Short Stirling Mk.III vs. Piaggio P.108B Bombardiere

Piaggio P.108B Short Stirling

The bomber took prominence in the world’s air forces during the 1930s to the point where an air force’s strength was determined almost solely by how many bombers they could field above anything else. This spurred on bomber development often at the negligence of development of other combat aircraft and this was especially true in the RAF where at several points in the 1930s the fastest aircraft in the inventory actually belonged to Bomber Command. As the 1930s drew on, the limitations of the single and twin engine bombers then in service were becoming obvious while the expectations of what a bomber could do to win a war was growing without a solid basis in reality. Towards the end of the 1930s several aircraft designers the world over began work on developing new more powerful four engine bombers that offered to revolutionise air warfare. The four engine bomber had the potential to carry a heavier load over much greater distances and sufficient defensive armament to give the crew the ability to fight its way to bomb the enemy’s military and economic.

The RAF had used four-engine bombers as far back as 1918 with the extraordinary Handley-Page V/1500 but these aircraft had proven extremely complex to operate. Now the technology had matured making them more practical and one of the first four-engine “heavies” to emerge in the late 1930s was the Shorts S.29 Stirling. The Stirling heralded the start of a new generation of heavy bombers for the RAF that included the famed Avro Lancaster and the Handley-Page Halifax as well as several American designs.

short stirling iii a

Sadly, the Stirling is remembered as being the least successful of the three. Even before the first metal was cut in building the prototype the Stirling was already doomed thanks to pre-war thinking. The Stirling’s altitude performance was curtailed by a limit imposed on the aircraft’s wingspan by the Air Ministry, a decision that was dictated by the need for it to be housed in existing hangars. Another example of this pre-war thinking that would prove problematic for the entire RAF’s combat force was the need for the defensive armament to comprise of .303 (7.7mm) machine guns, the same calibre as the Army’s rifles, in order to ease the burden on the logistical chain. While the logic behind both these decisions is obvious, both caused problems for the Stirling when it came to defending itself against enemy fighter attack (while RAF fighters adopted 20mm cannons, Bomber Command’s aircraft carried on firing .303 rounds until the end of the war).

Despite these shortcomings the Stirling still offered a dramatic increase in performance over existing twin engine “medium” bombers such as the Bristol Blenheim and the Handley-Page Hampden. While it may not have done as much as the Lancaster or Halifax to bring Nazi Germany to its knees the Stirling laid the ground work for its compatriots to follow up with. The Stirling first flew in May 1939, entering service a year later and after a brief combat career as a bomber the aircraft found its niche as a glider towing aircraft. A great many number of the troop- and supply-gliders launched on D-Day were towed by Stirlings and it is this mission which was perhaps its greatest contribution to the war effort.

In Europe the UK seemed to be almost the only nation that had a genuine interest in four engine strategic heavy bombers by the late 1930s with a solid plan in place to develop and build a force of them. Germany, for the time being at least, remained committed to their force of twin-engine “Blitz bombers” such as the Dornier Do.17, Heinkel He.111 and Junkers Ju.88. These were excellent designs of their breed being generally superior to similar British designs but were still limited to primarily supporting the Army having the range and warload to attack tactical targets ahead of the frontlines but were generally unsuited a strategic aerial warfare. The Germans expected war to come in around 1945 by which time they would have their own new four engine strategic bomber designs but Britain and France declaring war in 1939 in response to the invasion of Poland meant that those dreams would never be truly realised.

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The Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) did have a handful of four engine aircraft in service but they were never as prominent as the twin engine designs. The most well-known was the Focke-Wulf Fw200 Condor maritime (Right) patrol aircraft which Winston Churchill famously once referred to as the “Scourge of the Atlantic”. However, it would actually be Mussolini’s Italy that would take an early lead in developing a four engine strategic bomber for use against the Allies.

The Piaggio P.108 is little known outside of its home country but there were high hopes placed upon it when it was conceived by Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Casiraghi in the late 1930s. Casiraghi had been inspired by developments in the United States having spent several years working there and seeing the plans for future strategic bombers then in development most notably the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Upon returning home he began work on his own four engine bomber design and designed the Piaggio P.50; a large all-wood monoplane design with four engines mounted on two mounting brackets in a push/pull arrangement. First flying in 1937, the Italian government proved sceptical and no order was placed.

Piaggio P.108B 2Casiraghi returned to the drawing board and adapted the P.50 in to an all-metal design with the four engines spaced out along the wing in an all-tractor arrangement. Initially designated the P.50-II the changes became such that the finalised design was granted its own designation and the P.108 was born in 1938. The Italians weren’t satisfied with having just a bomber however and Casiraghi developed a number of variants for different uses. This resulted in four distinct variants;

  • 108A – Anti-ship variant
  • 108B – Bomber
  • 108C – Airliner
  • 108D – Military transport

In the end only the B and C models were ever built beyond the prototype stage and even then only in small numbers. The aircraft’s combat record was even less impressive than the Stirling’s despite the advantages it offered over other Italian bombers such as the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 and most of the P.108B bombers ended their days as transports but was it better or worse than the British aircraft?

As with all bomber comparisons this article will look at which aircraft could best carry out the strategic mission. It must be noted that the Stirling was never envisioned as operating in a day bomber role but the P.108B eventually adopted a night role because of the density of Allied fighter opposition during daylight hours.


 

POWERPLANT

Bristol HerculesThe Stirling was powered by four Bristol Hercules II 14-cylinder radial engines each of which produced a respectable 1,375hp. Because of the size of the pistons they were arranged in two rows rather than one row as in smaller engines. It was one of the first radial engines to feature a single-sleeve valve configuration which optimised intake and exhaust gas flow which allowed higher compression ratios. The engine was air-cooled which was advantageous for bomber operations since liquid cooled engines were more susceptible to being damaged by shrapnel but weren’t as powerful as later Merlin engines as fitted to the Lancaster which went some way to explaining the Stirling’s poor altitude performance.

Piaggio P.XIIThe P.108 was one of the few aircraft types of World War II to be powered by engines designed and built by the same company responsible for the airframe. The aircraft was powered by four Piaggio P.XII air-cooled 18-cylinder radial engines that generated an impressive 1,500hp at take-off. The engine achieved this figure by essentially being two French Gnome-Rhône 9K Mistral engines that Paiggio built under license as the P.X (confusingly the Gnome-Rhône 9K Mistral was itself a licensed version of the British Bristol Jupiter).

This coupling of two engines to produce a single more powerful unit reflects the state of Italian aero engine technology in the late 1930s/early 40s which was lacking behind British and German technology. This would ultimately lead to Italy acquiring German engines such as the Daimler-Benz DB 600 series for their fighters. In this instance the forcing together of the two engines in to one unit (which means the P.108 could technically be considered an eight-engine aircraft) resulted in shocking unreliability that resulted in the loss of several aircraft on operations when they were being used to their fullest. In January 1943, serviceability amongst the remaining aircraft dropped to just 2-3 machines forcing their withdrawal from operations.

PERFORMANCE

short stirling iii 3

The Stirling had a maximum range of 2,330 miles depending on the size of the bombload that was carried. Typically, the aircraft flew missions from the UK as far afield as Berlin in East Germany and Northern Italy necessitating a smaller warload (q.v.). The aircraft had a top speed of 282mph and its comparatively high power-to-weight ratio and thick wing made it one of the best handling of all the RAF’s four engine types. A major source of contrition as far as military planning was concerned regarding the Stirling was its low service ceiling especially when carrying a heavy bombload. The aircraft had a maximum (empty bomb bay) altitude of just 16,500ft – 17,000ft thanks in no small part to the relatively thick wings and short wingspan dictated by the pre-war decision to make the aircraft fit in existing hangars. This low service ceiling meant that the aircraft had to fly around the Alps instead of over them unlike the Lancasters and Halifaxes.

Piaggio P.108B 4

The potential the Piaggio P.108B offered the Axis powers was obvious despite the hindrance of the unreliable P.XII engines. The aircraft’s maximum range was only marginally inferior to the Stirling but compared to other common Axis types such as the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 (1,600 miles) and the German Heinkel He.111 (1,429 miles) it was superior with range being in the region of 2,187 miles. The P.108B had quite an impressive service ceiling, especially when compared to the Stirling, of 27,000ft but where the P.108B suffered was in its top speed. Able to reach 260mph at 14,500ft (depending on bombload) it was considerably slower than the B-17 Flying Fortress, Stirling, Avro Lancaster and Handley-Page Halifax which increased the time over enemy territory and the chances of being intercepted.

BOMBLOAD

A bomber’s capabilities in the Second World War was judged primarily by how many bombs could be carried and how far. The Stirling had a 14,000lb maximum theoretical bombload although this was rarely achieved since it imposed such hefty penalties on the aircraft’s performance particularly with regards to range that a more modest load of around 4,000lbs was the norm. This was similar to earlier twin engine types such as the Vickers Wellington but the Stirling could carry them further and faster. The bomb bay was also unsuitable for carrying some of the bigger weapons the RAF began fielding later in the war.

A typical bombload for the P.108B was higher being in the 7,000lb figure although generally the weapons used were smaller than the Stirling’s 500lb weapons. This did have a knock-on effect with range and when on the longest ranged missions (2,000 miles) a bombload of around 4,000lbs was carried.

