Currently an independent researcher. Studies in Political Science with a minor degree in Philosophy. Master in Public Policy. Interests in History, International Relations and Security with a strong passion for battletanks and airplanes. Mario blogs at Drakkar Defence.
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Sweden (1997) Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEWC) Aircraft- 12 Built
The Saab 340B AEW&C and the Saab 2000 AEW&C are airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) airplanes that were developed from the basic Saab 340B airplane, a twin-engine turboprop regional airliner developed and built in partnership with the now defunct American aircraft manufacturer Fairchild Aircraft . The model was named “Metro III” when manufactured by Fairchild Aircraft. The Saab 2000 AEW&C is based upon the Saab 2000 airliner,it being a variant of the basic Saab 340B model. These airborne radar models came from the inventiveness of the Flygvapnet, as the idea of fitting the basic transport model already in service emerged considering the gaps the Flygvapnet had regarding the type of air asset. This paid off as the Nordic nation is now equipped with an airborne and air control (flying) system that provides a very valuable tool for the Flygvapnet to monitor the Swedish skies and even abroad, as the post-Cold War era meant new missions beyond national defence for the Swedish Armed Forces in general. The basic 340B version was, despite its initial non-military use, a display of technological advancement with advanced avionics and a product of the company’s desire to revive its interests in the civil market after the not entirely successful Saab Scandia 90, in the 50’s.
The Saab 340B AEW&C (Saab 340B) is a twin-engine turboprop medium size airliner, capable of carrying more than 30 passengers and with a conventional design, mainly for short-range regional flights. The main airframe is cylindrical, with the wings placed near the middle section of the airplane and of trapezoid and thin configuration. The nose is not rounded being rather sloped downwards, and the wings and horizontal control surfaces being angled upwards. The engines are not beneath the wings, as the configuration is that of a low-wing airplane; instead, they are placed above the wings and logically enrooted in them. The Saab 2000 differs from the basic model in the sense that it is larger, wider, slightly taller and with more wing area.
The Saab 340B AEW&C is powered by two General Electric CT7-9B turboprops of 1870 hp with a Dowty Rotol (or Hamilton Standard) 14RF19 four-blade constant speed propeller each, allowing the airplane to reach a cruise speed of 522 km/h (325 mph). The Saab 2000 AEW&C also has a different powerplant, being 2 Allison/Rolls Royce AE 2100A turboprop engines of 4,591 hp with a Dwoty Rotol six-bladed constant speed propellers each, having improved performance than the 340B version: for instance, the cruise speed it can reach is up to 629,68 km/h (391,26 mph).
Given the role of the airframes, both are fitted with an Ericsson Erieye (PS-890) radar installed above the main airframe, with a range of S-band, 3 GHz (GigaHertz) with a range of 160 degrees on each side. The radar is a rectangular pod, in contrast with the radars one would see on more classical AEW&C planes (for example the Boeing E-3 Sentry or the Ilyushin A-50). The radar has a range of 300-400 km capable of detecting sea and airborne targets.
The A 340B AEW&C (S 100B Argus) came to be with the idea of having a Swedish modified AEW&C asset and an alternative to the comparatively more expensive Boeing E-3 AWACS. The Flygvapnet was already operating with a Saab 340B for VIP transport, designated TP 100A, and that same airframe was to be the basis for the new airborne defence and air control radar. By the mid-90s, the first unit entered in service with the Flygvapnet. A total of six airframes were ordered: four with the radar already installed and two without the radar, prepared to have it installed when needed and serving as VIP transports during peacetime. As mentioned above, the Saab 340B AEW&C (S 100B Argus) is based upon the commercial airliner Saab 340B, which is a good platform given its structural characteristics, avionics, and performance. This airframe began its development in the 70s, with the propulsion system that it has being chosen as it was more economic than the jet propulsion system back then. It is reported that cost/efficiency considerations and the effects of the 1973 Oil Crisis made the company to pick the turboprop propulsion system. The US Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 gave further impulse for the basic model to be developed. This airplane was developed and built jointly with Fairchild Aircraft, mainly due to the fact that Saab thought the production capacity would not be enough. As a result, from 1980 to 1987, Fairchild was tasked with manufacturing the wings, the tail, and the engine nacelles. Saab, in turn, was tasked with manufacturing the main airframe, covering the 75% of development costs and the system integration and certification. The first Saab 340 flew in 1983, with the first airplane serving with an airline in 1984. After Fairchild ceased operations, Saab began to fully manufacture the Saab 340, doing so until 1999. The Saab 2000 came to be due to a decision in 1988 by Saab to develop an elongated version of the Saab 340 capable of carrying up to 50 passengers, having the same economic efficiency along with better climbing performance. Its first flight was in 1992, entering into service in 1994.
Currently, the S 340B AEW&C (S 100B Argus) operates in the Flygvapnet with 4 units sporting radar equipment and two additional units serving as VIP transports, ready to have the radars installed when needed. Its production was also finished in 1999, with 12 AEW&C units built: six for the Flygvapnet, 2 for the Royal Thai Air Force and 2 for the Pakistan Air Force, with 2 more under production for the United Arab Emirates Air Force. 2 modified airframes were loaned for the Hellenic Air Force from 2000 to 2003, while Greece received two Embraer RJ-145 AEW&C aircrafts fitted with the same Ericsson Erieye radars. It is noteworthy to state that of the basic airliner version, 460 units were built. Of the Saab 2000 airliner version, 63 were built; in turn, the Saab 2000 AEW&C version was introduced in 2010 for the Pakistan Air Force, with 8 units built so far and operating with the Pakistan Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Force and the United Arab Emirates Air Force. Three more units would be delivered for the Pakistani Air Force.
The Saab 340B AEW&C design is based on the Saab 340B commercial airliner, while the Saab 2000 AEW&C is based on the Saab 2000 commercial airliner. As such, the airframe is the basically the same except that the former has the radar placed above the airframe, and other electronic equipment installed in the airplane. The airplane is of a dihedral wing design, which means the wings are placed at the base of the airframe and angled upwards. It had two turboprop engines and an airframe built entirely of aluminium with the same construction techniques other Saab military fighters had: usage of bonding instead of rivets, reducing the overall weight of the airplane. It also has wider horizontal stabilizers, a vibration control system in the cabin to reduce the noise from the engines, and more powerful engines (the two General Electric CT7-9B turboprops of 1870 hp).
The wing and the horizontal control surfaces or stabilizers are dihedral, with the angle of the former being more prominent than the angle of the main wings. Both the wings and the horizontal stabilizers are both of trapezoid shape, being very thin – or simply not having that much of surface area. The engines are located at a quarter of the main wings, close to the main airframe. The main wings are located at the middle of the airframe, with the airframe being of tubular shape. The bow section of the airframe has a shape that varies according from the view or perspective. From an upper view, it has a parabolic nose cone; from a side view the shape is divided, with the area between the very roof and the windscreen having and inclination of around 38 degrees negative, and from the lower section of the windscreen to the tip of the nose, an angle of 30 degrees negative. The tip of the nose from a side view is placed at the lower section of the airframe, with the interior bow section from where the frontal landing gear is placed, to the tip, having an angle upwards of 10 degrees. The central section of the airplane is of cylindrical shape.
The aft or stern section of the airplane comprises the horizontal and vertical control surfaces, and two ventral tails fins. The tail is of conventional type with a sort of “double-delta” configuration; this is, the surface having at the forward area different angles. The forward section of the tail, from the central area of the airframe to the area where the horizontal control surfaces are placed, has an angle of nearly 15 degrees. From the aforementioned section to the tip of the tail the angle is of 45 degrees. From an upper view, the rear section is of conical shape, whereas from a side view the upper area of the aft section is lightly going downwards, and the interior part has an upwards angle of around 15 degrees. The ventral fins are placed right beneath the horizontal control surfaces. The rudder dominates half of the tail. And there is an elongating radome at the very rear part of the aircraft. The landing gear is of tricycle configuration, with the frontal landing gear placed at the nose cone (beneath the cockpit) and the two landing gear trains placed beneath the engine gondolas, them being retractable with storage inside the engine gondolas.
The Saab 2000 AEW&C has a similar structure to that of the 340, except that it is more elongated in width and length, the inferior section of the nose being entirely straight and the engines having more distance from the main fuselage. It also lacks the ventral tail fins the Saab 340B AEW&C (S 100B Argus) has.
The engines powering the aircraft are two General Electric CT7-9B turboprops of 1870 hp with a Dowty Rotol (or Hamilton Standard) 14RF19 four-blade constant speed propeller. Thanks to the powerplant, the airplane can reach a maximum cruising speed of 524 km/h (325,60 mph). The aircraft is fitted with devices to reduce the noise generated by the engines. The Saab 2000 AEW&C is powered by two 2 Allison/Rolls Royce AE 2100A turboprop engines of 4,591 hp with a Dwoty Rotol six-bladed constant speed propellers each, allowing a cruise speed of 629,68 km/h (391,26 mph).
The AEW&C version has the Ericsson Erieye radar placed above the central section of the airframe, supported by a series of pillars that connects it to the main airframe and with a slight inclination downwards from stern to bow. Ventral antennas are installed at the inferior area of the fuselage.
The canopy is of conventional type, typical of any commercial or transport aircraft, with two frontal windscreens, and a lateral windscreen at each side of the cockpit. The crew on the Saab 340 AEW&C (S 100B Argus) is normally six.
Fitting a civilian for defence duties
Perhaps surprisingly, the Flygvapnet lacked an airborne AEW&C system during the late Cold War, relying instead on either smaller airborne assets for surveillance or land radar stations. The Flygvapnet decided to close this gap by ordering Ericsson Microwave Systems to develop the PS-890 Erieye radar by the late 80s, with the airframe that would be used undergoing the first trials by the same period. This idea was, in fact, proposed back in the 70s but rejected. It was revived again in the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) in 1982. As the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS was deemed too expensive, it is no surprise that the Saab 340 airliner was chosen by the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration as the platform for the airborne radar system. the Flygvapnet was already operating with a Saab 340B which was being operated as a VIP transport. In any case, it was a very good decision, considering the Saab 340B is a very economic airplane thanks to its powerplant’s configuration and the advanced basis avionics and electronics, which was hence an economic alternative to the E-3 Sentry. In combination with the Erieye radar, it makes a suitable platform for an airborne radar for Sweden. The Saab 2000 is an example of how this concept has evolved by incorporating the Erieye into an equally economical yet very capable airframe, which a derivative from the basic model.
The Eye of Odin
The radar installed in the Saab 340B AEW&C (S 100B Argus) is the Ericsson Microwave System Erieye PS-890 multi-mode active electronically scanned array (AESA) pulse-doppler radar, which makes the airplane a very remarkable AEW&C aircraft, considering its capacities. Its development began in 1985 after the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, with a dummy dual-sided phased antenna being tested on the future platform, which was tested in trial two years later. It has 200 solid-state modules mounted in the antenna, with an S-band frequency and 3 GHz, with a ‘look’ on each side of 120 degrees and a reach of up to 300-400 km at an altitude of 6096 meters (20,000 ft). It has an altitude reach of up to 20 km (65,000 ft), yet leaves the nose and tail areas as blind spots. This shortcoming is compensated by the fact the radar – with this design in particular – can provide improved detection and better tracking thanks to the electronically scanned beam, at the point of being able to scan other areas while concentrating on a single target. Moreover, the PS-890 Erieye can detect and track fighters, helicopters, cruise missiles and even very small targets at the sea, as it has also a sea surveillance mode. Moreover, sectors deemed important can be scanned with different modes at a single moment, being capable of performing in electronically saturated environments and as an all-weather device, and can discern between friend and foes through its IFF capacities and devices.
This is suitable for the Flygvapnet considering that the dimensions it has to watch for are the air and the sea (even more as the Baltic sea is the most important body of water at the East, an area from which most of the threats have come historically, and even currently). As such, it can perform air and sea surveillance missions, Command and Control, Intelligence, control of own assets, surveillance and control of national borders, national assets and national economic zones, search and rescue, alert warning and air policing. The system is compatible with NATO airborne systems and standards.
The Erieye PS-890 radar has other electronic features, such as adaptive waveform generation with digital; pulse-coded electronic frames; signal processing and targeting, a track while scan device; low and medium pulse repetition frequency operating modes; frequency agility; target radar-cross section display; and air-to-air and sea surveillance modes.
Interestingly and despite the system being capable of receiving four multifunction workstations for airborne controllers, it can spare them as it has instead an onboard automatic systems datalink that can transmit to ground station the information gathered by the airborne radar, and with those same stations being capable of transmitting orders to the platform. The airplane and radar are both connected to the integrated Swedish Air Defence System and network StriC-90, thanks to this network, the airplane can maximize its operational performance, complementing in turn and even enhancing the capabilities of such system; this fact makes the Saab 340B AEW&C (S 100B Argus) airplanes very valuable assets in the Flygvapnet. And the same design of the radar module was the first of its kind, being also an alternative to the disc-shaped classical airborne radars. The radar developed by Ericsson is fitted in other similar airborne platforms such as the Embraer EMB-145/E-99 and the Bombardier Global 6000. It has now evolved into the Global Erieye airborne radar.
Variants of the Saab 340 AEW&C (S 100B Argus)
Saab 340 AEW&C / S 100B Argus – Airplanes having the PS-890/FSR-890 radar, and operated by the Royal Thai Air Force.
Saab 340B AEW&C 200 – Version fitted with the IS-340 Erieye radar
Saab 340B AEW&C 300 / S 100D Argus – Airplanes fitted with the upgraded PS-890/ASC-890 radar, capable of admitting from 1 to 4 operators.
Variants of the Saab 2000 AEW&C
Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C – Version fitted with an airborne Erieye radar
Saab 200 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) – Version for Maritime Patrol and capable of performing ASW, ASuW, anti-piracy/anti-narcotics/anti-people smuggling, maritime counter-terrorism operations, search and rescue, support for special forces, SIGINT, and fisheries patrol, among other sea-based security tasks.
Sweden – The Flygvapnet operates four Saab 340 AEW&C (S 100B Argus) fitted with the Erieye radar, alongside 2 additional airframes serving as transport planes, ready to have the radar installed in case it is needed. The first airframes were received in 1994, entering fully in service between 1997 and 1999, and serving in the F16M wing at Malmstatt. Normally, there are no operators onboard, being rather used as a part of the integrated air defence network.
Greece – The Hellenic Air Force decided to acquire the Erieye radar system with 4 units to be installed in Embraer RJ-145 airplanes. While waiting for the newly acquired system to arrive, 2 Saab 340B AEW&C airplanes were loaned by the Greeks in the year 2000. The loaned units were modified, having two to three operator consoles, NATO IFF, communications and datalinks having a ground bases system for information processing fitted for Greek standards, but lacking the Swedish ECCM and also the cockpit display processing information from ground stations. These airplanes were returned to the Flygvapnet by 2003.
Thailand – The Royal Thai Air Force has two Saab 340 AEW&C that received in October 2012.
United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates Air force requested 2 airplanes, with the units delivered being Saab 2000 AEW&C. Now operational.
Saudi Arabia – The Royal Saudi Air Force reportedly operates two Saab 2000 AEW&C for border surveillance.
Pakistan – This country operates four Saab 2000 AEW&C airplanes. 2 more are reportedly on order.
Saab 340 AEW&C – S 100 B Argus Specifications
70 ft 4 in / 21.44 m
66 ft 8 in / 20.33 m
22 ft 11 in / 6.97 m
450 ft² / 41.81 m²
Two General Electric CT7-9B turboprops of 1870 hp with a Dowty Rotol (or Hamilton Standard) 14RF19 four-blade constant speed propeller.
22,707 lb / 10,300 kg
Maximum Takeoff Weight
29,101 lb / 13,200 kg
7,500 lb / 3,401 kg
2,000 ft / 10,2 m/s
285 mph / 528 kmh
285 mph / 528 kmh
900.988 mi / 1,450 km
Maximum Service Ceiling
25,000 ft / 7,620 m
An Ericsson Erieye (PS-890) radar.
Länk 16, HQII, IFF, secure voice, m.m.
Saab 2000 AEW&C Specifications
81 ft 3 in / 24.76 m
89 ft 6 in / 27.28 m
25 ft 4 in / 7.73 m
600 ft² / 55.7 m²
Two Allison/Rolls Royce AE 2100A turboprops of 4152 hp with a Dowty Rotol six-blade constant speed propeller.
30,424 lb / 10,800 kg
Maximum Takeoff Weight
50,625 lb / 22,800 kg
13,010 lb / 5,900 kg
2,250 ft / 11,4 m/s
391,26 mph / 929,68 kmh
391,26 mph / 929,68 kmh
2,301.55 mi / 3,704 km
Maximum Service Ceiling
30,000 ft / 9,144 m
An Ericsson Erieye (PS-890) radar.
Länk 16, Self-protection systems, IFF/SSR, secure voice, ESM/ELINT, AIS; Command and Control devices such as consoles and a latest generation HMI.
The Saab B 17 is the product of Sweden’s need to procure assets to defend its sovereignty and neutrality in the light of a gradually complicated international and regional context, to the point that it was prioritized over the equally capable and versatile Saab B 18. This aircraft was a milestone for the main company in the Swedish aerospace industry, as it was the very first airplane produced and delivered by this company following its acquisition and merge with ASJA, the aircraft branch of the Swedish Railroad Workshops company. It was also the application of the lessons and experience provided by the licensed-manufacturing of the Northrop 8-A1 bomber by AJSA/Saab. AJSA was already commissioned by the Defence Material Administration to develop and build a single-engine and light fighter-bomber, so Saab took over the design and development process in 1939 after both companies merged, evolving into the final light bomber, dive bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Designated as the L 10 by ASJA, the design became the Saab 17, incorporating a good number of innovations and becoming a very versatile and adaptable airframe. Yet its time of service with the Flygvapnet was rather brief, as it was de-commissioned by the late 40’s. This was due to new and more powerful powerplant technologies such as jet propulsion. Instead, it served for a long period of time in Ethiopia until 1968.
The Saab B 17 is a light bomber/dive bomber and reconnaissance plane with two seats, a single engine and a single tail, whose design bears a close resemblance with the Mitsubishi Ki-30 “Ann”, the Mitsubishi Ki-15, the Vought OS2U, and the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, especially with the elongated shape of the main airframe and equally elongated windscreen of the cabin (as well as the same cockpit), which occupies most of the superior area of the airframe and it is fully incorporated in the fuselage. The wing is a mid-wing (cantilever) of trapezoid shape with a remarkable characteristic: where the retractable landing gear, which was covered with streamlined fairings, was placed, the rear part of the wing was divided. From the fuselage to the place of the landing gears, it was straight; from the landing gears area to the wingtip, it was angled. The forward area of the wing was straight, and the wingtips were rounded. The wing, from a frontal perspective, was slightly angled upwards from the landing gear area to the wingtip. It was also a reinforced wing to allow it to deal with the high stress by dive bombing missions.
The Saab B 17 was powered by different powerplants during its career, as many versions had their own powerplants. The two prototypes (L 10) were powered by a licensed-built Bristol Mercury XII of 880hp by NOHAB (Nydqvist & Holm AB) and by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp of 1065hp each. The first production version (B 17A) was powered by the same Pratt & Whitney R-1830 (S1G3C) of 1050hp, while the B 17B (and also the B 17BL and B 17BS) was powered by a licensed-built Bristol Mercury XXIV of 980hp, with the B 17C powered by a Piaggio P.XIbis R.C.40D of 1040hp. Consequently, speed tended to vary from version to version as well. For instance, the B 17A could reach speeds of up to 435 Km/h (270 mph); the B 17B could reach speeds of up to 395 Km/h (245 mph), the B 17BL and B 17BS could reach speed of up to 330 Km/h (205 mph); and the B 17C could reach speed of up to 435 Km/h (270 mph). The landing gear was also varied from version to version, as it could have the classic set of two wheels at the wings and a small tailwheel, skies as replacement for the wheels, and even special twin floats permanently attached. This gave the B 17 considerable versatility, as it could take off and land in normal runways to snow-covered terrain, and also in water surfaces.
The armament had no modifications, comprising of two 8mm Ksp m/22F machineguns placed at the forward section of the wings and after the landing gear area, a single and moveable 8 mm Ksp m/22R machine gun firing backwards for the observer/navigator/radio operator, and a payload of up to a 500-kg (1,102 lb) bomb or 700-kg (1,500 lb) bomb. Interestingly, the dive bomber version had an under-fuselage trapeze to accommodate a 500 Kg bomb, along the wing weapons stations. And it had state-of the art avionics for bombers by the time, like the bomb-sight BT2 (also known as m/42) that increased precision, mostly the late versions. In addition, it had two radios, an FR-2 and FRP-2. The reconnaissance version had a camera placed at the bottom of the fuselage.
The initial roles of the airplane were reconnaissance and artillery spotting, roles that were, however, already filled by other air assets such as the Fieseler Storch and the Hawker Hart. As a result, the new airplane was required to be a light dive-bomber as well. Nevertheless, the final model retained all of the two missions through its variants, as well as receiving a level light-bomber and dive-bomber role. It would also be used for target towing later in its career. The Saab B 17, like the B 18, had an American ‘soul’ as well, thanks to the 40-50 American engineers that were part of ASJA and contributed with the design and construction of the airplane, hence the abovementioned similarity with the American airplanes. And it needed to receive some structural modifications, especially for the dive-bombing missions, such as the reinforcing of the wings and the landing gear folding system. This could be retracted backwards and used as an airbrake, taking advantage of the fairing.
