Monthly Archives: May 2013

Spitfire vs Bf 109 and F-14 vs Su-27: the difference is always the pilot

It’s not always the best aircraft that wins in an air-to-air engagement.

Most of the times it is the training the pilot has received and his/her skills, experience to make the difference: that’s why a well trained pilot with a less capable aircraft can defeat a more powerful plane piloted by a scarcely trained airman.

During World War II two of the most successful fighters of aviation history faced one against the other, in a duel that began over the coasts of Dunkirk and ended on the last days of the war: this two aircraft were the legendary Supermarine Spitfire and its German counterpart, the formidable Messerschmitt Bf 109.

SPit pr xix

Image credit: RAF BBMF

During the dogfights that raged in the skies several examples of both planes fell into the hands of the opponents giving both the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe, the opportunity to test the enemy plane.

The first intact Spitfire Mk I was captured by the Germans during the Dunkirk evacuation and immediately used by the Germans against Bf 109E in mock aerial combat.

Spit landing

The Spitfire, that was test flown by Maj Werner Mölders in persons, which was at the time the leading ace of the Luftwaffe with 25 aerial victories, was fitted with the old two-speed propeller and had a rate of climb inferior to that of the Spitfire Mk I fitted with the constant-speed propeller.

However German pilots discovered that if the pilot pushed down the nose of the Spitfire and applied negative “G”, the carburetor float of the Merlin engine stopped to deliver fuel with the result that the engine cut out.

On the contrary, the Bf 109E did not suffer from the same problem since his Daimler Benz DB 601 was fitted with the fuel injection system. Due to this defect, Mölders thought that, even if the Spitfire had general performance approaching that of the Bf 109, it was not that good as a fighter.

A Messerschmitt was captured intact by the RAF in November 1939, when a Bf 109E was forced down in France and taken to Farnborough for test flights against the Spitfire Mk I.

The results of the test showed that Reginald Mitchell’s fighter at altitudes around 4,000 feet was far superior to the Messerschmitt Me 109E: but the captured Messerschmitt had problems with the engine cooling system and it could not prove its ability to out-climb the Spitfire at most altitudes.

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-10

Image credit: USAF

So the British discovered that the Spitfire was better at medium altitude in a turning fight, while the Germans that the Bf 109E was better at high altitude in a high speed combat.

But those trials were valid only up to a point because when these two variants of the fighters faced one against the other was during the air battle over Britain, where the dogfights took place at altitudes between 13,000 and 20,000 feet, the altitude where the escorts for the German bombers were flown: at that height the performance of the two fighters were much closer.

However during the Battle of Britain the German fighters had a slightly advantage due to the high level of training of Luftwaffe pilots: in fact most of them, along with Mölders or Adolf Galland, were extraordinaire pilots who had gained significant experience flying with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. On the contrary the British pilots were less experienced but they flew in the skies above of their country and they fought to defend it: these two reasons, along with some strategic German mistakes, gave them a lot of motivations and brought the air duels on the same level.

During the war many other variants of these two fighters fell in the hands of each opponents, but another test was conducted early in 1944 by the RAF at Duxford. In 1944 the latest subtype of the Messerschmitt was the Bf 109G (the latest variant of the Bf 109 was the K, but it was built in small numbers and developed too late to play an important role during the war) and one of this kind of Bf 109 was tried against the new and more potent Spitfire Mk XIV powered with the Griffon 61 engine.

The result was that the Spitfire was faster than the Bf 109G at all heights, the rate of climb was the same for the two aircraft around 16,000 feet, while at the other altitudes the Spitfire Mk XIV exceeded the Bf 109G.

50 years later, in the midst of the 1990s, the technology changed the way in which the fighters fought, Air to air combat was still an important part of the training for every pilot of any air force and it is still the better way to understand how an aircraft can perform against those of their counterparts.

Su-27

Image credit: Sukhoi

During the last decade of the twentieth century one of the deadliest adversary for the western air forces was the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker.

The Su-27 belongs to the same class of the US F-14 and F-15, but unlike the American fighters it can fly at an angle of attack of 30 degrees and can also perform the “Pugachev Cobra”, an aerobatic maneuver in which the aircraft pitches the nose beyond the vertical at a rate of 70 degrees per second and after that recovers to level flight. Thanks to this maneuver, the Flanker has been the highlight of every air shows from the end of the 80s to the middle of the 90s.

On 20 April this year an article written by Dave Majumdar for Flightglobal DEW Line, talk about Gerry Gallop, a former TOP GUN instructor and an experienced US Navy pilot who flown F-4, F-14A and B, F-15, F-16, F-18 (both Legacy and Super Hornet) and also A-4.