DEFENSIVE ARMAMENT

short stirling iii 4The Stirling featured three defensive weapon stations in a typical British arrangement for a night bomber. A powered nose turret featured two Browning .303 (7.7mm) machine guns while a tail turret featured four; this demonstrated the importance of rear hemisphere protection when facing night fighters. The night fighters the aircraft was expected to face such as the Messerschmitt Bf110 and Junkers Ju88 used primitive radar and infra-red equipment to peer through the night after being guided to the aircraft’s vicinity by ground control radar stations. Given the narrow viewpoint this equipment offered they were almost always guided in to a tail-chase position where it would be easier to detect the bomber because of the lower overtake speeds giving the radar operator more time to set up an attack. The Stirling also featured a dorsal turret with another pair of two .303 machine guns which were usually operated in conjunction with the tail turret to attack night fighters in the upper-rear hemisphere.

Piaggio P.108B 3The Piaggio P.108B featured six separate defensive weapon stations. A powered nose turret featured a 12.7mm Breda machine gun while a second 12.7mm gun was mounted in ventral retractable turret for defending against attack from below. There were two waist gunner positions covering both flanks each equipped with a single 7.7mm machine gun. The aircraft lacked a dedicated tail turret but Casiraghi circumvented this with two unique radio controlled turrets equipped with two 12.7mm machine gun positioned on the outer engine nacelles. Theoretically, these provided excellent protection against fighters attacking from the rear hemisphere trying to hit the engines. In practice however they suffered chronic reliability problems, were difficult to aim and affected airflow.

CONCLUSION

Both these aircraft have their strengths over the other but overall the Piaggio P.108B was generally superior or at least equal to the Stirling in terms of performance with the notable exception of it being marginally slower. It has to be remembered however that the Stirling did generate higher sortie rates than the Piaggio design as a result of the P.XII engines which proved to be the Italian bomber’s Achilles-heel.

Piaggio P.108B 2a

Comparing the two aircraft’s ability to defend themselves is somewhat problematic since the P.108B was expected to operate in daylight hours as well as the night while the Stirling was intended to operate exclusively as a night bomber. The P.108B therefore was designed with a greater field of fire with which to fend off enemy fighters although it’s hitting power remained relatively light especially in the rear and forward quadrants when compared to the Stirling which although it had lighter calibre weapons, had a greater concentration of them. The Stirling’s dorsal turret meant it had better protection against attack from above but the P.108B’s ventral turret gave it better coverage from below. The P.108B’s interesting nacelle turrets could have caught more than one unsuspecting Allied pilot out had they worked as promised.

(Images sourced from Wings Pallet & Commons.Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Supermarine Spitfire Vb vs. Kawasaki Ki-61-I-KAIc Hien (“Tony”)

Spit V Ki-61

The alliance between Germany and Japan has been the subject of much debate since the end of World War II. Theoretically, neither nation should have considered the other a viable ally because of their own similar concepts of their own racial superiority that considered the other inferior. However, given the geographical distances between them their own immediate interests were unlikely to clash at least for the foreseeable future. One thing they both had in common was the possibility of clashing with the British Empire; Germany on mainland Europe against Britain herself while Japan against her Eastern possessions. Despite this it was actually the threat from the Soviet Union to both parties that laid the groundwork for the formalising of an alliance in the shape of the Anti-Comintern Pact. When Italy signed on to the treaty the Axis powers were created.

When the Axis powers finally found themselves thrust in to war with Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union they effectively fought two separate conflicts. There was very little coordination between them in the same way that there was between the Allied nations but both sides of the Axis compass knew of the importance of keeping the other’s fight alive because the defeat of one would only see the Allies relocate the resources fighting the defeated nation brought to bare on them and this is exactly what happened after Germany and Italy fell in 1945. To that end there was a lot of technology exchange between them with Nazi Germany going to great lengths to get scientists and technology to Japan hoping they could put them to good use to perhaps ease the pressure in Europe. This was especially true in military aviation and in turn led to the development of the Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien – a fighter that would not look out of place over the skies of Europe.

Kawasaki Ki-10

Kawasaki Ki-10

The story of the Ki-61 can be traced back to the appointment of German engineer Dr. Richard Vogt to the position of chief designer at the Kawasaki Aircraft Engineering Company between 1923 and 1933. During his time at the company he impressed many Western design philosophies on the aircraft he worked on and this left a great impression on his Japanese successor Takeo Dai. One of Vogt’s biggest influences on Takeo Dai and Kawasaki was the belief in liquid-cooled inline engines as opposed to the air-cooed radial designs that prevailed in Japan at that time. This relatively radical approach produced the Ki-10 biplane fighter powered by a license built BMW inline engine but these aircraft remained the exception.

Advances in Europe with such engines couldn’t be ignored forever and in 1935 the British flew the prototype for what would become the Hawker Hurricane for the first time while Germany flew the Messerschmitt Bf109 prototype a year later. Both of these aircraft were fitted with inline engines which gave them performance far in advance of the many radial-engined aircraft then in Japanese service. This resulted in Japanese interest in the Bf109 and plans for an acquisition reached an advanced stage before being cancelled. While they were impressed with the Messerschmitt design they disliked the short range of the aircraft which didn’t meet their requirements for an offensive fighter. They were however impressed with the aircraft’s Daimler-Benz DB 601A engine and so plans were made for a license produced version to be built in Japan and fitted to a Japanese designed aircraft that could meet the Imperial Japanese Army’s requirement for an offensive fighter.

In 1939 the Japanese aviation bureau, the Koku Hombu, issued a requirement for two aircraft to be built around the new engine. The first was to be a high altitude interceptor while the second was to be a general purpose offensive fighter. Takeo Dai went about designing the Ki-60 and Ki-61 respective to these requirements but ultimately the Ki-60 was dropped. Development of the Ki-61 continued but the first flight didn’t take place until December 1941 by which time the engine was falling behind its competitors in the West.

Macchi C.202

Macchi C.202

Even before the aircraft flew Britain’s Royal Air Force began receiving the latest Spitfire, the Mark V, which was designed to address some of the shortcomings of the earlier Spitfires such as Mark I/II. Unfortunately the Mark V will always be remembered as being too little too late for its arrival coincided with the arrival of the “Butcher Bird” – the mighty Focke-Wulf Fw190 over Europe. While it was a poor match for the Fw190 it was still a good aircraft comparable to nearly all other fighters in the European and North African theatres including the Messerschmitt Bf109E  and Macchi C.202 (see comparison here) both of which used the DB 601 engine. The similarity of the Ki-61 to the C.202 was such that Allied pilots actually initially mistook it for the Italian fighter and this in turn resulted in it receiving the Allied codename of “Tony” based on the Italian name “Antonio”.

Early combat experience with the Ki-61 revealed that it was still underdeveloped despite being an improvement over previous Japanese designs that it was replacing. This was especially true in terms of its armament and the designers at Kawasaki went back to the drawing board producing a slightly longer variant with a heavier punch. This “new” aircraft was designated as the Ki-61-I KAIc.

In a fight between the Supermarine Spitfire V and the Kawasaki Ki-61-I KAIc which aircraft had more going for it?


POWERPLANT

Spitfire Vb

The Spitfire V was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 45, a variant of the Merlin XX and came fitted with a single-stage, single-speed supercharger. The engine still lacked the direct fuel injection system of the German engines but improvements to the carburettor did allowed the Spitfire V to undertake negative-G manoeuvres without major disruption to the flow of fuel as had been the case in earlier variants. First production Merlin 45s were delivered in January 1941 and churned out around 1,450hp at 9,000ft, an advance over the Spitfire II/Merlin XII combination of some 275hp, which it translated it in to forward motion via a three bladed propeller.

Despite these advances the Merlin 45 proved problematic in the Pacific theatre. The Royal Australian Air Force found quite quickly that the Spitfire V was a logistical headache in the extreme since the parts for it were built half way around the world. The dust and heat of the outback of Northern Australia was particularly hostile to the Merlin where it went from extreme heat on the ground to extreme cold at high altitude causing numerous breakdowns and leakages thus further straining the logistical chain supporting it.

Kawasaki Ki-61 4

It would be more accurate to say that the Kawasaki Ha-40 engine was a development of the DB 601A rather than a direct license produced version as was the case with the Macchi C.202’s  RA.1000 R.C.41-I Monsone version. While the engine had the same layout and configuration as the DB 601 it was tweaked slightly to better meet Japan’s requirements. Consequently the Ha-40 offered more power at take-off than the DB 601A and was actually marginally lighter. The engine was delayed briefly which meant that the first three Ki-61 prototypes flew with DB 601A engines provided by Germany before the first Ha-40s became available.

Even before the constraints of war with America the engine suffered chronic reliability problems compared to the more reliable DB 601A as a result of infrequent manufacturing practices at the Akashi plant where it was built. The situation was only exacerbated by the intervention of the US Navy’s submarine blockade of the Japanese home islands meaning that production of later Ha-40 engines was often undertaken with sub-par materials sourced in Japan rather than the high quality materials imported from the Asian continent. When functioning properly the Ha-40 produced 1,159hp which turned a three bladed propeller.