Development of the B 17 began in 1937 when ASJA began works on its L 10; as Saab merged with ASJA that same year, it continued with the development of the given aircraft, which would be an all metal airframe – something that was a novelty as airplanes back then used to have wood and other materials part of the fuselage. Two prototypes were built, each one having a different powerplant and flying for the first time in May 1940. The test pilot, Claes Smith, assessed the design as a good one, despite the fact the cockpit wheel came loose and fell prior landing. During development, it was realized that some modifications were needed, like changing the carburetor air intake from the top of the engine cowling to the starboard side of the cowling. This was done to prevent the engine from stopping. A spin fin was also added. By the end of 1940, the first 8 B 17s were produced, entering in service with the Flygvapnet in 1942. Some issues delayed the production programme, however. Nonetheless, 324 airframes were produced between 1942 and 1944, with three main versions: the B 17A light bomber and later target towing aircraft, the B 18B – and its sub-variants B 17B I, B 17B II, B 17BL and B 17BS – light bomber and reconnaissance versions (this version was the one that received most of structural the modifications), and the B 17C bomber version.
The B 17 had one of the shortest service period with the Flygvapnet, as it was retired 7 years after it was introduced; yet it remained in service in Austria, Finland, and Ethiopia until 1968. In Sweden, they remained in service with civilian operators and in very small numbers until 1959, where they received new avionics.
5 airframes remain, one of them airworthy and still operating today in airshows. Two are museum pieces in Linköping and one in Helsingør, Denmark. Two airframes are reportedly located in Lithuania.
The design of the B 17 is similar to other aircraft used in WWII by other countries, meaning it has the typical ‘WWII style’. But instead of being the average WWII design, the B 17 has some remarkable and particular characteristics. The airplane is an all-metal airframe, with the bow having a cylinder shape thanks to the radial engine and the stern is topped off with the tail, and the overall airframe being elongated with a sort of conical shape. The airplane is also a semi-straight leading-edge wing airplane, but the wings also have a particular characteristic. In fact, the wings have a ‘divided’ shape, with the area of the landing gear being the dividing point. First, from the fuselage to the landing gear, the leading-edge is straight while the rear-edge is also straight, having two ‘dog-teeth’ that mark where the rear area of the fairings are located. Second, from the landing gears to the tip of the wings, the leading-edge of the wings are straight as well, but the rear-edges are angled, making this area of trapezoid shape. The tips are rounded. The wings also have a divided shape from a frontal perspective, with the landing gear being also the dividing area. From the fuselage to the landing gear area, the wing is straight. However, from the landing gear to the tip of the wings, it is angled upwards, similar to the Ju-87 Stuka or the Douglas SBD ‘Dauntless’, only that the angle is not as wide. The wing, furthermore, is installed in the middle of the fuselage (cantilever), also being reinforced. Such reinforcement can be seen through its thickness. The horizontal stabilizers are also of trapezoid shape, with the control surfaces per se having an inwards angle at the tip of the surface. The tail has a similar shape with the rudder occupying most of the surface and having also an inwards angle near the tip. Both horizontal and vertical stabilizers have an equally rounded shape.
The canopy is another remarkable characteristic of the B 17, as it is very elongated, occupying almost 40% of the superior area of the fuselage and making an impression that the B 17 has a crew of three, rather than the actual crew of 2: the pilot and the radio operator/navigator/observer. As a result, the cockpit had a lot of space, which allowed the second crewman to slide the seat back and forwards between the two different workstations. Beneath the forward area of the cockpit was where the bombs bay was located. A long antenna was placed above the canopy, right after the pilot’s seat, with a long cable connecting it with the tail. The landing gear was of classic configuration, with two (extended) wheels placed beneath the wings and a third wheel placed beneath the tail. The two forward wheels have a particular trait that gave the B 17 another distinctive characteristic either in land or when in flight: the forward landing gears were covered with an aerodynamic fairing as it folded backwards, into the wing. The purpose was to use such fairing as an airbrake, yet it was not entirely functional as the hydraulic system wasn’t powerful. The fairings were met by a ‘hood’ of sorts at the wing; when the landing gear folded, it gave the landing gears cover a cylinder shape, making the B 17 to have two cylindrical structures at the wings while in flight, making easy its recognition while in flight. The B 17 went through a series of modifications, especially the reconnaissance versions, as they received floats – with the purpose of operating from water – along with small endplates (placed right before the wing tips) and aerodynamic struts. The landing gear, in turn, could be replaced with skis instead of wheels, an ideal device for winter or Arctic operations.
The B 17 received three different type of powerplants. The first two prototypes were powered by a NOHAB-built Bristol Mercury XII and a Swedish-made Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines. The production versions had the following powerplants: a Swedish-made Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp (B 17A); a Swedish-made (by SFA) Bristol Mercury XXIV (B 17B and the different sub-variants); and the Piaggio P.XIbis R.C.40D (B 17C). All the engines were radial and air-cooled, with 9 or 14 cylinders. The propeller was a three-bladed Piaggio P.1001 variable pitch propeller. The engines yielded different speeds. The B 17A could reach speeds of up to 435 Km/h (270 mph), the B 17B could reach speed of up to 395 Km/h (205 mph), and the B 17C could reach also speeds of up to 435 Km/h (270 mph).
The B 17 had a standard armament with no variation from model to model, except for those with reconnaissance tasks. It consisted of two 8mm Ksp m/22F mounted at the wings and firing forwards, and one 8mm Ksp m/22R mounted at the stern of the cockpit, which was moveable and could fire backwards. A 500 Kg (1,102 lb) (B 17A) or a 700 kg (1,500 lb) (B 17B andC) could also be carried. Some units of the B 17A were modified to carry air-to-ground rockets. The reconnaissance versions were fitted with a camera type N2. An advanced bomb sight named the ‘m/42’ was introduced to enhance bombing efficiency, especially at dive-bombing, reducing the angle of bombing.
The B 17 was the very first plane produced by Saab, and incorporated many of the lessons and experiences acquired with the licensed-manufacturing of the Northrop 8-A1 bomber by ASJA and then Saab itself, being also the first then modern all-metal light bomber produced by Sweden during WWII. As the m/42 bomb-sight was developed and introduced for this aircraft, it was reportedly exported to the US.
An ‘all-terrain’ airplane
If there is something that makes the B 17 a remarkable design, it is the fact that modifications to its landing gear allows the plane to operate from any type of terrain… literally. The main landing gear configuration is that with wheels for normal operations in normal airstrips. But when winter comes, the wheels could be replaced with skis, allowing the airplane to operate even in harsh cold weather conditions with snow-covered airstrips. This might indicate that Sweden needed an all-time available air asset to defend its sovereignty and neutrality, or maybe that it absorbed the operational lessons the Swedish Volunteer squadron that took part during the Winter War, or the lessons provided by that same conflict. But the B 17 received another modification that allowed it to operate from the surface of any water body, as it could be fitted with two floats replacing the wheeled-landing gears, becoming the B 17BS. This variant was mainly used for water-borne aerial reconnaissance.
Close to War and the architect of an air force
Despite being a rather obscured airplane in history, the B 17 would have been one of the few neutral airplanes to take actual part in a conflict, besides those belonging to the Flygvapnet that took part during the Winter War. For instance, the Danish Brigade, a unit comprised of refugee Danish airmen supported and equipped by Sweden, would have been close to assist in the liberation of their country, if it weren’t for the fact that the Swedish government did not allow it to take off with the supplied B 17 units to Denmark. The B 17s were then offered to the Danish Air Force, but were rejected as the German surrender took place some days before the offering was made, being returned to the Flygvapnet.
But the adventures of the B 17 would not finish there, Ethiopian country was looking for assistance in building a more advanced air force of its own after WWII. Sweden became the main supporter of this small air force, supplying Saab Safir trainers and B 17 light bombers, as they later were being phased out in 1947. It also employed some former Flygvapnet personnel and under orders of Carl Gustav von Rosen, who also became the chief instructor of the rebuilt Imperial Ethiopian Air Force. It remained in service there until 1968.
L-10 – The prototype version of the B 17 under the denomination it had when ASJA was tasked with the design and development process. One unit was powered by a NOHAB-made Bristol Mercury XII 880hp engine and another was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine.
B 17A – Bomber version powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3G Twin Wasp engine of 1050 to 1200 hp. Some units were modified to carry air-to-ground rockets. The armament of this version became standard for the bombers and its other variants: 2x8mm machine guns placed on the wings and firing forwards, and an 8mm rear machine gun placed at the second crewman’s post, along a 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb. 132 units delivered.
B 17B – Bomber version powered with a Swedish-built Bristol Mercury XXIV (Svenska Flygmotor Aktiebolaget SFA) engine, with the same armament configuration except for a 700 kg (1,500 lb) bomb. 55 units delivered.
B 17B I – Dive-bomber version fitted with a trapeze under the fuselage, carrying a 500 Kg (1,500 lb) bomb, and underwing hardpoints for bombs. It was equipped with the m/42 bombsight.
B 17B II – A light level bombing version fitted with an internal bomb bay and underwing hardpoints.
B 17BL – Reconnaissance version fitted with a wheeled landing gear and a camera in the fuselage, replacing the HE 5 Hansa and the Fokker C.VD/C.VE. 21 units delivered.
B 17BS – Reconnaissance floatplane version fitted with twin floats, aerodynamic struts, and endplates on the horizontal stabilizers. 38 units delivered.
B 17C – Another bomber version fitted with the Piaggio P.XIbis R.C.40D 1040hp engine, and carrying a 700 kg (1,500 lb) bomb. 77 units produced.
Sweden The Flygvapnet was the main operator of the B 17, with 132 units of the B 17A model, 55 units of the B 17B and its modified sub-variants, and 77 of the B 17C variant. The first model was fitted with an inner bomb bay with some airframes modified to carry air-to-ground rockets. The following version was used as bomber – equipped with the advanced m/42 bombsight and some with the trapeze and underwing hardpoints – up until 1945. Some airframes were modified for reconnaissance duties and subsequently equipped with cameras. These modified aricraft served until 1949. Some airframes received further modifications such as the twin floats and other structural modifications. The B 17C was used for bombing missions, having an internal bomb bay and hardpoints until 1948, when they were withdrawn due to problems with the engines. The B 17 operated in six squadrons from 1942 to 1949 as it follows: the B 17 bomber and dive-bomber versions operated in F4 Frösön, F6 Karlsborg, F7 Stenäs, and F12 Kalmar. The B 17BS sea-based planes operated with F2 Hägernäs, and the land-based reconnaissance planes operated in the F3 Malmslätt.Following the B 17 withdrawal from service with the Flygvapnet, the airplane was operated by civilian companies for various purposes, target towing included. Two B 17BS were purchased by the Osterman Aero and used to carry fish and shellfish from Bergen (Norway) to the Swedish capital. In addition, 19 B 17A were loaned to AVIA and Svensk Flygtjänsk AB and modified for target towing; 5 of them received ECM equipment in 1959. One B 17A remains airworthy in airshows, with 2 additional airframes used as museum displays.
Finland The Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) received two B 17A for target towing tasks, which were lost in accidents.
Austria The Österreischische Luftstreitkräfte (Austrian Air Force) received a B 17A via Svensk Flygtjänsk AB in 1957. This was done to facilitate the deal as it was a privately-owned airplane, considering the restrictions the Swedish government sets on sales abroad on Swedish-made military equipment.
Denmark As this country was under German occupation, a Danish brigade was established in Sweden in 1943 with 15 pilots and equipped with 15 B 17C under loan, taking part in training and exercises with the Flygvapnet, being painted with Danish colors. They were not given permission to leave the Swedish territory despite being ready to enter action against the Germans; the 15 units were offered to Denmark, but this country never accepted them, with Germany surrendering some time after the offer was made. One remains as a display in a museum.
Ethiopia The Ethiopian Air Force received 46 B 17As between 1947-1953 as the airplanes were being phased out in Sweden, and mainly as Sweden agreed to support the establishment of the Ethiopian Air Force under the lead of Carl Gustav von Rosen and with some former Flygvapnet personnel. The Ethiopian B 17 remained in service until 1968.
44 ft 11 in / 13.7 m
32 ft 10 in / 10 m
14 ft 9 in / 4.5 m
307 ft² / 28.5 m²
1x Piaggio P.XIbis R.C.40D 9 cylinders air-cooled radial piston engine, with a 3-bladed Piaggio P.1001 variable propeller.
The F-14 Tomcat is the most iconic Cold War US Naval fighter, next to the McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom. It is also a replacement for the F-4 Phantom and the failed F-111B, incorporating the lessons and experiences acquired during Vietnam as well, like the F-15 Eagle. It has a similar origin to that of the F-15, but it is also the result of two additional factors. First, the Navy’s quest to find a Fleet Air Defence asset, with long-range and high-endurance interceptor characteristics to defend the aircraft carrier battle groups, mainly against long-range anti-ship missiles launched from Soviet bombers and submarines, in addition to intercepting those same Soviet bombers. It also needed a more capable radar and provision for longer range missiles. The role of then Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara was also crucial in this case, as he directed the Navy to take part in the Tactical Fighter Experimental program. But the Navy stepped out in fears that the USAF’s need for a low-attack aircraft would hamper the fighter abilities of the new airplane. Second, the ongoing TFX F-111B project was facing a large number of issues in the late 60s that made both the Navy and Grumman, which happened to be the builder of the F-111B alongside General Dynamics, to consider a new option with better capabilities and less operational and development issues. The F-111B proved unsuitable for the conditions of the Vietnam War and had no long-range missile capability. The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) also had a role, as it issued requirements for a tandem two-seat, twin-engine fighter with mainly air-to-air capacities capable of reaching speed of up to 2.2 match and able to operate with a new generation missiles. It was also directed to have a secondary Close Air Support (CAS) role and incorporate an internal M61A1 20mm Vulcan cannon, correcting the mistake made with the previous Phantom F-4, as it had no internal gun for close-range combat. A feat achieved by the Tomcat was that it had its first flight 23 months after the contract was awarded, making the of the Tomcat a milestone in the development of new air assets. NASA also had an important role during the development stage as it did with the F-15 through the Langley Research Centre, mainly related to the F-14’s most advanced feature: the geometrically variable wings. But it also played a role in the overall design of the fighter, working very closely with Grumman providing the company with technical assistance and data.
The F-14 Tomcat is a double-seat tandem, twin-engine, double-tail, all-weather carrier-based fighter and interceptor and later gaining multi-role capability, with numerous remarkable features. The glove-mounted swept wings have variable geometry capability, in the same manner as the General Dynamics F-111, the Mig-23 Flogger, and the Panavia Tornado. When the wings were positioned rearwards, it was fitted for high-speed intercept missions. When swept outwards, the wings naturally increased drag, allowing lower speed flight and a lower stall speed. The control of the wing movement was automatic with manual control if needed. The flat area between the engines nacelles, at the rear of the fighter, purposed to contain fuel and avionics components, such as the controllers for the wing-sweep mechanism, flares and chaff and other flight assist functions. This results in a wide space between the two nacelles giving the Tomcat it’s characteristic shape. Its design is based in the aforementioned requirements, which required the new fighter to carry a combination of AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missiles, AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range missiles, and long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, alongside the 20mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon. As Grumman was awarded with the contract in 1968, it incorporated two features of the unsuccessful F-111B project: the two Pratt & Whitney TF-30-P3 engines and the required AWG-9 radar for the AIM-54 Phoenix. If one observes carefully, it can be concluded that there are many similarities between the F-111 and the F-14, not only the geometrically variable wings.
The F-14 Tomcat became the Naval equivalent of the F-15, as it was equally as capable as the Eagle, with the addition role of an embarked fighter, performing maritime air superiority, fleet defense, long-range interception, and tactical aerial reconnaissance missions. Despite the quite similar structure of the Eagle, the two fighters are very different, and not only because of their purposed missions. The F-14 reportedly relied more on airborne surveillance and identification systems for beyond visual range firing.
The F-14 structure is made of 25% titanium, such as the wing structure, pivots, and both upper and lower wing flight surfaces, with electron beam welding used in their construction. The same fuselage, in combination with the wing, provide the F-14 with exceptional performance in combination with the capability provided by the variable sweep wings, provided the between 40-60% of the airframe’s lift. In fact, it allowed a Tomcat to land safely after suffering a mid-air collision that removed more than the 50% of its right wing. The wings, with their variable geometry, allowed the aircraft to reach an optimum lift-to-drag ratio according to the variation in speed, which in turn permitted the aircraft to perform various missions at different speeds. The aircraft’s twin tail configuration helped it in maneuvers at high angles of attack and contributed in reducing the height of the aircraft, making it more conducive to storage in the limited height of an aircraft carrier’s lower decks. The powerplant also allowed the Tomcat to have a good performance, but it suffered from teething problems in its early years, later requiring modifications. The Tomcat had its first flight in December 1970. The first versions were powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF-30-P412A turbofan engines, yielding speeds of up to 1,563 mph (2,517 km/h) at high altitude. But this initial engine was deemed as unreliable as it caused 28% of the Tomcat’s accidents, mainly due to compressor stalls. As a result, the powerplant had to be improved, and later versions had the were replaced with the General Electric F-100-GE-400 turbofan engine. The Tomcat also had advanced avionics that gave it superior air-to-air and later on, enhanced air-to-ground capability.
The F-14, was subject to numerous improvement programs in avionics and engines, as well as weaponry. For instance, in 1994, the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared System for Night (LANTIRN) was incorporated on the right wing glove pylon, which enhanced the Tomcat’s CAS and air-ground attack capabilities. In addition to the pod, other upgrades in avionics and cockpit displays allowed the usage of precision-guided weaponry, enhanced defensive systems, displays and control devices and even structural improvements. A Global Positioning System and Inertial Navigation System (GPS-INS) was integrated in the LANTIRN pod. Between the late 80s and early 90s, the Tomcat was able to operate with free-fall iron bombs, thus having limited ground-attack capabilities that were enhanced by the aforementioned improvements in avionics. Many proposed improved versions were drafted, but they were ultimately rejected given technical assessments and political reluctance to develop and introduce them, considering that new and more advanced and/or comparatively lower costs alternatives were already introduced or were at their late stage of development.
Tomcats in Combat
The F-14 saw its good share of action after being introduced in September 1974, with the first missions being implemented in the last days of the Vietnam War, providing top cover for the evacuation air route through combat air patrols. During the Cold War and in the North Atlantic, it was a routine for the F-14 to execute long-range interceptions of Soviet bombers and maritime reconnaissance aircraft that were flying too close to the aircraft carrier groups, such as the Tupolev Tu-95, Tupolev Tu-16 Badger, Tupolev M-4 Bison, Antonov An-12 Cub and Illyushin Il-38 May. In addition, NATO exercises in the Northern region of the Atlantic usually garnered the attention of the Soviets, while their routine flights from the Kola Peninsula to Cuba prompted these interceptions on a weekly, if not daily basis. The F-14 also saw some action in the Lebanese Civil War, with combat air patrols while American nationals were evacuated in 1976, and again between 1982 and 1986, with further combat air patrols and Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) missions to spot artillery positions firing against the international peacekeeping force and to provide naval gunfire support with intelligence on targets. During these operations, many F-14s were attacked by Syrian anti-aircraft fire that never managed to strike any targets, prompting retaliatory strikes where the F-14 provided cover to attacking airplanes, and also prompting the battleship USS New Jersey to open fire against Syrian AA batteries. Syrian Migs engaged but did not attack the Tomcat. Tomcats also took part in the failed operation to free the American hostages in Iran.
It was in Libya where the F-14 became very famous, during a series of incidents between the USA and Libya throughout the 80’s, where the F-14 managed to shoot down 4 Libyan aircraft, 2 Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters, and 2 MiG-23 Floggers, while also sinking a corvette and a patrol boat, and damaging many more, including surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites. During these incidents, the F-14 provided combat air patrols and interceptions, supporting various missions, such as Operation Arid Farmer, Prairie Fire and El Dorado Canyon, even outmanoeuvring 2 MiG-25 Foxbats that were intercepted. During these interventions, Tomcats were also attacked by SAMs and air-to-air missiles fired by Libyan air assets, suffering no casualties. Similar incidents took place in Somalia in 1983, where two F-14s were attacked by SAMs while performing photo-reconnaissance over the port of Berbera, being confused with Ethiopian MiG-23s. Photo-reconnaissance, damage assessment, and combat air patrols were also executed by Tomcats during the Invasion of Grenada. During the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, the F-14s monitored activities around the vessel alongside combat air patrols, managing also to force the airliner carrying the terrorists that hijacked the ship to land in a NATO air base in Italy. During the “Tanker War”, an episode of the Iran-Iraq, the F-14 provided Navy vessels with combat air patrols and escort missions, alongside fighter cover during Operation Nimble Archer and Operation Praying Mantis.
The last scenarios where the F-14 saw action was in Iraq during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, where it provided combat air patrols in protection of naval and land forces deployed at sea and in Saudi Arabia, deterring Iraqi advances. Escort for attack aircraft, long range defence of naval assets, combat air patrols, and TARPS patrols were among the additional missions carried out by the Tomcats during the campaign, pinpointing SCUD launchers, and performing battle damage assessments. A single F-14 was lost due to a SAM missile, while an Mi-8 helicopter was the only air kill achieved by the Tomcat, as Iraqi air assets tended to flee when engaged by the Tomcat, being shot down by other fighters instead. After the 1991 Gulf War, Tomcats enforced no-fly zones and executed bombings with advanced ordnance, such as the GBU-24 Paveway III and GBU-10/16/24 laser-guided bombs, making use of the LANTIRN pod and of night vision systems for the first time. During the Second Gulf War and its aftermath, and during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Tomcats executed strike and CAS missions, deploying the JDAM bombs for the first time in combat and against high profile targets. They also acted as Forward Air Controllers for other air assets. Another scenario was in the Balkans, where the F-14 was also deployed, using laser-guided bombs and performing combat air patrol, escort, strike missions, Forward Air Controllers and TARPS tasks.
