Published on 8 Feb 2016
Zeppelins pioneered the skyways, could fly long distances and reached heights like none of the British fighter-interceptor aircraft before. Because of that, they were used for scouting and tactical bombing early in the First World War. In this special episode we introduce these majestic floating whales and their usage in WW1.
February 9, 2016
January 24, 2016
Last month, Save the Royal Navy looked at the aircraft that will fly off the decks of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales:
The SDSR stated that 42 F35-B Lightning aircraft will be delivered by 2023. These 42 aircraft form the carrier’s main armament. A foolish political fudge has given the RAF control of the Lightnings, to be jointly manned and operated with the RN. For Government, this conveniently boosts the RAF’s ORBAT while allowing the same aircraft to be counted again as part of the carrier’s equipment. Although the RAF may not like it, the needs of the carriers will have to dictate their operation. There is simply no place for the “part time carrier aviator” The aircrew need as much time at sea as possible to develop their own skills, the skills of aircraft handlers, the ship’s company and the fleet as a whole. Like all RN vessels the carriers will operate at a demanding operational tempo and need aircraft embarked for much of the time. Any RAF inclination to use the aircraft in the land-based deep strike role will have to be second priority.
The initial 42 Lightnings will be split between 2 frontline squadrons. 809 Naval Air Squadron and RAF 617 Squadron with around 15-20 aircraft each, building up to the full strength of 24 per squadron. There will also be a requirement for at least 5 aircraft to form an OCU (Operational Conversion Unit for training). An OEU (Operational Evaluation Unit for testing and trials) will also require a few aircraft. Allowing for a sustainment fleet of aircraft in deep maintenance etc, then it is clear that many more than 42 aircraft are needed to form just 2 full-strength squadrons. Between 2010 and 2014 the received wisdom was that the UK would only ever purchase a maximum of 48 F35-B but the SDSR announced a planned eventual purchase of as many as 138. This is good news which should give some strength-in-depth, potentially providing 2 more squadrons. Both the RN and the RAF should be able to fulfil their ambitions for the Lighting. Whether the RAF will push for a purchase of the conventional F35-A which would not be compatible with the carrier, but has slightly better range and performance than the VSTOL variant is a discussion for the future.
Of course the caveat to all this good news is the actual performance of the F35. There are armies of armchair F-35 critics and many of their concerns are valid. Although it may prove to be a poor “within visual range” fighter, its networking, sensors, stealth and strike capabilities will be a giant advance over any previous UK military aircraft. Furthermore the RN has a fine track record of taking equipment with many apparent deficiencies and turning them into a great success. (Fairy Swordfish anyone?)
On the other hand, Ben Ho Wan Beng argues that the carriers will not actually be able to project much power:
A tactical combat aircraft complement of 12, or even 15-20, is rather small for traditional carrier operations, especially force-projection ones that are likely to predominate considering the SDSR’s expeditionary-warfare slant. Indeed, it is worth considering the fact that the two British small-deck carriers involved in the Falklands War carried 20-odd Harrier jump jets each, and they were about three times smaller than the Queen Elizabeth-class ships.
In fact, each new carrier might even be operating with a much fighter complement fewer than 15-20 in the years leading up to 2023, giving lie to the phrase “in force” used by George Osborne when he spoke of equipping the carriers with significant airpower.
In any case, the small fighter constituent means that if the Queen Elizabeth carrier were to get involved in a conflict with an adversary with credible anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, the vessel would be hard-pressed to protect itself, let alone project power. With a displacement of over 70,000 tons and costing over three billion pounds each, the new British carriers will be the crown jewels of the Royal Navy; indeed, HMS Queen Elizabeth is slated to be the RN’s flagship when she comes into service. The protection of the ship would hence be of paramount importance in an era that has witnessed the proliferation of A2/AD capabilities even to developing nations. Hence for a Queen Elizabeth carrying 20 or less Lightnings in such circumstances, it remains to be seen just how many of the aircraft will be earmarked for different duties.