PERFORMANCE

Spitfire VB Trop 2

The Merlin 45 pulled the Spitfire Vb along at a comfortable top speed of 375mph at 20,000ft. The dust encountered at lower levels such as during take off or straffing enemy formations required the fitting of a large Vokes air filter that not only ruined the Spitfire’s elegant lines but also incurred a 7-9mph speed penalty. The aircraft had an initial climb rate of 2,600ft/min which increased to over 3,100ft/min above 14,000ft once clear of the thicker air lower down leading on to a service ceiling of 36,500ft. The Spitfire Vb had a respectable wing loading of 27.35 lb/ft2  and had a maximum of 639hp to share for every ton in weight while with a full fuel and weapon loadout this figure fell to 490hp per ton.

Kawasaki Ki-61

The Ki-61 topped out it’s air speed indicator at 367mph at 16,400ft which was still a good figure for the period given that more powerful engines were available by the time the Ki-61 was entering service after its protracted development. It was capable of reaching a service ceiling of just over 38,000ft and had an initial rate of climb of 2,983ft/min which increased around 16,000ft before dropping off again. The Ki-61 had a higher wing loading than most of the contemporary Japanese designs again betraying its Western influence being in the region of 35.5 lb/ft² which was even higher than the Spitfire Vb. With the Ha-40 installation the Ki-61 had a maximum power to weight ratio of 440hp for every ton. When flying under a full load however this ratio dropped to just 330hp per ton.

ARMAMENT

Spitfire Vb 2

It’s name may have been “Spitfire” but in the early marks, Supermarine’s legendary fighter was barely an adequate gun platform. It’s eight .303 machine guns were spaced out across the wing making it difficult to train them to a point ahead of the aircraft where their collective firepower could inflict heavy enough damage on an enemy aircraft equipped with self sealing fuel tanks and armour. This was why the Hawker Hurricane, with its eight .303 machine guns coupled closely together, was the superior gun platform in the Battle of Britain.

Efforts were therefore made to up-gun the Spitfire by fitting 20mm cannons but early trials were abysmal with the Hispano 20mm cannon proving extremely unreliable and prone to jamming after just a few shots. Nevertheless the RAF persisted and after the bugs had been ironed out cannon armament became the standard on all later Spitfires. The Spitfire Vb was therefore armed with a pair of 20mm cannon each with 60 rounds and these had a muzzle velocity of 2800ft/sec. The .303s were still there however and the Spitfire Vb carried four of them spaced along the wings. There were alternative wing configurations available and some variants of the Mark V were armed with four 20mm cannon mainly in the light attack mission but this didn’t become standard for fighter variants until the last two years of the war.

Kawasaki ki-61 guns

The early Ki-61s too suffered from light armament. The early production versions were armed with two 7.7mm (0.303in) Type 89 machine guns in the wings and two synchronized 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Ho-103 machine guns in the upper engine cowling in a similar arrangement to the Messerschmitt Bf109 and Macchi C.202/205. This proved inadequate against the sturdy American bombers such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and so the Japanese began a series of efforts to up-gun the aircraft including at one point the fitting of German Mauser MG 151/20 cannons brought to Japan by U-Boat.

By the time the Ki-61-I-KAIc appeared the Japanese had settled on having two Ho-5 20mm canon mounted in the forward fuselage position synchronised to fire through the propeller. The Ho-5 was developed from the Ho-103 machine gun which was itself developed from the American Model 1921 Browning aircraft machine gun and as such used belt-fed ammunition that utilised Browning-style steel disintegrating links between the rounds. Each gun was given 120 rounds and these could be discharged at 2,460 ft/s with a rate of fire of 950rds/min.

The wings featured a pair of 12.7 (.50cal) Ho-103 machine guns that each was given a generous 250 rounds each. The weapon could fire put these rounds on to a target at 2,600 ft/s with a rate of fire being 900rds/min. As the war progressed some aircraft saw these weapons replaced by another pair of Ho.5s finally giving the Ki-61 the heavy punch it always needed.

MISC

Supermarine Spitfire V 6

The Spitfire pilot sat sandwiched between two fuel tanks; one ahead of the cockpit behind the Merlin engine and an auxiliary tank behind the cockpit. This meant that should his aircraft be hit in either of these areas he was likely to suffer horrendous burns if he didn’t get out quick enough. To that end Martin-Baker, the company that would eventually become synonymous with ejection seat technology, developed a quick release system that allowed the Spitfire pilot get the canopy off in one quick movement and allow him to exit. The fuel tanks featured a rubber self-sealing system that expanded over single small calibre bullet holes but was rendered ineffective if there was a number of impacts.

He was not entirely without protection as he had armour plates behind his seat and head as well as a bullet-resistant windscreen. While the Spitfire was often cited as a delight to fly it was a notoriously bad aircraft to handle on the ground thanks to its narrow undercarriage that raised from the centre fuselage towards the wingtips as opposed to the opposite which was much more common and much more stable on semi-prepared airstrips as was often the case in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India theatres.

Kawasaki Ki-61 2

The pilot of the Ki-61 sat ahead of the fuselage fuel tank while ahead of him was the ammunition feed and storage tank for the cowling mounted weapons. This provided some additional level of protection to the pilot from an attack from the forward hemisphere such as when facing defensive guns on a bomber. This was because there was a lot of objects to get in the way of the bullet reducing how far it could travel through the aircraft. The Ki-61 was one of the first Japanese aircraft to feature self-sealing fuel tanks making it more resilient than many other Japanese aircraft of the period.

The aircraft was more robust than the Spitfire being of solid construction and having a wider set landing gear making it far more stable on the ground. It also made it far more likely for the pilot to walk away from a hard landing such as when occurs after taking heavy damage. The narrower wing positioned more centrally to the pilot as opposed to the Spitfire meant that he did enjoy a greater field of downward view fore and aft although both aircraft had poor rearward vision.

CONCLUSION

Both of these aircraft enjoyed very brief periods of superiority over their contemporaries before new models rendered them obsolete. Compared to one another they are quite well matched in many respects but each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The Ki-61-I-KAIc pilot enjoyed a certain degree of superiority in performance at lower levels where his aircraft had a speed and climb advantage. Between 15,000 and 20,000ft the two aircraft become more evenly matched while above these altitudes the Spitfire V began to enjoy a greater degree of performance thanks mainly to its larger wing area that produced more lift and the fact the Rolls Royce Merlin was tailored for this flight regime. This is despite the fact that the Ki-61-I-KAIc enjoyed a very slight advantage in terms of service ceiling.

In terms of agility the larger wing area of the Spitfire meant that the aircraft’s rate of roll, especially lower down in the denser air, was behind that of Ki-61-I-KAIc. It did however aid in the aircraft achieving a very high rate of continuous turn and with a higher power-to-weight ratio the Spitfire was therefore more agile in the horizontal plane than the Ki-61-I-KAIc. If attacked the Spitfire pilot’s best defence would be to try to keep turning ahead of the Ki-61 pilot’s arc of fire.

Regarding firepower, even though the Spitfire technically had more guns, the larger calibre of the wing mounted machine guns in the Ki-61-I-KAIc helped negate this advantage somewhat which means that in terms of damaging an enemy aircraft the two aircraft’s effectiveness was broadly the same although with more bullets flying the Spitfire at least had a higher chance of hitting something.

In this instance there is no clear winner as the altitude at which the combat would take place would have a major impact on the aircraft. As always we also have to take in to consideration pilot capability and in this respect the quality of Japanese pilots diminished as the war went on and their situation became more desperate. Another important factor to consider is that the Spitfire Vb was never considered ideally suited for operations against the Japanese given the environment they were expected to operate in that played havoc with it. The Spitfire VIII however was a far superior aircraft and enjoyed far more success against the Japanese although The Spitfire Vs did soldier on until the end of the war in an increasingly diminishing capacity.

Airco DH.2 vs. Fokker Eindecker III

Airco DH.2 Fokker Eindecker III

A myth about the type of war the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was involved in developed quickly in the First World War. Serving as a distraction from the gory and unpleasant scenes of the trenches below them the men of the RFC and their wonderful flying machines were seen as having the most glamorous and exciting job in the war sipping French wine and eating fine food in between brief joyrides over the lines. In reality while their accommodation may have been better than a trench the RFC fought just as deadly and brutal a war as the men in the infantry. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that the average life expectancy of an ordinary soldier in the trenches was longer than that of a pilot or observer in the RFC because as well as the enemy he had to contend with what was still a new and quite dangerous military occupation partially as a result of very primitive machines and partially because of appallingly insufficient training procedures.

Nevertheless in the traditional British make-do attitude the men of the RFC persisted in their reconnaissance and artillery spotter roles both of which they became quite proficient in. So proficient in fact that soon the Germans knew that bringing down the spotter planes of the RFC like B.E.2c and Avro 504 would have to become a priority. Initially pilots of both sides who encountered an enemy plane would take a few pot-shots at it with a pistol or a rifle carried by the observer. The results were very poor and the encounters often ended with the two pilots exchanging waves or salutes before breaking off reiterating the belief that there was still a code of honour amongst airmen.

This code of the air would have a short lifespan however as on both sides more and more effort was put in to bringing down enemy planes. Putting guns in single engine aircraft on trainable mounts was difficult, cumbersome and produced little-to-no results thanks to the difficulty of being able to train the gun on the enemy plane. The key was to instead use the aircraft itself to aim a fixed gun but this too had its problems. Mounting guns on the wing of early fighters was out of the question because the wings were so flimsy that they couldn’t support the weight while putting guns on the forward fuselage would risk damaging the propeller. The only saving grace for the RFC was that the Germans too had to contend with the same problems.