As Iran was a key US ally up until the 1979 Revolution, it received F-14s to ward-off Soviet MiG-25 reconnaissance flights over Iran. After the Revolution and the following Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian Tomcats saw extensive combat, scoring several air kills, reportedly 160, and managing to intimidate its adversaries, against the loss of 16 Tomcats due to combat and accidents. This was an impressive feat as the Tomcats were not operational and crews lacked training and experience. Reportedly, Iranian Tomcats were escorting Russian bombers performing air strikes against ISIS in 2015, the last to remain in active service.
US Navy Tomcats were retired from service in September 2006, marking the end of an era to a plane that has reached an almost mythical fame in service. They were replaced by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. 712 units were produced between 1969 and 1991, of which 79 were delivered to Iran in the second half of the 70’s.
The F-14 is composite-construction fighter, with aluminium around 25% of the structure and boron among its structural components, with glove-mounted wings, powered by 2 Pratt & Whitney TF-30-PA412A on the earlier F-14A, and 2 General Electric F-110-GE-400 on the F-14B and F-14D, located within two engines nacelles on either side of the aircraft. These engines are fed by two rectangular air intakes placed at each side of the fuselage, located right just aft of the second crewman’s position. These intakes are equipped with movable air ramps and bleed doors to regulate airflows and to prevent disruptive shockwaves. A bleed system was also installed to reduce engine power during missile launches. The nacelles and engine exhausts are widely separated by a flat area containing avionics systems. A small flat and rectangular radome, fuel tanks and the air brakes are also located midship. A fuel dump is located at the very rear. It has machined frames, titanium main longerons and light alloy stressed skin, with the center fuselage possessing fuel-carrying capacity. The radome at front hinges upwards to allow access to radar.
Although the shape of the Tomcat’s airframe significantly contributed to its lift and light maneuverability, it was still one of the largest and heaviest fighter in service with the US Navy. Another outstanding characteristic of the F-14 is the geometrically variable wings, which are swept and can variate from 20° to 68°, and up onto 75° to overlap the horizontal stabilizers and facilitate storage in the aircraft carrier hangars. The wings can be automatically or manually varied inflight and by the Central Air Data Computer, that gives the variation according to the speed. The wings on asymmetric configuration manage to keep the plane flying and to land; even landings with an angle of 68°in case of emergencies. At high-speed interception, they are entirely swept back, while in low-speeds they are swept forwards. The wing pivot points in the wing gloves are spaced enough to allow instalment of weaponry by a pylon on each side, and the centre of lift moved less, reducing trim drag, at the point of allowing the required high-speed of 2.0 Mach. There are no ailerons and wing-mounted spoilers provide control during roll. There are full-span slats and flaps. The superior and inferior surfaces of the wings are of titanium, with the wing carry-through is a one-piece electron beam-welded aluminium alloy structure with a 6.71m span. Fins and rudders are of light alloy honeycomb sandwich. The aft part of the Tomcat is also where the two twin tails are placed, right at the top of the engine nacelles, in the middle, and with the horizontal stabilizers placed side to side of the aft area of the nacelles. The tails have multiple spars, honeycomb trailing-edges and boron/epoxy composite skins. The landing gear is of the characteristic tricycle type, with the forward gear being beneath the nose, and the rear gears which are retractable, located at the “shadow” of the wings. This area was reinforced in order to withstand with the force that landing and taking-offs from aircraft carriers usually require. An arresting hook is placed beneath the rear fuselage area, in a small ventral fairing.
The cockpit is placed at the forward fuselage of the fighter, having two seats in tandem where the crew consisting of a pilot and radar intercept officer are seated. The seats are Martin-Baker GRU-7A ejection seats. Flight controls are hybrid analog-digital type with the pilot being the one only in charge of controls. The avionics within the cockpit comprise of a Kaiser AN/AVG-12 HUD along a AN/AVA-12 vertical and horizontal situation display, communications and direction-finders embedded in the AWG-9 radar display, the Central Air Data Computer (CADC) made by GarretAiResearch with a MOSFET-based Large-Scale Integration chipset MP944. This is reportedly one of the first chip microprocessors in history. In addition, a Northrop AN/AXX-1 Television Camera Set (TCS) for long-range target identification, mounted in the undernose pod and having two cockpit selectable Fields of View (FOV), which replaced the original AN/ALR-23 IRST with idium antimonide detectors. This device allows pilots to visually identify and track objectives within distances of 97 km (60 mi). Information gathered from the pod can be recorded by the Cockpit Television System (CTS). An AN/ALR-45 radar warning and control system, a Magnavox AN/ALR-25 radar warning receiver, a Tracor AN/ALE-29/39 chaff and flare dispenser device, which is installed at the very rear, and a Sanders AN/ALQ-100 deception jamming pod. The canopy is a bubble-shape that provides 360° view, being beneficial in air-to-air combat, which is complemented and enhanced by a set of four mirrors for each crew member.
The wings do not carry any weapon stations, but the wing pivot point beneath the wing glove and the fuselage itself are the areas where the payload is carried. The normal configuration of weaponry was 4 AIM-54 Phoenixes, 2 AIM-7 Sparrows and 2 AIM-9 Sidewinders, but this configuration varied depending of operational needs. In addition, bombs such as Mk-80 free-fall iron bombs, Mk-20 Rockeye II cluster bombs, JDAM precision bombs and Paveway laser-guided bombs were also part of the payload, mainly in case of CAS and strike/attack missions. AGM-88 HARM and AGM-84 HARPOON were tested and deemed possible for use in the Tomcat. For close-quarter-combat, the F-14 is fitted with an internal multi-barrel M61A1 Vulcan Gatling gun of 675 rounds, located at the left area of the nose. TARPS pods for reconnaissance, LANTIRN targeting pod and 2 external fuel tanks are also among the payload that the Tomcat could carry in missions.
The F-14 Tomcat owes its exceptional performance to the combination of powerplant, avionics, the swept variable wings and the fuselage. For instance, the relatively wide airframe provided the Tomcat with 40-60% of its aerodynamic lifting position in conjunction with the wings, thanks to the structure’s components that reduced weight while increasing resistance to G forces. In addition, the range, payload, acceleration and climb were enhanced by these factors. The engine gave the Tomcat remarkable acceleration, speed and climbing characteristics, with a maximum speed of 1,584 mph (2548 km/h). The wings also provided good capability, such as variable speeds, enabling the Tomcat to accomplish a wide array of missions, and better capacity to hold at a designated area for a prolonged period of time. Agility is also a strong suit for the Tomcat, being able to perform high-performance maneuvers, thanks to the pitch authority resulting from the design of the airframe. The deadly and spectacular characteristics of the F-14 are complemented by the very capable and advanced avionics systems that enabled it to carry out its missions, enhanced by the aforementioned improvements in this area. The Hughes AN/AWG-9X radar with integrated Identification Friend-Foe (IFF) can track up to 24 targets thanks to the Track-While-Scan (TWS), Range-While-Search (RWS), Pulse-Doppler Single-Target Track (PDSTT), and JAT (JAT). 6 targets located within distances of up to 97km (60 mi) can be engaged through the TWS while devising and executing fire control solutions for these targets. While the Pulse-Doppler mode allows firing of cruise missiles thanks to the same radar detecting, locking and tracking small objects at very low altitude. For self-defence and situational awareness, the F-14 is fitted with electronic countermeasure (ECM), Radar Warning Receivers (RWR) which could calculate direction and distance of enemy radars and even to differentiate between the varied types of radars, chaff/flare dispensers, a precise inertial navigation system, and fighter-to-fighter data link. These were complemented later by the installation of a GPS device to enhance navigation. Upgrades in avionics allowed the F-14 to depend less on USAF AWACS or other air assets with target designators, as during Desert Storm and the interventions in the Balkans the Tomcat depended of other air assets to identify its targets.
The Tomcat’s capacity to receive upgrades along its flight and combat capacities were made evident during its service time, as new avionics were fitted in the early 90’s, and as the Tomcat in American and Iranian hands was capable of scoring and outperforming adversarial air assets, let alone their capacity to damage and sink naval assets and AA assets of the adversary. It even managed to avoid missile fire and to retaliate under US Navy service, with the exception of the one unit that was shot down during Desert Storm.
A legendary and fearsome cat beyond the screens: naval power in the air
Grumman has had a tradition of designing and building some of the most legendary and almost unmatched naval fighters in history, like the Grumman F6F Hellcat. The F-14 Tomcat was a continuation of such traditions, being considered the best naval interceptor built ever made. It also honored its predecessor, the venerable Phantom F-4 II, as it maximized US naval power by taking it into the air. Like an enraged cat protecting its territory and even fighting back, it was able to defend the aircraft carrier groups and the airspace it was ordered to defend, and even to strike back against its aggressor when needed. Its sole presence was so imposing that after Iraqi air assets suffered heavily at the hands of the Tomcat with both the U.S. and Iran, they usually elected to flee when Tomcats were detected. But like a cat ambushing its prey, the enemy air assets fled from the Tomcat only to be destroyed by other fighters. The Libyans and Syrians who opened fire with their SAM missiles against the Tomcat had to watch in shock how the Tomcats paid them back either by attacking the AA themselves or by directing fire against such positions. What is more astonishing is that losses from SAMs were almost zero, with only one F-14 lost during Desert Storm. In other incidents, the missiles never scored a hit. The Tomcat also let its might to be felt during the series of crises between the US and Libya in the 80’s, destroying 4 fighters and delivering a heavy blow to Libyan naval assets and AA artillery. Even downgraded versions of the Tomcat, facing limited supplies and logistics, managed to yield very impressive performance. During the Iran-Iraq War it scored a large number of air kills with few losses of its own, evidencing that even with trimmed claws, it was able to terrify and eliminate its prey.
But the F-14 was also able to impose itself without firing a single shot. When not hunting, it was able to guard the skies and waters it was tasked to protect. It managed to monitor the surroundings of a hijacked cruise line ships, and to force an airliner carrying the terrorists who hijacked the vessel to land in a base where they were apprehended. It also enforced the no-fly zone over Iraqi skies after the First Gulf War and punished the Serbians hard along with other air assets during the Kosovo intervention. It also intercepted aircraft that were a serious threat for its aircraft carriers. The Tomcat was also an avid sentinel, as it executed very effective and successful surveillance of enemy territory and assets.
The Tomcat was further immortalized in the movie Top Gun, where it was the main star of the film. Despite this well-deserved fame and exceptional performance, the Tomcat saw service only until the early days of the 21st century, as it was deemed “outdated” given its age, and was admittedly very expensive to maintain, operate, and upgrade. Like the F-15, it was a product of the experiences the US faced during the Vietnam War. Considering the performance the Tomcat had and its very active service throughout its career, it fulfilled its purpose. If the Tomcat were further modernized with the proposed versions by Grumman, it could have been an overhauled Cold War-era air asset still able to deliver a powerful punch in the modern era. Yet financial restrictions and the emergence of new technologies doomed this fighter to be retired from service sooner than its half-brother the F-15. The mark it left in aviation and history will be hardly matched in the future: many remain as monuments or museum pieces, as a memory from a bygone era. The remaining Tomcats still in service are those of Iran as of this writing.
F-14 Prototypes (YF-14A) – The first 12 F-14A were used initially as prototypes. Two were lost during trials.
F-14A – It is the first basic version of the Tomcat, powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF-30-P412A turbofan engines, and equipped with the AWG-9 radar for the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles originally intended for the F-111B. This version received upgrades in electronics, such as AN/ALR-67 Countermeasure Warning and Control System (CWCS), a LANTIRN pod and Programmable Tactical Information Display, improved engines, and a Digital Flight Control System which enhanced flight safety and control in the 90’s, and new precision strike munitions. 478 F-14A models were delivered to the US Navy, with 79 delivered to Iran. The 80th F-14A intended for Iran was delivered to the US Navy instead. There were plans for replacing the TARPS pod with a TARPS Digital Imaging System.
F-14B (or F-14+ / F-14B Upgrade or “Bombcat”) – Both an upgraded version of the F-14A and also a very limited new-built version of the same airframe, initially denominated as F-14A+. The previous engine was replaced with new General Electric F-110-GE-400 engines, enhancing capability and maneuverability while eliminating throttle restrictions or engine trimming, and even the need for afterburner launches. The avionics were similar to that of the F-14A except in the newly acquired advanced ALR-67 Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW). Further avionics were fitted during a life extension and upgrade program, including: Fatigue Engine Monitoring System, AN/ALR-67 Countermeasure Warning and Control System, Gun Gas Purge redesign, Direct Lift Control/Approach Power Compensator, AN/AWG-15F Fire Control System, Engine Door Tension Fittings and an Embedded GPS Inertial (EGI) navigation system. Other upgrades comprised a MIL-STD-1553B Digital Multiplex Data Bus, programmable multi-Display indicator group, another AN/AWG-15H fire control system, a AN/ALR-67D(V)2 Radar Warning Receiver, and Mission Data Loader, among others. It took part in the 1991 Gulf War. Further upgrades packages made the airplane to be denominated also a F-14B Upgrade “Bombcat”. 48 F-14A airframes were upgraded to the F-14B standard, while 38 new F-14B examples were manufactured. The upgraded airframes were denominated as F-14B after a proposed enhanced F-14B interceptor was rejected.
F-14D Super Tomcat – This was the final version of the legendary Tomcat, after the F-14B version was restricted by the Navy, prompting further modifications and upgrades to existing airframes and building some new ones under this standard. It was powered by 2 General Electric F-110-GE-400 engines, which provides the fighter with a higher top speed, improved thrust and quicker response. It also provided more endurance and striking range, increased climb rate and no need to use afterburner, although safety concerns were the main reason for this. New avionics were installed in this version, including a more powerful AN/APG-71 radar, better controls and digital displays that facilitates better control and navigation by automation and simplicity, decreased Weapon Replaceable Assemblies (WRA), new signal processors, data processors, receivers and antenna. IRSTS and the Air Force’s Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) were installed, enhancing security of digital data and voice communication and providing accurate navigation capabilities. A proposed new computer software to allow operation with AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles was considered but not implemented. In the mid 2000’s, a Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER III) upgrade was fitted in some F-14D airframes. 37 new units were built and delivered, while 18 F-14A were modified to the new standard. This was the most capable and powerful version of the Tomcat.
F-14B interceptor versions and F-14C – The F-14B was intended to be an enhanced version of the previous F-14A with better Pratt & Whitney F-401 turbofan engines that was rejected. The F-14C was a proposed enhanced version of the F-14B (or F-14A+ for clarity) with better avionics and weapons, better radar and fire control systems. Although rejected, many of the intended improvements were later on incorporated in other operational versions. A proposed enhanced interception version based on the F-14B to replace the Convair F-106 Delta Dart was also cancelled.
F-14D Super Tomcat (proposed) improved versions
These were proposed versions of the F-14D by Grumman to the US Navy and Congress, which were ultimately rejected.
F-14D Quickstrike – A proposed enhanced version of the F-14D Super Tomcat fitted with navigational and targeting PODS, additional hardpoints and a radar with ground-attack capacities, intended to replace the then retiring Grumman A-6 Intruder.
F-14D Super Tomcat 21 – As the Quickstrike was rejected by the US Congress, Grumman proposed the Super Tomcat 21 version as a cheaper version to the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter programme. Among the proposed improvements were a better AN/APG-71 radar, new and more powerful General Electric F-100-129 engines capable of providing supercuise speeds of up to 1.3 Mach and having thrust vectoring nozzles, along enhanced control surfaces and fuel capacity. They would have improved takeoff and landing approaches at lower speeds.
F-14 Attack Super Tomcat – It was reportedly the last of the Super Cat proposed enhanced versions, with even more improvements in control surfaces, fuel capacity and an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar from the also cancelled McDonnell-Douglas A-12 Avenger II attacker.
F-14 Advanced Strike Fighter (ASF) – Another rejected proposed version proposed under the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter programme, as it was deemed too costly. The Navy then decided to pursue the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
United States of America
The US Navy was the main operator of the Tomcat, which began operating it in 1974 in squadrons VF-1 “Wolfpack” and VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” embarked in the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. It began operations during the American evacuation of Saigon, being also very active in performing fleet defence interceptions especially in the North Atlantic, escorting many Soviet bombers and maritime reconnaissance airplanes. During the Lebanese Civil War it executed combat air patrols and TARPS missions to detect targets for naval gun fire. Noteworthy to point out that it began its career also as a photo-reconnaissance platform, as it replaced the RA-5C Vigilante and RF-8G Crusaders in such missions. Tomcats were attacked by Syrian air assets and AA without any losses and often fleeing once engaged by the F-14s. It also had a very limited role during the failed operation to free the American hostages in Iran.
Libya and the Mediterranean Sea was one of the areas where US Navy-operated Tomcats saw intensive action, as incidents and tensions between the US and Libya were common during the 80’s. The F-14s contained and pushed back Libyan air assets, as they managed to shoot down 2 Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters and 2 MiG-23 Floggers, and even to outmaneuver 2 incoming MiG-25 Foxbats. They also managed to destroy two Libyan naval units and damage another two, whilst additionally taking out several SAM sites. It was during these incidents that the F-14 proved its value and capacities, by successfully defending the aircraft carrier group, avoiding enemy fire and even returning fire. The F-14s were also active in Somalia, where they were attacked by mistake, and in Grenada, where they supported intervention on the island. The F-14 also had a remarkable anti-terrorist action, as it monitored activity near the hijacked Italian cruise Achille Lauro, and then managed to intercept the Egyptian airliner carrying the terrorists that hijacked the cruise ship, forcing it to land at a NATO air base in Italy, where the terrorists were apprehended by Italian and American security forces.
The Persian Gulf was another area where the US Navy Tomcats saw a good share of action, with the combat air patrols and escort missions it provided to US air and naval assets, as well as with fighter cover during two retaliatory operations after Iran attacked and threatened commercial and US Navy vessels. With the First Gulf War, Tomcats executed combat air patrols protecting allied forces in the area and preventing a potential Iraqi incursion into Saudi Arabia, along with escorting attack aircraft, long range defence of naval assets, combat air patrols and TARPS patrols. Tomcats also identified individual SCUD missile-launchers. During this conflict, a single F-14 was shot down by a SAM missile, with one of the crew falling prisoner to the Iraqis. The F-14 managed to score a single air kill, a Mi-8 helicopter, as its sole presence usually prompted Iraqi air assets to flee, only to be shot by other American air assets in the area, such as the F-15. In the period between the 1990 and 2003 wars, it enforced the no-fly zone and took part in punitive air strikes against Iraqi assets as well, using advanced ordnance like GBU-24 Paveway III and GBU-10/16/24 laser-guided bombs, and making use of the LANTIRN pod and night vision technology for the first time. Further CAS and strike missions were executed during the Second Gulf War in 2003 and afterwards, using JDAMS bombs for the first time against important military and governmental targets, acting also as Forward Air Controllers for other warplanes. In Afghanistan they had similar missions, spearheading Operation Enduring Freedom and taking off from the Indian Ocean in some of the longest range missions for Tomcats.
And a final area where the Tomcats saw considerable action was in the Balkans, where they used laser-guided bombs, conducted combat air patrols, escorts, strike missions, Forward Air Controllers and TARPS missions. As they were not fitted with LANTIRN pods, F/A-18s had to assist in pinpointing the designated targets.
The first US Navy female pilot had her first flight in an F-14 Tomcat.
The US Navy retired the F-14 from service in 2006, with its role being taken now by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Iran is the only foreign operator of the F-14 Tomcat, as it received 79 units in the late 70’s thanks to its strategic alliance with the US in the region during the Cold War and up until the Iranian Revolution of 1979. They saw extensive action in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, engaging Iraqi air assets on numerous occasions. It is reported that the Iranian Tomcats scored 160 air kills, which included: 58 MiG-23, 33 Dassault Mirage F-1, 23 MiG-21, 23 Su-20 and Su-22, 9 Mig-25, 5 Tu-22, 2 MiG-27, one MiL Mi-24 helicopter, 1 Dassault Mirage 5, 1 B-6D (Xian H-6), 1 Aerospatiale Super Frelon helicopter, and two unspecified aircraft. The only losses in combat were 3 Tomcats downed by Iraqi air assets and 4 losses from SAMs, 2 that disappeared and 7 that were lost to non-combat incidents. During this conflict, the F-14 Tomcat demonstrated its capabilities, at the point of intimidating and deterring the Iraqi Air Force, and despite being a downgraded version of the Tomcat in terms of avionics. By 2015, an estimated of 20-30 airframes remained on active duty with the Islamic Republic Iran Air Force (IRIAF), and were reported to escort Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers carrying out bombing against ISIS terrorists’ positions.
64 ft / 19.55 m (wings extended)
38 ft / 11.65 (wings swept)
62 ft / 19.1 m
16 ft / 4.88 m
565 ft² / 52.49 m²
2 x General Electric F-100-GE-400 afterburning turbofans
Maximum Take-Off Weight
74,350 lb / 33,720 kg
43,735 lb / 19,838 kg
61,000 lb / 27,700 kg
over 45,000 ft/min (230 m/s)
At high altitude: Mach 2.34 ( 1,544 mph / 2,485 kmh )
575 mi / 926 km for combat radius; 1,840 / 2,960 for ferry
Maximum Service Ceiling
50,000 ft / 15,200 m
2 (pilot and radar intercept officer)
1 X 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon
10 hardpoints – six under the fuselage, two under the nacelles, and two on the wing gloves, all allowing up to 6600 kg (14,500 lb) of ordnance and fuel tanks. The payload was varied in deployment and type, usually being 6 AIM-7 Sparrow, 4 AIM-9 Sidewinder and/or 6 AIM-54 Phoenix (and MIM-23 Hawk in the case of the IRIAF). Up to 6622 kg (14,599 lb) of air-to-ground were also carried, including Mk 80 free-fall iron bombs, Mk 20 Rockeye II cluster bombs, Paveway laser-guided bombs, and JDAM precision-guided munition bombs. 2x 267 1010 l fuel tanks were carried as well.
