Tag Archives: HOTAS

Fighter Planes vs Racecars: same tech, same physical laws, same charm

Hands On Throttle And Stick, Variable Geometry Intakes, Movable Ailerons and Wings, Boundary Layer Control, etc. are only but few technologies common to Military Aviation and Formula One.

Aerodynamics is also the same, even if it is applied in reverse: while airfoils of cars’ surfaces are used to create a downforce needed to push the tyres onto the track, wings’ surfaces have to generate lift to sustain the aircraft’s weight. Everything is ruled by a simple physical principle: by having to travel different distances over the same time along the contours of an airfoil, air flow generates a difference in pressure: where distance is greater, speed has to be higher and pressure will be lower. As pressure tries to balance, a force in the direction of low pressure is generated. A modern F1 car is capable of developing +3.5 G lateral cornering accelaration while an aircraft can produce +9 G vertical accelerations.

However, not only technical things make the two worlds so similar:  both are based on teamwork, beyond the envelope research and endless practice and the “communion” is often sanctioned by the use of the same symbols. For instance, the famous symbol of Scuderia Ferrari, the black Prancing Horse, is the emblem that  the Italian WWI ace Francesco Baracca used on his planes and that it is currently used by many Italian Air Force units as the 4° Stormo.

Races between fighter planes and Formula One cars or Motorbikes have been organized too. One of the most famous ones took place on Dec. 11, 2003, at Grosseto airport, where the Ferrari F2003-GA piloted by six times world champion Michael Schumacher challenged the Eurofighter Typhoon flown by the astronaut (and former Italian Air Force test pilot) Maurizio Cheli.

The race between Schumacher’s Ferrari and the Eurofighter was not the first of its kind. The previous and most famous precedent dates back to 1981 when Gilles Villeneuve and other Formula 1 drivers, competed on the Istrana runways against the 51° Stormo’s F-104s. The race ended with a clear victory of the four wheels due to the fog that forced the airplanes to take off weighted down by extra tip and pylon tanks.

This event is still engraved in the memory of aviation and motoring enthusiasts and contributed to the Italian Air Force’s decision to present Ferrari with F-104G MM.6546/4-47, painted red overall with the team’s badge on the air intakes and re-coded 4-27 to represent the 4° Stormo (“4”) and the race number of the late Villeneuve’s Ferrari 126 CK Turbo (“27”). The fighter is still on display at the Fiorano course.

[Read also The Pagani Zonda Tricolore and the MV Agusta F4: the guest stars of the Rivolto airshow]

Dealing with motorbikes, in 2003, an Italian AF F-104 was painted with the red, white and black colors of the 10° Gruppo and boasted a flashy “999”  in homage to the 9° Stormo and to celebrate the twinning with the Ducati. The “999” is in fact a famous motorbike model of the Italian Racing Team which sports a similar colour scheme to the one devised for the special Starfighter. The special coloured aircraft was involved in a speed race against a Ducati 999 held in Grazzanise on Oct. 14, 2004.

[Read also the Lotus “Evora” S of the Italian Police on display at the Italian Armed Forces Day]

The following gallery cointains a small collection of images taken during races between fighter planes and racecars or during Open Days, air shows, public events and shootings during which cars or motorbikes (even in special colour schemes) were presented next to an airplane. Some are famous photographs released by companies and manufacturers during marketing campaigns while others were provided by the fighter pilots involved in the photo sessions. There are also pictures of historical automobiles owned by fighter squadrons and an image of the U-2 chase car.

Many come from the archives of the following reporters: Alessandro Palantrani, Luca La Cavera, Maurizio Moreale, Michele Carrara and Raffaele Fusilli.

Image sources: Alessandro Palantrani, Luca La Cavera, Maurizio Moreale, Michele Carrara, Raffaele Fusilli, Pagani, Alitalia, US Air Force, Italian Air Force, 4° Stormo, 6° Stormo, 23° Gruppo, Internet.

Is the F-35 stealth jet so advanced that it can be flown using one hand only? Picture raise question

Do you remember HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick)?

Ok, forget it.

As the following  Lockheed Martin picture shows, the F-35B, the (most costly) Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, is not only pretty easy to fly as I witnessed in a ride on board the JSF Cockpit Demo, but it embodies so much advanced technology to be flown by the pilot with only one hand (resting his left one).

Obviously I’m kidding.

Indeed the above picture depicts Marine Corps Maj. Richard Rusnok on board the second F-35B test aircraft “BF-4” as he returns to land aboard USS Wasp on Oct.6, 2011, during STOVL ship suitability testing aboard the land amphibious assault ship off the coast of Virginia. He’s simply resting his left arm on the canopy edge. As someone commented, at least this shows that the F-35 cockpit is quite comfortable!

However a funny image about the F-35 (especially after publishing the famous “F-35 Garbage” picture that someone saw as disrespectful….?!) gives me the opportunity to talk about a standard feature of all the most recent generations of fighters.

Hands On Throttle And Stick is the concept according to which all the vital switches and buttons a combat pilot needs to access the radar functions, the weapon control and flight managent systems, the attack and identification systems, the radio and navigation equipment, etc, are placed on the flight control stick and engine throttle, allowing him/her to give inputs to the onboard computers without having to remove a hand from the flight controls.

Coupled with a JHMCS (joint helmet-mounted cueing system), HOTAS enables the pilot to perform a high-G turn while using the throttle to obtain the desired thrust and switch from the air-to-ground to the air-to-air mode (and vice versa) and cue onboard weapons against enemy aircraft or ground vehicles merely by pointing his head at the target to guide the weapons.

Some aircraft as the Typhoon, use the DVI (Direct Voice Input) creating an integrated system dubbed VTAS (Voice Throttle And Stick). In VTAS cockpits, voice can be used to control some non-critical systems reducing pilot workload and removing the need for him to look down at any of the MFD (Multi-Function Displays).

DVI is affected by in-flight environment noise and has to cope with quick voice level variability under high-G stress, different types of microphones with different frequency responses, and also different type of English (English spoken by an American or British pilot is sensibly different from the one of a Spanish or Italian one). So far, I’ve never heard of VTAS being effectively used in combat, but most probably, DVI will be extensively used in the next years and even the F-35 should have a speech recognition system in the future.

Naturally, there are some phases of the flight that don’t require the pilot to keep the hands on the flight controls. Sometimes pilots leave the control stick free although its position is not kept by the autopilot.

For instance, during catapult launches from aircraft carriers, after rudders have been deflected for take off, F-18 pilots are required to hang on a handle on the cockpit mount in order to prevent the quick acceleration inducing some involuntary movement on the flight control stick.