Fokker EindeckerThen in mid-1915 RFC pilots reported the occasional sighting of what appeared to be French Morane-Saulnier H monoplanes in areas they shouldn’t have been in. At around the same time RFC losses began to skyrocket and it was not long before the RFC realised that rather than being French aircraft they were in fact German single seater fighting scouts – aircraft designed to shoot down other aircraft and the forerunner of today’s air superiority fighters. The Germans had built a machine based loosely on the French aircraft called the Fokker Eindecker but more importantly they had developed synchronisation gear for its single machine gun allowing the pilot to fire his weapon through the propeller arc in between the turning of the blades. Now all the pilot had to do was point his aircraft at the target and squeeze the trigger. It was the beginning of the Fokker Scourge; a nine month period where the RFC was effectively at the mercy of the Eindecker.

Vickers FB5 GunbusThe RFC had its own dedicated fighting scouts. The Vickers F.B.5 “Gunbus” (right) was the first aircraft to be designed from the ground up as a fighter aircraft and as such when No.6 Squadron equipped with the type in November 1914 it was able to claim the distinction of being the world’s first fighter squadron. The F.B.5 was a pusher aircraft (the propeller was at the rear of the aircraft) and had a crew of two with the observer seated at the front with a single .303 machine gun. However against the Eindecker it was hopelessly outclassed being too slow to pursue or escape the German monoplane and too cumbersome to outfight it even with a trainable machine gun in the nose.

Airco DH.2In Britain the need for a new fighting scout to combat the Eindecker became a top priority for Britain’s aircraft manufacturers. One of them, Airco, had already built the DH.1 an aircraft designed by Geoffrey De Havilland that was remarkably similar to the F.B.5 and thus just as obsolete. With British engineers as yet still unable to produce their own synchronisation gear the pusher configuration remained the only way to mount a fixed machine gun on the front of an aircraft and use it in the same way as the Eindecker. De Havilland went to work on an improved version of the DH.1 which dispensed with the observer leaving the pilot to be solely responsible for his aircraft in combat. This freed up a lot of weight and with a more powerful engine the new aircraft offered greatly improved performance over the other fighting scout pushers. With its fixed machine gun unhindered by a propeller the DH.2 (above left) was able to take the fight to the Eindecker on almost equal terms and it helped bring an end to the Fokker Scourge.

Throughout aviation history there have been cases of two distinct aircraft types that have wrestled with one another for control of the skies but this was the one of the very first. Along with the two-seat Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b pusher and the French Nieuport II the DH.2 helped restore parity in the air until the arrival of the famed Fokker Albatross tipped it back in the German’s favor.

So just how well matched was the DH.2 against the Fokker Eindecker? For this comparison we will be comparing the Airco DH.2 against the Fokker Eindecker III which was the main production version of the German aircraft.


Configuration Considerations

Airco DH.2 2

The DH.2 was an equal span biplane with a pusher configuration and a single tail unit joined to the main fuselage by an unskinned frame. The pusher design meant that the pilot had an excellent forward field of view compared to tractor aircraft as well as adding a degree of safety if the engine caught fire since the pilot wasn’t getting blasted with flames or doused in leaking oil and petrol. However, like all pusher aircraft the DH.2 was easier to stall since the propeller was mounted behind the wings meaning there was no propwash over them that would increase lift as in tractor aircraft. The propeller was also less effective behind the fuselage (see below). Additionally having the engine mounted in the aircraft’s centre of gravity helped with agility in all three planes of flight but additionally made the aircraft more of a handful to inexperienced pilots. Given the especially poor training in the RFC this meant that accidents were high and later in its career the DH.2 would serve as a trainer to ensure pilots became more accustomed to this type of flying. The pilot sat in the main fuselage in a bath-tub style compartment that also housed the engine and fuel tank.

To modern eyes, at first glance the monoplane design of the Eindecker III coupled with its reputation as a destroyer of lumbering British biplanes seems quite sophisticated for the time. In fact the opposite was true with it being quite primitive. The aircraft can trace its origins to a touring aircraft built before the war and retained much of the aerodynamic technology including a lack of ailerons in the wings as in the DH.2. Instead the aircraft was controlled by using pulleys to flex the wings similar to how one controls a kite. This resulted in a rather poor roll rate as compared to many other aircraft of the era including the DH.2 and F.B.5. The aircraft was skinned in fabric around a wooden frame and featured an all moving rudder and taileron arrangement which gave good pitch and yaw performance but made level flight something of a dicey affair for new pilots due to their sensitivity in the controls. The mid mounted wings were situated in-line with the pilot which dramatically reduced his all-round vision especially to the port and starboard low areas.

Powerplant

Airco DH.2 4

The DH.2 was powered by a license-built version of the French Gnôme Monosoupape 9 B-1 nine cylinder rotary engine that developed 100hp. This was translated in to forward motion via a four bladed wooden propeller. The effectiveness of this propeller was reduced somewhat by the pusher arrangement as airflow was often disturbed by the passing over of the forward fuselage before reaching the blades. Like many early engines it was controlled by restricting its ability to function which in the DH.2 was done with the fitting of a blip switch on the control column which cut out the engine’s ignition causing it to lose power and thus slow down. The engine was air cooled and lubrication was on the total-loss principle meaning that it would burn or discharge all its lubricant by the end of the flight.

Fokker Eindecker III 2

The Eindecker III was powered by a single Oberursel U.I nine cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine which also produced 100hp but had a lighter airframe to contend with than the DH.2’s Monosaupape engine. This drove a two-bladed propeller mounted in the tractor position in the nose of the aircraft and early fears that synchronising the gun to the engine would inhibit performance proved unfounded. The pilot of the Eindecker had to pump additional fuel in to the engine around eight times an hour to keep fuel running in to a small tank that gravity-fed the engine. It was not uncommon for the engine to cut out as a German pilot neared the enemy and his mind became distracted from this task.

Performance

Airco DH.2 3

The pilot’s handbook for the DH.2 put its top speed at sea level in the region of 81mph however many pilots claimed it could go faster with speeds of around 90mph being achievable in the right atmospheric conditions. Some adventurous pilots dived their aircraft to gain even more speed with reports of 120mph or more but this was discouraged by commanding officers except in the most dire of conditions such as escaping a superior enemy for fear of structurally overstressing the aircraft. As altitude increased the speed invariably dropped off with speeds nearing 60mph at its service ceiling of nearly 14,000ft. In order to attain this height the unfortunate pilot would find himself climbing for nearly three quarters of an hour! Endurance was in the 2 ½ hour region while range was around 250 miles.

Fokker Eindecker III 3

When it first appeared in mid-1915 the Eindecker III’s top speed of 87mph was enough for it to run circles around the RFC’s existing types including the Vickers F.B.5 “Gunbus” which was almost 20mph slower at sea level. Another great advantage the Eindecker had over RFC types including the DH.2 was its ability to climb relatively quickly for although it had a similarly powerful engine the aircraft was nearly a 100lbs lighter. This also improved agility but as has been previously mentioned this made it less stable and more unforgiving to new pilots. The Eindecker III took just 5 minutes to reach 3,281ft while the DH.2 took closer to 7 minutes. However as the altimeter reached 10,000ft DH.2 began to catch up as the Eindecker’s engine began to lose steam the nearer to its 11,000ft service ceiling it got. In a continuous climb both aircraft could reach this altitude in around half an hour before in the final few hundred feet of climb the DH.2 would leap ahead. Endurance for the Eindecker III was a full hour less than the DH.2 but since the aircraft operated in defence for much of the time this was less of a concern.

Armament

Airco DH.2 5

The DH.2 was equipped with the tried and tested .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis machine gun fitted with a 47-round drum magazine that the pilot had to reach over and replace once its rounds were exhausted. This weapon had the capability to fire up to 600 rounds a minute at a velocity of 2,440ft/sec. The effective firing range of the Lewis gun was 800m although combat rarely approached anywhere near that figure.

Fokker Eindecker III 4

The Eindecker III was fitted with a synchronised 7.92 mm (0.312 in) lMG 08 Spandau machine gun positioned just offset to starboard to improve forward visibility when training the weapon on to a target. This had an exceptionally high rate of fire being in the range of 900rds/min but synchronising the weapon to the propeller did lower this figure slightly. This high rate of fire was not achieved without problems however with the early weapons being prone to stoppages. The synchronisation gear developed by Anthony Fokker was also prone to breaking down and several pilots found themselves shooting up their own propeller when firing their guns. If the propeller wasn’t destroyed then the unfortunate airman had to fly an increasingly unstable aircraft away from battle. A major advantage on the battlefield over the Lewis gun was that it had almost double the range but again combat rarely if ever occurred at those kinds of ranges.

Conclusion

The DH.2 had high altitude performance on its side which meant that the higher the arena the greater his aircraft would perform compared to the Fokker. The Eindecker enjoyed a higher degree of agility however particularly in the longitudinal plane where the rudder of the DH.2 had to work harder to keep up thanks to the heavier airframe it was turning. With most engagements taking place at lower levels the Eindecker could also outclimb the DH.2 in this arena and inflict greater damage with its heavier armament. While it could dish out plenty of punishment the Eindecker certainly couldn’t take it in return proving a much more flimsy machine. In truth the DH.2 was not exactly bulletproof either and it only took a few bullets in either aircraft’s engine to render it inoperable.