Once Gallop ended its career he became senior vice president and chief operating of Tactical Air Support, a private operator which operated the Su-27 for short time and during this period he had the chance to fly the Flanker.

During one of his sorties over the Ukraine, Gallop was very impressed by the acceleration and by how fast was the Russian fighter at high altitude. The power of its engines, along with its superb aerodynamics and with short range IR missile AA-11 Archer (which in the ‘90s was the best short-range AAM in the world that can be linked to the pilot’s helmet fire control system and is capable to be fired at targets until 45 degrees off the axis of the aircraft: both these capabilities were not possessed by the AIM-9M Sidewinder, the main western short range missile at the time) made of the Su-27 probably the best dogfighter of the 90s, a very tough adversary for every western jet.

When strictly compared to the F-14, the Tomcat is not less fast than the Su -27, but for the American fighter the Flanker is more than a match in a close combat. In fact, against a more maneuverable fighter like the Su-27, the Tomcat is disadvantaged even if the F-14 is a B or a D model powered with the extremely potent General Electric F110-GE-400 engines.

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Image credit: U.S. Navy

Sometimes the advantage of an agile adversary can be reduced thanks to the presence of a well trained backseater, but the Tomcat gives the best of itself on long distances where the AIM-54C Phoenix can be used. As explained by some Tomcat drivers, it doesn’t matter how a more agile fighter can get a F-14 in a dogfight, because thanks to Tomcat’s combination of tactics, sensors (such as the F-14D’s AAS-42 which it has a greater range and resolution than the IRST seeker mounted by the Su-27) and weapons every enemy fighter is going to be destroyed at an unparalleled distance.

So, which was the best among these two fighters?

It is very hard to answer to this question, but as explained by the most experienced F-14 pilot, Dale “Snort” Snodgrass, in some ways the Su-27 is superior to the F-14 and to the F-15 while in some others, American fighters are better than the Flanker: but what really makes the difference is how well a pilot is trained.

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Soviet, giant Antonov 124 cargo plane production line to be resumed

Even if the news has been around for several years (and always denied), according to Defence24.pl, vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yuri Boyko has recently announced that the An-124 production will be resumed in cooperation with Russia.

According to Mr. Boyko, the Antonov 124 is a perfect solution for both the countries, due to its unique features. Firstly it allows for transporting over 100 tons of load, secondly it can operate from short runways.

Image Credit: ruaviation.com

The project is to be financed by creating an Ukrainian-Russian joint venture, where Ukrainian Antonov bureau provides the technology and design, whilst the Russians provide financial assets and market to sell the airplane. The copyrights of An-124 belong to Ukrainians, and the Ukrainian party demands for the things to remain this way.

The joint programme may decrease competition between the countries and boost their chances in the international market.

When the Americans developed C-5 Galaxy in 1968, the Soviets responded with An-124 in 1972, entering the mass production in 1986 and, later An-225 being constructed back in 1988, at the dusk of the Cold War. The planes got codenames  Condor and Cossack respectively.

The Condor, till Jul. 26, 1985, set 21 world records, e.g. took 171,000 kg of load to altitude of 10,700 meters, beating the preceding Galaxy record by 53%. But it was not the end of Soviet giants.

The need for services provided by Condor inspired the Antonov designer team to create even bigger an aircraft – the An-225 Mriya (code named “Cossack” by NATO).

The 225 is a six-engined airplane, capable of carrying 250,000 kg of load: an astonishing mass, even compared to Mriya’s smaller brother, larger than the C-5.

The main purpose behind the design was to carry Soviet made space-shuttle, Buran, on its back. The widespread v-fins of 225 allow for clearance needed to mitigate the turbulence influencing the tail, the problem NASA struggled with when putting a Space Shuttle atop a 747.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

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Why has Washington acknowledged loss of unknown drone in Somalia but has not admitted Predator crash in Turkey?

As already explained, on May 29 Pentagon acknowledged the loss of a scarcely known Camcopter drone in Somalia whose debris had been collected and shown all around the world by the Al-Shabaab group.

Interestingly, the mysterious drone was identified as a Schiebel Camcopter S-100 a tiny helicopter drone whose maximum take off weight is 200 kg.

It is at least odd, that Washington admitted the loss as the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) was not known (at least publicly) to be operated by any U.S. force or agency. Unless the drone carried some unit markings or national roundel, it is quite unlikely that anybody could tie the small drone crashed in Somalia with an American asset.

Unless they are forced to do that (as happened when the stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone was captured by Iran in December 2011), the DoD is rarely willing to disclose its involvement in overseas clandestine missions.

Schiebel_CAMCOPTER_S-100

Image credit: Wiki

For instance, neither Pentagon nor U.S. Air Force have ever admitted the downing of a Predator by the Kurdish rebels.

