“Raptor’s thrust vectoring not essential” Eurofighter pilot says in last chapter of the F-22 vs Typhoon saga

Is Thrust Vectoring really important in air-to-air combat? It depends…

A couple of weeks ago, an experienced Eurofighter Typhoon industry test pilot wrote to The Aviationist to respond to a Lockheed F-35 test pilot who, talking to Flight’s Dave Majumdar had 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.

Now, the same Typhoon pilot has again chosen this blog (and I’m honored for this) to explain why thrust vectoring, considered one of the most important F-22 features, is not essential when you are involved in an air-to-air engagement WVR (Within Visual Range).

RAF Typhoons and U.S. Air Force F-22s are currently operating together in the U.S.: the joint mission started with a training exercise called Western Zephyr and will continue next week at the Red Flag 13-3 at Nellis Air Force Base.

Langley Typhoon
RAF Typhoon on the ramp at Langley. (Image credit: USAF)

As reported in an interesting Defensenews article, the agility of the American 5th generation fighter plane is among the things that impressed British pilots the most.

According to the piece, the commander of the RAF XI Sqn Wing Commander Rich Wells, said:

“Raptor has vector thrust: Typhoon doesn’t,” he said. “What the aircraft can do, it’s incredible. The Typhoon just doesn’t do that.”

Even if it is a matter of fact that the European top class fighter jet lacks thrust vectoring (TV) our source believes that this is not a big deal.

To be honest, the points he raises were already discussed in the article about the outcome of the dogfights between the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and the German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons during last year’s Red Flag – Alaska, when Americans said the F-22 performance was “overwhelming” while German said the costly stealth fighter was “salad” for the Eurofighter’s pilots lunch.

At that time we said that the F-22 tends to lose too much energy when using TV and unless the Raptor can manage to immediately get in the proper position to score a kill, the energy it loses makes it quite vulnerable.

Anyway, here’s what he wrote to us:

We have all been around long enough to recognize there is not a single sensor able to turn the night into day, nor a unique aerodynamic design feature capable of ensuring by itself air dominance if implemented.

The effectiveness of an air superiority fighter relies on the successful combination of a range of design elements including thrust-to-weight ratio, wing loading, avionics and weapons integration. Furthermore, : appropriate tactics and valuable aircrew training must be developed to exploit the full potential of the weapon system.

Typically, when time comes to decide how to achieve the required “nose pointing capability” for high thrust-to-weight ratio airplanes three solutions are on the table:

– extremely high short term sustained Angle of Attack values (characteristic of twin tailed airplanes);
– High Off-Bore-Sight Weapons, preferably supported by Helmet Cueing;
– Thrust Vectoring.

Thrust Vectoring is one of the design elements that can contribute to create a certain advantage during close air combat by generating impressive pitch and yaw rates, but only in a limited portion of the flight envelope at velocities well below “corner speed”.

However, Thrust Vectoring can also transform in a few seconds an energy fighter in a piece of metal literally falling off the sky, making it an easy prey for those who have been able to conserve their energy.

Moreover, Thrust Vector operation requires the pilot to “create the opportunity” for its usage, spending valuable time in manoeuvring the aircraft to achieve a suitable condition and managing the activation of the Thrust Vector Control.

If you are “defensive” and your aircraft has Thrust Vectoring, you can possibly outturn your enemy, but that most likely won’t prove to be a great idea: an energy fighter like the Typhoon will conveniently “use the vertical” to retain energy and aggressively reposition for a missile or gun shot. Also the subsequent acceleration will be extremely time (and fuel) consuming, giving your opponent the opportunity to tail chase you for ever, exploiting all its short range weapon array.

If you are “neutral”, when typically vertical, rolling and flat scissors would accompany the progressive energy decay, similarly performing machines would remain closely entangled, negating the opportunity for Thrust Vector activation.

If you are “offensive”, probably stuck in a never ending “rate fight”, Thrust Vector could provide the opportunity for a couple of shots in close sequence. Make sure nobody is coming to you from the “support structure”, otherwise that could be also your last move.

Talking of twin tailed aircraft, Angles of Attack in excess of 30-35 degrees are capable of creating drag conditions unsustainable no matter the engine/airframe matching, and developing energy decays intrusive of the tactical flying but also of the flight control system protections. Roll rates would also deteriorate at the higher values of AoA and target tracking ability would quickly decay.

Eurofighter has decided to develop for the Typhoon High Off-Bore-Sight Weapons, supported by Helmet Cueing, to retain energy and target tracking ability while manoeuvring WVR (Within Visual Range) at relatively high but sustainable Angles of Attack. For those who may require some additional AoA, the “Strakes” package is progressing well and soon it will be offered to Typhoon’s Customers. Nevertheless, Strakes is not purely about extreme AoA, but also suitable Roll Rates and manageble energy characteristics. Because in the European way of doing things, an all round balanced solution counts more than a single eye opening performance.

It is a fact that against Eastern produced fighters provided with Thrust Vectoring, throughout the years the Typhoon has showed an embarasing (for them) kill-to-loss ratio.

It is a fact that after some initial encounters between the Raptor and the Typhoon, the situation appears of absolute equity. Too early to say if it is the Helmet Cueing or the Thrust Vector, or how much tactics and training are a player in all this. For sure, we are facing two impressively capable machines.

The typical answer to any critics to the F-22 air dominance is: “since it is stealthy, you should not even consider the possibility of a close encounter with another jet.”

F-22 pilot
Close up image of the cockpit of an F-22 Raptor (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Even if this can be true, the risk of coming to close range is still high. At a distance of about 50 km the Typhoon IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system could be capable to find even a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22″ as a Eurofighter pilot once said.

Furthermore, Raptors are not always stealthy as one might believe: for instance, when they carry external store, rejoin with tankers or talk on the radio (secure or unsecure ones) they become more vulnerable to detection.

But this is another story, that we will discuss in the near future…

About David Cenciotti 4453 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.


  1. Flyin High, you have mis-read what was said. The Typhoon pilot is not claiming superiority nor is he saying the F-22’s TV is no good, the hint is in the title. As usual, over-reactions.

  2. The “Raptor salad for launch” claim has been explicitely denied by the pilots from JG 74. So they either back paddle in order to repolish their image and reputation or someone has spread a false rumour to fuel the heated discussions going on at that time.

  3. Hasn’t it already been pretty well established that the F-22, when not handicapped by ridiculously unrealistic training scenarios – is completely untouchable in air to air combat?

      • Actually yes it has. When they dont know where the plane is coming from or even if its in the sky, it becomes a turkey shoot.

        • Which only happens when unrealistic scenarios are put in place to help the F-22.

          • Oh let me guess, you are somehow under the impression that we let our enemies know where we are flying and just dont use any tactics whatsoever right? You are obviously not a military person. That comment shows ignorance. It is not unrealistic for the enemy to know know the plane is even in the air. So next excuse please….

            • It is not excuse, and your “reply” has nothing to do with my statement, or logic. Is it realistic to assume BVR missile Pk against maneuvering fighter with advanced self-defense suite to be twice of what it was against a non-maneuvering targets with no ECM? Is it realistic to pretend that the F-22 costs far less and can fly far more often than it can, leading to greater force sizes compared to legacy fighters than what it would be in war?

              Keep babbling.

  4. Viper Fighter Doctrine 101: If you end up in a turning fight, you most likely will be killed by someone outside the circle.

    Quote me if you like, or just go back to your comic books.

  5. So what is the Raptors advantage that gives it such a high kill rate over the Typhoon. Its a good sell point though.

Comments are closed.