Overall the DH.2 has a slight edge over the Eindecker III except when below 4,000ft but as in most cases the outcome of an air-to-air combat would be determined primarily on the pilot playing his aircraft to its own strengths. More than anything it would be determined by who spotted who first as that pilot would have the immediate advantage of being able to tailor that all important first attack that would initiate combat. Using superior speed at altitude the DH.2 pilot has a higher chance of making that killer first attack by diving down on to the enemy but if he was to fail in bringing down the Eindecker in this initial first attack then the German aircraft would give a good account of itself in the hands of an experienced pilot.

Between 1915-16 the DH.2 didn’t help win the battle for the skies but it did restore parity thus helping to significantly reduce the danger to the RFC’s reconnaissance operations. Such was the speed of development in wartime that by mid-1916 both these aircraft were already outclassed by even newer types after just a year in action.

Supermarine Spitfire IX vs. Macchi C.205 Veltro

Supermarine Spitfire IX vs. Macchi C.205 Veltro

The story of the Royal Air Force’s war against the Regia Aeronautica Italiana (Italian Royal Air Force) during the first half of World War II is a story of extremes. Excluding the Italian’s brief involvement in the Battle of Britain the real story begins in North Africa between British and Commonwealth forces flying from Egypt taking on the numerically superior Italians in aircraft that wouldn’t have seemed too out of place in World War One. Biplanes such as the British Gloster Gladiator and the Italian Fiat CR.42 still dominated the African sky.

The war over the desert and over the Mediterranean quickly progressed however and soon both sides were committing more capable fighters. The British utilised American fighters primarily the American P-40 Tomahawk to supplant the usual Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfires. The Italians, having lagged behind somewhat, produced an excellent warplane in this period by mating the German DB.601 engine to their Macchi C.200 Saetta. The resulting Macchi C.202 was fast and nimble bringing it on a par with other contemporary fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf109E and the Supermarine Spitfire V (click here to view the complete comparison) however it was let down by its low armament.

The MC.202s shortcomings were recognised early and in 1941 work commenced on producing an even more powerful version built around the German DB 605 engine which Fiat produced for the Italian aviation industry as the RA.1050 R.C.58 Tifone (Typhoon). This had nearly 300hp over the previous engine and greatly improved the already sprightly performance of the earlier aircraft. The new aircraft, now designated the C.205 Veltro, was also more heavily armed and would prove an unwelcome shock to allied fighter pilots.

In Britain the Royal Air Force’s premier fighter the Supermarine Spitfire was also advancing forward. The arrival of the “Butcher Bird” – the Focke-Wulf Fw190-A – had tipped the balance in the air dramatically in favour of the German Luftwaffe as the Spitfire V simply proved to be inferior. Supermarine therefore frantically undertook work on a further improved version of the aircraft based on the high altitude Spitfire VII version. The logically named Spitfire VIII was powered by the Merlin 63 engine (two sub variants for low and high altitude work were powered by the Merlin 66 and 70 engines respectively) and this offered greatly enhanced performance.

However the problem was that development of the aircraft began to drag out as the aircraft went through further redesigns to get the most out of the new engine and airframe. Coupled with the delay of retooling the factories to produce the aircraft the Air Ministry decided to develop an interim aircraft powered by the new two-stage supercharged Merlin engine that could be put in to service as an interim fighter until the Mark VIII became available. The resulting Spitfire IX was effectively a Spitfire V modified to use the more powerful Merlin 61 engine and the performance increase was dramatic to say the least despite the fact that the airframe couldn’t utilise the engine to its maximum potential without breaking.

Far from being a stop-gap the Spitfire IX went on to become one of the great fighters of World War II and remained in production until the end of the war. In the end 5,656 Spitfire IXs were produced making it the most numerous variant of the famed Spitfire family. The aircraft had equal performance to the dreaded Fw190 which helped restore parity in the air war over Western Europe and against the Italians on the southern front which by now was being fought more and more over Italy itself. By far the Spitfire IXs finest hour was on the 5th of October 1944 when Spitfire Mk IXs of No.401 Squadron shot down a Messerschmitt Me.262 Jet fighter; the first jet aircraft ever to be shot down in combat.

Both these aircraft were forged in combat but which was the better warplane?


Performance

Spitfire IX 3

The problem with the designation “Spitfire IX” is that it actually covers a number of Spitfire/Merlin combinations. While the airframe remained more or less unchanged at least four different Merlins were used in Mark IXs to create sub-types optimised for different roles. Therefore this comparison will be looking at those aircraft fitted with the Merlin 61 engine as this was the first engine and was seen as the best all-rounder until it was replaced by the Merlin 63. The Merlin 61 was a 12-cylinder, two-stage supercharged, liquid-cooled engine that churned out 1,580hp at 23,000ft. This finally took the Spitfire over the 400mph mark with a top speed of 409mph while service ceiling was raised to 43,000ft compared to the Spitfire V’s 36,500ft with the initial climb rate being 3,200ft a minute. When fitted with the full span “C” wing (as opposed to the cropped wing of the low altitude optimised variant) the Spitfire IX’s wing loading was 159.4kg/m²

The fitting of the DB 601 engine to the Macchi C.202 was a winning combination and it was only natural that as German engine technology advanced the Italians would take advantage of their ally’s latest engine the DB 605. The Macchi C.205 was fitted with an Italian built version of the DB.605 called the RA.1050 R.C.58 Tifone and was built by Fiat. Like the Merlin it was a 12-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine although like the rest of the DB-series engines the cylinders were arranged in an inverted Vee configuration. Unlike the Merlin the Tifone featured a single-stage supercharger which meant it started to lose power faster at higher altitudes but at lower altitudes it was slightly more powerful. The Tifone engine churned out around 1,474hp which took the C.205 to a top speed of 400mph at 24,600ft and to a service ceiling of 37,730ft. Wing loading for the Macchi C.205 was significantly higher than the Spitfire IX being 202.9kg/m².

Armament

spitfire ix

The Spitfire had several wing types during its lifetime. The Mark IX was fitted with the “C” wing known as the universal wing for it could accept a number of armament options ranging from the original eight .303 machine guns to a mix of .303 and two 20mm cannons to four 20mm cannons. By 1941 it was clear that the eight .303s lacked sufficient hitting power to defeat armoured aircraft that featured self-sealing fuel tanks therefore the Spitfire IX only flew with either four 20mm cannons or two 20mm cannons and four .303 machine guns. Early trials with the Hispano 20mm cannon were abysmal it proving extremely unreliable and prone to jamming after just a few shots. The weapon became more reliable as its entry in to service continued and gave the Spitfire a good punch but reliability would never be what was hoped. American Spitfire IXs and later some RAF aircraft fitted with the .303s had the guns barrelled for the US 50.cal round which was harder hitting. The “C” wing did allow the aircraft to carry a pair of 250lb bombs for ground attack.

Macch C.205

The Macchi C.202 was an excellent aircraft in terms of its performance but the biggest criticism was its lack of hitting power. In combat against American raids by B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators the C.202s struggled to inflict sufficient damage to bring down the mighty bombers requiring them to get in closer to concentrate their firepower where they were very vulnerable to defensive fire. With the C.205 the designers decided that rather than extensively redesigning the aircraft to add more guns which would delay its entry in to service they would simply up-gun the new aircraft. To that end the C.205 only had four guns in total with two 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns mounted in the nose above the engine. Each of these guns was provided with an extremely useful 400 rounds and had a rate of fire of 700 rounds a minute. It was in the wings however where the real hitting power of the C.205 was located with two German MG 151 cannons with 250 rounds each. This was a powerful and proven weapon that gave the C.205 a heavy punch against armoured aircraft.

Misc

Spitfire IX 2

The Spitfire IX pilot was protected by a sheet of armour plating behind his seat intended to protect him from incoming rounds fired from behind. The Spitfire pilot’s view in the rear quarter was quite poor leaving him open to surprise attacks until a modified version of the IX came along with a cut down rear fuselage and bubble canopy similar to the P-51D Mustang but these did not appear until near the end of the war and was more of a feature of later Spitfires. The large wing of the Spitfire, a major factor in its excellent performance, also severely hindered visibility below the aircraft to the port and starboard. A major combat enhancement came to the Spitfire IX in 1944 with the introduction of the gyro gunsight which predicted the angle of deflection for the bullets when firing against a turning target. The gunsight dramatically improved the Spitfire’s effectiveness by allowing the newest of pilots to fire with a similar level of accuracy to experienced ones.

Macch C.205 2

The Macchi C.205 pilot enjoyed a marginally better all-round view than the Spitfire IX pilot with the smaller area wing being mounted more forward of the cockpit. This allowed him to look down to the starboard and port sides more easily although the trade-off was that when pursuing a turning fighter ahead and below of the Macchi there was more chance of the C.205 pilot momentarily losing sight of his prey. The C.205 pilot also enjoyed a better rearward view compared to the Spitfire pilot thanks to the smaller rear fuselage although both the Focke-Wulf 190 and P-51D Mustang enjoyed better views than either of these aircraft. The C.205 was fitted with a San Giorgio reflector gunsight which was equivalent to the early gunsight on the Spitfire.

Conclusion

Macch C.205 LuftwaffeOnly the most foolish allied pilot would underestimate the C.205 it being a highly competent combat aircraft for the period. Even the German Luftwaffe appreciated the aircraft’s performance and adopted the aircraft themselves in a limited capacity. In the medium altitude arena the Spitfire IX and the C.205 Veltro were very evenly matched with both aircraft having a very similar top speed. The Spitfire’s large area wing meant that it enjoyed a low wing loading that gave it a very good turning circle. The smaller area wing on the C.205 came with a much higher wing loading as a result but enjoyed a slightly better roll rate. This made the Spitfire an extremely difficult target for the C.205 in a continuous turning battle.