The fighter/naval interceptor had avionics both part of its structure and carried in the hardpoints. Among those at the hardpoints were the TARPS and the LANTIRN targeting pods. Among its onboard avionics were a Hughes AN/APG-71 radar, an AN/ASN-130 inertial navigation system (INS), Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) and Track Control System (TCS). It also had a AN/ALR-45 and AL/ALR-67 (F-14D) RWR, a AN/ALQ-167 ECM pod and a AN/ALQ-50 towed decoy (the two last ones in the F-14D).
The Saab 18 is another example of Sweden’s efforts to produce an aircraft to safeguard its neutrality, considering that the same War and international political context prompted the Scandinavian nation to do so. Only that this plane was not devised to keep the skies of Sweden, but rather to protect the national territory from the air. Curiously, when WWII started, the Saab B 17 was given priority at the earlier stages of the war, as a dive bomber was considered more necessary than a light/medium bomber. This plane gave also important contributions to the development of the Swedish aeronautic and military industry, contributing in the development of ejection seats and of air-to-surface (or AGM) missiles; more specifically, anti-ship missiles. Despite being required to maintain Sweden’s neutrality and protect its territory, it entered in service in 1944, quite late to address the threat from Germany but ready to address the threat from the East and to serve at the early days of the Cold War, with distinction. It became also the standard bomber of the Flygvapnet.
The Saab B 18 is a light bomber and reconnaissance plane with three seats, two engines and a double tail, with a design similar to that of the Junkers Ju 86 and the Dornier Do 17 with the rounded shape of the vertical stabilizers. Or simply the very characteristic shape of double tail and double engine bombers of the era: this is, the cockpit placed at the frontal section of the plane and with the bow being made entirely of glass (normally the place of the bomber), and the cockpit being of a glazed offset type with the pilot and navigator. The wing has a trapezoid shape, being a straight leading edge type with the rear part being instead angled.
The Saab B 18 was initially intended to be powered by British-made Bristol Taurus engines. But it received in the end two types of engines during its career as the Taurus engines weren’t available, powered instead with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engines of 1065 hp (the Saab J 21 had priority in receiving the Daimler Benz engines). Posterior versions received new powerplants as the Pratt & Whitney were deemed insufficient, hence receiving 2 Daimler Benz DB 605 of 1475 hp, enabling the plane to reach speeds of up to 570 km/h (357 mph), and making of the B 18 one of the fastest light bombers producing during the war. The powerplant was not the only modification the B 18 suffered during its service with the Flygvapnet, as the initial configuration of armament of 3 x 13,2 mm machine guns was changed to a set of one 7,92mm gun and 2 X 13,2mm machine guns (B 18B). Another re-configuration was the instalment of 2 X 20mm cannons and a 57mm gun (T 18B), along with rockets instead of bombs. Noteworthy to point out that the B 18 could carry up to 1,000 kg of bombs in the compartment and 8 x 50 kg bombs at the wings. As reconnaissance and torpedo-bomber variants were developed (though the last one was never put into service), the versatility and adaptability of the B 18 was made evident, at the point of being the platform for testing the Rb 302 anti-ship missiles. The crew was also modified, as following versions needed only two crewmen as rockets were introduced, suppressing the bomber.
Both versions (B 18B and T 18B) received another modification of armament in the 50’s, as they were fitted with rocket launchers allowing a maximum of 4 rockets on each wing, and even another rocket launcher allowing 2 or 4 rockets under the nose. The bomb sight was also equipped with an automatic reflex sight for rocket firing. This conversion meant that the B18B and the T18B would have increased – and more specialized – attack roles. Also, both the B 18B and the T 18B received ejection seats, maximizing the safety of the crew operating with these air assets. In addition, some B18 B units were fitted with two radars (a radar altimeter PH-10 and a search radar PS-18/A, which was a US Navy AN/APS-4 naval radar) for target designation and identification.
This airplane was purposed at replacing the Junkers Ju 86 in service with the Swedish Air Force back then, basing the requirement for a fast bomber with a crew of three. This was later on changed to a bomber having a crew of 3, a bomb payload of up to 750 kg (1653,46 lb), capable of reaching speeds of 500 km/h (310,68 mph) and to be used as a long-range reconnaissance, torpedo-bomber and heavy fighter. The fact that the B 18 ended in serving with the Flygvapnet was a sheer product of luck, as the competition’s design (the GV8 proposed by the competing AB Götaverken) was capable of meeting the requirements. Yet its costs and the departure of Götaverken’s chief designer resulted in Saab awarding the contract in 1938. As development began, many Americans reportedly took part in the design and development process, resulting in the B 18 having some “American traits” in the design. As a result, the B 18 development had a Swedish and an American chief designer: Frid Wänström and Carl Haddon, respectively.
The development process was delayed by two factors explaining the reasons of the Saab B 18 entering in service relatively late: first, the abovementioned shifting in priorities once the war started, with the Saab B 17 dive bomber receiving priority over the Saab B 18. And second, a change in requirements from a light bomber to a medium bomber, which ended in increasing the development time. The first flight took place in 1942, entering in service in 1944 with two initial versions: the B 18A bomber and the S 18A reconnaissance versions. A torpedo-bomber and later attack plane (T 18B), and a dive bomber (B 18B) were developed, receiving ejection seats.
After WWII and in the wake of the Cold War, the B 18B had a very interesting career, as the increase of the Soviet threat asked for reconnaissance missions; in 1945 and 1946 the B18 B was used to reach the Baltic coast and take pictures of every Soviet vessel, meeting Soviet fighters almost every time.
244 units were produced with the Flygvapnet being the sole operator until 1959, year in which the Saab 32 Lansen replaced the B 18: 62 units of the B 18A, 120 units of the B 18B, and 62 units off the T 18B were built. A single surviving airframe is displayed at the Flygvapenmuseum.
The design of the B 18 is very typical of the pre-WWII double-tail light or medium bombers, having some interesting features despite its conventional sight at first glance. The B 18 is a straight leading edge wing airplane, with the engines placed at the first half of the wings. The fuselage was entirely made of metal, with fabric covering the control surfaces, and having the armor being integrally part of the structure.
The most remarkable areas are the canopy, the bow section, and the rear horizontal stabilizers, connecting the two vertical stabilizers with the main airframe. Regarding the canopy and bow section, the canopy is not placed at the longitudinal middle of the plane as it is normally placed, being instead an offset type at the left side. There, the pilot and the navigator were stationed, with the navigator seat being placed backwards. In addition, the bow section had a glazed tip where the bomber was stationed. Reportedly, such scheme improved the visibility for the pilot. The nose of the T 18B version was slightly modified. And the bow inferior section is not entirely straight, having instead an undernose gondola right before the wing-roots. The landing gear was of classic configuration, with the frontal landing gears retracting into the engine gondolas, while the small rear landing gear was placed at the stern of the bomber, right before the horizontal and vertical stabilizers area. In turn, the horizontal stabilizers are of a ‘butterfly shape’, having at the tips the two horizontal stabilizers; the rudders occupied the whole posterior area of the tails. The shape of the vertical stabilizers is of an isosceles trapezoid.
The wing is a mid-wing (cantilever) leading edge wing, with a shape of a right trapezoid and where the two engines are installed, along with the main fuel tanks. In some versions, there was a gun or a cannon installed at one of the wing-roots. The engines, depending of the version, were either a couple of Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engines or a couple of licensed-built Daimler Benz DB 605 liquid cooled inline V-inverted engines. Depending of the installed engines, the air intake might be located below the engine gondola or above the engine gondola. Normally the earlier versions of the B 18 can be identifying by the intakes placed above the engine gondola. The Daimler Benz engine gave the B 18 a quite remarkable speed for a plane of its type back then, being among the fast ones with speeds of 575 km/h (357 mph). Such speed would provide an advantage for attack and reconnaissance missions. Reportedly, the T 18B version could reach speeds of up to 600 km/h (372,82 mph). The propellers of the B 18 where a three-bladed type.
The armament configuration also varied from version to version. The initial configuration was of 3 x 13,2mm machine guns, one firing forwards at the wing root, another firing also forwards at the nose, and another at the rear. This set was then changed for a set of one wing root 7,62mm machine gun and two 13,2mm guns, and then it was changed for a set of a front-firing 57mm Bofors gun at the undernose gondola and 2 x 20mm guns. The B 18 could carry up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb and the bombs compartment and up to 8 x 50 kg (110 lb) bombs at the wings. This type of offensive armament was also changed, as it was first modified to carry a torpedo, which never came to be operational, and then it carried up to eight air-to-surface rockets. The B 18 was also used to test the Rb 302 anti-ship missile. The reconnaissance version was fitted with various cameras to perform its mission, along with a radar.
The B 18 was among the first planes in receiving ejection seats, as its high attrition rate made the Flygvapnet to implement such measure for the sake of the crew’s safety. The fact that it had ejection seats and capacity to carry missiles, along with its speed and un-conventional design, makes the B 18 a very interesting design made by a neutral nation during WWII and the early Cold War.
A Versatile Guardian of the Swedish Land
The B 18, although entering quite late to have a remarkable role in defending Sweden’s neutrality as WWII unfolded, it became a very valuable asset for the Nordic nation at the last stage of the war, when the Soviet Union became stronger and advanced towards the West, with the Cold War highlighting the threat it posed to Sweden. Not only its speed and considerable armament made the B 18 an air asset to be reckoned with, but also its versatility and adaptability, let alone its flexibility. The design allowed the installation of new engines that increased the speed of the B 18, as well as a change of armament while in service, at the point of serving as a test bed for one of the earlier anti-ship missiles, the Rb 302. These modifications allowed the B 18 to become very effective bomber and ground-attack planes, and even to serve as a reconnaissance plane capable of approaching or even penetrating Soviet airspace for its missions, facing quite often the Soviet fighters.
Striking at Speed
One of the characteristics that made the B 18 an airplane to be reckoned with was beyond any doubt its speed, especially after the Daimler Benz 305. The B 18B could reach speed of 570 km/h (357 mph), and the T 18B, the most powerful version in terms of firepower, could reach speeds of up to 600 km/h (372,82 mph). This was an advantage when it came to perform bombing or strike attacks with rockets, as the B 18 could have hit any advancing enemy ground forces formation with hit-and-run tactics or simply by direct strikes with devastating effects. Curiously, the S 18A was the slowest version, with speeds of up to 465 km/h being the maximum speed; this can be explained by the fact it was powered by the previous Pratt & Whitney engines, as the S 18A was a direct modification from the B 18A, which was (under)powered by such engines. Nevertheless, as the powerplants were enhanced, the B 18 became a very fast medium bomber. And it could have posed a serious threat to naval surface units approaching the Swedish coast.
Variants of the Saab B 18
18A – Two prototypes powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines of 1065 hp.
B 18A – This version became the first series version of the B 18, powered with the abovementioned Pratt & Whitney engines. Armed with 3 x 13,2 mm machine guns and up to 1400 kg (3086.47 lbs). 55 units were reportedly converted into the S 18A reconnaissance version in 146-47. 62 units delivered.
S 18A – A modified version of the B 18A for reconnaissance purposes, replacing the Caproni Ca 313 (S16) reconnaissance plane in service back then. It was fitted with a varied array of cameras: 3 high-altitude 10/92 and 5/25 cm cameras, 1 panoramic 10/105 cm camera and a 13/30 cm night camera. This version was also fitted with a PS-18A (An American-made AN/APS-4) maritime surveillance radar, with 36 units having this radar installed in pods under the nose, and serving as maritime reconnaissance airplanes.
Saab 18B – A single prototype powered with the Daimler Benz DB 605B.
B 18B – A dive bomber version powered by the new Daimler Benz DB 605B of 1475 hp engines. It was later on modified to carry up to 8 air-to-surface rockets, becoming an attack plane. Armed with a 13 mm machine gun and a 20 mm gun plus the 1400 kg (3086.47 lbs) payload of bombs, and later on the 8 air-to-surface rockets. A dive bomb sight m/42 developed by Saab engineer Erik Wilkenson maximized its attack capabilities. Reportedly, some B 18B received a PS-18A radar. This version received ejection seats, and had the crew modified, reducing it to two (pilot and navigator/radio operator). 120 units delivered.
T 18B – A projected torpedo-bomber to serve as an anti-ship asset, it ended in being a ground-attack plane thus receiving an armament of a 13mm machine gun, 2 x 20mm guns and a 57mm Bofors cannon at the undernose gondola, receiving later on air-to-surface rockets. This version also received ejection seats. 62 units delivered.
Sweden The Flygvapnet was the sole operator of the B 18, which entered in service in 1944 with 62 units of the B 18A model, followed shortly by 120 units of the B 18B that were initially purposed as dive bombers, developed later on into the T 18B with 62 units, which served as a ground-attack plane. The T 18B, in turn, was initially purposed to be a torpedo-bomber, but given problems with the new payload, received instead rockets hence serving as attacker. Some airframes were modified to be the S 18A reconnaissance plane, performing reconnaissance missions off the Soviet Baltic coast in the aftermath of WWII. It remained in service until 1958, year in which the Saab 32 Lansen replaced the B 18. It was used for testing the Rb 302 anti-ship missiles. The B 18B operated in 4 squadrons from 1944 to 1958: F1 Västerås, F7 Såtenäs, F14 Halmstad, and F17 Kallinge. The T 18B torpedo-bomber/attack aircraft operated also in the F17 Kallinge from 1948 to 1958. The S 18A operated in three squadrons in the same perios of time: F3 Malmen, F11 Nyköping and F 21 Luleå. A single B 18B recovered from a lake remains as a museum exhibition.
13.23m / 43ft 5in
17m / 56ft 9in
4.35m / 14ft / 3in
43.75m2 / 470.92 ft2
2 X Daimler Benz DB 605 of 1475hp (some were licensed-built versions made by Svenska flygmotor AB).
Maximum Take-Off Weight
8800kg / 19,401 lb
6100 kg (13,448 lb)
8140 kg (17,948 lb) (B 18A)
570Km/h / 357 mph
2600 km /1,616 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling
9800m / 32,150ft
3 (2 in the T-18B)
A 13mm machine gun; 20mm cannon
A 13mm machine gun; 2x 20mm cannon; a 57mm gun (T 18B)
Up to 1400kg of bombs and rockets (the T18 B was intended to carry a torpedo or a mine, but it ended in having a payload of rockets)
Soviet Union / Russian Federation (1985) Fighter Plane – 1,946 Built
Russia might not be the Superpower it once was. But its recent assertiveness indicates that it is willing to return to the stage as a great power, aiming at asserting its own interests at is neighbouring areas. One of the tools to do so is air power, which and although diminished in contrast to its former Cold War scale, is still considerable. The Su-27 and its different variants in service with the Russian Air Force are among the spearhead elements pushing forwards Russia’s interests. And this is not surprising, considering that the Su-27 and its variants are among the most advanced and top-quality technology jet fighters any nation can possess. The Su-27 can be traced back to the same year the F-15 Eagle was under concept and development (1969). The Soviets realized that the features of the F-15 and its technological advancement would threaten Soviet air power, thus prompting the General Staff to issue the requirements for wasit would be the Soviet answer to the Eagle. The new fighter was purposed to be for a long-range fighter, with good short-field performance (or the ability to take off and land on short airstrips, as well as to use austere runways), remarkable manoeuvring and agility, capable of reaching speed up to Mach 2+ speed and capable of carrying heavy weaponry. The Su-27 was purposed, at the same time, at countering not only the Eagle but also the F-14 Tomcat, as well as to complement the Mig-29, as the latter’s role was as tactical superiority fighter, dealing with NATO fighters and strike aircraft. It would operate also as bomber escort. As the requirements proved to be very complex and costly, they were split into two different ones: one for a lightweight fighter (whose outcome was the abovementioned Mig-29), and another for a heavyweight fighter (whose outcome was the Sukhoi Su-29). This fact explains why both airframes are very similar. The first flight took place in 1977.
The Su-27 ‘Flanker’ (as it came to be denominated by NATO) is a very though rival of the F-15. This is possible thanks to the low wing loading and the basic flight power controls, which bestows the fighter agility and good control, even at low speeds and high angle of attack of 120°, at the point ofbeing capable of performing the famous Pugachev’s Cobra manoeuvre. The structure is very similar to that of the Mig-29, clearly being a product of having a parallel development and starting from a similar requirement, although being larger than that of the Mig. The wing is a swept wing cropped delta type, having the tips cropped for missile rails or ECM pods, and blending with the central fuselage at the leading-edge extensions. The horizontal tailplanes are also of delta configuration, taking part of the Su-27 tailed delta wing configuration. Being the first Soviet aircraft in incorporating a fly-by-wire technology, its exceptional characteristics in terms of agility and manoeuvrability are in part thanks to this technology. The engines provide the Su-27 high speed (2500 km/h; 1,550 mph), being slightly lesser than that of the F-15 Eagle; these engines are a couple of Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F turbofans with afterburners. They are installed in two separated pods, each harboring a tail. Hence, it has a twin tail configuration; this and the engine pods configuration make it to be similar to the F-14 Tomcat. This resemblance is reinforced by the fact that there is a space between the pods, increasing the lifting surface and hiding weaponry from the enemy radars.
The last element making the Su-27 an equal to the F-15 is the avionics installed on it. The radar is a Phazotron N001 Myech pulse-doppler radar with ‘track while scan’ and look-down/shoot-down capabilities, complemented by a OLS-27 infrared search and track at the nose, with a range of between 80-100 km. The armament of the Su-27 is no less important, comprised by a 30mm Gryazev-Shipunov Gsh-3101 located at the starboard wingroot, and up to 10 hardpoint with capability of carrying up to 6000kg (13227,73 Lbs), which includes up to six medium-range R-27 (AA-10 ‘Alamo’ in NATO code) and 2-4 short-range heat-seeking R-73 (AA-11 missiles ‘Archer’ in NATO code). Armament deployment tends to vary from version to version, being this the most “standard” configuration.
The Su 27 has proven to be a very good platform for further development, enhancing the characteristics of the basic model as new variants and subvariants are being introduced at the point of constituting new models by themselves. There is even a version which is a strike fighter/fighter-bomber capable of taking ground and naval targets.
One of the first versions that followed is the Su-30 family, known as ‘Flanker-C’ by NATO and based on the Su-27UB training version. This version has enhanced range, thrust vectoring which in turn enhances manoeuvrability while having the same powerplant of the basic model. The avionics are enhanced as well, having an autopilot for all flight stages and low altitude flight in terrain-following radar mode, individual and group combat capabilities against air and ground/sea-surface targets. The automatic control systems interconnected with navigation systems allows automatic mode for route flight, target approach, recovery to airfield and landing approach.
The version that follows is the Su-33, which is the naval version of the Su-27 and is often denominated as Su-27K (‘Flanker-D’), operated by the Russian Navy from the sole carrier it has (the Admiral Kuznetsov). Developed since the Soviet era, it became the first conventional airplane (along with its test pilot, Viktor Pugachev) in landing in the deck of a carrier in November 1989. It was purposed with replacing the less capable Yakovlev Yak-38 and to operate from the projected aircraft carriers, thus requiring the needed structural modifications: reinforced structure and undercarriage, enlargement of leading edge slats, flaperons and similar surfaces, canards, modified rear radome, folding wings and new powerplants (2 x Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F3 with slightly increased thrust). The Su-33 symbolized the Soviet efforts of creating its own fleet of aircraft carriers, which was not materialized as the End of the Cold War took place, as well as to have their own naval-based air power to enhance strategic projection. 1996 marked the year when the Su-33 became fully operational with interception missions, although having limited ground-attack capabilities. Thedetected limits and issues with the combination fighter-warships , and the budget cuts limited the naval operation of this version, yet air-to-air refuelling and real-life fire trainings have taken place. A two-seat version (SU-27KUB) might emerge any time.
The next version is the Su-32/34, which is the abovementioned strike fighter/fighter-bomber, purposed at replacing the Su-24. Equally based on the Su-27 airframe, its mission is to deal at tactical level with ground and naval targets, more specifically tactical bombing, attack, reconnaissance and/or interdiction. It can operate alone or in groups, under any weather condition and under any environment saturated with AA defences and EW countermeasures. It features canards, a new nose and a side-by-side-seating allowing two pilots, new powerplants (Saturn Lyulka AL-31FM turbofan engines), and a range of 4000 km (2,500 mi). The cockpit provides ample space for the crew to rest, being also pressurized and having at its rear a galley and a toilet. Its electronics – a Helmet Mounted Display System, Khibiny Electronic countermeasures, and a very ample and capable radar complemented by a second radar at the rear – allows the Su-32/34 to scan an area of 200-250 km, to attack four targets either at sea, air or land, and even to be warned against attackers behind and engage them without turning. This version has seen extensive action in Syria.
