“No way an F-35 will ever match a Typhoon fighter jet in aerial combat” Eurofighter test pilot says

Feb 11 2013 - 52 Comments

In an interesting piece by Flight’s Dave Majumdar, Bill Flynn, Lockheed test pilot responsible for flight envelope expansion activities for the F-35 claimed that all three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter will have better kinematic performance than any fourth-generation fighter plane with combat payload, including the Eurofighter Typhoon (that during last year’s Red Flag Alaska achieved several simulated kills against the F-22 Raptor) and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

“In terms of instantaneous and sustained turn rates and just about every other performance metric, the F-35 variants match or considerably exceed the capabilities of every fourth-generation fighter,” Flyinn said.

According to the Lockheed pilot, (besides its stealthiness) the F-35 features better transonic acceleration and high AOA (angle-of-attack) flight performance than an armed Typhoon or Super Hornet.

RNLAF

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

As Majumdar says in his article, such claims are strongly disputed by other sources. Among them an experienced Eurofighter Typhoon industry test pilot, who tried to debunk all Flynn’s “theories” about the alleged superior F-35 performance.

Here’s what he wrote to The Aviationist:

No doubt the F-35 will be, when available, a very capable aircraft: its stealth design, extended range, internal carriage of stores and a variety of integrated sensors are definitely the ingredients for success in modern air-to-ground operations.

However, when time comes for air dominance, some other ingredients like thrust to weight ratio and wing loading tend to regulate the sky. And in that nothing comes close to a Typhoon, except an F-22 which has very similar values. The F-35 thrust to weight ratio is way lower and its energy-manoeuvrability diagrams match those of the F/A-18, which is an excellent result for a single engine aircraft loaded with several thousand pounds of fuel and significant armament.

But it also means that starting from medium altitude and above, there is no story with a similarly loaded Typhoon.

Dealing with the transonic acceleration:

Transonic acceleration is excellent in the F-35, as it is for the Typhoon and better than in an F/A-18 or F-16, but mainly due to its low drag characteristics than to its powerplant. That means that immediately after the transonic regime, the F-35 would stop accelerating and struggle forever to reach a non operationally suitable Mach 1.6.

The Typhoon will continue to accelerate supersonic with an impressive steady pull, giving more range to its BVR (Beyond Visual Range) armament.

For what concerns AOA:

Angle-of-attack is remarkably high in the F-35, as it is for all the twin tailed aircraft, but of course it can not be exploited in the supersonic regime, where the limiting load factor is achieved at low values of AoA.

Also in the subsonic regime, the angle-of-attack itself doesn’t mean that much, especially if past a modest 12° AoA you are literally going to fall of the sky! Excessive energy bleeding rates would operationally limit the F-35 well before its ultimate AoA is reached.

Eurofighter superb engine-airframe matching, in combination with it’s High Off-Bore-Sight armament supported by Helmet Cueing, has already and consistently proven winning against any angile fighter.

Last, the F-35 is capable of supersonic carriage of bombs in the bomb bay, but the fuel penalty becomes almost unaffordable, while delivery is limited to subsonic speeds by the armament itself as is for the Typhoon.

Concluding (highlight mine):

[...] it is in the facts that while the Typhoon can do most of the F-35 air-to-ground mission, vice versa the F-35 remains way far from a true swing role capability, and not even talking of regulating the skies.

Provided that the F-35 will be able to solve all its problems, and that the raising costs will not lead to a death spiral of order cuts, both the British RAF and the Italian Air Force will be equipped with both the JSF and the Typhoon.

Mock aerial combat training will tell us who’s better in aerial combat.

MM7274_Typhoon

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  • Lop_Eared_Galoot

    Lots of rhetoric, little facts.

    Here’s some interesting ones:

    A. Real aircraft performance is measured in feet per second as specific excess or ‘Energy Maneuvering’ power. This is usually portrayed as P-sub-S and talked of as ‘smash’. You have to have enough power to sustain your forward flight speed and enough lift coming off the wings to keep from losing altitude or your instantaneous G will degrade. Obviously, the higher you go, the thinner the air is and the less lift as thrust you have to work with.

    B. Most aircraft hit Q or thermal or cycle (engine) limits long before they hit maximum airspeed. Which is to say that the aerodynamic forces acting on the jet act against it’s being able to sustain what G it might for it’s nominal specific excess power.