As the altitudes increase however the Spitfire pilot began to enjoy more advantages over the C.205. It had a significantly higher service ceiling than the Italian aircraft and when the C.205 was operating near its own service ceiling at 37,000ft it ran out of steam while the Spitfire IX had energy to spare. On the other hand in the low to medium altitude arena the C.205 enjoyed a degree of superiority over the Spitfire IX with its DB 605-based engine providing marginally more horsepower and a slightly higher speed. The thicker air also made the large winged Spitfire less manoeuvrable.

In terms of firepower the Spitfire enjoyed marginally greater collective hitting power even when fitted with the two 20mm Hispano cannons and four .303 machine guns. The C.205 enjoyed a better engagement envelope however with its closely coupled guns being able to concentrate their hitting power over a longer arc ahead of the aircraft which is especially important when engaging bombers.

Spitfire IX USAAFActual combat results tell a seemingly biased story in favour of the C.205. On the 20th of April 1943 a mixed formation of C.202s and C.205s met a large formation of South African and Polish (RAF) Spitfires off the cost of North Africa. In a fierce battle the C.205s downed around 14 Spitfires for the loss of seven of their number – these figures are disputed by numerous sources on both sides – although the majority of the Veltro’s victims were older Spitfire Vs and so were not an a par with the Italian aircraft. Indeed, a look at a lot of the successes achieved by the C.205 during its short combat career shows that the majority were made against allied aircraft that were of the previous generation. Due to their small number and the desperate situation Mussolini’s Italy found itself in 1943 the C.205 served in mixed units with the older C.202 and were often assigned to the best pilots which also goes some way to explaining the aircraft’s brief success with the Italians and the subsequent legend that grew up around it in Italy.

In conclusion the C.205 Veltro was a competent aircraft and a very real threat to the Spitfire IX. In this instance victory would be decided more by the situation the two pilots found themselves in coupled with the skill and experience of the pilot.


Picture credits

  • Commons.wikimedia
  • Spitfireperformance.com
  • Asisbiz.com

De Havilland Vampire FB.5 vs. Saab J.21R

De Havilland Vampire Saab J.21R

The advent of the jet engine did more than offer a new form of propulsion. It opened the door to new and more exotic types of aircraft that fired the imagination and made the late 1940s and early 1950s a truly exciting time for aviation enthusiasts; one that perhaps will never be seen again.

One of the more unusual looking jet aircraft to take to British skies in this new golden age was the De Havilland Vampire. It looked nothing like the Spitfires and Hurricanes that came just five years before it. Instead of a long slender fuselage like those iconic fighters the Vampire seemed to be a set of wings, a cockpit and a double tail mounted on the end of two long booms thus producing what appeared to be a gap the aircraft. Naturally the aircraft and others like it adopted the term of “boom fighter” and it seemed to typify the future despite the fact that twin-boom aircraft were nothing new with piston engined fighters like the P-38 Lightning and P-61 Black Widow having served through the war along with the more traditional looking planes.

De Havilland Vampire 3The Vampire very nearly didn’t make it in to service. Early jet engines were extremely underpowered and it was believed that at least two were needed to give an aircraft the power needed to fly and just as importantly for the RAF to fight. The RAF therefore backed Gloster’s Meteor design but De Havilland persisted with their single engine type and eventually convinced the RAF to invest in the Vampire. Despite this difficult birth the Vampire became a winner and achieved considerable export success. It also attained several accolades such as being the first jet aircraft to fly the Atlantic and the first jet to land and take off from a carrier. The twin-boom layout typified De Havilland’s combat aircraft of the 50s and 60s with the Vampire morphing in to the Venom before work began on the awe-inspiring De Havilland Sea Vixen all-weather naval fighter.

Saab 21 3Another “boom fighter” that emerged in the early forties has gone almost forgotten outside of its home country. Sweden defended its neutrality fiercely before and during the war and to that extent went to the effort of attempting to build an air force based almost entirely on home-built designs. This freed them from being reliant on outside sources and so they were less likely to get dragged in to the war that tore Europe apart although the Swedes did operate both allied and German-designed aircraft as well. During this time the Swedish produced the extraordinary looking twin-boom Saab J.21 piston engine fighter. Powered by a license-built DB.605 engine (the same engine used in the superlative German Messerschmitt Bf.109) the J.21 also broke European trends for fighter design by adopting a pusher arrangement (propeller at the rear pushing the aircraft as opposed to one at the front pulling as in most types). Some aircraft even featured explosive bolts on the canopy and a primitive ejector seat designed to throw the pilot away from the aircraft and clear of the propeller at the back which made escape somewhat difficult otherwise.

Naturally such an advanced and unorthodox aircraft had a protracted development and it finally reached frontline units in December 1945 by which time its performance had proved wanting compared to other more mature designs such as the Supermarine Spitfire XIV which had almost 100mph over the aircraft’s top speed. The Saab J.21 therefore found itself used in the light attack role something for which it was well suited. Meanwhile the Swedish were looking for a new fighter and considered developing the J.21 in to a front engine puller version but the dawn of the jet age threatened to render that aircraft obsolete before work even began. What the Swedish needed was to develop a jet fighter and the willingness of the UK government to supply De Havilland Goblin jet engine gave them the opportunity to do just that.

Saab 21 4Saab began drawing up plans for new jet fighters but in the interim they decided to take the J.21 and install the new jet engine in place of the DB.605. It was a logical decision since like the pusher arrangement the jet engine works by pushing the aircraft along. Saab needed to redesign the rear fuselage to include an exhaust and two side mounted intakes for the jet engine yet the resulting Saab J.21R still shared over 50% commonality with its piston engine predecessor. The Swedish government were taking no chances however and had already ordered the De Havilland Vampire as well.

In the end the Vampire served the Swedish for longer albeit mostly in a training role. They were both operated as fighter-bombers and the friendly rivalry between units was fierce and passionate.

So which was better?

For this comparison the De Havilland Vampire FB.5 will be compared to the Saab J.21R.


PERFORMANCE

De Havilland Vampire 2

Both aircraft were powered by De Havilland Goblin Mk.II engine. In the Vampire this produced 3,100lbs of thrust that took the aircraft to a top speed of 540mph while a climb rate of around 4,800ft/min meant that it could reach its service ceiling of 42,000ft in a little under ten minutes. The Goblin Mk.II in the Vampire FB.5 gave the aircraft a maximum thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.46 which is slightly higher than that of the twin engine Gloster Meteor F.8. The Vampire was also an aerodynamically clean aircraft with the wing blending in to the air intakes which also generated lift.

Saab 21 5

Despite the J.21R being slightly lighter than the Vampire the low thrust of the Goblin Mk.II meant that it had a maximum thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.44. The engine took the J.21R to a speed of just 497mph most likely as a result of the higher drag the aircraft produced compared to the Vampire. The J.21R had a service ceiling of 39,000ft which gave the Vampire a 3,000ft advantage. Around 30 aircraft did feature the slightly more powerful Goblin Mk.III and this gave the aircraft a slightly better thrust-to-weight ratio but generally performance was not significantly improved. One significant criticism of the early J.21Rs were its low endurance with some flights barely lasting 40 minutes. Later models did feature increased fuel capacity but endurance remained quite limited.

Please note; maximum thrust-to-weight figures are determined by taking how much thrust is available compared to the empty weight. Internal fuel and adding ground attack weapons such as bombs and rockets decrease the thrust-to-weight ratio however as fuel is expended so the ratio becomes higher than it was just after take-off.


GUN ARMAMENT

De Havilland Vampire 1

British aircraft designers in the mid-1940s benefited from experience gained in the early years of World War II in terms of gun armament. The Vampire was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that had quickly become standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier versions of the weapon were quite prone to jamming. The Mk.V in the Vampire had largely resolved the problem but it would still jam if not properly maintained.

Saab 21 2

Main armament for the Saab J.21R was a single 20mm Bofors gun mounted in the nose. This was a 20mm development of the famous Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun and was selected for its hitting power against both air and ground targets but had a firing rate of just 360rds/min. This was backed up by four 13.2mm heavy machine guns that could churn out 900rds/min although a pod was available for an additional eight guns that could be put on the centreline pylon meaning this aircraft could effectively fly with thirteen guns (!) which must be something of a record for a single seat aircraft (a close runner up was the Hawker Hurricane IIB which had twelve .303 machine guns).


ADDITIONAL ARMAMENT

De Havilland Vampire 4

As its “FB” designation signified the Vampire FB.5 was a fighter-bomber and as such packed a hefty punch with an option to carry two 500lb bombs in place of the external fuel tanks. Alternatively the Vampire could carry a pair of launchers for a quartet of 60lb rockets that proved extremely useful in World War II against a wide variety of targets including tanks and ships. These rockets were quite heavy and had a very steep gravity-drop angle (the motor was not powerful enough to keep the rocket flying level after launch) which meant they were always launched in a steep dive towards the target.