Should a F-35B air group of that size put to sea, at least half of them will be assigned to the Combat Air Patrol (CAP), leaving barely 10 for offensive duties. It is worth noting that of the 42 Harrier VSTOL jets deployed on HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible during the Falklands War, 28 of them – a substantial two-thirds – had CAP as their primary duty. It is also telling that of the 1,300-odd sorties flown in all by the Harriers, about 83 per cent of them were for CAP.
Faced with modern A2/AD systems such as stand-off anti-ship missiles, how likely then would the carrier task force commander devote more resources to offense and risk having a vessel named after British royalty attacked and hit? Having said that, having too many planes for defense strengthens the argument made by various carrier critics that the ship is a “self-licking ice cream cone,” in other words, an entity that exists solely to sustain itself.
The task force commander would thus be caught between a rock and a hard place. Allocate more F-35Bs to strike missions and the susceptibility of the task force to aerial threats increase. Conversely, set aside more aircraft for the CAP and its mother ship’s ability to project power decreases. All in all, with a significantly understrength F-35B air wing, the Queen Elizabeth flat-top would be operating under severe constraints, making it incapable of the traditional carrier operations it could have carried out with a larger tactical aircraft complement. Indeed, one naval commentator is right on the mark when he argues that two squadrons with a total of 24 aircraft should be a “sensible minimum standard” for each carrier.
November 26, 2015
Tom Kratman looks at what is known about the Turkish military’s attack on a Russian aircraft earlier this week:
Firstly, my condolences on the recent murder of your two pilots. While one might argue that shooting descending parachutists (as opposed to paratroopers) would be permissible in some circumstances, as when there is no reasonable possibility of capture, in this case there was such a possibility. Obviously, you’ll want revenge. I – and I think most Americans, at least such as are not in favor of a large and viciously fundamentalist Islamic state in the Middle East – understand and, generally speaking, approve of things like that, where called for. The situation, however, is more complex than that. Because of that complexity, I strongly encourage you to dispense with emotion, to the utmost of your ability, and reason carefully before acting.
I can’t offer condolences on the initial shoot down of your Sukhoi-24, because I really don’t know what happened. If it drifted into Turkish airspace, and the Turks shot it down, even if they pursued it out of Turkish airspace…well, you’re in an unenviable moral position to complain about any of that, given the conduct your predecessor in interest, the USSR, with regard to KAL 007. If, however, it never violated Turkish airspace, and the Turks crossed over to attack it, you may well have a casus belli against Turkey.
If the Turks are offering war I strongly advise you to decline the invitation. They are very nearly a peer competitor, having similarly sized armed forces, quite possibly better trained, an economy almost as strong as your own, and likely rather stronger when you count out export of raw materials. They’re not as technologically sophisticated as you are, but they have friends who are more so. And you just wouldn’t believe the long-standing love affair between the US Army and the Turkish Army, based on their performance in Korea in the early fifties.
A little aside is in order at this point. I’m not really so concerned about the incident that just took place, with one of your planes shot down by the Turks, and the ejected pilots murdered on the way down. What’s really bugging me is the almost instantaneous assumption of people over here that this was the first set of shots in World War V, World War III having been the Cold War, and World War IV the on-again, off-again, fiasco with the Islamics. On its own, this should not be capable of doing that. Add in paranoia, self-fulfilling prophecy, idiotic foreign policy on many fronts, from many fonts, a fairly inscrutable Turkey…I’m a little concerned that things might spiral out of control.
Earlier in this missive I said I don’t know what happened. Nonetheless, here’s what I think happened. I think that Sukhoi was on a strike mission against the Turkmen Brigades in Syria. I think you’ve been occasionally bombing the crap out of the Turkmen Brigades in Syria for a while now. That would tend to explain the vindictiveness of the folks on the ground who shot at your descending pilots. I think because of that bombing, the Turks, or at least one of the Turks, north of the border decided to help his or their close cousins in Syria. I think it made not a bit of difference whether or not you crossed the border; the Turks wanted to set an example and instill a little fear and friction on you, so would have crossed themselves even if you hadn’t. I suspect the order to do this came from the highest levels in Turkey, probably Erdogan, himself.
