NEWS: Merlin transfer from RAF to Royal Navy completed

Chinook Apache Merlin  (7)The RAF and Royal Navy have officially completed the transfer of the Merlin HC.3/3A troop transport helicopter force following a ceremony held at RAF Benson earlier this week. The last 25 of the RAF’s helicopters operated by No.28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron were handed over to the Royal Navy’s No.845 NAS on the 9th of July. No.28 (Army Cooperation) squadron has now been re-formed as the RAF’s Chinook and Puma operational conversion unit based at RAF Benson but as No.28 (Reserve) Squadron.

The plan to transfer the aircraft came as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence & Security Review under the coalition government of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and was intended to keep the Royal Navy’s transport helicopter force operational as the Royal Navy’s Commando HC.4s reach the end of their operational lives in March 2016. As part of the transition the Merlins will undergo a £445m upgrade program known as the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme which as well as prolonging the life of the aircraft will also make them more suitable to naval operations and will include features from the naval Merlin HMA.2 such as folding main rotors and tail boom for stowage aboard a carrier.

To make up the shortfall in RAF rotary transport up to 14 new Chinook HC.6 heavylift helicopters are to be acquired.

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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

Gloster Meteor F.8

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The penultimate variant of Britain’s first jet fighter the F.8 (sometimes referred to as the Mark 8 or F.mk.8) variant of the Gloster Meteor was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters were under development. In reality the Meteor F.8 was not in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter as was proven in combat during the Korean War. Nevertheless the aircraft in the hands of the Royal Australian Air Force still gave a very good account of itself and was still potent when faced with the piston engined fighters still in service around the world or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and the Yakovlev Yak-15/17.

553229_761905707263236_8605473380426401875_nThe Meteor F.8 was based on the stretched fuselage two-seat Meteor T.7 trainer fitted with a single cockpit and standard fighter armament. It was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines that produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Meteor Mk.I with its Welland engines produced demonstrating just how far the aircraft and jet technology had come in just 5 years. 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 meant it could climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.

The Meteor’s design benefited 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. During testing of the aircraft it was discovered that when all the ammunition had been expended the aircraft became tail heavy. This resulted in a redesigned tail being fitted to help counteract the problem.

Gloster Meteor F8 rocketsAgain, 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.

Initial deliveries of the F.8 to the RAF began in August 1949 and the first frontline squadron converted to the aircraft the following year. Between 1950 and 1955 the aircraft constituted the bulk of RAF Fighter Command’s daytime fighter force but because of its general inferiority to the MiG-15 “Fagot” a number of Canadair built F-86 Sabres were acquired for operations in Germany until newer British fighters appeared such as the Supermarine Swift and Hawker Hunter. The Meteor F.8 was replaced in frontline service in 1957 but the nightfighter and fighter-reconnaissance versions served on until the 1960s.

  • Powerplant: 2x Derwent 8 (3,500lbs thrust each)
  • Max Speed: 592mph
  • Service Ceiling: 43,000ft
  • Length: 44ft 7in (13.59m)
  • Wingspan: 37ft 2in (11.32m)
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96m)
  • Armament: 4x 20mm Hispano V cannons
    2x1000lb bombs or 16x60lb unguided rockets

See Also

NEWS: One-third of RAF combat aircraft unserviceable

Panavia Tornado

According to the Daily Express newspaper a third of the Royal Air Force’s fast-jet force has been rendered unserviceable pending repairs as a result of near continuous combat operations in Afghanistan, Lybia and Iraq. According to the newspaper MoD figures reveal that 36 of the RAF’s 91 Eurofighter Typhoons and 39 of the 96 Panavia Tornado GR.4s have been taken off frontline duties for major repair work. With the Harrier force retired prematurely and operations against Islamic State in Iraq set to rise the worry is the situation could worsen.

The revelations came after Labour MP Madeline Moon raised the question in parliament. They responded with a rather vague statement saying;

Aircraft availability rates change considerably over very short periods of time.

Loosely translated what the RAF are trying to say is that the fact of the matter is intensive operations will take a toll on aircraft serviceability rates. These are complex machines being made to work in quite austere and punishing conditions and it is inevitable that some of them will develop some kind of malfunction that needs repair. This is not a situation unique to the RAF but to all military flying forces. The concern is that unlike the US Air Force or indeed the Royal Saudi Air Force the RAF simply doesn’t have the reserve forces to make up for the shortfall after savage cuts by the coalition government in 2010. The loss of the Harrier fleet is now being felt by the RAF who are carrying out a dangerous job with the usual professionalism and commitment that the British public and their government seem to take for granted these days which has led to this situation in the first place.

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.

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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.

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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.

NEWS: Nimrod replacement may finally be on the horizon

10930885_713821595404981_1967185526330261729_nAfter nearly four years since the retirement of the Nimrod MR.2 maritime patrol aircraft and the cancellation of the advanced Nimrod MRA.4 the RAF may finally get back its fixed wing anti-submarine and maritime patrol role. According to the Daily Express newspaper plans are currently on the table for a £2bn investment in up to twelve new aircraft most likely the American Boeing P-8 Poseidon which will be delivered over the coming years.

The newspaper adds that the increased presence of Russian submarines around UK waters was one of the driving forces behind the decision to finally acquire a Nimrod replacement. The lack of a long range maritime patrol aircraft led to the embarrassing situation of Britain having to ask its NATO allies for help in locating a Russian submarine around Scottish waters last year. The need for a replacement has led to wild speculation and rumours including a report claiming that the Japanese offered the RAF their Kawasaki P-1.

The MoD has stated that a review of submarine detection capabilities will be reviewed later this year.