigger and more potent Warsaw Pact, the likely losses would have been extreme.

The high number had much to do with the emphasis on low-level flight, the volume of missions and the type of weapons used. Stand-off weapons are now the preferred anti airfield weapon. When the safer US approach of attacks from medium levels was adopted, Tornados were at a disadvantage as they lacked the power to perform effectively at this altitude. Again, the Tornado design was over-specialised. In fairness, the F-15 and F-16 were both extremely specialised in their early life but superb engine/airframe performance allowed them to better adapt to new roles.

In Kosovo in 1999 the aircraft was much improved but poor weapons integration meant the new precision bombs it was carry were dangerously inaccurate.

*The use of the JP223 is now illegal under both cluster bomb and landmine conventions. The Convention on Cluster Munitions came into effect in 2010. Countries that opposed the convention and have not joined include China, Russia, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan and Brazil.

Self defence

“I would have preferred to see a better air-to-air capability, either through the radar and/or data-linking to the AWACs picture: that and possibly a radar missile would have given the Tornado a better self-defence capability” Noted Tornado veteran Michael Napier in this interview. Today mudmovers such as the F-15E, Su-34 and the Eurocanards consider these de riguer features for survival.

Tornado ADV 

Yes, the Tornado F.Mk 3 was effective at the end of its career. But all of the good systems that were integrated onto the F.Mk 3 would have been more effective on an aircraft of higher performance. Again, this is case of Tornado succeeding in spite, not because, of its design. The ADV’s limitations are well documented but centre around poor agility, poor medium and high altitude performance and a painfully slow radar development process.

In exercises towards the end of the 20th century, SkyFlash-armed Tornado F3s did very badly against German F-4Fs equipped with AMRAAMs. Could a F-4F or more radical British Phantom upgrade have proved a more cost- and combat effective alternative to the F3 in the in the 1985-1998 timeframe? Almost definitely.

Though the F3 was well equipped at the time of its retirement it was lacking a helmet cueing system, something which would have helped it where it was most vulnerable, in within visual range engagements with inevitably more agile opponents.

Anti Shipping

A good maritime radar can pick up the nice big steel and aluminium radar reflector that is a ship at long range. The Buccaneer’s Blue Parrot radar had a maximum range of 240 nautical miles, although 180 was more normally used. The Tornado…had a maximum range of forty nautical miles*. So when operating without a Nimrod the Tornado was limited to firing Sea Eagle well inside the missile’s normal launch range” – Wing Commander Gordon Robertson (retd) in ‘Tornado Boys‘. The Sea Eagle was a big missile and fitting four meant the loss of the main fuel tank pylon, so to ensure an effective radius of action only two were carried, half the load of the aircraft it replaced, the Buccaneer. Considering a Royal Navy study estimated it would take 24 missiles to reliably knock-out a large warship this was a considerable disadvantage.

The engines were more ‘fragile’ than the Bucc’s, the light grey camo scheme made the aircraft stand out like a “sore thumb” over the sea, and worse still, a fleet-wide upgrade from 1998 had introduced a wiring problem to the GR.1B which meant the Sea Eagles didn’t work (in a Exercise Nepture Warrior one crew were allocated two missiles to fire: both failed). The Tornado also had navigation and weapon aiming system issues over the sea.

(*Sea Eagle’s maximum range was around 60NM)

Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Defences

The Tornado was used in the defence suppression role in the 1999 Kosovo campaign. As Wing Commander Gordon Niven (retd) noted in ‘Tornado Boys’, the ALARM missile and Tornado combination was not very effective for the role, “Neither the missiles nor the Tornado was configured in any way remotely close to the capability of the USAF F-16 SEAD units.” The ALARM was used by RAF Tornados from 1990 until 2013, a short service life for a guided anti-radar weapon; the US equivalent, the AGM-88 HARM series, has been in service since 1985 with no planned retirement date. Today an RAF ALARM from the Kosovo campaign is displayed in the Belgrade air museum, it failed to self destruct or destroy a target and instead gently delivered itself by parachute into curious (and Russian-friendly) Yugoslav hands.