No, that doesn’t mean that whipping out the Polonium 210 dispensers would be a good idea.
November 22, 2015
Published on 21 Nov 2015
Indy sits int he chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This time we are explaining the secret to the German success on the Eastern Front in 1915, who Eugene Bullard was and how pilots would navigate.
November 2, 2015
Elizabeth and I spent the weekend in the Bay of Quinte area, visiting Prince Edward County, Belleville, and Trenton. While we were in Trenton, we stopped in at the National Air Force Museum of Canada. While the Sea King may not be in the collection yet (at least, not in the collection visible to the public), many other Canadian Armed Forces aircraft are, including the prize of the museum, the Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber:
It’s a big enough aircraft that it’s hard to do it justice in a photograph.
This particular restored aircraft was shot down late in the war on a mission to deliver supplies to Norwegian resistance fighters and later recovered from a Norwegian lake.
Other aircraft in the collection include a replica of the Silver Dart, the first powered aircraft to fly in Canada (February 23, 1909), a replica of the Burgess-Dunne floatplane, the first aircraft purchased for the Canadian military (September, 1914), a CF-86 Sabre, a CF-100 Canuck, a CF-5 Freedom Fighter, a CF-104 Starfighter, a CF-101 Voodoo, a CF-18 Hornet, a CP-107 Argus, a CC-130 Hercules, and a CP-102 Tracker among other aircraft.
August 16, 2015
Ashley Pomeroy attended the Yeovilton Air Day event, one of the last flying events for the last of the Vulcans. She took along her camera to capture some rather interesting images:
Off to the Yeovilton Air Day, with an infrared camera and a bottle of pop. This year the Avro Vulcan retires for the third and final time. Like Lazarus, it was raised from the dead; and like Lazarus it is fated to die again, this time forever.
The Vulcan entered service in the 1950s. Its original mission was to incinerate Russians – tens of thousands of them – with our nuclear bombs. In practice this never came to pass, and the only people incinerated by Vulcans were Argentine ground crew, six of them, during the Falklands War of 1982. The Vulcan was retired from service almost immediately afterwards. It remained in flight as a display aircraft until 1993, at which point the expense of keeping a jet bomber in the air became too great.
What’s it like to see a Vulcan dancing in the sky? In an airshow context the experience is somewhat muted, because regulations prevent it from flying overhead. The pilot can only make long passes parallel with the crowd line plus some wingovers. The Vulcan’s low wing loading gave it superb high-altitude performance – I imagine that the likes of the F-86 or MiG-15 would have found it an incredibly hard gun target – but this doesn’t help at an airshow. Nonetheless, when the pilot gunned the engines it was like being punched in the chest, and I could feel a collective grin from the crowd, although I was too far from the car park to hear the car alarms going off.
August 7, 2015
Published on 6 Aug 2015
After the Russian defeats on the Eastern Front, Warsaw falls. The first time in over 100 years a foreign power occupies the city. The German onslaught in the East seems to be unstoppable. Also on the Western Front the Germans are causing havoc with the new Fokker-Eindecker planes which start the so called Fokker Scourge. The British pilots even start to call their airplanes Fokker-Fodder. At the same time, the battle in Gallipoli continues with ever more troops landing while neither the Ottomans nor the ANZAC troops can gain any advantage.
July 19, 2015
Visit a British air show before September and it’s possible you’ll get the opportunity to witness the last Vulcan bomber in flight — and this is definitely the last year you’ll get the chance, this time.
Alongside the staple leather-clad wing-walking ladies, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, simulated Apache attack-chopper scenarios and Red Arrows displays, you may find XH558 — now owned and flown by charity Vulcan to the Sky Trust, funded by charitable donations and Lottery cash.
The Vulcan holds a very special place in the hearts of many, not just for that unmistakable shape but because it functioned as a basic but wholly British nuclear deterrent early on in the Cold War.