Saab 21

The Saab J.21R had four underwing pylons and a single centreline pylon for the carriage of additional weapons. Common bomb sizes for the centreline pylon were 551lbs (250kg), 1102lbs (500kg) and 1323lbs (600kg). Alternatively, four 110lb (50kg) bombs could be carried on the four underwing pylons. The Saab J.21R had a wide variety of unguided rockets at its disposal. Typical loads were ten 80mm or 100mm rockets while alternatively up to five 180mm anti-tank rockets.


CONCLUSION

As day fighters then the Vampire held a better poker-hand than the J.21R. The Vampire was over 40mph faster, had slightly better acceleration and could attain a higher service ceiling thanks in no small part to its aerodynamic efficiency. The Vampire pilot also had much better all-round visibility compared to the Saab J.21R pilot who had to contend with the fuselage coming up behind him and a heavily framed canopy. By comparison the Vampire pilot had a two piece bubble canopy that protruded from atop the forward fuselage allowing him to take a good look around and above. The J.21R pilot did have higher cumulative hitting power in terms of his gun armament if he used both the machine guns and the bofors gun in conjunction. In the extremely unlikely event that he could bring his eight guns mounted in the external pod to bare as well then the Vampire would be torn to shreds if the J.21R pilot got the British jet in his sights.

In the ground attack role the Saab J.21R was a more rounded aircraft than the Vampire. It had more weapon options which it could tailor for specific target types whereas the Vampire was more heavy handed. The Vampire could fly further but for neutral Sweden who had a policy of defensive operations this was not so much of a concern. The Saab J.21R did serve a vital purpose in that it launched the Swedish aviation industry in to the jet age and over the next 60 years the company produced some of the finest fast jet types in Europe.

 

Gloster Meteor F.8 vs. Dassault Ouragon

Ouragon vs Meteor

The advent of Jet technology in the 1940s offered levels of aircraft performance not previously dreamed of. Britain’s first operational jet fighter was the Gloster Meteor, a twin engine design that was to all intents and purposes an aircraft of the piston engine era but powered by jet engines. Despite this the aircraft went on to have a successful career initially as a day fighter and then later as a fighter bomber, reconnaissance fighter and night fighter.

France’s aviation industry suffered under Nazi occupation. A number of French aircraft were pressed in to Luftwaffe service and the French aviation industry was turned towards supporting the Germans which subsequently made it a target for the RAF and later the USAAF. After the war a new aviation company appeared in France that would come to define French military aviation for the next sixty years – Dassault.

Headed by Marcel Dassault the company needed to break out quickly in to the new post-war military aviation scene if it intended to compete and so it had to embrace jet technology. With little or no experience with jet technology the company turned to the UK and imported a number of Rolls-Royce Nene engines with which to build a new fighter around. The result was the Dassault MD450 Ouragon (Hurricane); France’s first ever jet fighter aircraft.

At the time of the Ouragon’s introduction in 1952 the RAF had re-equipped with the penultimate variant of the Gloster Meteor, the F.8 model which was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters was under development. In reality neither the Meteor F.8 nor the Ouragon were in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter but they were both still potent when faced with the remaining piston fighters or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 and the Yakovlev Yak-15.

But which was the better fighter?


LAYOUT

Gloster Metor F-8

The Meteor was a conventional straight wing design with a high mounted tailplane in order to keep it clear from the jetwash of the two engines. The engines themselves were mounted in pods midway along the length of the wings in an arrangement similar to a number of wartime piston engine aircraft. This reflected the play-it-safe philosophy taken in designing Britain’s first operational jet fighter. This arrangement naturally increased the drag factor although this was less than in piston engine aircraft of similar dimensions because the very nature of jet technology requires air to pass through the nacelle rather than over it.

Ouragon

The Ouragon on the other hand adopted what was becoming the standard shape for single engined jet fighters of the late 1940s. Like the Meteor the aircraft was of straight wing design, although they were significantly thinner than the British aircraft’s wings, with a high tailplane while air for the Nene engine was fed through a single gaping intake in the nose. This produced an aerodynamically efficient shape which was somewhat spoiled by the fitting of wingtip tanks to increase range. These also had a negative effect on roll-rate and pilots complained that the aircraft liked to break in to an uncommanded roll when in a tight turn.

POWERPLANT

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Early jet engines were significantly underpowered and this lead to the first operational jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me.262 and the Gloster Meteor, being fitted with two jet engines to give them the necessary thrust. The Mark.I Meteor was powered by two Welland turbojets each producing just 1700lbs thrust but as the technology matured the engines quickly became more powerful until the Meteor F.8 was developed equipped with Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines. These engines produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Wellands produced.

Rolls Royce Nene

A little known fact is that it was actually a Frenchman who was the first to patent a gas turbine aero-engine. Maxime Guiliam designed what is now termed an axial flow turbojet and patented the design in 1921, seven years before Frank Whittle submitted his own design. However, as Whittle experienced in the UK, there was very little interest at the time due to the complexities involved in building the engine and a suitable aircraft. France’s capitulation meant that French jet development went out the window while Britain and Germany developed their own programs. This left them trailing behind in the immediate post-war era and so the French decided to use imported British engines while they began development of their own engines. Therefore the Ouragon was designed around a single Rolls-Royce Nene engine which developed 4990lbs thrust.

PERFORMANCE

RAF Meteor F8

Stripped out (i.e. guns and ammunition removed as well as non-essential equipment) and the Meteor F.8 could tear through 640mph with relative ease. Fully loaded however and the airspeed tended to hover around the 600mph mark, still impressive when you consider that just three years earlier the fastest propeller driven aircraft were struggling to get beyond 400mph. The two Derwents allowed the aircraft to achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.45 and this allowed it to climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.

ouragan

The Ouragon topped out at 584mph in level flight although naturally French pilots tried to get more out of their aircraft by engaging in high speed dives. Doing this did achieve greater speeds, sometimes in excess of 600mph but often this overstressed the airframe. The Nene engine, despite being more powerful than a single Derwent, didn’t leave the Ouragon with a great deal of power having a thrust-to-weight ratio of around 0.31 under combat conditions. The gutsier Nene did however allow the Ouragon to keep pace with the Meteor when in a climb although the Meteor enjoyed a solid one thousand more feet in its service ceiling figures.

Please note; thrust-to-weight figures are determined by taking how much thrust is available compared to the full-up weight of a typical fighter mission. Adding ground attack weapons such as bombs and rockets decrease the thrust-to-weight ratio further however as fuel is expended the ratio becomes higher than it was just after take-off. Either way the Meteor still enjoyed a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the Ouragon.

GUNS

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The Meteor’s design benefitted from experience gained in the years of World War II in terms of its gun armament. The aircraft was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that quickly became standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier version of the weapon was prone to jamming. In fact the first two interceptions of V-1 Flying Bombs by earlier versions of the Meteor suffered from jammed guns forcing the pilots to resort to the wingtip method of bringing them down. The Mk.V in the Meteor F.8 had largely resolved the problem but it was still prone to jamming if not properly maintained.

Dassault Ouragon

The Dassault Ouragon was equipped with almost the same gun it being the French equivalent the MS.404. Like the Hispano Mk.V it was a 20mm weapon but featured a longer barrel than the British gun as well as other minor changes. This resulted in a weapon capable of dispensing a round with a velocity of 880m/s with a rate of fire of 700rds/min. This meant that the Ouragon’s guns were marginally harder hitting while the Meteor’s guns could get more rounds on to a target in the same period of time. Like the Meteor the guns were arranged close together in the nose of the aircraft which offered the same advantages.

ADDITIONAL WEAPONS

Gloster Meteor F8 rockets

Both aircraft found themselves quite adept at ground attack when they passed their short primes as fighters. Again, recent war experience played a part in the air-to-ground configurations with the Meteor often adopting the powerful 60lb Rocket Projectile (RP) that had proven so effective against tanks and ships under the wings of wartime Bristol Beaufighters, De Havilland Mosquitoes and of course the Hawker Typhoon. The Meteor could carry up to sixteen of the weapons under its outboard wings or alternatively eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. Another air-to-ground weapon was the traditional unguided bomb and the Meteor could carry two 1,000lb bombs under its wings.

ouragan_france

The Ouragon was designed with the ground attack role more in mind than the Meteor and it shows with the various weaponloads that could be carried on its four underwing pylons. In total the aircraft could carry aloft around 5,000lbs of weaponry, more than twice what the Meteor was carrying. Weapons included up to 16 105mm rockets or two Matra pods containing 18 SNEB 68mm rockets (this weapon’s dimensions prevented other weapons being carried on the other pylons).

CONCLUSION

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In the air-to-air role the Meteor F.8 held a slight speed and altitude advantage over the Ouragon but where the Meteor surpasses the French type is in its more sprightly performance thanks to its greater thrust-to-weight ratio. What this means in combat is that the Meteor could recover any lost energy from a tight turning battle quicker than the Ouragon. Another distinct advantage the Meteor held over the Ouragon was its twin engine arrangement which meant the Meteor could be expected to be able to sustain more damage than the single engined Ouragon. One advantage the Ouragon pilot would enjoy would be that he would be shooting against a bigger target than the Meteor pilot and it would also be somewhat easier to locate the Meteor in the heat of battle.

As always we have to take in to consideration pilot training but from a technical point of view it is safe to say that these aircraft would be closely matched in combat and as long as their pilots played to their respective aircraft’s strengths then both aircraft would give a good account of themselves. In the ground attack role however the Ouragon does hold the edge although again the Meteor’s twin engine arrangement means that it would be less likely to be brought down by small arms fire than the Ouragon.