The version that followed is the Su-35 (‘Flanker-E), an all-weather air superiority and supermanoeuvrable multirole fighter, featuring a structure composed of high-strength composites and Aluminium-lithium alloys, increasing fuel volume while reducing weight. The tail fins are larger, having carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer square-topped tips. Canards were removed while the powerplant was new, two Saturn/Lyulka AL-31FM turbofan engines, which is larger and with more thrust. This version also has new avionics, such as the fire-control system and the N011 Pulse-Doppler radar that allows the fighter to track up to 15 airborne targets and guide six missiles at the same time. The rear radar – a Phazotron N-012 – also complements the fire-control system. LCD screens are also a feature, while the seat is inclined with a 30° angle to allow the pilot to tolerate more -g forces. It can carry a new array of weapons, like napalm; dumb bombs (free-fall iron bombs) and cluster ammunition; air-to air and air-to-surface missiles, with the payload being increased as two new underwing pylons are installed. It has air-to-air refuelling capabilities, increasing operational range (4000 km / 2,222 mi). Only 58 units are in service with the Russian Air Force.
The Su-37 (‘Flanker-F’ and ‘Terminator’) is the most recent version, based on the Su-35, being a single-seat supermanoeuvrable multirole jet fighter, with upgrades such as avionic suite, fire-control systems and thrust vectoring noozles. It also features canards, and improved fire-control systems, with an upgraded N-011M BARS passive scanned array radar, tracking 15 airborne targets and guiding 4 missiles at the same time, complemented by a N-012 rearward facing radar, having also updated electronic warfare support measures, and 12 hardpoints allowing air-to-air and/or air-to-surface missiles. Moreover, the cockpit has 4 LCD multi-function displays, providing air data/navigation, system status, weapons/systems selection and tactical situation information. HUD, an ejection seat with 30° angle of inclination, and a steering with a side-stick and pressure-sensing throttles help the pilot in controlling and navigating the aircraft. This version, however, remained as a technology demonstrator, with a single unit being the only sample of this model.
Russia is not the only country producing the Sukhoi-27, as China, given the airframes that received 8or the technology and license to build them) has developed its own version of the Su-27. The first one is the Shenyang J-11 (NATO code Flanker-B+), which is based on the Su-27SK, in operation with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). This version is fitted with Chinese-made improvements to the airframe and avionics (such as radars and avionics suites), as well as weaponry (such as the PL-12 medium-range active radar homing air-to-air missile, and anti-ship missiles). The powerplant was reported to be in principle a Chinese Shenyang WS-10 Taihan (based on the CFM56), yet it seems there is the aim of upgrading the J-11 fleet with either Saturn-117S or Salyut AL-31F-M1.
The second one, being a variant of the Chinese J-11, is the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark. This version is purposed for aircraft carrier service and equally based on the Su-27K/Su-33, thanks to an unfinished prototype China acquired from, Ukraine. And just like the J-11, is equipped with Chinese avionics, powerplants and weaponry. Since its introduction in 2013, the J-15 has been operating from China’s sole carrier Liaoning, mainly on testing and taking-off/landing drills. This would be the main Chinese carrier-based air defence and attack asset when the carrier – and additional expected units – enter in service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
The last Chinese-made version of the Su-27 is the Shenyang J-16, which is a strike fighter and multi-role fighter/bomber based on the J-11B and the Su-30MKK units sold to China by Russia. Of course, this version is equipped with Chinese avionics and powerplants, as well as weaponry, which includes: super and subsonic anti-ship missiles, satellite guided bombs, cruise missiles and ECM jammers. There is even an electronic warfare variant that lacks Infra-red search and track and the 30mm gun.
The Su-27 has seen action after 1985, year in which was introduced in the Soviet Air Force and after entering officially in service in 1990. The first operational even took place in 187, when a Su-27 intercepted a Norwegian P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft over the Barents Sea, colliding with it after executing some close passes. During the 1992-1993 Abkhazia War, Russian Su-27 operated against the Georgian forces, with a Su-27 lost due to friendly fire as it was intercepting a Georgian Su-25 on CAS mission. The Su-27s were used again over the skies of Georgia, this time during the 2008 South Ossetia War to gain air superiority over the scenario at Tskhinvali. It is rumoured that the Su-34 also took part during this conflict. Su-34 were also used to bomb ice dams in Vologda Oblast to prevent floods. In 2013, a couple of Su-27 were intercepted by four Japanese Mitsubishi F-2 after entering briefly Japanese air space and flying near Rishiri Island and the Sea of Japan before turning back. Another Su-27 was close to collide with a USAF Boeing RC-135. The S-35 is also in use by the Swift and Russian Knights acrobatic teams. The sole S-37 has been used for flight tests, demonstrations and air shows presentations.
Su-27 in use by other nations have seen some action too. In Ethiopia, during its war against Eritrea, the Ethiopian Sukhois reportedly shot down 4 Eritrean Mig-29 and damaging one; being tasked also with combat air patrols, escort, AA suppression, and even bombing Islamists garrisons. In Angola, one Su-27 was reportedly shot down by a SA-14 man-portable air defence missile system during the civil war. Indonesian Su-27s, meanwhile, were used on exercises with Australia, the US and other countries of the region, as four units took part in such. The most recent action of the Su-27 has been in Ukraine, during the conflict that is currently taking place there, with Ukrainian units tasked with air defence, combat air patrols and escort/interception of civilian flights flying over Eastern Ukraine.
The scenario where the Su-27 have seen some action is in Syria, with a squadron of Su-27M3 deploying as part of the Russian air campaign at this country. Some Russian Air Force Su-30SM have been deployed as well for the same campaign, performing escort and target illumination. The naval version (Su-24K/Su-33) saw very limited action during the 90’s, with those on-board the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier taking part in Russia’s air campaign over Syria as well, alongside the Su-34, which in turn executed precision strikes against both rebel and ISIS targets, forced to fly armed with missiles after a Su-24 was shot down by Turkey. Four Su-35S also took part in the operation.
The Chinese fighters have seen also limited action, mainly for interception of US reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, and tests and drills for take-off and landing on carrier decks (for the Chinese naval version).
The Su-27 and its variants were considerably produced, reaching a number of 809 (Su-27); near 540 (Su-30), with 18 (SU-30MKM), 134 (SU-30MKK/MK2) and 225 (SU-30MKI); 35 (Su-27K/Su-33); 107 (Su-32/34); 15 (Su-27M); 58 (SU-35S) and 4 (Su-35 for China); 1 (Su-37); 235 (J-11); 20 (J-15); and 624 (J-16). Russia (and Sukhoi) are not the only producers, as Irkut Corporation, Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO), Shenyang, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, all produce the Su-27 and its different variants, including those manufactured abroad Russia with license or being copies of airframe, like the Chinese case. A considerable number of nations are users of the Su-27 and either version, making this aircraft a strong competitor in the international defence industry. In Russia, the Su-27 will be replaced by the 5th generation fighter Sukhoi PAK FA.
The Su-27 airframe is similar to that of the Mig-29, only that its size is larger. In fact, the fuselage has a very characteristic shape at the longitudinal view, with more than half of the forward section being ‘above’ the wing, harbouring the nosecone, the cockpit and canopy, as well as the airbrake (placed behind the cockpit). This one is located at the same area of the wing-edge extensions. This forward area is having a hunchback shape, which gives a great advantage for the pilot, as the height provides a good view, alongside the bubble shape of the canopy. There, a K-63DM series two ejection seat (with an inclination of 17°) is installed, alongside analogue instruments, HUD and head down display data from the radar and the IRST, as well as sensors for the helmet-mounted target designation system and indicators. At the very frontal part of the canopy, there is a small radome or protuberance, where IRST device is installed. Interestingly, the inferior section of this area is not straight; in fact, it has a slight inclination forward. The rear part of the main fuselage is where the engine nacelles, nozzles, air intakes and the vertical stabilizers are located. The landing gear is of tricycle configuration, with the rear wings being retractable to the wing section, and the forward gear being placed below the rear area of the canopy, having a mudguard for protection against foreign object damage (FOD).
The wing is a swept trapezoidal wing that is also cropped, with the purpose of allowing missile rails or ECM pods at the wingtips. The horizontal stabilizers are also of a delta shape, which along the main wings makes of the Su-27 to look like a tailed delta wing configuration. Noteworthy to point out that the main wing merges into the fuselage at the leading-edge extensions (these extensions are slightly curved thus giving the Su-27 its characteristic shape). These wings and configuration in fact bestows the fighter with great manoeuvrability and great control, as it can fly at very low speeds and with an angle of attack of 120°, which result in the Su-27 to be capable of performing the Pugachev’s Cobra and dynamic deceleration. Some versions have their flight controls and manoeuvrability enhanced by the addition of canards located at the leading-edge extensions, as well the lift – which is increased – and a reduction of distances required for takeoff; the Su-27K/Su-33, some versions of the Su-30, the Su-35 and the Su-37 are fitted with those canards. The wings are not the only secret behind the Su-27 performance, for the incorporated fly-by-wire technology also plays its part on yielding the manoeuvrability this fighter has. These characteristics come at hand for the Su-27 in case of dogfighting. The Su-27 is also fitted with twin tales located aft the airframe, over the engine nacelles. They are complemented by small winglets installed immediately below. The engine noozles are ‘extended’ beyond the location of the twin tail, yet located between the horizontal stabilizers. Between the noozles, there is a radome aft the fuselage, acting as a rear prolongation of the airframe and hosting a rear-side radar.
The avionics make of the Su-27 and its versions a formidable opponent, as it is fitted with a Phazotron N001 Myech coherent pulse-Doppler radar, having track while scan and look-down/shoot-down capability, thus making the Su-27 capable of having a lock on its targets. This radar has a range of 80-100 km in horizontal, and of 30-40 km at the rear hemisphere. It is capable of tracking 10 targets and prioritize the target to be intercepted. There is also a SUV-27 fire control system fitted with a RLPK-27 radar sighting system, a OEPS-27 electro-optical system, a SEI-31 integrated indication system, an IFF device/interrogator and a built-in test system. The SUV-27 fire control system is integrated with a PNK-10 flight navigation system, a radio command link, the IFF device, the data transmission, the data transmission equipment and the EW self-defence system. The OEPS-27 is composed of the OLS-27 IRST and the helmet-mount sight that allows lock by look, controlled by the Ts-100 digital (central) computer. In addition, the SEI-31 integrated indication system provides navigation, flight and sight data to the HUD. These avionics, in fact, enables the SU-27 to engage targets beyond the visual range, bestowing a long punch thus making it a serious contender in aerial combat.
These capacities (especially the manoeuvrability, but also the fire power) are somehow complemented by the powerplant, which bestows the fighter in tandem with the aerodynamics and the wing design, its characteristics, yielding also very good combat capabilities. The powerplant consists of a couple of Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F bypass engines with a thrust of 12500 kg (each), yielding a maximum speed of 2500 km/h (1,550 mph). Two engine intakes variable ramps allow the engines to receive the air, while the specific shape allows optimal performance at any given speed and altitude.
The armament tends to vary according to the different versions. The most common one is the 30mm GSh cannon, located at the starboard wingroot. The additional advantage the wings have is that they allow the Su-27 to carry large numbers of weapons and other equipment, as it hosts up to 10 hardpoints. The combination of R-73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’) and R-27 (AA—10 ‘Alamo’) is the most common, but there are various schemes of weaponry according to the different versions and models of the Su-27.
On The Road to Damascus
Russia has waged an extensive air campaign over Syria in order to support the Assad government, which is a very close – in fact, strategic – ally of Russia. This support is aimed at keeping Assad in the power, so Russia can have a platform from which to strengthen its presence in the Middle East, as the civil war unfolds. Given this context, the Sukhoi Su-27 is one of the main tools used by Russia to wage this campaign, making use of both land and sea-based assets, and of varied versions. It is also reported that the deployment of the air assets could help in boost the Russian share in the security and defence markets, by demonstrating the capabilities of the Su-27 in real-time combat. The most prolific ones deployed so far is the Su-27SM3, the Su-30SM and the Su-35S, along with other air assets (like the Su-24 ‘Fencer’). As the air campaign began in September the 30th 2015, with the objectives being ISIS terrorist personnel, facilities, camps, vehicles and facilities, although it has been reported that Russian air strikes have targeted the rebel groups instead of ISIS.
In any case, the role of the ‘Flankers’ has been very important, but some have paid a price. The first assets deployed were the Su-27SM 3 and the Su-30 SM, tasked mainly with air protection and escort the fighter/bombers and strike aircraft Su-24 ‘Fencer’ and Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, as well as providing escort to bombers. Furthermore, the early deployed Flankers were providing target illumination to the bombers launching airstrikes against their designated targets. After an Su-24 was shot down by Turkey in 2015, Russia decided to deploy the Su-35S, to enhance air superiority and control over the area of operations, along with advanced AA defence systems (such as the S-400) and arming the deployed fighters with live-round missiles.
Another deployed version of the Su-27 is the Su-34, with 14 units carrying precision strikes and having no air escort whatsoever, for they have considerable air-defence capabilities. Noteworthy to point out that Russian air assets are deployed mainly at Latakia and Khmeimim air bases, as well as at the airport in Damascus.
The Navy-operated Sukhois have seen some action over the skies of Syria as well, as they have taken part in combat flights from the deck of the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. These airplanes too have suffered a series of incidents. On December the 3rd 2016, a Su-33 failed to land after a first equally failed attempt, as the arresting cable snapped thus not stopping the aircraft, which went overboard. This incident prompted the Russian Navy to move all the carrier’s air assets to the Syrian Hmeymim air base, while the problems with the arresting cables are solved.
T-10 (‘Flanker-A’) – The first prototype of the Flanker
T-10S – The improved version of the T-10 prototype.
P-42 – A version quite similar to the US F-15 Streak Eagle project, it was purposed with beating climb time records, lacking radar, armament and even painting for that.
Su-27 – The pre-production series built in small quantities and fitted with the Lyulka AL-31 turbofan engines.
Su-27 S (Su-27/ ‘Flanker B’), or T10P – The initial production series version with one seat, equipped with the improved version of the Lyulka turbofan engines, the AL-31F.
Su-27 P (Su-27/ ‘Flanker B’) – The standard version yet lacking air-to-ground weapons control system and wiring. These units, denominated as Su-27, were assigned to the Soviet Air Defence Forces, an independent branch from the Soviet Air Force.
Su-27 UB (‘Flanker C’) – The initial production of a two-seat operational trainer.
Su-27SK – The single-seat export version of the Su-27S, delivered to China in the mid 90’s. The Shenyang J-11 was developed from this particular version.
Su-27UBK – The export version of the Su-27UB two-seat version.
Su-27K (Su-33 / ‘Flanker D’) – A carrier single-seat capable version featuring folding wings, high-lift devices and a tailhook arresting gear for carrier operations. Near 30 were produced.
Su-27M (Su-35/Su-37 ‘Flanker E/F’) – Improved demonstrators for an advanced multi-role single-seat fighter derived from the Su-27S, which included also a two-seated Su-27UB.
Su-27PU (Su-30) – The two-seat version of the Su-27, with the purpose of supporting with tactical data other single-seat Su-27P, Mig-31 and other interceptors in service with the Soviet Air Defence Forces. This version resulted in the Su-30, which came to be a multi-role fighter for export.
Su-32 (Su-27IB) – A long-range strike version with a side-by-side seating having a platypus-type nose, it was also the prototype of the Su-32FN and the Su-34 ‘Fullback’.
Su-27PD – A single seat demonstrator featuring several improvements, including an inflight refuelling probe.
Su-30, Su-30M / Su-30MK – A next-generation two-seat multi-role fighter. Some units were used for evaluation in Russia, with 88 units (Su-30, Su-30M2 and Su-30SM) in service with both the Russian Air Force and the Naval Aviation. The Su-30MK became a couple of demonstrators to secure exports, deriving in the Su-30MKA, Su-30MKI, Su-30MKK and Su-30MKM. In detail, the Su-30 has the following (export) versions:
Su-30K – Basic export version of the Su-30.
Su-30KI – Proposed upgrade for the Su-27S. it was also a proposed export version for Indonesia, with an order for 24 aborted due to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
Su-30KN – An upgrade project for two-seat fighters; such as the Su-27UB, the Su-30 and Su-30UBK. Revived as the Su-30M2 after it was briefly cancelled. Belarus was also considering updating former Indian Su-30K to the Su-30KN.
Su-30MK – Commercial version of the Su-30M, fitted with navigation and communication equipment made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Su-30M2 – A KnAAPO version based on the Su-30MK2. Around 24 airframes were delivered to the Russian Air Force, and used for combat training aircraft for Su-27SM fighters.
Su-30MKI – A version developed in cooperation with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for the Indian Air Force (hence the acronym ‘MKI’, which stands for “Modernizirovanny, Kommercheskiy, Indiski”, or “Modernized, Commercial, Indian”). It features thrusts vectoring controls and canards. A remarkable feature is that it is equipped with a mixture of avionics with components made in Russia, India, France and Israel.
Su-30MKK – A version for export to China (“Modernizirovanny, Kommercheskiy, Kitayiski” / “Modernized, Commercial, China”).
Su-30MKM – Developed from the Su-30MKI, it’s a dedicated version for the royal Malaysian Air Force, and like the Su-30MKI, it features thrust vectoring controls and canards as well as avionics from various nations. The HUD, the navigational forward-looking infra-red system and the Damocles laser designation pod are made in France (Thales group of France). The MAW-300 missile approach warning system, the RWS-50 RWR and laser warning sensor are made in South Africa (SAAB AVITRONICS). And the NIIP N011M Bars Passive electronically scanner array radar, the EW system, the optical-location System and the glass cockpit are made by Russia.
Su-30MKA – Another version developed from the Su-30MKI for Algeria, featuring a mixture of Russian and French-made avionics.
Su-30SM and SME – A version for the Russian Air Force, being based on the Su-30MKI (and even MKM), and considered a 4+ generation fighter. This version is built upon Russian requirements for radar, radio communication systems, friend-or-foe identification system, ejection seats, and weapons, among others. The Bars-R radar and a wide-angle HUD are among the features of this version. The export version was unveiled at the Singapore Air Show 2016, denominated SU-30SME.
Su-30MKV – Export version for Venezuela.
Su-30MK2V – A variant for Vietnam, having little modifications.
Su-27SM (‘Flanker-B’ Mod. 1) – The mid-life upgraded version of the Su-27S, having incorporated the technology fitted in the Su-27M.
Su-27SKM – A single-seat multi-role fighter for export, developed from the Su-27SK yet fitted with an advanced cockpit, more-sophisticated self-defence ECM and in-flight refuelling system.
Su-27UBM – An upgraded Su-27UB.
Su-27SM2 – An upgrade of the Su-27 into a 4+ generation fighter, featuring an Irbis-E radar, upgraded avionics and engines.
Su-27SM3 – Similar to the Su-27SM, only that it is a new airframe instead of an updated one.
Su-27KUB – A Su-27K carrier version which is a two-seat side-by-side version that is used as carrier version or multi-role aircraft.
Su-35 – The most recent developed version of the Su-27, it has upgraded avionics and radar, powered by a thrust vectoring Saturn AL-41F1S engine. It has the following variants:
Su-27M/Su-35 – A single-seat fighter.
Su-35UB – A two-seat trainer, featuring taller vertical stabilizers (or tails), with the forward fuselage being similar to that of the Su-30.
Su-35BM – A single-seat fighter having enhanced avionics and some modifications to the airframe. The denomination “Su-35BM” is an informal one.
Su-37 – A thrust-vectoring demonstrator.Su-35S – A version for the Russian Air Force of the Su-35BM.
Su-27UB1M – The Ukrainian modernized version of the Su-27UB.
Su-27UP1M – The Ukrainian modernized version of the Su-27UP.
Su-27S1M – The Ukrainian modernized version of the Su-27S.
Su-27P1M – The Ukrainian version of the Su-27P.
Shengyang J-11, J-15 and J-16 – The Chinese versions of the Su-27(SK). These versions have also their own sub-variants as it follows:
J-11A – Units assembled by both China and Russia, as the parts were provided by Russia with China assembling them. They were latter upgraded with Missile Approach Warning (MAWS), and reportedly new cockpit displays and fire control for R-77 (AA-12 ‘Adder’) or PL-10. 104 built/assembled.
J-11B – Produced in China with Chinese technology, it is powered by the Shenyang WS-10A turbofan and being also slightly lighter thanks to the use of composite materials. It features new avionics, glass cockpit, MAWS, and onboard oxygen generation system. It might receive an Active electronically scanned array radar.
J-11BS – The twin-seat version of the J-11
J-11BH – Naval version of the J-11
J-11BSH – Naval version of the J-11BS
J-15 – Carrier-based version featuring some structural elements from the acquired Su-33 prototype, as well as avionics of the J-11B
J-16 and J-16D – Strike variant and EW variant, respectively. The latter has the wingtip pods resembling the AN/ALQ-218, with the wings and fuselage allowing up to 10 hardpoints yet lacking IRST of the Gsh 30mm cannon.
J-11D – Version featuring an electronically scanned array radar, IRST, and capacity to fire heavier imagine/infrared (IRR) air-to-air missiles. Many composite materials are part of the structure, with the engine intakes being the most remarkable one, as it is aimed at reducing radar visibility. It is supposed that new fly-by-wire control system, glass cockpit, improved electronic warfare systems and an enhanced version of the WS-10A engine are fitted in the plane.
Soviet Union/Russia Russia is among the main users of the Su-27 and variants, in service with both the Air Force and the Navy, starting its career with the Soviet Air Force and soviet Air Defence Forces. By January 2014, the Russian Air Force was reportedly operating 359 Su-27, of which 225 were of the basic Su-27 model, 70 Su-27MS, 12 Su-27MS3 and 52 Su-27UB. All of these airframes were to be subjected to modernization, with half of them being upgraded to the Su-27MS3. The Russian air force also operates with 3 Su-30, 20 Su-27M2 and 66 Su-30SM. 28 additional Su-30SM are expected as they are in order. 8 were issued to the Russian aerobatic team Russian Knights. 103 units of the Su-32/34 versions are operated by the Russian Air Force. 58 Su-35S are also part of the inventory.