Such was its frontline status and iconic image, the Vulcan was used by James Bond scriptwriters and given generous screen time in Thunderball (1965) — in which the V-bomber is hijacked by SPECTRE resulting in the loss of two nukes, which Commander Bond must then retrieve.
In the real world the Vulcan’s only combat action came in 1982, as part of the Falklands War. The “Black Buck” raids in which Vulcans — supported by a large fleet of aerial tankers — travelled all the way from Ascension Island to attack the Falklands held the longest-distance combat bombing record for nine years until the USAF took the top spot with B-52 raids in the 1991 Gulf War.
Standing as I did at the Cosford Airshow — one of those last displays — just few hundred yards from XH558, with its engines running at full tilt, you knew it was something special. The ground shook and your stomach throbbed as this mighty aircraft passed overhead.
To understand the reasoning behind the creation of the Vulcan you need to know the backstory about the freezing of the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US after World War II. When the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war entered its final phase. Unfortunately, so did the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US.
The US, wanting to keep all the nuclear toys for itself, passed the McMahon Act — officially the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 — forbidding the transfer of nuclear knowledge or technology to any country, even those former allies (Britain and Canada) that helped develop the bombs which had been dropped on Japan.
July 3, 2015
… an air force has significantly under-reported the number of planes downed by one of its aces:
On June 26, the RCAF/Canadian Forces issued a news release stating that the new complex for the RCAF’s Chinooks at Petawawa will be named in honour of First World War flying ace Major Andrew McKeever of Ontario.
“Major McKeever was the epitome of what it means to serve one’s country, with an impressive 17 aerial victories to his name in the First World War,” stated Defence Minister Jason Kenney.
The RCAF news release also credited McKeever with 17 kills.
In addition, Kenney tweeted the details of the news release.
Defence Watch later cited the CF news release.
But a sharp-eyed Defence Watch reader pointed out that the Canadian Forces news release contained a major error.
McKeever had significantly more than 17 kills.
Nearly twice that number, actually. (But you can pick pretty much any number from 18 to 41 and be correct by at least one of the competing “standards”.)
June 1, 2015
Published on 26 Feb 2015
Created in 1965, 1400 Zulu is a classic British propaganda and recruiting film that profiles the Royal Navy’s operations around the world: from the Caribbean to Aden to the Suez Canal and beyond. It’s a job that involves hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of men both above, on and below the water of all the world’s oceans. The film shows some of the newest weapons in the RN’s arsenal including nuclear submarines, missile systems and the Guided Missile Destroyer HMS Hampshire, Harrier Jump Jets and carrier-based Buccaneers, and helicopters. The Royal Marines including frogmen are shown performing maneuvers, and various military exercises are shown and activities demonstrated.
HMS Hampshire was a County-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. Laid down, in March 1959 a couple of weeks behind the class leader Devonshire, she was classified as a guided missile destroyer, as the Sea Lords regarded the concept of the cruiser and big gun ship as discredited by the perceived failure of the Tiger class and the obsolescence of the heavy gun. The description of guided missile destroyer seemed more likely to win approval from the Treasury and Government for an adequate number of warships the size of small cruisers which could play many traditional cruiser flagship and command functions but had armour around neither its gun or missile magazine.
The Blackburn Buccaneer originated in the early 1950s as a design for a carrier-borne attack aircraft able to carry a nuclear bomb below radar coverage. It was a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft that served with the Royal Navy (RN) and later the Royal Air Force (RAF), retiring from service in 1994. Designed and initially produced by Blackburn Aircraft at Brough, it was later known as the Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer when Blackburn became a part of the Hawker Siddeley group.
The Royal Navy originally procured the Buccaneer as a naval strike aircraft capable of operating from their aircraft carriers, introducing the type to service in 1962 to counterbalance advances made in the Soviet Navy. The Buccaneer was capable of delivering nuclear weapons as well as conventional munitions for anti-shipping warfare, and was typically active in the North Sea area during its service. Early on the initial production aircraft suffered a series of accidents due to insufficient engine power, thus the Buccaneer S.2, equipped with more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engines, was soon introduced.