Low-level culture

Low level flying can still be an effective counter to radar but it is also dangerous. Training for this mission has resulted in more aircraft and crew losses than anything else, including actual warfare, over the last fifty years. The culture is embedded in the RAF, a force that often prides itself on being among the best at this skill. There has at times been a cultural prejudice that favours low-level tactics over the development of weapons that can be launched from higher altitudes.

The F-117 Nighthawk introduced another radar survival approach into operational service four years after the Tornado: stealth. Today all high-end warplanes in development are baking a high degree of reduced radar conspicuity into their design. The Tornado with its huge metal tail and boxy fuselage was extremely unstealthy.

Export success?

Nope. Saudi Arabia bought the IDS. But they will buy anything British, and the deal was shady as hell. In all 2006 all this dodgy-ness was all brushed under the carpet: “The Director of the Serious Fraud Office has decided to discontinue the investigation into the affairs of BAE Systems plc as far as they relate to the Al Yamamah defence contract. This decision has been taken following representations that have been made both to the Attorney General and the Director concerning the need to safeguard national and international security. It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest.”

Alright smart arse, so what should have happened?

IDS

A radical Buccaneer upgrade to cover the role until the arrival of the F-15E. At its peak the RAF had six squadrons, a greater number (more airframes were available) of Super Buccaneers could have done this job.

ADV

F-4s to cover the role until the either the earlier arrival of F-15Cs or a later arrival of dual-role F-15Es.

Political & Industrial

Did the Tornado protect the British aerospace producers from US industrial hegemony? No. The UK is currently procuring the F-35. A deal which has hindered Britain’s ability to create indigenous designs. Did it help to keep Europe together? No.

The roots of at least some of Tornado’s problems lie in a lack of compromise from the British side and the interference of political considerations. As the former West German Chief of Air Staff Heinz Birkenbeil noted in Dr Alfred Price’s ‘Panavia Tornado‘, “Before we went into the programme the German requirement was for a daylight attack plane. All the other European nations and Canada needed a replacement for the F-104, each nation put in its requirements and the requirements were a long way apart. In the second round the British required a deep interdiction aircraft with at least twice as much range as the Germans wanted, and all at low level for strike and conventional attack –– we had wanted an aeroplane for strike and close air support, with an air superiority capability over the battlefield. But we had not been after an aeroplane for deep interdiction… I told our Chief of Air Staff [General Steinhoff] that my department did not think the projected aircraft would fit the german requirement. And then a funny thing happened. The programme was of great political importance to Europe and the politicians stepped in…The result of this in Germany was the Chief of Air Staff simply changed our Air Force’s requirement until it eventually fitted the requirement of the MRCA!”

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazines (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

Add discount code: ALMOSTAUGUST10

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

 

Fleet Air Arm Myths, No. 3: The Supermarine Scimitar needed 1000 maintenance hours per flying hour


There have been many great British aviation manufacturers. Then there’s Supermarine, the poor man’s Blackburn, who produced a string of fair to average flying boats, one half decent piston fighter, and then a string of below par jets before being absorbed into BAC. The jets in particular started poorly with the Attacker, which for no obvious reason was a straight winged taildragger whose overall appearance screamed ‘we had one good design don’t make us change it’. This was followed by the Swift ordered as an insurance in case the Hunter didn’t perform as expected. For this Supermarine took their one ‘good’ jet design and added swept wings and a sensible undercarriage. Then we come to the Scimitar, a beast of an aircraft powered by two Avons producing around 22,000lbs of thrust while resolutely remaining subsonic. Admittedly this wasn’t completely Supermarine’s fault, although they didn’t have to listen to the Admiralty’s requirement for the aircraft to be able to conduct a free take-off from a carrier deck. As well as blown flaps this also required a much thicker wing section than was ideal for high speed flight, especially at high level where the critical Mach number made manoeuvring ‘difficult’.
Popular imagination has it that the Scimitar was also burdened with so many issues it needed 1000 maintenance man hours per flying hour. This almost sounds plausible when you consider the number of things that could go wrong with a late ‘50s aircraft. There were two Avons to leak fuel everywhere, blown flaps to malfunction, probably something resembling avionics. It does break down slightly when you introduce maths to the problem though.