    C. From the 1960s onwards, when F-4C/D dueled with F-106s in the high arena between 20,000-40,000ft it has been known that you don’t pull more than about 4Gs on the airframe and rarely do such things as fly inverted because every twitch of the stick adds seconds as pounds of fuel before you regain your speed which is essential for putting enough energy behind a missile that it -holds- it’s Mach point and hits the enemy first. This is called ‘F Poling’ and is the essence of he who shoots first wins.

    D. Most jets, by about Mach 1.4 are creating an oblique shock on the nose which is capable of being detected by an IRST out to at least 25nm. By Mach 1.6 it’s unavoidable and may be seen as far as 50nm away. A/B (which both the Typhoon and the Lightning will need to get that fast with a combat load) nearly triples detection ranges to the point where you are seeing the thermal spike before you are generating the radar track to go with.

    E. In the old days, you had to be able to get the weapon to see the target and so were limited by the functionality of your weapons system in terms of line of sight rates and PRF spreads for a given crossing angle, on both the main radar antenna and the tether driven (SARH sampler on the missile tail) cuing of the seeker. Modern systems are not nearly so dependent on knowing where the target is at the beginning of their flyout as they are knowing ‘the cube’ around the target in which to orient their approach to point the seeker on arrival at the A-Pole or Acquisition Point. What this means is the if you can get -any- kind of sensor trackfile going, from almost any aperture (air or surface) that can talke to a network and pass on it’s data, you can fly out missiles to meet even a supersonic target. At which point, unless you have an incredibly stiff, strong, TVC enabled, airframe like the Raptor, going supersonic just guarantees you have impaled yourself on someone’s lance.

    F. Most people see IADS like this-

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-2c0Ftj4hbX4/TYRKpHvbstI/AAAAAAAAC7I/vHbuDKa9GKo/s1600/ZOOMED%2BALL%2BLAYERS.jpg

    When in reality, what it looks like is this-

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_0HCJq6B1wZA/S-orCgVcw1I/AAAAAAAACf4/Q8HiLOqCjbw/s1600/LYBSAMNETOVERVIEW.jpg

     

    Totally Dead Air.

     

    When a raid is expected (usually cued by on-ground airbase watchers and COMINT monitoring, prelaunch) ONE long range Early Warning Radar like this Vostock-

     

    http://www.ausairpower.net/Other/KBR-Vostok-E-2S.jpg

    Will come up. From waaaaaaaaay off in the backfield. Like a punter getting ready to kick the ball deep. The effect will still not be a perfect sphere of total coverage but rather something like this-

     

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_0HCJq6B1wZA/SgJm8ZG8dOI/AAAAAAAACGk/UJxOh9MtJv8/s400/WEDGESST15.jpg

     

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_0HCJq6B1wZA/SgJm8zs3UjI/AAAAAAAACG0/3YEgIRE6BVk/s400/WEDGESST17.jpg

     

    Because ground clutter or masking terrain (mountains and buildings, even simple thermals) will interfere. It won’t come on constantly because you don’t want to suck up an ARM and it will likely displace fairly frequently with other EWRs taking over so that Cruise Missiles and UAV attack are also not an issue.

     

    But the important thing to realize is that the Vostock and Nebo operation in the range 850MHz to 2GHz with Megawatts of power and so they are both long range and quite able to defeat F-35 8-12GHz ‘Fire Control’ Stealth.

    What inevitably happens then is you come into the bryar patch with a lot of silent snakes at your feet. And the low band EWR lights off and provides a general track on you which it feeds to the SAM systems and the SAM systems in turn focus their Engagement Radars-

     

    http://www.armyrecognition.com/images/stories/east_europe/russia/missile_vehicle/tomb_stone_30n6e2/30N6E2_Tomb_stone_illumination_guidance_radar_for_SA-20_Gargoyle_missile_system_Russia_Russian_army_640.jpg

    http://www.armyrecognition.com/images/stories/east_europe/russia/missile_vehicle/flap_lid_b/30N6E_5N63S_Flap_Lid_B_tracking_and_missile_guidance_radar_S-300PMU1_SA-10_Grumble_Russia_Russian_640.jpg

     

    And you get shot to bleep anyway. It is CRITICAL to understand this people. Because it is the difference between sweeping a flashlight randomly looking for an intruder in a dark room and holding focussed on a doorway you KNOW they have to pass through. Because that’s where their footsteps are heading.