Although they originally rejected it in favour of the supersonic BAC TSR-2, the RAF later procured the Buccaneer as a substitute following the cancellation of both the TSR-2 and its planned replacement, the F-111K. When the RN retired the last of its large aircraft carriers, its Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF. The South African Air Force also procured the type. Buccaneers saw combat action in the Gulf War and the South African Border War. In RN service, the Buccaneer was replaced with the V/STOL British Aerospace Sea Harrier. In RAF service, they were replaced by the Panavia Tornado.
H/T to @NavyLookout for the link.
May 21, 2015
At The Register, Lester Haines explains why the trust that operates XH558 is having to ground the aircraft permanently:
The Vulcan To The Sky Trust has announced “with considerable sadness” that this summer will be the public’s last chance to catch Avro Vulcan XH558 thundering through British skies, as the legendary V-bomber will be permanently grounded at the end of this flying season.
The trust explains that the axe will fall because “three expert companies on whom we depend – known as the ‘technical authorities’ – have together decided to cease their support at the end of this flying season”.
At the heart of their decision are two factors. First, although we are all confident that XH558 is currently as safe as any aircraft flying today, her structure and systems are already more than ten percent beyond the flying hours of any other Vulcan, so knowing where to look for any possible failure is becoming more difficult. These can be thought of as the ‘unknown unknown’ issues, which can be impossible to predict with any accuracy. Second, maintaining her superb safety record requires expertise that is increasingly difficult to find.
Keeping XH558 in the air has been an epic undertaking, and not without wing-and-a-prayer moments involving last-minute injections of cash.
May 12, 2015
Published on 11 May 2015
World War 1 saw several completely new technologies develop rapidly. The airplane itself was only a few years old but pioneering engineers soon saw its potential for military use. For recognisance and later as fighter or bomber, World War 1 had huge impact on aviation and warfare in general. This special episode gives you an idea about the obstacles that had to be overcome.
April 20, 2015
David Warren casts his thoughts into the air, but a hundred years ago the Wright Brothers’ lawyers would have been doing their legal damnedest to bring him back down to earth in a hurry:
Work on powered, controlled flight in the United States was far behind that in France, or England, but fell farther behind thanks to the Wright brothers. Fixated on the problem of converting invention into wealth, they pursued rival aviators around the USA with teams of lawyers. Their numerous, voluminous, cumbersome lawsuits were based on often fanciful patent claims, emerging from their own intensely secretive research.
One thinks for instance of the great aviator, Louis Paulhan (first to fly London to Manchester), who arrived with two Blériot monoplanes and two Farman biplanes to give flying demonstrations across the USA. Amazed at the workings of the American judicial system, but ignoring legal injunctions to prevent them from flying their machines, they took every prize at the Los Angeles Air Meet in January 1910, setting new records for altitude and endurance.
The Wrights were present, there as elsewhere, though never competing. They and their gaggle of lawyers followed Paulhan and the other foreigners around the country, serving them with process papers, and demanding unbelievably huge sums to call off their dogs, in vile and obvious attempts at extortion. And then they’d hit the local impresarios with additional suits to impound all the cash from ticket sales, &c. Truly: vicious and contemptible men.
To avoid fines or imprisonment in backwoods American jurisdictions, the visitors took to giving their demonstrations entirely for free, but still the lawsuits kept coming. Finally they gave up and went home.
And there’s even a maple-flavoured sidelight in the story:
Part of the reason for Canada’s early advances in aviation (first flight of the Silver Dart at Baddeck in Cape Breton, with its ingenious ailerons, &c) was the migration of American inventors, such as the brilliant motor-mechanic Glenn Curtiss, to safe territory away from the corrupt and unpredictable U.S. courts.
