Published on 31 Mar 2017
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April 13, 2017
April 12, 2017
On December 8, 1979 two Zairean air-force jets approached the airport in Kinshasa, the capital what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tower radioed the pilots, telling them they couldn’t land; the air-traffic controllers were concerned about low visibility.
But when the pilots were told that they “couldn’t land,” they didn’t think, “I can’t land right now,” they thought, “I can’t land, ever.” So they ejected from their planes, letting two perfectly good Mirage jets crash into the Atlantic Ocean.
These men weren’t fools. Idiots don’t fly jets. It’s just that, for an instant, they were thinking according to an entirely different set of rules about how life works. “Can’t” means “never, ever, possible” according to these rules — not “wait an hour,” or “find a different runway.” And so they hit the eject button.
Longtime readers may recall I got this story from a great book, David Lamb’s The Africans. Lamb went on to observe that many Africans have a slightly different interpretation of cause and effect. In the West, the lesson the average person would take from a near-fatal car crash at high speeds on a hairpin turn would be “Man, that was close. I better not try that again.” But in Africa, Lamb writes, “if an oncoming car has to swerve off the road to avoid his vehicle, and there are no collisions or injuries, the African does not say, ‘Next time I’d better not do that.’”
I’ve heard similar stories about drivers throughout the developing world, particularly in Latin America, where traffic accidents and fatalities are much higher than in more advanced nations — even though the rate of car ownership is much lower.
Jonah Goldberg, “Is Trump Really the Anti-PC Warrior His Fans Make Him Out to Be?”, National Review, 2015-08-15.
April 7, 2017
At The Register, the story of Dr Peter Brueggemann’s quest to build a close replica of the kind of WW1 aircraft made famous by the Red Baron:
A German orthopaedic surgeon in Norfolk has spent £70,000 building himself a flyable full-size replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane.
Dr Peter Brueggemann built the First World War-era aircraft by hand – even though when he started he couldn’t fly, as ITV News reported.
The bright red Fokker Dreidecker I (German for “three-decker”, or triplane) was built to a set of technical drawings prepared by an American aviation fanatic in the 1970s. No original Dr.Is exist, though a number of replicas have been put together during the 20th century.
Dr Brueggemann even acquired the title of baron from the Principality of Sealand, ready for when his Fokker makes its planned first flight this summer.
He told the telly station: “Being a surgeon has certainly helped and I have used surgical equipment like needles and forceps when stitching materials to the ribs of the plane.”
Fokker copied the original Dr.I design from British company Sopwith. During the early stages of air fighting in WWI, rate of climb was deemed vitally important. As aeronautical science was still in its infancy – aircraft were built from plywood and canvas, while the relatively primitive rotary engines of the day were only capable of around 110hp – the easiest way of increasing the amount of lift available was to add more wings.
First seeing action in early 1917, the Sopwith Triplane was an instant success. However, a captured example shown to Anthony Fokker, prompting German development of their own version. The first pre-production Dr.I was issued to a frontline unit in August 1917 and proved an instant hit. German fighter squadron commander Manfred von Richthofen recommended the Dr.1 be issued to as many frontline units as possible.
February 21, 2017
The Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier is scheduled to be brought into commission in May this year:
The first new Royal Navy aircraft carrier in thirty years is nearing sea trials. After a brief absence from the world of fixed-wing naval aviation the Royal Navy’s brand new flattop HMS Queen Elizabeth and its sister ship, Prince of Wales, will soon sail the seas, their decks full of new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The result will be the most powerful “Senior Service” in generations.
The Royal Navy was one of the first naval warfare forces to explore the nascent world of naval aviation. HMS Argus, commissioned in September 1918, was arguably the first aircraft carrier with a full-length flight deck. The UK was one of the major aircraft carrier powers throughout World War II, and continued to operate carriers in the postwar period.