     

    Nebo and Vostock and similar mobile EWRs listen for the footsteps. Flap Lid and Tomb/Gravestone are the flashlights which can send a flurry of Mach 6 48N6 or Mach 10 9M96 screaming in at you from so close that there is no getting away because the missiles fly out blind and activate their seekers a bare 5nm out from your ‘stealth’ aircraft.

     

    Which is why it’s pretty damn stupid to get close to a threat when you don’t have to.

     

    G. This is why you don’t have to-

    http://defense-update.com/images_new1/meteor-typhoon.jpg

    http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/attachments/military-aviation/13173d1232741444-mbda-meteor-bvraam-meteor.jpg

     

    Where most missile propellant (heat/fuel/air = burn) has an oxidizer mix of say 70:30 which effectively steals volume from fuel, a ramjet missile has an ‘oxi-weak’ system which gets all of it’s oxygen for free from the atmosphere. This means that where an AIM-120D might have a maximum flight time of 120 seconds and a burn time of 60, a BVRAAM has a flight time of 200 and a burn time of 130-150. The longer you stay out of coast mode, the faster your average Mach is and the shorter your overall flightime for any given range.

    This has a further modifier in that, if an AMRAAM-D has a maximum effective (launch) range of about 60nm. It’s NEZ or No Escape Zone is going to be less than 25nm (if you want a 90% likelihood of a kill, you have to E-Pole or Endgame the target inside this distance). But Meteor can do something truly special. It can fly out at one level of impulse. And then go terminal at a much higher one. So, provided it can overtake the target at all (and only a MiG-23 or MiG-25 in full burner would have much of a chance of outrunning it), it’s going to have the same chances of killing it at 60nm as it would at 40. This means you can fire the weapon, against a closing target, from upwards of 100-120nm away.

    The farther away you stay from the enemy jet, using ram-AAM to make critical Mach point happen, the less wise or even necessary it becomes to go supersonic. Because subsonic delays closure and keeps you away from the predominance Surface To Air threats.

    You never approach the door.

    Typhoon as Meteor. Lightning does not. But Typhoon is as dead against an S-300PMU2 or S-400 at 100nm as it is 50. Whereas, an F-35 can use it’s stealth to close to perhaps 40nm while slowly midcoursing the Meteor without worry about sudden SAM shots. It is a fact that the British want to integrate the Meteor on their F-35s, quite badly, because it is positioned to become the predominant BVR Air to Air weapons system of the early-mid 21st century, just like Sparrow once was.

    Only Meteor works.

    In the real world of air combat, where ‘shooting in’ is important in keeping you away from the snakes-at-your-feet condition of the bryar patch that is a modern IADS, nobody wants to go fast. And nobody wants to yank and bank their airframes. The air up at 40,000ft (where missiles go farthest) is simply too thin to make that a workable option.

    While your exposure based on comparitive RCS levels is so enormous that only true stealth is survivable in the face of equally improved, long range, heavy SAMs.

    The real trick then comes when you want to penetrate the enemy IADS and drop bombs. The Typhoon has no stealth and will be butchered as soon as it comes within 50nm of a major threat system. The F-35 has marginal stealth, especially in the flanks and RQ, but with the GBU-53/B and Meteor, it would not have to approach any closer than 50nm to deliver weapons.

    The Lightning wins because it can afford to conduct an OCA mission in the middle of an S2A dominant environment. The Typhoon loses because, even if it stands off, it cannot react to sudden threats to stealthy interdictors (which it is nominally ‘escorting’) in a sufficiently timely fashion to assure their protection. Meteor or no.

    Them’s the facts folks. Read’em and weap-on up.

  • John

    F-35 sucks at A2A. F-35 is inferior in A2A. We should’ve made a better plane than the F-35. F-35 is the best Bomb Truck around. F-35 is going to be very superior in A2G(Ground Attack- Air to Ground). It doesn’t have the manuverablility that fighters have today. Best is that we should make another program that’s better than the inferior F-35.

  • SG

    True, the Typhoon can do most of the F-35′s air to ground mission. Over Libya. Or any other third world country where air defence is based on spear throwing.

  • Chris B

    It would be difficult to add subsonic maneuvering with a pod.

