Tag Archives: planes


Good morning. Grab a cup of coffee, this is a long one. Over an hour.

The Supermarine Spitfire is THE iconic British fighter of World War II, but arguably, the series of fighters designed by Sir Sydney Camm for Hawker were, in the end, the more important contribution. Camm designed 52 aircraft for Hawker over his career. The pre-war design of the Hurricane would form the backbone of RAF Fighter Command in the early days of World War II, and bear the brunt of the Battle of Britain.

While the Hurricane was a solid design, it was limited by the (then) relatively low powered Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Camm looked to newer, more powerful engines for his next fighter design. The Hawker Typhoon was an all new design, but clearly an evolution of the Hurricane. Powered by the new, powerful, and very temperamental Napier Sabre engine. Designed as a fighter to replace the Hurricane, the Typhoon would instead find itself spending most of its career in the ground attack role.

Like the Hurricane, the Typhoon had  a rather thick wing. That thick wing meant more drag, and also introduced British pilots and designers to the problems of compressibility in high speed regimes. Looking to the laminar flow wing of the North American Mustang, Camm saw an opportunity to design an update of the Typhoon that would be even better. With its much thinner wing, the Hawker Tempest would be the fasted British piston engined fighter of the war.

Camm always understood that the performance of a fighter was very closely tied to the state of the art in engine design, and was eager to incorporate ever more powerful engines into his designs. Indeed, the Typhoon was actually the Typhoon Mk V, with Marks I-V having various other engines as testbeds. The engine Camm really wanted was the Bristol Centaur, but a shortage of that engine meant it wasn’t until the very waning days of the war that enough were available to begin fielding the Tempest II. The Tempest II, with its radial engine was a rather radical departure from the Tenpest V’s H-block engine.

The final stage of evolution would be Britain’s last piston engined fighter, the Hawker Sea Fury. Generally similar to the Tempest II, the Sea Fury featured smaller wings, and was generally lighter overall. It would serve with distinction in the Korean War for the decks of British carriers, and even labor on in the Burmese Air Force until 1968!

Probably the last combat of the Sea Fury was during the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. The Batista government had received a handful, and the Castro government struggled to keep them in operation. In spite of their advanced years, the Sea Furies in service with Castro’s regime proved highly effective in attacking the transports attempting to invade Cuba.

But back to the subject of our post, the Hawker Tempest.

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Filed under planes, weapons, World War II

Magic Carpet

Landing on a carrier is the defining difference between the Tailhook Navy and the Air Force. It’s incredibly challenging, and requires consummate airmanship, every time. The utmost precision flying is required, often under far from optimum conditions, simply to conduct routine operations.

Early jet operations at sea had astonishingly bad safety records. The combination of straight carrier decks, the old style flat approach, and underpowered engines with very slow response time meant carrier aviators that embarked on a career could easily expect to see as many as one in four of their peers die in an operational accident.

The introduction of the angled deck and the mirror (later, Fresnel lens) optical landing system, combined with better engine performance, and the constant descent/angle of attack carrier approach  greatly improved the safety record of fast jet carrier aviation. Even so, operational accidents are far too common, as is the loss of life associated with them.

Non aviators think that the rate of descent for a jet is controlled by pulling or pushing on the control stick. Nope. The pilot controls the rate of descent with the throttle. Speed is controlled by pushing or pulling the nose up or down.*

This counterintuitive method of flying takes an extraordinary amount of practice to master.

Magic Carpet, a series of software improvements to the flight controls and the Heads Up Display symbology in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aim to eliminate this.  Spill did a great series of  posts on fly by wire technology. The thing about fly-by-wire is not so much that the commands are sent to the actuators via electrical signal, so much as that the flight control computer on board takes the input from the pilot, and interprets it as to what the pilot wishes to accomplish, and sends the appropriate command to the controls.

Reducing pilot workload makes for increased safety, and greater operational effectiveness.

The F-35C will have a similar capability built in from the beginning.

*This is a very, very gross oversimplification of the complexities of the carrier approach.


Filed under navy, planes

Happy Top Gun* Day

Via The Aviatonist.

Coauthor Spill is a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the movie Top Gun, and its star, the mighty Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

*The movie, not the actual school, which as most of you know, is TOPGUN, one word, all caps.


Filed under navy, planes

The Black Knights

We’re used to seeing motivational cruise videos from the F/A-18 Hornet community. Here’s one from the fling-wing crowd, HSC-4 Black Knights, flying the MH-60S.

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Intruder in Action

Mostly taken from the VA-115 Arabs 1971-72 Vietnam cruise aboard USS Midway (CVA-41) but with a few other sources spliced in. This also contains a nice tribute to LT Raymond Donnelly. LT Donnelly was killed in action July 19, 1972. His death was the basis for the death of fictional Bombardier/Navigator Morgan MacPherson in Stephen Coonts’ “Flight of the Intruder.”

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X-47B Autonomous Aerial Refueling

Just the other day Salty Dog 502, one of two X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrators actually performed in flight refueling autonomously by plugging into and taking on fuel from an Omega Aerial Refueling Services KC-707 tanker.

The X-47B is strictly a demonstrator program, designed to show that autonomous vehicles could be launched from a carrier, land aboard a carrier, operate on the flight deck, and be refueled in flight. Those were some pretty lofty goals, and we admit that we were surprised at just how successful the program was, with little or no drama involved in the various phases of the program.

It is a long, long stretch from a demonstrator type program to fielding an actual combat capable autonomous platform, and indeed there’s strong debate over just what roles any future unmanned combat aircraft should perform. Some argue that a lower risk approach of an ISR focused platform would reach the fleet sooner, at lower cost, and develop the tribal knowledge to form a firm foundation for future development, all while fulfilling an important mission not currently met by the carrier air wing. Others, such as Senator McCain insist that the expense of developing an unmanned combat air vehicle demand that it be an actual strike platform, especially in light of the challenges anti-access weapon systems such as the S-300 pose to the current airwing.

The objectives of the X-47B program have been met, and both Salty Dog 501 and 502 will shortly be retired, and almost certainly be turned into museum pieces.


Filed under navy, planes

The Last of the Gunfighters was a pretty decent bomber.

The Vought F-8 Crusader is famous as the last US Navy fighter designed with guns as its primary armament. It was also famous for eschewing the prevailing notion of the day that future air combat would be missile oriented, and dogfighting would be a thing of the past.* 

The earlier models of the F-8 carried the guns and the Sidewinder. But starting with the F-8E, two wing pylons were added, each with the capability of carrying either a 2000lb Mk84 bomb, or a Multiple Ejector Rack with a variety of ordnance.

It’s easy to see how the adaptability of the F-8 convinced Vought they could design and build an attack plane derived from the F-8 as a replacement for the A-4 Skyhawk, what eventually became the A-7 Corsair II.


*The truth is, it’s a little more nuanced than that. ‘sader drivers spent their fair share of time practicing radar intercepts just like their Phantom cousins, and even had their own radar guided missile, the AIM-9C Sidewinder, which was less successful than even the Phantom’s AIM-7D.


Filed under navy, planes