English Electric Canberra B(I).6 vs Il-28 “Beagle”

Battle of the jet powered interdictors

Il-28 vs Canberra

The advent of jet technology offered performance far in excess of what propeller technology could deliver particularly at high altitude. This was especially important for bomber crews who wanted an aircraft that could fly faster and higher than any fighter aircraft that could intercept it. The concept had been proven by the superlative De Havilland Mosquito during the war and now the RAF wanted a jet powered replacement. This spurred the development of the English Electric Canberra which first flew on the 13th May 1949 and was soon ordered in to production. Entering squadron service on the 25th May 1951 the RAF was initially disappointed with their new mount as they had wanted a large four engined strategic bomber. All criticism quickly evaporated however as the RAF’s first jet bomber proved to be a superb design with outstanding high altitude performance. During the course of its career the aircraft undertook a plethora of roles ranging from bomber, interdictor, photographic reconnaissance, electronic warfare training and signals reconnaissance to name but a few. In fact the airframe would prove so useful that the PR.9 high altitude reconnaissance variant remained in service until 2006!

The Soviet air force too knew of the potential the jet engine offered but were not as successful in the development of the technology as engineers in Britain. At first they had to make do with captured German technology but then as a gesture of good faith the British offered the Soviets the Rolls-Royce Nene engine. This catapulted Soviet jet technology forward but as relations between east and west quickly soured the Soviets were forced to develop their own engine based on the Nene and this became the Klimov VK-1. Soviet engineers were instructed to build a twin engined tactical bomber powered by the VK-1 and the result was the Il-28 (NATO codename “Beagle”). Often called the “Soviet Canberra” the Il-28 actually flew a year earlier than the RAF aircraft but despite its revolutionary powerplant it was very much a traditional Soviet tactical bomber design featuring a cigar shaped fuselage with the pilot sitting in a fighter style cockpit and straight wings.

Both these aircraft catapulted their respective air arms in to the jet bomber age but the traditional medium bomber concept (streams of bombers in formation to attack a target from around 15,000ft) soon became impossible due to increasingly powerful defences. A role that emerged in the Second World War was that of the interdictor whose job was to attack targets far behind enemy lines that would directly affect the battlefield where the troops were fighting. These primarily concerned lines of communication and supply. Often these aircraft were large twin engined types as these were the only aircraft with the range and hitting power for the job and both the Canberra and Il-28 aircraft were adapted to the role but which was better?


Role

B(I).6 2

The Canberra B(I).6 was a development of the B.6 which was a traditional medium level bomber. The bracketed “I” in the designation denoted that it had an interdictor role meaning it was intended to attack tactical targets that have a direct influence on the battlefield e.g bridges, road convoys, storage centres, etc. It was still capable of operating as a traditional level bomber and trials were conducted in an anti-shipping role although it never undertook this tasking operationally.

IL28 3

The Il-28 was the basic bomber version of the “Beagle” and was designed for fast attacks on enemy positions although like the Canberra it was never really intended for use as a strategic bomber. Following Soviet doctrine the Il-28 was designed to directly support the army and so was used as an interdictor from the start.

Performance

B(I).6 1

The Canberra B(I).6 was powered by a pair Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.7 Mk.109 turbojets that each developed 7,400lbs of thrust. These engines and large wing area gave the aircraft its superb high altitude performance with USAF U-2 pilots who flew the PR.9 version describing it as the more stable aircraft above 50,000ft. The B(I).6 variant has a service ceiling of around 48,000ft but even at this altitude the aircraft is no slouch being able to achieve speeds up to 580mph. To put this in to perspective the main fighter opposition the aircraft could expect to face in the early 1950s, the legendary MiG-15 “Fagot”, is almost identical in performance meaning that intercepting the Canberra would be extremely difficult since it lacks the necessary speed to overtake it. Combat radius was in the region of 810 miles depending on bombload and altitude.

IL28 2

The Il-28 featured two VK-1 turbojets mounted in large nacelles on the wing that also featured the the main undercarriage. These engines gave the aircraft a top speed of 560mph when operating at an altitude of 14,000ft but this deteriorated as the altitude increased. This meant that the Canberra was significantly faster at higher altitudes but on the flipside the Il-28 was faster at lower levels. The smaller surface area of the Il-28’s wing and and the lack of high altitude power in the VK-1s meant that the aircraft had a service ceiling of only 40,000ft. All this reflects how the Soviets planned to use their aircraft; low to medium level supporting the army. The Il-28 had shorter “legs” than the Canberra however with a combat radius in the region of 600 miles; again this was dependent on bombload and altitude both of which affected performance.

Armament

B(I).6 3

To make it as light as possible the original Canberra lacked any gun armament instead using its speed and altitude as its main defence. In the interdictor role however it was deemed that guns would be needed for offensive purposes e.g. strafing convoys of trucks. Therefore a ventral gun pack was developed equipped with a quartet of 20mm Hispano Mk.V cannons in a similar arrangement to that featured on the Bristol Blenheim IVF of World War II vintage. The gun pack was fitted in the rear half of the bomb bay thus reducing the number of bombs that could be carried internally although the space the bomb bay offered meant each gun had a rather generous 500 rounds available to it.

The ventral gun pack was not a permanent fixture and could be removed as and when it was required for the Canberra to carry more bombs. For when the aircraft did carry the guns a pair of underwing pylons could be utilized to make up the shortfall in bombs. Royal Australian Air Force Canberras operating on short range missions over Vietnam went a step further and strapped bombs to the wingtips in place of the long range fuel tank! The Canberra B(I).6 had a total bombload of 8,000lbs and this could be carried in a variety of bomb configurations. The B(I).6 had a tactical nuclear role as well being able to deliver a variety of US and British nuclear weapons most importantly the WE.177A. All nuclear weapons were carried internally.

The underwing pylons were also used to carry a variety of other weapons. Typically these would consist of rocket pods comprising of either 37 2-inch (51 mm) rockets or 2 Matra rocket pods with 18 SNEB 68 mm rockets. A handful of B.16s (upgraded B.6) were wired to carry the Nord AS.30 missile for stand off air to ground attack as well as, potentially, anti-ship operations.

IL28 4

Unlike the Canberra the Il-28 was designed from the outset to have gun armament for use in the strafing role and to that end was fitted with two NR-23 23mm cannons in the nose which individually have a longer range and hitting power than the Canberra’s Hispano Mk.V. The Soviets knew their bomber lacked speed and altitude to escape interception and so it was going to have to defend itself. Therefore the Il-28 featured another pair of NR-23s in a powered tail turret to discourage any fighters from getting too close. The forward guns had 100 rounds each while the tail gun had 250 rounds each.

Maximum internal bombload for the Il-28 was just 6,600lbs although operationally the figure rarely exceeded 2,200lbs. Bombloads larger than this incurred a hefty penalty on performance to such an extent that often, when a bombload closer to its maximum was required, the tail turret would be removed. It also didn’t help that the Il-28 was limited by the dimensions of the bombs it carried because of the small size of the bomb bay.

Other weapons made available to sub-variants of the Il-28 included the ability to launch a 1,380lb torpedo although this variant died a quick death as Soviet Naval Aviation realized that such weapons air-launched were now obsolete. Nevertheless the Chinese did pursue the technology with their Il-28s and the subsequent locally produced H-5 variant of the “Beagle”. The basic Il-28 was incapable of carrying a nuclear weapon in the 1950s due to the sheer size of early Soviet weapons however a dedicated nuclear bomber version was built later which featured a bulged bomb bay.

Conclusion

The Canberra was never meant to be a mud mover instead it was an aircraft optimised for the high altitude role and it is in this capacity it is best remembered. Nevertheless it adapted well to almost every role it was given and remained a sublime aircraft to fly at low to medium level. As an interdiction aircraft it carried a useful bombload and, as the Royal Australian Air Force proved dramatically in Vietnam, could deliver its weapons with a high degree of accuracy. Simplicity was the key to its success being a nuts-and-bolts type meaning provided it could lift it off the ground the Canberra could carry pretty much any equipment or weapon that was asked of it. The B(I).6’s guns gave the aircraft a powerful punch in strafing attacks but as the Indian Air Force found out with their Canberras the size of the aircraft made it a big target to ground fire.

The Il-28 has also enjoyed a long service life (longer than the Canberra if you count the Chinese built H-5s still in service with North Korea) but has not proven as adaptable. Aside from avionic improvements many of the Chinese H-5s that were still operational in the 1990s were hardly anymore capable than the original 1950s vintage aircraft. Il-28 combat experience has been quite disastrous in the hands of third world air forces such as Syria. Nevertheless during the Six Day War the Israelis considered them a high priority target and made great efforts to destroy them on the ground. Interestingly the Pakistani Air Force flew the Chinese built H-5 version alongside US supplied B-57s (a license built version of the Canberra fitted with a tandem cockpit) against the Indian Air Force who flew the Canberra. The Pakistani pilots wholeheartedly agreed that the B-57 was superior and returned the H-5s.

The Pakistani opinion largely sums up the two aircraft. The Canberra has a wider array of weapons available to it, can carry more weapons further and transit/escape at higher altitudes with speeds comparable to a fighter. The only things the Il-28 has in its favour is that at low to medium level it is faster than the Canberra (although in this flight regieme both aircraft are extremely vulnerable to interception) and its smaller dimensions make it a much harder target to hit from the ground.