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To take one example 804 NAS operated the Scimitar for 18 months from 1 Mar 1960 to 15 Sep 1961, or 563 days. During this they flew 1077 sorties for a total of 1,367 flying hours, with only one minor accident when Sub Lt J G Smith suffered a nose gear collapse when Landing on HMS Hermes. [8] 563 day is 13,512 hours, at which point the 1000 maintenance man hours per flying hour myth starts to break down. According to the myth 804 would have had to endure 1,367,000 hours of tinkering to have achieved that much flying. That’s 195,285 hours per aircraft. Or 14 people working on each aircraft every hour it isn’t flying. The compliment of 804 at this time isn’t readily available as apparently a global pandemic is the kind of easy excuse archives look for to prevent access. However, while equipped with 10 of Supermarine’s ultimate fighter, 803 NAS had around 123 personnel. [9] Ignoring any reduction in personnel due to operating fewer aircraft and subtracting the 14 officers who wouldn’t want to get in the chaps’ way while they’re working, that gives 15 maintainers per airframe on 804 NAS.
So, from the above workings the only way the Scimitar could be operated if it required 1000 maintenance hours per flying hour is if the squadrons were over manned and the workforce did nothing but fix aircraft. Even in their sleep. For those unfamiliar with the naval service they may be bastards, but they do let the workforce eat, sleep, and if they’re particularly good take leave. But what’s a more realistic figure? Well assuming weekends off, and their Lordship’s deigned to give the squadron 45 days leave over the 18 months that gives 357 days of work. Assume 8 hours a day are available for maintaining aircraft, which ignores the other duties that the navy insists are more important than fixing aircraft. In that case each maintainer would have done 2,857 hours of maintenance. Still allowing 15 maintainers per aircraft and you get a total of 42,857 hours of work on each jet for the period 804 NAS was in commission. With each aircraft averaging 195 flying hours you end up with 219 maintenance hours per flying hour as pretty much the upper limit of what’s achievable. This is still a lot, it’s around 20 times what an F-22 needs, but it’s a lot less than the figure bandied around. Which could lead you to suspect it was a glib answer given by someone who didn’t expect to be taken seriously, or the real answer was 100 hours and someone added a zero.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer and current Wildcat Air Safety Officer. If you want a Sea Vixen t-shirt he can fix you up.

[8] Eric Morgan, and John Stevens. The Scimitar File. Trowbridge: Air Britain, 2000. p137
[9] HMS Hermes Commissioning book photo. Count the people in the photo of 804 NAS.

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This article is from the Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes. Preorder your copy today here. 

From the cocaine, blood and flying scarves of World War One dogfighting to the dark arts of modern air combat, here is an enthralling ode to these brutally exciting killing machines.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a beautifully designed, highly visual, collection of the best articles from the fascinating world of military aviation –hand-picked from the highly acclaimed Hush-kit online magazine (and mixed with a heavy punch of new exclusive material). It is packed with a feast of material, ranging from interviews with fighter pilots (including the English Electric Lightning, stealthy F-35B and Mach 3 MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’), to wicked satire, expert historical analysis, top 10s and all manner of things aeronautical, from the site described as:

“the thinking-man’s Top Gear… but for planes”.

The solid well-researched information about aeroplanes is brilliantly combined with an irreverent attitude and real insight into the dangerous romantic world of combat aircraft.

FEATURING

  • Interviews with pilots of the F-14 Tomcat, Mirage, Typhoon, MiG-25, MiG-27, English Electric Lighting, Harrier, F-15, B-52 and many more.
  • Engaging Top (and bottom) 10s including: Greatest fighter aircraft of World War II, Worst British aircraft, Worst Soviet aircraft and many more insanely specific ones.
  • Expert analysis of weapons, tactics and technology.
  • A look into art and culture’s love affair with the aeroplane.
  • Bizarre moments in aviation history.
  • Fascinating insights into exceptionally obscure warplanes.

The book will be a stunning object: an essential addition to the library of anyone with even a passing interest in the high-flying world of warplanes, and featuring first-rate photography and a wealth of new world-class illustrations.

HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_5.jpg
HUSHKITPLANES_SPREADS4_4.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here. 

HUSK-KIT_PACKSHOT_whitebackground-1.jpg

This book can only happen with your support. Preorder your copy today here.