By 1982, the Royal Navy had committed to building three Invincible-class carriers. Somewhat scaled back from earlier ships, and dwarfed by the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, the Invincible class was more suited to antisubmarine warfare duties against the Soviet Navy, keeping the sea lines of communication between North America and Europe clear in the event of World War III. The Invincibles could sail with a complement of up to twenty-two aircraft, typically a mixture of Sea Harrier fighters and Sea King helicopters.
The 1982 Falklands War demonstrated the shortcomings of relying upon such small carriers. HMS Invincible, along with the older HMS Hermes, struggled to provide early warning and combat air patrol over the UK task force sent to reclaim the islands, and were unable to prevent Argentine air power from sinking six friendly warships and supply ships and damaging another nine.
In 2007, despite the general downturn in the size and scope of the navy, plans were announced in 2007 to construct two brand-new aircraft carriers. Each would be stocked with brand-new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and helicopters, and would be up more than three times larger than their predecessors by displacement. The carriers, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, would be the largest warships ever built by the UK, bigger even than the World War II battleship HMS Vanguard.
Unfortunately, in order to free up funding for the new carriers the older ships had to be retired, and decommissioning of the Invincible class carriers and their Sea Harrier jets during the 2010s was a huge blow to the Fleet Air Arm. The three warships were broken up for scrap, and the remaining Harrier jets, which by now included RAF Harriers, were purchased by the U.S. Marines to provide spare parts for their own fleet of AV-8B Harriers.
January 5, 2017
Ted Campbell briefly outlines the three tiers of military logistics then discusses the most controversial tier, the national industrial base, in more detail:
Behind it all, unseen, misunderstood, unloved and, in fact, often actively disliked is the national defence industrial base.
There are a great many people, including many in uniform, who object to the cost ~ fiscal and political ~ of having a defence industrial base. Many people suggest that a free and open market should be sufficient to equip all friendly, and the neutral and even some not so friendly military forces.
They forget, first of all, that the defence industries of e.g. America, Britain, France, Germany and Israel are ALL heavily supported by their government and, equally, heavily regulated. It is not clear that we will always be in full political accord with those upon whom we rely for military hardware? What if one country wanted, just for example, to gain an advantage in a trade negotiation? Do you think they might not “decide” that since the government (a minister of the crown) has threatened to use military force against First Nations who protest against pipelines that they will not sell us certain much needed military hardware or licence its use in Canada?
It is always troubling when we see the costs of military hardware increase at double or even triple the general rate of inflation for, say, cars or TV sets or food and heating fuel, but that is not the fault of the Canadian defence industries … it is, in fact, the “fault” of too little competition in the global defence industry market: too few Australian, Brazilian Canadian and Danish defence producers, too many aerospace and defence contractors merged into too few conglomerates that control too much of the market. A robust Canadian defence industrial base, supported by extensive government R&D programmes and by a steady stream of Canadian contracts would help Canada and our allies.
I am opposed to government supported featherbedding by Canadian unions and companies but we do need to pay some price for having a functioning defence industrial base … the costs of our new warships, for example, are, without a doubt, higher than they would be if we had bought equivalent ships from certain foreign yards, but we need to be willing to pay some price for having Canadians yards that are ready and able to build modern warships when needed; ditto for aircraft, armoured vehicles, radio and electronics, rifles and machine guns, cargo trucks and boots and bullets and beans, too. AND, we need a government that will, aggressively, support that defence industrial base with well funded R&D programmes and by “selling” Canadian made military equipment around the world.
It’s one thing to accept that you’ll need to pay a premium over market cost for built-in-Canada equipment that can’t also be sold to other customers. What is disturbing is discovering that the premium can be up to 100% of the cost for equivalent non-domestic items. For example, this was reported in a CBC article in 2014:
Britain, for example, opted to build its four new naval supply ships much more cheaply, at the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea. The contract is for roughly $1.1 billion Cdn. That’s for all four. By contrast, Canada plans to build just two ships, in Vancouver, for $1.3 billion each. So Canada’s ships will be roughly five times more costly than the British ones.