The Russian Navy (Naval Aviation branch), in turn, was operating 53 Su-27 by January 2014, operating also 15 Su-30SM, being part of an order for 28 of such airframes, with 50 planned.
United States The US operates with two SU-27 airframes purchased from Belarus in 1995, with two additional former Ukrainian airframes purchased by Pride Aircraft. The US/private owned airframes are used for combat training for US pilots, with strong emphasis on dissimilar air combat training.
Ukraine The Ukrainian Air Force is having between 50-70 airframes, of which 16 were operational by 2015. They have seen operational action due to the conflict currently taking place at Eastern Ukraine.
Belarus After the USSR collapsed, Belarus received almost 30 Su-27. Two or three were sold to Angola in 1998, with the remaining 17 Su-27P and 4 Su-27UBM being retired in 2012
People’s Republic of China The People’s Republic of China is the second main operator of the Su-27, being also the first nation to which the Su-27 was exported by the early 90’s. The Chinese PLAAF was operating 33 Su-27SK and 26 Su-27UBK by January 2013. As China was allowed to produce its own airframes under license, the Shenyang J-11 (95 J-11A and 110 J-11B and J-11BS by the airforce; 48 J-11B and J-11BS by the Naval Aviation), J-15 (around 20 operated by the Navy Air Force) and J-16 (24 units apparently built) came to be the Chinese versions of the Su-27. The PLAAF and the Naval Aviation of China also operates 76 Su-30MKK and 24 Su-30MK2 respectively. 24 Su-35 were ordered, with 4 units received.
India The Indian Air Force operates 254 Su-30MKI, with the first units manufactured in Russia, and the following units assembles in India and under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. It is the third main user of the Su-27.
Indonesia The Indonesian Air Force was operating 5 Su-27SK/SKM fighters by 2013. It also operates 18 Su-30MKM/MK2.
Vietnam The Vietnamese Air Force (Vietnam People’s Air Force was operating 9 Su-27SK and 3 Su-27UBK by 2013, along with 4 Su-30MK and 20 Su-30 MK2V. 12 more Su-30MK2V were received between 2014-2015, making a total of 32 Su-30MK2V.
Malaysia The Royal Malaysian Air force operates 18 Su-30MKI. A curious fact of the purchasing agreement was for Russia to send the first Malayan cosmonaut to the International Space Station.
Mongolia The Air Force of Mongolia operates 4 Su-27, with 8 more to be delivered.
Kazakhstan By 2010 it was operating 30 Su-27, having 12 in order. Reportedly, it operates 6 Su-30SM.
Uzbekistan 34 Su-27 were reportedly operated by this nation in 2013.
Algeria 44 Su-30MKA are part of the Algerian Air Force inventory, with 14 more airframes ordered.
Eritrea 8 Su-27SK/UB were received in 2003, with 9 being on service by 2013.
Ethiopia In 2013, this nation was operating 12 Su-27, 8 of which were Su-27SK.
Angola The Western African nation received 8 Su-27, 3 from Belarus. One was reported as shot down by a MANPADS in 2000 during the Civil War. 7 units were in service by 2013. Presumably, 18 Su-30K were ordered.
Uganda The Ugandan Air Force operates 6 Su-30MK2.
Venezuela The Venezuelan Air Force operates 24 Su-30MK2, with 12 more being considered for purchase. One was lost during a drug interdiction mission as it crashed.
14,7 m / 48 ft 3 in
21,9 m / 72 ft
5,92 m / 19 ft 6 in
62 m² / 667 ft²
2 X Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F afterburning turbofans
Maximum Take-Off Weight
30450 Kg / 67,100 lb
16380 kg / 36,100 lb
23450 kg / 51,650 lb (with 56% of internal fuel)
59,000 ft/min (300 m/s)
At high altitude: Mach 2,35 (2500 km/h / 1,550+ mph), At low altitude: 1400 km/h / 870 mph)
6530 Km / 2,193 miles at high altitude; 1340 Km / 800 miles at low altitude
Maximum Service Ceiling
19000 m /62,523 ft
1 X 30mm Gsh-301 autocannon.
10 harpoints allowing up to 6000 kg/ 13227.73 lbs: 6 X R-27 medium-range air-to-air missiles; 2 X R-73 short-range heat-seeking air-to-air missiles. Other versions can carry a large array of weaponry, such as: (Su-30 and Su-33) R-27ER (AA-10C) and R-27ET, R-73E and R-77 RVV-AE AA missiles; Kh-31P/A, Kh-29T/L, Kh-59ME, Kh-35, and Kh-59MT and MK; rockets; bombs (KAB 500KR, KAB 1500KR, FAB 500T, OFAB 250-270 and nuclear bombs); and ECM pods. (Su-34) R-27, R-73, R-77 AA missiles; Kh-29L/T, Kh-38, Kh-25MT/ML/MP, Kh-59, Kh-58, Kh-31, Kh-35, P-800 Oniks and Kh-65SE or Kh-SD air-to-ground, anti-radar, anti-ship and cruise missiles; bombs and tactical nuclear bombs; and additional fuel tanks; and EW and reconnaissance pods. (Su-35) laser-guided and unguided rockets; R-73E/M, R-74M, R-27R/ET/ER/T, R-77 and R-37 AA missiles; Kh-29T/L, Kh-31P/A and Kh-59M/E air-to-surface and cruise missiles; bombs; and a buddy refuelling pod.
The Chinese versions (J-11, J-15 and J-16) carry the Chinese-made PL-12, PL-9 and PL-8 AA missiles, as well as the Russian-made R-77, R-27 and R-73 AA missiles; unguided rockets and free-fall cluster bombs, satellite-guided bombs and laser-guided bombs; ECM pods; and anti-ship and anti-radar missiles.
Among the avionics of the Su-27, there is a Phazotron N001 Myech coherent pulse-Doppler radar, with track while scan and look-down/shoot-down capability and a range of 80-100 km in horizontal, and of 30-40 at the rear hemisphere, capable of tracking 10 targets and prioritize the target to be intercepted. There is also a SUV-27 fire control system fitted with a RLPK-27 radar sighting system, a OEPS-27 electro-optical system, a SEI-31 integrated indication system, an IFF device/interrogator and a built-in test system. A PNK-10 flight navigation system, a radio command link, the IFF device, the data transmission, the data transmission equipment and EW self-defence system are also part of the avionics. OLS-27 IRST and the helmet-mount sight, a Ts-100 digital (central) computer, a SEI-31 integrated indication system and HUD are also among the standard avionics fitted in the Su-37.
The F-15 Eagle is beyond any doubt one of the most famous air superiority fighters of the second half of the Cold War, and a worthy successor of the also famous McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom. For instance, its predecessor was designed to be a fighter with attack capabilities for any weather condition, and the same concept was taken into account when developing the Eagle, only that it was intended mainly for air superiority. Interestingly, and despite the F-4 being a naval plane for most of the part, the F-15 would be a combat eagle on use by the USAF. There is also another thing both planes have in common, despite being the Phantom already in combat and the Eagle yet to be developed: the Vietnam War. As it happens, high number of casualties made the US Navy and the Air Force, along with the influence of Secretary of State Robert McNamara, to look for new models to replace the existing ones, including the Phantom. The introduction of the Mig 25 Foxbat provided the final argument in favour of the development of a new aircraft for air superiority. And with while the Navy would ultimately incorporate the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the USAF decided to go for its own fighter, resulting in the F-15, being the counterpart of the Tomcat and taking the Mig-25 as inspiration in terms of performance, to say the least.
The F-15 Eagle is single-seat – or double seat in tandem in certain versions – twin-engine all-weather tactical fighter/air superiority fighter with attack and bombing capabilities, with cantilever shoulder-mounted wings. As it was briefly mentioned, the Vietnam War gave way for its requirement given the high losses to soviet-made aircraft (often old models) back in 1964, with 1968 being the year of requirements issuing and 1969 the year when development of the Eagle began. The main requirement was for the new fighter to be of air superiority and having secondary attack capacities. McDonnell Douglas was the company that awarded the requirements, thus developing the Eagle from the abovementioned year and flying the first prototype in 1972. NASA, in addition, came to take active part in the development of the F-15, especially on its mission requirements, at the same time of the development by the industry contractors.
The Eagle became to be one of the most advanced fighters of the times, clearly fulfilling its mission as it is considered the best air superiority fighter. The secret of its effectiveness and resilience lies on its structure, which is made of metal and then titanium at most of its components, and the empennage made of composite materials – twin aluminium/composite material honeycomb – and the vertical stabilizers made of boron-composite skin. This allowed the tails and the rudders to be very thin yet resistant. The wing also plays its role in bestowing the flying and combat capabilities of the F-15, as this has a cropped delta shape with a leading-edge sweepback of 45 degrees. There are no leading-edge flaps, and the trailing edge – or posterior area of the wing – is having ailerons and a simple high-lift flap. As a result, the wing’ low loading allows the F-15 to be very manoeuvrable without sacrificing speed in the process. The powerplant (two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-100 turbofans engines with afterburners) and the avionics also play a role in providing the F-15 with its exceptional qualities: The former by bestowing speeds of up to 2.5 Mach and a good time/altitude ratio, the latter by allowing the crew to track and engage targets at distanced up to 160 km (87 miles) and targets at very low and high altitudes.
The F-15 has proven to be a platform capable of receiving structural and avionics/electronics improvements, further enhancing its combat and flight capabilities, with new radars, computers, weapons controls and armament type, powerplants (Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-220), warning and navigation systems. The F-15 could even receive low visibility technologies, proving the adaptability and capacity of the aircraft to incorporate the latest technologies, as it is the case of the proposed F-15SE Silent Eagle, where its weapons carrying capabilities are proposed to be equally upgraded. This version could co-operate with 5th generation air assets, let alone to almost operate like one.
The F-15 has witnessed action not only in the air campaigns waged by the USA in the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia, but also with other air forces, being the Israeli Air Force where the F-15 have had similar combat intensity, and the Saudi Air Force making some considerable use of their F-15s. With the USAF, the F-15 on its different configurations achieved air superiority by shooting down many air assets of Iraq in air-to-air combats or in the ground, as well as to inflict a serious damage to Iraqi military and governmental infrastructure, contributing at a great extend to the sound victory of the Coalition in 1991. The F-15 even managed to destroy a low flying helicopter with a laser guided bomb. The F-15 kept a watch in enforcing the established no-fly zones after this conflict. The Balkans were another scenario where the F-15s made their presence to be felt, by pounding Serbian ground targets and even scoring 4 enemy kills (Serbian Mig-29s). The Second Iraq War, Afghanistan and strikes against ISIS saw the F-15E mainly in action, attacking important targets on these three scenarios, and even providing Close Air Support (CAS) for the troops in the ground.
With the Israeli Air Force, it achieved its first air-to-air kill, establishing then Israeli air superiority over the skies of Lebanon and against Syrian air assets. It had seen use also as a long-range striker and as a platform for attacking specific targets. Saudi Arabia also had some air kills in the 80’s and during Operation Desert Storm, using the F-15s nowadays to strike important targets in Yemen.
As of now, the F-15 is still in service and production (by Boeing, as McDonnell Douglas was absorbed by this company), with the USAF considering to operate with this fighter until 2025 or 2040 at the latest, and production to be maintained until 2019. So far, 1074 units have been produced (by 2012).
The F-15 is an all metal (later on aluminium) semi-monocoque fighter with a shoulder-mounted wing, powered by two engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-100 (F-15A, F-15B and F-15C) or F-100-PW-220 (F-15DJ and F-15 J), or F-100-PW-229 (F-15E). Two engine air intakes are located at each side of the fuselage, starting from the half area of the cockpit with a intake ramp configuration. The wings have a characteristic shape of a cropped delta shape with a leading-edge sweptback of 45 degrees, starting at nearly half of the wing. It lacks of manoeuvring flaps at the leading edge, having only a simple high-lift flap and ailerons at the trailing edge. As the wing has a low loading with high thrust-to-weight ratio, the F-15 can perform tight turns without any loose of speed, capable also of sustaining high G forces. Noteworthy to point out that the airfoil thickness has a variation of 6% at the wing root, to 3% at the wingtip. The empennage is made out of metal, with the two vertical stabilizers made out of honeycomb twin aluminium and composite materials covered with boron-composite skin, allowing them to be thin but very resisting. This means that the F-15 has two tails, the same way as the Grumman F-14 and the Mig 25. The horizontal stabilizers also have a remarkable characteristic of their own, as they have dogtooth within their structural shape, being able to move independently thus increasing control. The aerodynamic brake is located on the top of the fighter’s structure, behind the cockpit. The landing gear is a retractable tricycle. Noteworthy to point out that the F-15E lack of the typical exhaust petals covering the engine nozzles.
The cockpit is placed high in the frontal part of the aircraft, featuring a one-piece windscreen and a large canopy, allowing a full 360 degrees visibility for the pilot. In most F-15 variants the canopy is designed for one pilot. However, the F-15B, F-15D, F-15DJ and F-15E have a canopy designed for a crew of two: a pilot and a weapons officer in the case of the F-15E, and the student and instructor in the case of the training versions.
The wings and the same structure of the fighter allows it to carry a large number of weaponry and other devices. Among the weaponry normally carried by the F-15, there are AIM-7F/M Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM—9L/M Sidewinder, as well as the M61 Vulcan Gatling gun at the right wing root. Other armament the F-15 is usually armed with are a varied array of free-fall and directed bombs, rockets, air-ground or anti-ship missiles, such as the AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-84H Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile JASSM, AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles, and AGM-154 JSOW missiles. ECM pods, external fuel tanks and low-drag conformal fuel tanks (CTFs), which are attached to the sides of the air intakes and cannot be dropped, are usually among the additional equipment carried by this fighter.
The avionics of the F-15 allow an optimal operationalization of the armament carried by this fighter, as well as its navigation and combat-electronic performance and multi-mission capabilities. Among the avionics of the F-15, it could be accounted: Heads Up Display (HUD), the advanced pulse-Doppler Raytheon radars APG-63 and APG-70, the AN/ASN-109 Inertial Guidance System, the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), ECM pods, Hazeltine AN/APX-76 or Raytheon AN/APX-119 IFF device, Magnavox AN/ALQ-128 Electronic Warfare Warning Set (EWWS), Loral AN/ALR-56 radar warning receiver and a Northrop-Grumman Electronics System ALQ-135 internal counter-measures system. All of these comprise the electronic brain of the fighter, which in combination with the powerplant, the aerodynamics and the weapons systems, makes of the F-15 an outstanding air asset that can achieve supreme control over the skies it operates.
As the design of the F-15 allows adaptation and upgrades, all of the versions were receiving gradual upgrades in avionics and engines, being the F-15E the most prominent. Yet some versions operated by other air forces, such as the Israel Air Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force can receive electronic and avionics components developed by those nations, proving that the Eagle is entirely adaptable to receive technology other than of its country of origin. And its versatility allows combat conversions, explaining why a single airframe can have air superiority, attack or electronic warfare missions, deciding the outcome of any campaign either in the skies or the ground.
An Eagle Not to Mess With
The F-15 has proven to be a very powerful asset and a though adversary for those obliged to face it, feeling the powerful strike of the F-15. It has a suitable name that makes honour to its combat capabilities, which have been proven in action from the year it was unleashed. During the 1991 Gulf War and the aftermath, the F-15 achieved air superiority and delivered hard blows to the Iraqi military assets, by scoring 32 fixed-wing aircraft as confirmed kills (Iraqi fighters, fighter/bombers, transport airplanes and trainers that fell under the claws of the F-15), and 4 helicopters as kills. Many of these kills were achieved in air-to-air combats or simply by attacking the Iraqi air assets on the ground, being involved also in the hunt for valuable targets or by watching the skies over Iraq and the Balkans. In the hands of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the F-15 Eagle scored 41 and around 4-5 air kills respectively. With Israel, the F-15 left a deep impression on those that were targeted by its bombs. In the Balkans, the F-15 scored four air kills and equally contributed to pound the Serbian military facilities at Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.
The Eagle began the 21st century with more capabilities to increase its striking power, as well as seeing more combat in the light of the 9/11 attacks and the campaigns against terrorism. During the Second Iraq war of 2003, the Eagle once and again delivered precision strikes that decimated Iraq’s combat capacities. During the Afghan campaign, it attacked key Taliban and terrorist targets, at the point of even supporting the troops on the ground, and in recent years, it contributed at weakening the military power of Libya during its own Arab Spring, as well as striking important targets in the anti-terrorist campaign over Syria, Libya and Iraq. The F-15 Eagle has been on active duty basically during its entire operational life, being at the very first line.
The Eagle, as a last, could be able to destroy the eyes above the skies, as it was used for experimental tests where it fired a two-staged anti-satellite missile, proving capable for doing so. It has more than fulfilled the requirements set for its development after the nasty experiences of the Vietnam War, war that gave birth to one of the most powerful and memorable birds in all the history of aviation, being the Eagle a milestone by itself.
F-15 Prototypes Series – These series comprised at least 12 different airframes (2 F-15A-1; 3 F-15A-2; 2 F-15A-3; 3 F-15A-4; 1 two-seat F-15B-1 and 1 two-seat F-15B-2), each having a specific purpose during development, like testing the engines, the avionics, the structure, armament and fire control systems, external payload, electronic warfare systems, and even test and demonstrations tasks.
F-15A – The first series and operational version of the Eagle, being a single-seat all-weather air superiority fighter version. 384 units delivered.
F-15B – Two-seated training version that received once the denomination TF-15A. 61 units delivered.
F-15C – An improved version of the single-seat and all-weather superiority fighter version, receiving the last 43 units AN/APG-70 and AN/APG 63(V)1 radar. 483 units delivered.
F-15D – Another two-seat version for training purposes. 92 units delivered.
F-15E Strike Eagle – The all-weather strike version, as its name indicates, and equipped with conformal external tanks. Optimized for ground attacks, it was one of the main air assets used by the Coalition in Iraq in 1991, by NATO during the Balkans campaigns, the USAF in the second Iraq War, and on neutralizing combat capacities of terrorist groups. introduced in 1987.
F-15J – Japan Air Self Defence Force version of the single-seat and all-weather air superiority fighter. 2 units made in the USA, and 139 built under license in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
F-15DJ – Japan Air Self Defence two-seat version for training purposes. 12 units built in the USA, and 25 built under license in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
F-15SE Silent Eagle – A proposed version with stealth capabilities by reducing the radar cross-section, having also new and specific avionics to be incorporated. This version has given way to the following versions:
F-15I Ra’am – Version for Israel and thus operated by the Israeli Air Force with the name of Ra’am or ‘Thunder’. It has two seats and is for ground-attack missions, fitted with Israel-made electronics, including Sharpshooter targeting pods for night-time attacks, Elisra SPS-2110 radar warning receivers, a new central computer and GPS/INS system. Furthermore, the Display and Sight Helmet (DASH) allows the incorporation of all sensors, enhancing targeting. The APG-70I radar allows access to hard targets on the ground, capable also of detecting airliner-size target at distances up to 280 km (182 miles) and a fighter-size target at 104 km (64 miles). It will receive structural reinforcements, AESA radar and new weaponry. Around 25 units.
F-15K Slam Eagle – Version for the Republic of Korea (South Korea), with 40% of the airframes comprised of South Korean-made components, including wings, fuselage, avionics, electronics and licence-built engines, with Boeing in charge of final assembly. A first batch was received in 2005 with 40 fighters received, followed by a second batch of 21 units ordered in 2008, having the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines. This version has its own particularities, just like the F-15I, with an AAS-42 infra-red search and track device, a customized Tactical Electronics Warfare Suite aiming at reducing weight and enhancing jamming effectiveness, cockpit compatibility with NVG, and VHF/UHF radio with a Fighter Data Link system. Moreover, it is fitted with an advanced APG-63(V)1 mechanical-scanned array radar, upgradable to AESA radar, and having a Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. The armament is pretty ‘unique’ as well, as it carries AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-84H Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, and AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile JASSM (a low observable standoff and long range cruise missile).
F-15S and SA – Variant supplied and developed for Saudi Arabia, with the F-15S having the AN/APG-70 radar and General Electric F110-GE-129C. The F-15SA will incorporate fly-by-wire flight control technologies (that will allow the carriage of weaponry on the unused wing stations, APG-63(V)3 AESA radar, digital electronic warfare systems, infra-red search and track systems and a redesigned cockpit.
F-15SG (or F-15T) – Version operated by the Royal Singaporean Air Force (RSAF) with 24 units. These units operate with AIM-120C and AIM-9X missiles, GBU-38 JDAM bombs and AGM-154 JSOW missiles, complemented with NVG and Link 16 terminals, powered by General Electric F110 engines.
F-15QA – 72 units that will be delivered for the Qatar Air Force.
F-15H Strike Eagle – A proposed version for Greece (H stand for Hellas, the Greek name of the country) that did not advanced further, as the Greek government chose instead Mirage 2000-5 and F-16.
F-15G Wild Weasel – A proposed two-seat version to replace the F-4G in Suppression of Enemy Air Defences tasks, but the F-16 received such capabilities, and the F-15E was capable of carrying anti-radar missiles, like the AGM-88 HARM, thus performing SEAD roles.