This, I suspect, was among the reasons that the spectacularly inventive Scotchman, Alexander Graham Bell, re-located from his grand mansion in Washington, DC. At first he went north, back to Canada (where he had settled before), only for the summers; but soon he was staying through the winters, too. Not only in flight, but in all the many other areas of his pioneering work (he invented the telephone, &c), he was afflicted with lawsuits from American cranks, with those dollar signs twirling in their eyes and the slick lawyers lining up behind them, ready to exploit a patent regime wide open to political manipulation. For apart from the beauty of the Bras d’Or landscape, Bell was back under the protection of British Common Law.
April 13, 2015
From the RCAF CF-18 Demo Team page:
The CF-18 Demonstration Team will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain — and the courageous airmen that Prime Minister Winston Churchill dubbed the “few” — during its 2015 show season.
The special design of the demo Hornet, reflecting this theme, will be unveiled at a later date.
The summer of 1940 was a dark time for the Allies. With shocking rapidity, Adolf Hitler’s forces had overrun most of Europe. By mid-June, Allied forces had been pushed off the continent and Nazi forces were at the English Channel, preparing to invade England.
“The Battle of France is over,” said British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”
Hitler directed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) — including Canadians and members of other Commonwealth air forces fighting with or as part of the RAF — be eliminated to allow the invasion to take place. The air battle began on July 10, with Nazi attacks on British convoys, ports and coastal radar stations. One of the most savage days was August 13. A few days later Churchill praised the brave airmen in words that have echoed through the decades: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
On September 15, the Germans launched a massive attack but, although the fighting was fierce, the RAF, using new tactics, was victorious. Two days later, Hitler postponed the invasion; he never again considered it seriously.
By the end of September, the Battle of Britain was over. It was the first military confrontation won by air power and Germany’s first defeat of the Second World War. More than 2,300 pilots and aircrew from Great Britain and nearly 600 from other nations participated in the Battle.
Of these, 544 lost their lives, including 23 Canadians. More than 100 Canadians flew in the battle, principally as members of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) No. 1 Squadron (later renamed 401 Squadron) and the RAF’s 242 “All Canadian” Squadron. An estimated 300 Canadians served as groundcrew.
It is a great honour for the RCAF and the 2015 CF-18 Demonstration Team to commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of those brave Canadian aircrew and groundcrew who stood up to tyranny and left their mark on history.
March 12, 2015
I’ve called it the only truly Canadian conspiracy theory … I’ve also described it as “artisanal Canadian myth-making, hand-woven, fair-trade, and 100% organic” … it’s the revenge of the return of the son of the Avro Arrow cancellation! At Aviation Week, Bill Sweetman looks back on the technical achievements and eventual disappointment that was the Avro Arrow project:
The cancellation of the Avro Canada CF-105 interceptor in February 1959 was a traumatic event for Canada’s emerging aerospace industry. When Aviation Week reported on the fighter’s rollout, in October 1957, the magazine called it “a serious contender for the top military aircraft of the next several years”. High praise indeed, for a non-U.S. aircraft, given that the XB-58 supersonic bomber was in flight test and that new aircraft in the works included the A-5 Vigilante and the F-4 Phantom.
But the Arrow was extraordinary, and more so, given that the industry that produced it was less than a decade old when the prototype contract was issued in March 1955. Avro Canada had been formed by Britain’s Hawker Siddeley Group after World War 2 and had quickly produced the CF-100 interceptor, the C-102 jet airliner (the world’s second to fly), and the CF-100’s Orenda engine, which was also fitted to Canadian-built Sabre fighters.
The performance requirements meant that almost everything on the airplane had to be invented. No existing engine would do the job, so Avro spun off a new Orenda Engines subsidiary to produce the Iroquois, the most powerful supersonic engine of the 1950s. The airframe took Canada into the world of integrally machined skins, and both airframe and engine used titanium. The CF-105 was the first aircraft to use 4,000 psi hydraulics. Canada enlisted Hughes for help with the radar and missiles, but the radar was new and the missile was the active-homing Sparrow II. Management was a huge challenge, both because the aircraft was complex (the second-biggest Mach 2 airplane anywhere) and because of the program’s sheer size: at its peak, Avro Canada was the nation’s third-largest company and in the world Top 100.