But there’s a twist. Canada’s supply ships will also carry less fuel and other supplies, because they’ll be smaller — about 20,000 tonnes. The U.K. ships are nearly twice as big — 37,000 tonnes. Canadians will lay out a lot more cash for a lot less ship.
Everything is more expensive to build domestically if you don’t already have a competitive market for that item. The federal government’s long-standing habit of drawing out the procurement process makes the situation worse, as the costs increase over time (but the budget generally does not), so we end up with fewer ships, planes, tanks or other military hardware items that arrive much later than originally planned.
December 15, 2016
Robert Beckhusen on the ongoing attempt to bring a long-ago crashed de Havilland Mosquito back to life:
The de Havilland Mosquito was arguably the best British plane of World War II, the war’s most effective fighter-bomber and one of the most versatile military planes ever built. That’s why it’s strange so few of the wooden, twin-engine machines appear at air shows.
There are currently only three airworthy Mosquitos in the world.
A group of British engineers are trying to change that by bringing a Mosquito back from the dead. Since 2012, the U.K.-based People’s Mosquito project has raised funds and begun working to restore an ex-Royal Air Force Mosquito which crashed in 1949, was buried and then recovered 61 years later.
“A much beloved friend of ours, and our patron, Capt. Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, once said that three British aircraft were preeminent in World War II,” Ross Sharp, the People’s Mosquito’s director of engineering told War Is Boring. “One was the Spitfire, the other was the Lancaster and the third was the Mosquito, and if you had to rank them, you’d put the Mosquito first.”
“That was due, I think, because it performed so many roles and performed them superbly.”
On Feb. 14, 1949, the NF.36 fighter RL249 suffered failures in both engines after takeoff and crashed near RAF Coltishall in Norfolk. Sgt. W.B. Kirby, the plane’s navigator, later died from his injuries. RL249’s remains were recovered in 2010, but the pieces are almost entirely unusable.
Instead, the People’s Mosquito team is building — largely from scratch — a Mosquito FB.VI variant, a highly-configurable fighter-bomber. The plane will thus be a “data plate restoration,” meaning the airframe, wings and engines will be fresh, but it will also contain some non-structural bits from the original RL249.
The original Mosquitos did not contain data plates. But that’s not necessary for the team to get the finished aircraft certified as a restoration.
“Providing you possess everything that is left of that aircraft, legally you are in possession of what our civil aviation authorities call ‘the mortal remains’ — that’s the technical term — and you can then restore it,” Sharp said.
“It’s going to be mostly new parts, of course, which in a predominantly wooden aircraft like the Mosquito is vital.”
November 27, 2016
Published on 26 Nov 2016
Another exciting episode of Out of the trenches this time featuring questions about German anti tank tactics, night combat, the detection of enemy aircraft prior to radar and more.
September 11, 2016
Published on 10 Sep 2016
It’s time for the chair of wisdom again and of course Indy answering your questions about World War 1.
May 27, 2016
Published on 26 May 2016
The age of the solitary flying Ace is coming to end this week as the French are demonstrating what an Air Force can do. Equipped with Nieuport 11 fighters, they give the Germans a hard time above Verdun. On the ground, the Germans still obliterate whole battalions with their artillery but cannot gain any ground themselves. The Austrian offensive in Italy is still advancing and Luigi Cadorna is quickly scraping together troops for a defence.
April 8, 2016
Published on 7 Apr 2016
As the other fronts are relatively quiet, the war is taken to the air. Zeppelins bombard Britain, the Italian and Austro-Hungarian air forces were fighting on the Italian Front and Greece was bombarded. The British and Greek civilians were now too casualties of this war with no end in sight. Though the Kaiser thinks the decision will be made at Verdun in the near future.
February 9, 2016
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.
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.