F-15N Sea Eagle and F-15N-PHX – A carrier capable version proposed in the early 70’s as an alternative to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The F-15N-PHX was also a proposed naval version for the US Navy, capable of carrying the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. As naval versions, these featured structural reinforcement at the wingtips, the landing gear and a tailhook for carrier operations. These versions would never see action as the US Navy decided to carry on with the Tomcat.
F-15 2040C – A proposed upgrading programme for the F-15C to enable co-operation with the F-22, with characteristics similar to those of the F-15SE and having more air capabilities and combat power. Infra-red search and track, instalment of quad racks (increasing the missile carriage up to 16), Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, conformal fuel tanks, upgraded radar (APG-63(V)3 AESA, and a Thalon HATE communications pod for co-operation with the F-22 are among the proposed upgrades.
F-15 Streak Eagle – A research unit without painting and avionics, which broke time-to-climb records. Now part of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
F-15 STOL/MTD – Another experimental unit for short-take-off/manoeuvre technology demonstrator, incorporating canards before the main wings, thrust-vectoring nozzles, and vectorised engine thrusts.
F-15 ACTIVE – A modification of the F-15 S/MTD with thrust vectoring nozzles for advanced flight control research. The acronym ‘ACTIVE’ stands for Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles. NASA, Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies, the USAF, West Palm Beach and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace are in charge of the program. This unit is powered by Pratt and Whitney F-100-PW-229 engines fitted with modified axisymmetric vectoring nozzles
F-15 IFCS – Conversion of the F-15 Active into a research aircraft for intelligent flight control systems.
F-15 MANX – Intended tailless variant of the F-15 Active that was never materialized.
F-15 Flight Research Facility – Two F-15 A acquired by NASA (Dryden Flight Research Center) for Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control, Adaptive Engine Control System, Self-Repairing and Self-Diagnostic Flight Control System, and Propulsion Controlled Aircraft System experiments.
F-15B Research Testbed – Used by NASA (Dryden Flight Research Center) for flight tests.
United States of America The F-15 is operated mainly by three services or institutions in the United States. One is the USAF, which operates around 255 F-15 of the C/D versions, with the Air National Guard being the second service and operating 140 of them. In addition, the USAF operates 213 F-15E. Many of USAF F-15 saw extensive action in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq in 1990 and 1991. On these operations, F-15 of C and D versions gained air superiority, killing 5 Iraqi Mig-29, 2 Mig-25, 8 Mig-23, two Mig-21, 2 Su-25, 4 Su-22, one Su-7, six Mirage F1, one Ilyushin Il-76 cargo airplane, one Pilatus PC-9 trainer, and 2 Mil-8 helicopters. In the 1999 Kosovo campaign, four Serbian Mig-29 were scored as kills by the F-15C.Meanwhile, the F-15E’s hunted SCUD launchers, engaged against Iraqi Mig-29 fighters and even shot down a Mil-24 Hind with a bomb, losing only two units. Iraqi air assets were also destroyed by the F-15E, as well as enemy armoured assets in Kuwait, engaging also in operations intended at killing Saddam Hussein. Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch, which followed in the aftermath of the Gulf War, saw the F-15E enforcing the no-fly zone, managing to cause one Iraqi helicopter – a Hind – that was attacking a Kurdish site to crash. They also destroyed SAM sites and radars, as well as command and control sites, radio communications and relay stations, and radars. They also executed surveillance and reconnaissance, mission practicing and even strikes against the Iraqi Republican Guard and Baath Party HQs (Operation Southern Watch).In the Balkans, the F-15E were used to strike Serbian targets in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo mainly against armour, logistical, and air defences weapons and facilities targets of Serbia, where it executed for the first time, stand-off attacks with the AGM-130 missile. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom saw the deployment of USAF F-15E for the second time in Iraq and in Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attacks. In Afghanistan, the F-15E engaged in strikes against Taliban and terrorist targets – military structures, supply depots, training camps, and caves – as well as in CAS missions, where they gave support fire to a SEAL team whose helicopter was shot down. In Iraq, in turn, the F-15E attacked key military and governmental sites, airfields – 65 Migs destroyed – and decimating 60% of the Iraqi Medina Republican Guard.Libya, Syria and Iraq are the areas the USAF F-15E are currently in action, attacking ISIS terrorist training camps, facilities, command and control facilities and even vehicles and trucks. But the USAF utilization of the F-15 did not stopped there, as in fact made the Eagle capable of firing anti-satellite missiles from 1984 to 1988, although on an experimental basis.The older F-15C and F-15D models are to be upgraded and to be operated beyond 2025, while the A and B versions were retired after being operated by the Air National Guard. They are intended to be gradually replaced by F-22 and F-35.NASA is the third US operator with a single unit for experimental purposes.
Israel Israel is another operator of the F-15, which have seen extensive action with the Israel Air Force since 1977. Among its inventory, Israel has F-15A, F-15B, F-15C, F-15D and F-15I, where the F-15 scored its first ait-to-air kill over the skies of Syria by Israeli ace Moshe Melnik. They also saw extensive action over Lebanon, taking down 13 Mig-21 and 2 Mig-25 of the Syrian Air Force. They also escorted the F-16I during Operation Opera, an Israeli strike against an Iraqi nuclear plant, and during the Lebanese Civil War, the Israeli F-15 scored 23 Mig-21, 17 Mig-23 and one Gazelle SA.342L helicopter as air kills. They also attacked a terrorist headquarters in Tunis in 1985, as Israel was the first one in exploiting the air and ground capabilities of the F-15 as well as its range. The F-15I, in turn, can operate Israeli-made infra-red homing missiles in coordination with a helmet mounted sight, as well as air-to-air missiles.
Japan Japan is another prominent operator of the F-15, as it has license-built version that fulfil its own requirements. The Japan Air Self-Defence Force therefore operates 12 F-15DJ for training purposes, and nearly 155 F-15J for their standard role of air superiority and ground-attack.
South Korea The Asian nation has enrolled 58 F-15K Slam Eagle, defeating very capable fighters such as Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Sukhoi S-35 during the selection program process for a new fighter. The Korean F-15 incorporate many electronics and avionics components made in South Korea, as well as enhanced radars and other equipment, being mostly assembled in South Korea.
Singapore 40 F-15G are operated by the Royal Singaporean Air Force.
Saudi Arabia The Middle East Kingdom received 75 F-15C and F-15D, seeing action for the first time in 1984, shooting down two Iranian F-4E Phantom II during an aerial skirmish. The Saudi F-15 would also see action in the 1991 Gulf War, killing two Mirage F-1 of the Iraqi Air Force, losing one during the conflict. Later on, Saudi F-15S have co-operated with Saudi Panavia Tornados in strikes against Houthi insurgents in Yemen, as part of Saudi-led efforts against this group, concentrating on air defence sites, army HQ, airfields, ballistic missile depots and launchers. A single F-15S was lost during the operation’s early stages. This nation has also received F-15SA.
13,05 m / 42 ft 10 in
19,43 m / 63 ft 9 in
18,6 m / 13 ft 5,63 in
56,5 m² / 608 ft²
2 X Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-100 or PW-200 or PW-229 afterburning turbofans
Maximum Take-Off Weight
30845 Kg / 68,000 lb
12700 kg / 28,000 lb
20200 kg / 44,500 lb
more than 50,000 ft/min (254 m/s)
At high altitude: Mach 2,5+ (2665+ km/h / 1,650+ mph), At low altitude: Mach.1,2 (1450 km/h / 900 mph)
1967 Km / 1,222 miles for combat radius; 5550 Km / 3,450 miles on ferry
Maximum Service Ceiling
20000 m /65,000 ft
1 X 20mmM61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon
11 hardpoints – two under-wing with each having a pair of missile launch rails, four under-fuselage, and a central pylon station – that could allow up to 7300 kg (16,000 lb) of payload and provisions. This payload could be carried in combination of: 4 X AIM-7 Sparrow; 4 X AIM-9 Sidewinder; 8 X AIM-120 AMRAAM; or 3 external fuel drop tanks of 2300 lts (600 US gallons) or 1 MXU648 Cargo/Travel pod to carry personal belongings or maintenance equipment.
Among the avionics of the fighter, that complements its armament and allows a maximization of use and combat, the F-15C has: Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS); Raytheon AN/PG 63 or AN/PG 70 radars; Northrop-Grumman Electronics system ECM pod; Hazeltine AN/APX-76 or Raytheon AN/APX-119 IFF device; a Magnavox AN/ALQ-128 Electronic Warfare Warning Set (EWWS); a Loral AN/ALR-56 radar warning receiver; a Northrop-Grumman Electronics System ALQ-135 internal counter-measures system; and chaff/flares.
The Saab 105 is a high-wing, twin side-by-side seat configuration, two engine-powered training and multi-mission jet, with swept-wings. This airplane (later denominated as Sk 60 by the Swedish Flygvapnet) was the product of a private venture by the company, which and after witnessing the success of the S 35 Draken, decided to implement a program with its own funds to develop a new training plane, with military purposes and eventually, civil purposes. The Saab 105 is, in fact, a multi-mission aircraft, in lieu with the operational framework Saab and Sweden normally contemplates for its aircraft. For instance, it can perform missions of training, liaison, ground attack, reconnaissance and limited interception. In regards to civilian use, the small jet was intended to be a four or five-seat business jet, but this plan met no success, making the Saab 105 a military machine and the company to aim at the military market (until the arrival of the Saab 340 and the Saab 2000, the company would not venture into the civil market, although Saab ventured into this market in the Saab 90 Scandia in the 40’s and 50’s). It replaced the de Havilland Vampires that served in the Flygvapnet as training jets.
Noteworthy to point out that this aircraft was a milestone for European aerospace industry, for it was the only small European design in being powered by turbofan engines, increasing the prospects of customers – yet the foreign sales were rather modest, with Austria being the only country in exporting the jet. Nevertheless, it managed to have the attention of the Flygvapnet, placing an order for at least 100 units of the jet, and even sponsoring further development of the jet on an initial training version.
The development programme started in 1961, with the prototype having its first flight in 1963, where the airplane revealed to have very good handling qualities and good manoeuvrability, capable of performing acrobatic manoeuvres. The original powerplant, the Turbomeca Aubisque was tested at the engine’s factory in France with one prototype delivered there solely for that purpose, being later on produced by Volvo under license as the RM9. The powerplant would be updated as time went by, with the Swedish-operated Sk 60 receiving a Williams International FJ44 engine (manufactured by Volvo as the RM15 and fitted with Auxiliary Power Reserves), mainly due to the Aubisque Engines reaching the end of their operational life, and tight defence budgets.
In 1966, the Saab 105 entered in service with the Flygvapnet following the Swedish government authorization to incorporate 130 aircraft, with three main variants having specific missions each: the Sk 60A for training and liaison with a four-seat configuration; the Sk 60B for light attack mission with the cockpit having a twin side-by-side seat configuration; and the Sk 60C with ground attack and reconnaissance missions, equipped with cameras at the nose. There was an improved version to be exported to Austria (the Saab 105Ö/ÖE), with better powerplant – a General Electric J85 – and improved avionics, as well as reinforced wings and optimized for high-altitude operations.
The Saab 105 is a four-seat or twin side-by-side seat multi-mission aircraft, having two engines, high-wing, a tail on a T shape and the tail being very wide. The wings are swept-wings, with the cockpit placed very bow of the aircraft and right before the wings, with the engine air intakes placed beneath them and at the forward edge. The canopy is if of bubble type, although it has no free rear vision, as the canopy does not stand above the fuselage. The engine has been updated from time to time, as well as the avionics, with the Austrian version being the version receiving the most important updates. In addition, the Saab 105 is capable of carrying a varied array of armament, such as 135, 127 or 75 mm rockets, Saab Rb05 ASM missiles, bombs and cluster bombs, and 30 mm or 12,7mm (training) guns at gun pods for ground attack missions. Cannons and AIM-9 Sidewinder/ Rb24 missiles can be used for the limited air defence and interception role, and cameras and radiation detecting equipment for atmospheric sampling in reconnaissance missions.
As the Saab 105 entered in service with the Flygvapnet and the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte in 1966 and 1970, respectively, with 150 units in Sweden and 40 units in Austria, making a total of 190 units (including the prototypes), where they are still in service with both air forces. Thanks to its manoeuvrability, the Saab 105/Sk 60 was used in acrobatic teams at both nations: in Sweden, it is used by the display team Team 60 of the Flygvapnet, whereas in Austria it was used by two Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte teams, Karo As and the Silver Birds. A replacement for the Saab 105/Sk 60 is now being considered, as it has been in service for 40 years, while one of the prototypes is now a museum display since 1992. Nevertheless, an agreement between Saab and the Swedish Armed forces was reached in 2015 in order to support and keep the Sk 60 airworthy until 2020.
The design of the Saab 105/Sk 60 is conventional, although it has some remarkable characteristics that makes this jet to be very different from other airplanes of similar type. The airplane is mate entirely of metal. For instance, the nose is relatively small from longitudinal perspective, yet being wide enough to accommodate the frontal wheel of the landing undercarriage. On the reconnaissance version, its size is increased in order to accommodate the camera equipment and other instruments. The canopy and cockpit are also unique – similar to the Bae 167 Strikemaster and the Hunting (Percival) P.84 Jet Provost in shape – with a ‘bubble’ configuration where two or four crew can accommodate, although it is normal to have a crew of two in training missions. The seat configuration was a twin or side-by-side seating, and in some versions, 4 seats were accommodated in the cockpit.
Noteworthy to remark, the canopy takes more than the half of the height at the bow. Right after the cockpit and canopy the radio antenna is installed above the fuselage, in the same area where the engine air intakes and the wing both start. The wing is a high swept-wing, although is not perfectly strait, as it has a depression angle from the base to the wingtip. Furthermore, the leading edge is swept, while the area of the ailerons and flaps is slightly swept. The wing accommodates six hardpoints (three on each wing) that allows the airplane to carry a varied array of weaponry and depending of the mission it was tasked with.
The engines – the Saab 105 was normally powered by two engines: a couple of Turbomeca Aubisque Turbofan, a couple of Williams FJ44, or a couple of General Electric J85 engines – were placed at the sides of the fuselage, and occupying the whole central section of the jet. The exhausts were placed right before the tail group began, hence the T shape of the tail, with the horizontal stabilizer and elevators placed on top of the vertical stabilizer. The vertical stabilizer in turn, is having a considerable area, giving the tail its characteristic ‘big’ shape, with the rudder having a similar ample area, equal to the Canadair CL-41G-5 Tebuan. Each side of the tail is having a trapezoid shape.
The landing gear is of tricycle configuration, with the frontal wheel located at the nose, and the rear wheels placed at the central area of the fuselage, right beneath the wing and the engines, being retractable.
In regards to the armament, it was normally varied, depending of what were the mission to accomplish. The initial configuration of training and liaison would be unarmed (except for the 12,7mm training guns), yet for its secondary ground attack roles it would be armed with 30 mm or 12,7mm (training guns) guns installed at pods, fitted in the wings, unguided rockets – of 135, 127 or 75 mm –, bombs – either free fall or cluster bombs – and two Saab Rb05 air-to-ground missiles. As it is capable of limited air defence and interception, it can carry the 30mm or 7,62mm guns at the pods and AIM-9 sidewinder/RB 24 air-to-air missiles. Cameras and radiation detecting equipment for atmospheric air samples were the normal equipment for reconnaissance missions. Noteworthy to remark that additional fuel tanks were never intended for use, therefore the wings never carried such equipment. A publicly known Sk60 received important updates in avionics and navigation systems in 2013, constituting itself a new version (Sk 60AU).
A Private Venture
The Saab 105/Sk 60 as the idea of developing a small high-speed business jet featuring a delta wing and cannards with 5 seats, but also due to the success of the Draken and the need for developing a trainer that could train the Flygvapnet pilots for the J 35, moreover when the de Havilland Vampires were not suitable for the task. This realization, along with the fact that the proposed business jet found no fertile ground for success, made of the new Saab 105 to be more a military plane, although some of the 150 built jets were used as liaison and VIP transports. At the same time, the Flygvapnet was requiring new training aircraft, selecting the Saab 105 above other – good – options, such as the Fouga Magister or the Macchi MB.326, to name a few. As a result, the Saab entered in service with the Air Force sponsoring further its development. Some year after in entered in service, Saab engaged in a campaign to export the Sk 60 to other nations – mainly those that were neutral during the cold War, curiously – such as Finland, Switzerland and Austria. Only the last one bought 40 Sk 60, which were enhanced versions of the original model and fitted for Austrian service.
A Small but Versatile Jet
The Saab 105 might look a modest, uninteresting aircraft at first sight, but like all Saab models, it is a very capable jet with very good flying characteristic, being its manoeuvrability the most remarkable one. It was also deemed to be easy to fly, It is also a multi-mission airplane, capable of adapting to different missions. For instance, it can perform training and liaison missions in principle, but it is also capable of executing ground attack, reconnaissance and atmospheric air sampling, and even limited air defence and interception (especially the Austrian units). It has been in service with both the Swedish and Austrian air forces for about 46-50 years, being among the airframes serving for a long period of time with any air force. As a result of its manoeuvrability, it was used by acrobatic teams in both Sweden and Austria.
Variants of the Saab 105/Sk 60
Saab 105 – The prototypes of the trainer and liaison airplane. Two prototypes built
Sk 60A – The first production series, configured as two-seat trainer and liaison jet, with 149 units built.
Sk 60B – The second version configured for ground attack missions and made from modified Sk 60A airframes, incorporating armament.
Sk 60C – The third version, configured for ground attack and reconnaissance mission, fitted with a camera (a Fairchild KB-18 panoramic fil camera) that elongated the nose, since it was installed there. A prototype and 29 converted airframes from the Sk 60A comprised the quantity of this version.
Sk 60D – Saab reportedly configured the Saab 105 as a four-seat liaison transport, with the combat seats replaced by four airliner-type seat lacking use of parachute, or even four seats of the same type that would allow the use of parachutes by the crew. 10 Sk 60A airframes were modified to give way to this version in the mid-70’s, receiving the same ‘splinter camouflage’ painting applied to the Saab S 37 Viggen
Sk 60E – Similar to the Sk 60D version, only that it was fitted with airliner-type instruments, including an instrument landing system. It trained Flygvapen reserve pilots in flying commercial aircraft, used later on as Sk 60D transports.
Sk 60W – Intended programme in 1993 to upgrade the Sk 60, were a new powerplant (Williams Rolls FJ44 turbofan engines) and digital engine control were to be installed, as well as LCD altitude indicators. Implemented in 1995, the Sk 60 powered by these engines were denominated informally as Sk 60W. 115 Sk 60A, Sk 60B and Sk 60C were upgraded, while the Sk 60D and Sk 60E were grounded and used for part cannibalization.
Sk 60AU – A new version of the trainer, being a modification of an existing airplane, it incorporated new avionics and instruments. Among the upgrades incorporated, there is a GPS, new radio, new audio warning systems, new navigation systems and information on a similar manner as in the JAS 39. Introduced in 2013 with a single unit modified publicly known at F 17 Ronneby.
Saab 105XT – An improved Sk 60B powered with a General Electric J85 Turbojet engines made from the second Saab 105 prototype, purposed to be an export demonstrator. The engines, noteworthy to point out, yielded speed of up to 970 km/h, making it a subsonic aircraft.
Saab 105D – A proposed refined business jet version, but it was cancelled as there were no takes and the idea was out of time.
Saab 105G – A revised version of the Saab 105XT that featured new avionics, such as a precision navigation and attack system, enhanced J85 engines and modified wings, with only one units from a modified Saab 105XT
Saab 105H – Proposed training version for the Swiss Air Force. As this air force rejected the project, none were built.
Saab 105Ö (105ÖE) – An export version made for Austria and based on the Saab 105XT, entering in service with the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte in 1970 and 1972, replacing the de Havilland Vampires and Saab J 29 Tunnan this air force was operating with back then. Powered by the General Electric J85 engines
Saab 105S – A proposed trainer demonstrator for the Finish Air Force, as it was requiring a trainer in the mid-70’s. Finland decided instead to purchase Bae Hawk trainers.
The Flygvapnet operated the Saab 105 under the denomination of Sk (Skola) 60(A). 150 units served with the Swedish Air Force in 1966 and for unarmed training missions. They began to operate at F 5 Ljungbyhed and the F 16 Uppsala flying schools. At the earlier 70’s the Sk 60A were modified with the installation of hardpoints at each wing, allowing them to operate also as light attackers. 46 units were modified and denominated Sk 60B. At the same time, 30 Sk 60A were modified into the Sk 60C, allowing cannons pods and rockets, as well as the installation of a panoramic reconnaissance camera, serving in the abovementioned wings as well as in the F 21 Luleå, where a light attack squadron was stationed. In 1988-1991 and 1993 the Sk 60s suffered upgrades, mainly at the wing – which were reinforced – and the pilots’ ejection seats, as well as receiving new powerplants. The Sk 60D/E were kept out of any modernization programmes, used instead for cannibalization (or to use the aircraft as sources for spare parts). A single unit so far has been modified with new instruments and GPS devices in 2013 at F 17 wing Ronneby, constituting the Sk 60AU. Similarly, the builder and the air force reached an agreement in 2015 to keep the trainer airworthy and with any maintenance support for this purpose, until 2020.
Operated 40 Saab 105Ö/ÖE were purchased, with 28 currently remaining. The Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte operates this aircraft mainly for training purposes, but also for other mission such as ground attack, reconnaissance (including radioactivity measurement), VIP transport and limited air defence and interception missions. The Austrian Saab 105 were noticeably operated when US president George Bush visited Austria, performing air patrols under the policy of air guard when a personality or important summits are taking place. It is still deemed a good tool for fighter training by the Austrian Air Force.