As we reported back then, pictures of the wreckage of a U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator emerged on Sept. 19, 2012. The drone was allegedly shot down by the rebels on Sept. 18, in the Hakkari prefecture, where the drone was flying  an operation against the rebel bastion of Uludere.

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The MQ-1 was part of a force of four U.S. Predator UAVs deployed to Incirlik airbase, in southern Turkey (one of the airports used to launch drone surveillance missions over Syria).

Months later, the Air Force released an accident report about an MQ-1B Predator crashed in a U.S. Central Command area of responsibility shortly after losing its satellite data link  on Sept. 18, 2012.

The report did not say that the drone was shot down (because either it was not downed or the fact it was lost to enemy fire could not be confirmed) nor mentioned that it was lost in Turkey (exact location was withheld and replaced by the generic U.S. CENTCOM area of responsibility).

Isn’t this different approach on the two episodes a bit strange?

The fact that Predators were deployed in Turkey and were (and probably still are) flying surveillance missions over Kurdish rebels was not a secret. Still, they did not officially acknowledge that an MQ-1 crashed in Turkey.

A scarcely know Camcopter drone crashes in Somalia and they immediately tell the world that it was an American one.

Why did they disclose the Somalia crash and not the Turkish one?

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Pentagon confirms drone crash in Somalia. But it doesn’t say it was an Austrian made PSYOPs-capable Camcopter

On May 27 a drone flying a routine surveillance mission along the coast of Somalia crashed in a remote area near the shoreline of Mogadishu.

The Pentagon confirmed the loss in Somalia after the Al-Shabaab group published some photos of the wreckage on Twitter but did not confirm the remotely piloted aircraft was shot down.

The UAV was found near Bulo Marer (a town in the southwestern Lower Shebelle region) the same place of a French Intelligence failed operation to rescue Denis Allex in January 2013.

Based on the images of the parts collected by Al-Shabaab,  the mysterious drone can be identified as a Schiebel Camcopter S-100 small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

The Aviationist’s contributor Giuliano Ranieri highlighted the pieces of the Camcopter that have survived the crash and that can be clearly identified among the debris.

S-100-1

S-100-2

The little S-100 drone is produced by the Austrian company Schiebel.

It weights only 200 kilograms (440 lb) but with an endurance of 6 hours, a maximum speed of 220 kilometres per hour (140 mph), a ceiling of 5,500 metres (18,000 ft) and various payloads (including electro-optics and infrared sensors) it can carry out a wide array of clandestine missions.

If the UAV itself has not so many secrets, what is extremely interesting is the use of this type of drone by the U.S.

Even if it is impossible to say what the aircraft was doing, it is quite likely it was flying an espionnage mission for the CIA.

In 2009, Boeing and Schiebel made a demo for U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina about the integration of the S-100 and ground unmanned systems for PSYOPs missions in-theatre.

“Equipped with an American Technology Corporation loudspeaker capable of addressing crowds at a distance of up to 2 km, a leaflet drop capability, as well as an IAI POP300 EO/IR camera payload. The John Deere R-Gator unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) was also equipped with a loudspeaker augmented with the Trident, Inc. data link, demonstrating the potential for teaming UGVs with an UAS. […] The S-100 was utilized to survey the area and provide real-time aerial intelligence, as well as to address the public and drop information leaflets.”

 

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“German decision to scrap Euro Hawk drone purchase will not affect AGS program” NATO officials say

According to NATO, the  AGS (Alliance Ground Surveillance), a project that is based on high-altitude long range UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems), a main operating base and several command and control stations to monitor “what’s happening on the ground, at long range, over periods of time, around the clock, in any weather”, will not end due to the German withdrawal from the Eurohawk programme.

As TheAviationist reported earlier, the withdrawal of Germany is caused by extremely high cost of introducing the drones into the European airspace environment. 

NATO officials claim that Block 40 Global Hawk drones are going to be the main assets in the AGS. They are to operate from Sigonella airbase in Sicily by 2017.

The cooperative defense project involves 13 nations: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States.

Poland joined later, but it already opted out.

The main reason for Germany to opt out was the cost.

Even if the AGS goal goes beyond reconnaisance (as it will support SAR activities as well), the recently increased military activity beyond the Poland’s eastern border may be the real reason for introducing the drones into the European airspace.

Nevertheless, the problem does not necessarily stem from the budget, but from the European legal background, with its strict provisions when it comes to the air-traffic.

It would be very hard to introduce an autonomous airframe, such as Global Hawk into this environment; the consequent risk seems to restrain Germany from being an active part of the AGS.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

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