  • mike webber

    Dear Mr Cenciotti,
    1st off, Billy flynn was the test pilot of both the EF typhoon and the F-35, he knows what he is talking about regarding both planes.
    this eurofighter pilot on the otherhand is simply relying on what he thinks he knows about the F-35 and comparing it to everything he knows about the Typhoon.

    the result is a very mis informed and biased statement. You could see that by the way he says that high AOA is practically useless, he says that because he was trained that way, The typhoon cannot reach high AOA thus he was trained to fight very effectively at low AOA.

    Ask a hornet pilot the same question and you will get a very different answer, to them high AOA is the holy grail of modern dog fighting, you can zoom and climb and turn all you want and see the hornet snap its nose high AOA to look at you and shoot you.

    Regarding the Relaxed 5.3-4.6 sustained Gs on the F-35, wehave nowhere near the needed info needed to draw a conclusion. what was the load out of the test? What speed? What was the altitude? We dont know.

    An F-16 can pull 9Gs but add a centerline fuel tank and that decreases to 7Gs instantainious and around 5Gs sustained. Add even more loads and that could go down even more to 3.5Gs.

    The F-35 can carry 18,000+ lbs of fuel and 18,000 lbs of weapons, if the test was carried out with that load then 4.6Gs isnt bad at all.

    Furthermore, the F-35s have not yet been cleared for its entire flight envelope so expect the baseline 4.6Gs sustained to go up significantly.

  • Ed

    Is anyone really surprised? The low t/w ratio, the bulkiness, relatively small wings…

    All we now know is that LM is truly spewing out lies – what is surprising is that they don’t yet seem to have lost all their credibility in the process, yet.

    They have no reason to lie so blatently, not about capability at least (prices and delays are another story). I’m sure the F-35 will be a great asset – within its specific niche. If air-superiority isn’t part of that niche, we’d better acknowledge that.

    And, preferably, have anyone who claims otherwise have their words backfire on them, so that in the future perhaps we can stay close to the truth from the get-go. It seems to me we’ll all be better off in the end.

    Who knows how the project would have gone if LockMart had taken a more objective view on the risks and costs involved, and had informed the ones responsible for procurement early on?

    • FrankW

      You are right about Lockheed Martin. Just because LM says the F-35 is the best in every category, people are taking that as gospel. Last time I checked, Lockheed Martin was not God. The F-35 is far heavier, has small wings, has a lower thrust to weight ratio -those are the obvious facts here. Now the F-35 may best a Rafale, Typhoon, or Sukhoi at BVR, but in a dogfight it will be at a disadvantage. Why??? Because the Typhoon, Rafale, and Sukhoi all have lower wing loading and greater thrust to weight ratios. Not to mention, they all have better aerodynamics. And the Rafale and Typhoon have canards, so they do not have to worry about trim drag like a tailplane design such as the F-35. Lockheed Martin was only famous because of the “black ops” (skunk works) projects such as the SR-71 and F-117. Its F-104 was a monumental disaster as a fighter. And the F-16 was originally a General Dynamics design. Sure, LM can develop an excellent stealth airplane, but it has never been very successful in developing air superiority jets. Sometimes your BVR systems will not always be successful and the fight will then generate into a WVR dogfight. That has happened in the past and it will happen again in the future. And as far as stealth goes, why is LM putting AIM-9s externally on the F-35? Will that not compromise its vaunted stealth characteristics. Will it not be entering the fight externally clean and low-observable like all its cheerleaders keep saying? Even the F-22 has fallen into the gunsights of Typhoons and Rafales. And then everyone cries that the F-22 had external tanks, which is not true. Look at the HUD camera of the Rafale, the F-22 is clean and it has no external fuel tanks. All i am saying here is that their designs are not invincible as they say.

  • Guesto

    If you keep asking each baker how good is their bread, you’ll be able to write opposing stories for a very long time. Let’s wait for the Brits or the Italians, who ordered both planes, to do some games and report their results.

  • MAveRicK

    No, the A model has an internal gun, the B and C model mount a pod.

  • FrankW

    Actually from wingtip to wingtip the entire design of the Typhoon is one giant delta wing. Rafale also has wide body design and large wing. Both designs have less drag than the F-35. Good luck with the F-35, hope it lives up to all its hype. But I doubt it will.

  • Paladin

    The B model will be one of the most agile jets in the air; for the same reason the Harrier is agile.