Saab 105 Specifications
9,5 m / 31 ft 2 in
10,5 m / 34 ft 5,83 in
2,7 m / 8 ft 9 in
16,3 m² / 175,5 ft²
2 x Turbomeca Aubisque (Volvo Flygmotor RM9), or 2 x General Electric J85-17B Turbojet, or 2 x Williams FJ44 (Volvo Flygmotor RM15)
Maximum Take-Off Weight
2510 kg / 5,533 lb
2835 kg / 6,240 lb
800 kg / 1,763 lb
75m/s (Saab 105Ö/ÖE)
770 km/h / 360 mph at 6095 m (19,996 ft)
1400 Km / 790 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling
13500 m /44,291 ft
2 (instructor pilot and student pilot) or 4 in case of liason/VIP transport mission (Sk 60D/E)
6 harpoints allowing up to 700kg (1,543 lb) of payload: 2 x Saab Rb05 ASM missiles
2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder/Rb24 AAM missiles
Pods for 30 mm or 12,7 mm cannons
12 X 135mm, 127mm or 75mm rockets
250kg (550lb) bombs, cluster bombs and rocket launcher pads.
The reconnaissance version was equipped with a Fairchild KB-18 panoramic camera at the nose, as well as radioactive air measurement instruments.
The Messerschmitt (Me) Bf 109 is one of the most notable fighters of the Axis countries and a clear symbol of its air power during World War II. Its performance gave Germany the upper hand in the early stages of the war while also taking part in every front until the very end of the conflict in Europe. The Bf 109 was the main fighter of the Luftwaffe, later complemented by the Focke Wulf Fw 190. The Spanish Civil War was the Bf 109 saw its first combat action. It flew also with other nations such as Finland, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Hungary. After the war, it was in service with the Israelis, serving also in the Yugoslavian, Romanian and Czechoslovakian Air Forces. The versatility of the fighter was one of the main factors that allowed it to serve until 1965, with numerous variants.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is single seat, single engine fighter tasked also with the roles of air superiority, interception, escort and attacking capable of all-weather operations in day or night. It was a light all-metal monocoque design with the rudder being covered with cloth. The wing was a low cantilever design fitted with flaps, while the canopy was enclosed, featuring retractable landing gear and a tailwheel, armed with machine guns and cannons. As a result, the Bf 109 was an advanced design at the time it was introduced. Its development began back in 1934, following a 1933 Reichsluftfarhtministerium study which considered that a single-seat fighter was needed to replace the Arado Ar 64 and Heinkel He 51 biplanes that were the German first-line fighters. Furthermore, it was required for the fighter to develop speeds of up to 400 km/h (250 mph) at 6000m (19,690 ft) for 20 minutes, having an range of 90 minutes. The power plant was intended to be the Junkers Jumo 210 engine of 700 hp, while the armament was intended to be comprised of a mixture of a 20 mm gun and two 7.92 mm guns, or be armed by either the cannon or the two machine guns only. In addition, as Willy Messerschmitt was not authorized by the Reichsluftfarhtministerium to build small passenger planes for Romania, the request of building a fighter came also as a sort of compensation.
Bayerische FlugWerke began its work as it was awarded with the development contract in 1934, with the prototype flying for the first time in 1935, receiving the designation of Bf 109 by the aviation ministry and powered with a Rolls-Royce Kestrel IV engine, as new German-made engines were not yet available. Willy Messerschmitt was the designer behind the Messerschmitt Bf 109, hence the name of the aircraft, and the ‘Bf’ denomination. The development of the new fighter began, initially powered with the Rolls Royce Kestrel engine. The following two prototypes were powered with the Jumo 210A 600hp engines, and the last one was fitted with guns. Reportedly, 10 more prototypes followed in order to test the model. The result was a cantilever low-wing single engine fighter capable of speeds of up to 470 Km/h (Bf 109B) with its Junkers Jumo 210Ga engine. Further models received inverted Daimler Benz V-12 engines or racing engines. These engines yielded speeds of 380 mph (611 kmh) and 464 mph (755 kmh) respectively. Remaining the last a speed record for piston-engine aircraft until 1969. The fighter was very advanced, matching to any fighter in service at the time in combat. The earlier versions were armed with an array of two 7.92 mm machine guns in the forward cowl above the engine in the Bf 109B, while later C models were armed with two additional 7.92 mm machine guns in the wings and a 20 mm gun in the nose.
Presented to the public during the 1936 Berlin Olympics for propaganda purposes, it saw action for the first time during the Spanish Civil War with the German Condor Legion, where it quickly gained air superiority over its Soviet-made rivals Polikarkov I-15 and I-16 fighters with Werner Mölders, a future WWII ace, scoring 14 victories. This conflict also served to test the new fighter in combat and to detect the shortcomings and needed improvements, as well as to test the Luftwaffe’s tactics and doctrines that would be implemented in WWII. When the conflict came to an end, 40 fighters were gifted to Spain following the withdrawal of the Condor Legion.
The Bf 109 was considered sufficient for the operational needs of Germany until 1941, the year when it would have fulfilled its objectives. However, as the conflict progressed, the high command realized that the Bf 109 needed further upgrades. As a result, the versions Bf 109E, Bf 109F, Bf 109G, and the lesser known Bf 109K were created. Even so, the model’s many shortcomings persisted, putting it at a disadvantage to its rivals.
The Bf 109 had many advantages such as its good range and the powerful engine along with its reasonable size, agility, high speed, climb rate, dive speed, turn rate, maneuverability, and low cost. But there were other problems that prevailed during its service. The struts of the landing gear were rather fragile and narrow, retracting outwards and not beneath the fuselage. Second, Blitzkrieg hindered the fighter’s success as it had to accommodate for the tactic at the expense of autonomy, which would play an important role in the Battle of Britain. This problem was solved after the battle with the addition of extra drop tanks. Third, it tended to swing sideways during landing and takeoff. Fourth, it had a poor lateral control at high speed. Fifth, during combat when executing very close turning, the wings grooves tended to open, preventing stalling but often acting against the ailerons. And sixth, the length and ground angle of the landing gear ‘legs’ was so that it restricted forward visibility while on ground, forcing pilots to taxi in such a way that the undercarriage was put into heavy stress. This posed a problem for rookie pilots. The narrow wheel track also made the fighter unstable while on ground. The solution for this problem was to transfer the load up through the legs while taking off and landing maneuvers.
Approximately 34,000 Bf 109s were built in Germany from 1936 to 1945, in addition to the 239 made by Hispano Aviacion, 75 built in Romania by IAR and 603 made by Avia, with production lasting until 1958. Some 20 Bf 109s remain now as museum displays.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a very interesting fighter with equally interesting design characteristics. Being lightweight was the main concept of its design, development, and construction. It was also a single engine, single seat fighter with a low cantilever wing, whose sleek monocoque fuselage was entirely made out of light-weight metal. Easy access to the powerplant, weaponry at the fuselage, and other systems was considered also as important during design process, and especially when operating from forward airfields. As a result, the engine cowling was made up of large and easily removable panels, with specific panels allowing access to devices such as the fuel tank, the cooling system, and electrical equipment. The devices containing and holding the engine made it easy to remove or replace it as a unit. The power plant tended to differ from version to version: the early versions were powered by a Junkers Jumo 210g inverted V-12 700 hp, with following versions being powered by a Daimler Benz DB 600A with 986 hp and other – more powerful – Daimler Benz engines (for further information, please see the variants). As the engine was inverted, it was reportedly hard to knock out from below. And it also featured an electrical regulator.
The wing was also full of remarkable details. One of them was the main I-beam spar, placed rather aft than usually placed, with the idea of opening space for the retracted wheel, and creating a D-shaped torsion box. This box had more torsional rigidity and also removed the need for a second spar. In addition, the thickness of the wing was slightly varied, with a cord ratio of 14.2% at the root, and a cord ratio of 11.35% at the tip. The wing was also high-loading. Another feature was the introduction of advanced high-lift devices, with automatic leading edge slats and large camber-changing flaps on the trailing edge. These slats increased the lift of the wing, improving horizontal manoeuvrability. Ailerons that drooped slightly when the flaps were lowered were also fitted in the wings, increasing the effective flap area, especially on the F series. The result was an increase on the wings’ lift. As the armament was placed in the fuselage in the earlier versions, the wing was kept very thin and light.
Another remarkable feature, which was standard in the F, G and K versions, were the introduction of two coolant radiators with a cut-off system so to reduce vulnerability of the cooling system after receiving a hit. For instance, if one radiator leaked as a consequence of an impact, the other still made it possible to fly. Even a 5-minute flight was possible with both radiators inoperable.
The canopy of the Bf 109 was a closed bird-cage design, opening sideways and having armour protection plates in the back. These armored plates also protected the main fuel tanks as it was partially placed under the cockpit floor and behind the rear cockpit bulkhead, having an L-shape. Some variants of the G version even featured pressurized cockpits.
In regards to the armament, it tended to vary from version to version in weaponry, caliber, and location. The early versions normally featured an array of two machine guns mounted in the cowling with a 20mm cannon firing through a blast tube between the cylinders. This display was to be changed after the Luftwaffe got a word about the RAF’s plans to equip its new fighters with a battery of 8 guns. This made the additional guns to be installed at the wings, either 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns or a 20mm MG FF or MG FF/M cannon in between the wheel well and slats. The C version featured the additional two 7.92mm machineguns, where a continuous belt was installed to avoid redesigning the wing and ammunition boxes and access hatches. The gun barrel was placed in a tube between the spar and leading edge.
When cannons were installed on the wings, being longer and heavier, they were placed at a farther area in an outer bay, forcing the spar to be cut with holes so to allow feeding the weapon. A small hatch was incorporated to allow access to the gun, which was able to be removed through a removable leading edge panel. The F version and the following versions had the gun changed from the wings to the nose cone, firing through the propeller shaft. Additional 20mm MG 151/20 cannons were installed in pods under the wings, which were easy to install but also forced a reduction of speed by 8 km/h (5 mph). The last version (Bf 109K) was armed with a MK 108 30mm cannon in each wing.
The additional armament, while increasing the Messerschmitt Bf 109’s firepower, also reduced its performance. Handling qualities and dogfighting capabilities were severely affected, with the tendency to swing like a pendulum while flying.
The Reich’s Warrior of the Skies
When the war started in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, around 320 Bf 109s took part in the invasion under two units (I/JG 21 and I/ZG 2). During that operation, the Bf 109s gained air superiority by destroying the Polish air and ground forces, providing escort to ground attack planes and dive bombers, such as the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. When the invasion of Norway took place, they faced considerable resistance from the outdated Gloster Gladiators of the Norwegian Air Force, which were reinforced by British fighters from HMS Glorious and two more aircraft carriers. During the Battle of France and the invasion of the Netherlands and Belgium, the Messerschmitt Bf 109s encountered weak adversaries. In France, an ill prepared Armee de l’air was unable to face the force of the Luftwaffe while the German fighters gained air supremacy rather quickly and controlled the French skies. Battle of Dunkirk however began to highlight the limitations of the Bf 109, especially in regards to autonomy, as many were coming from bases within Germany and facing strong opposition from the Royal Air Force.
The Battle of Britain was the first battle where the Bf 109 began to show its limitations, especially that of autonomy, having little time to provide effective escort and air supremacy over the British skies. It also found a fitting rival in the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane, which were able to face the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and even were able to overpower it. The radar installations the RAF also played a role in defeating the Bf 109. Moreover, the attrition suffered during the Battle of France took its toll on the Bf 109 that took part in the campaign. As a result, the Luftwaffe – and namely the Bf 109 – was unable to achieve air supremacy and control the skies of Britain, let alone to defeat the RAF, despite the numerical superiority the Luftwaffe had over the RAF (3000 vs. 700 airplanes).
Russia would be a scenario where the fighter would have some redemption, at least in the first stages. As the Soviet Air Force had inferior assets, quality, organization, and training, the Bf 109 achieved an impressive rate of aerial victories (approximately 9200 in total), creating many aces. In addition, the pilots on-board the Bf 109 had already accumulated experience from the previous campaigns – Spain, Poland, Norway, France and England to name a few – while the Bf 109 was comparatively superior to its Soviet-made rivals. However, the superiority in numbers of the Soviet Air Force began to pay its toll on the fighters. It was during this campaign when the fighter was gradually replaced by the more advanced and robust Focke Wulf FW 190 by Summer 1942.
They also took part in the bombing of Malta, with the mission of countering the Spitfires and Fulmar fighters the British managed to sneak onto the island. Although they managed to reduce the losses on the bombers by increasing the attrition of the adversary’s fighters and ground services, the campaign had a considerable cost for the Bf 109 with 400 lost in action. At the same time, the Bf 109 was seeing action in North Africa, achieving air supremacy in the beginning, but facing adverse conditions later on, such as fuel shortages and a superior number of adversaries, alongside attrition imposed by the Luftwaffe’s own organization and training systems.
The Bf 109 also performed as one of the main air defence assets when the Allies began to wage air and bombing campaigns over Germany, targeting mainly the bombers and being benefited by dispersed ammunition and fuel storages all around Germany. The German air industry did not update its models in time or was simply unable to produce fighters enough to tackle the Allies’ air power. As a result, by 1944 the Bf 109 and other fighters were simply unable to counter the Allies’ air campaign. The Bf 109’s career with the Luftwaffe came to an end in 1945, when Germany was defeated.
During and after WWII, the Bf 109 was used by other nations, achieving considerable feats while piloting this aircraft and remaining in service for a long period of time. Finland used the Bf 109 during the Continuation War, claiming a victory ratio of 25:1 and operating with them until 1954. Switzerland received a batch of Bf 109s during the war, using them until 1955. The Bf 109 was donated by Germany and built under license by Spanish air company Hispano Aviacion during and after the war, remaining in service until 1965. Many took part in the film Battle of England. Israel also used Czech-made Bf 109s that fought during the Independence War, scoring 8 victories.
Bf 109V1 – Powered with a Rolls Royce Kestrel and with a two-blade Härzel propeller, awarding the fighter contest. Unarmed.
Bf 109V2 – Powered with a Junkers Jumo 210A of 610 hp, armed with two 7.92 machine guns over the engine cowling.
Bf 109V3 – Similar to the Bf 109V2, becoming the Bf 109B-0
Bf 109A –The A was powered by a Junkers Jumo 210D 661 hp engine, armed with two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns in the engine cowling, with a third added experimentally in the propeller shaft. Many saw action in the Spanish Civil War with the Condor Legion.
Bf 109B – This constitutes the first series version, delivered on February 1937, featuring a shortened nose cone. Powered by a Junkers Jumo 210D inverted V-12 cylinder of 635 hp, liquid refrigerated and capable of reaching a speed of 467 km/h with two propellers. It was fitted with a variable-pitch propeller. Its armament consisted of two 7.92mm Rheinmetal-Borsig MG 17 machine guns above the engine. They saw action in the Spanish Civil War.
Bf 109C – The second series version. Powered by a Junkers Jumo 210G 690 hp engine, reaching similar speeds as well. The armament consisted of two 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns with two installed over the engine and two at the wings (thanks to the reinforced wing), having the 20mm MG FF cannon added for the first time on the C-2 at the propeller shaft. They also saw action in the Spanish Civil War.
Bf 109D – The third series had a Daimler Benz DB 600Aa of 986 hp, being the first series in having this engine as a powerplant, yielding a speed of 516 km/h. however, D-0 and D-1 were powered by a Junkers Jumo 210D engine. It was the standard fighter prior the war. The armament was the same as the C series. Initially transferred to night fighter units, it was assigned to training tasks.
Bf 109E – The fourth series of the Bf 109, of which more than 4000 units built were built. The E-1 was powered by a Daimler Benz DB 601A-1 of 1075 hp with three propellers, which required movement of the main radiators beneath the wingroots. The E-3 was powered with a Daimler Benz DB 601A of 1100 hp. The E4 had a Daimler Benz DB 601Aa inverted V-12 of 1175 hp, receiving a Daimler Benz BD601N engine later for high especially altitudes. As a result, this series could reach speeds of 560 -570 km/h. The Bf 109E-5 and E-6 were powered by a Daimler Benz 601N of 1200 hp. The E-7 received Daimler Benz DB 601A, DB 601Aa and DB 601N engines. The E-8 had had a Daimler Benz DB 601E of 1350 hp. The armament consisted of four 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns and 4 X 50kg bombs or one 250kg normally on the earlier E variants (E-1 to E-4), the E-2 having the 20mm engine-mounted cannon. The E-4, however lacked the engine gun, armed instead with the two 7.92mm machine guns in the engine cowling and two 20mm guns at the wings. The following Bf 109Es (E-5 to E-9) were normally used as fighter bombers, carrying a 250 kg bomb. The E-5 and E-6 were reconnaissance fighters lacking the 20mm guns and having the cameras behind the cockpit. The E-7 was armed with two 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns on the engine cowling and two 20mm MG FF guns on the wings. The E-8 was armed with 4 X 7.92mm machineguns, while the E-9 had only the two 7.92mm machineguns in the engine cowling, being a reconnaissance fighter. Noteworthy to point out, the E-4 had four important sub-variants: E-4/B with a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb, as it was a fighter bomber; E-4 trop, fitted for tropical service; the E-4/N with the Daimler Benz 601N engine; and the E-4/BN, with the 250 kg (550 lb) bomb and the same engine as of the E-4/N. The E-7 also had as remarkable sub-variants: E-7/Trop, fitted for service in the tropics; E-7/U2, fitted for ground attack and with more armour; and the E-7/Z, with nitrous oxide injection system.
Bf 109F – The F series were powered by the Daimler Benz DB 601N of 1159 hp (F-1 and F-2), and a DB601E of 1300 hp (F-3 and F-4), with the F-3 reaching speeds of 620 km/h. The F-1 was armed with two 7.92 mm MG 17 machineguns and a slow firing 20mm gun firing through the nose and propeller cone. The F-2 as armed with rapid firing two 15mm MG 151s and a 20mm MG FF at the nose. The F-3 was powered with a Daimler Benz DB 601E of 1350 hp, with a rapid firing 20mm gun of and enhanced armour. The F-4 was armed with two 13mm MG 151, a 20mm MG FF, and 15mm MG 151s each on pods under the wing, featuring enhanced armour. The F-5 was lacking the 20mm gun, as it was a reconnaissance fighter. The F-6 had the same mission while having no weapons whatsoever, but reportedly never came to service. The F series normally featured a drop air fuel tank. It was the most advanced in terms of manoeuvrability and aerodynamics.
The F-4 had two important sub-variants: F-4/R1, armed with two 20mm MG 151 cannons in underwing gondolas; F-4/Z with a GM-1 boost. There was also a F-4 trop, fitted for service in the tropics.
Bf 109G – The most important version with 23,500 fighters built by the end of the war. It was powered by a Daimler Benz DB 605A-1 of 1475 hp, a Daimler Benz DB 605D of 1800 hp with a MW50 injection. It could reach speeds of 469 km/h to 690 km/h. The armament consisted of two 7.92mm MG 17 or two 13mm MG 131 over the engine cowling and a 15mm MG 151 on the G-1 series. The G-2 was powered by the same engine and a similar armament, except that it was armed with the 20mm MG FF cannon. The G-3 and G-4 had the same powerplant anda different radio, the G-3 also having a pressurized cockpit. The G-5 (pressurized fighter) and G-6 were armed with a 20 or 30mm MK 108 at the nose cone, two 15mm MG 151 in the wings. They had a rudder made out of wood. The G-8 was a reconnaissance fighter, the G-10 powered with a Daimler Benz DB 605D of 1850 hp, the G-12 a training version with double controls, two-seat with a tandem cockpit, and the G-15 and G-16, which were enhanced versions of the G-6 and the G-14 respectively. The G-14 was a version armed a 20 mm MG 151 cannon, and two 13 mm MG 131 machineguns, capable of receiving two extra underwing 20mm MG 151 cannons or rocket launcher tubes. Of the G series, many were armed with two 210mm rocket launchpads under the wings or bombs.
The G-1 had the G-1/R2 and G-1/U2 sub-variants, a reconnaissance fighter and a high altitude fighter, respectively.
The G-2 had the G-2/R1 (A long-range fighter-bomber with a 500 kg [1100 lb] bomb), the G-2/R2 (reconnaissance fighter), and the G-2 trop (for the tropics). The G-4 also had the G-2/R2 (reconnaissance), G-2/R3 (long range reconnaissance fighter), G4 trop (tropicalized), G-4/U3 (reconnaissance) and G-4y (command fighter).
The G-5 had the G-5/U2 (high altitude fighter with a GM-1 boost), G-5/U2/R2 (high altitude reconnaissance fighter with the GM-1 boost), G-5/AS (high altitude fighter with a Daimler Benz DB 605AS engine, and G-5y (command fighter) sub-variants. The G-6 had, in turn, the G-6/R2 (reconnaissance fighter), G-6/R-3 high-altitude reconnaissance fighter with GM-1 boost), G-6 trop (tropicalized), G-6/U2 (with a GM-1 boost), G-6/U3 (reconnaissance fighter), G-6/U4 (light fighter with a 30mm cannon at the propeller shaft), G-6y (command fighter), G-6/AS (high-altitude fighter with Daimler Benz DB 605AS engine), G-6/ASy (high-altitude command fighter), G-6N (night fighter with two underwing 20mm MG 151 cannons), and G-6/4U N (night fighter with a 30mm cannon at the propeller shaft) sub-variants.
The G-10 and G-14 each has also their own sub-variants. The G-10 had the G-10/R2 (reconnaissance), G-10/R6 (bad-weather fighter with a PKS 12 autopilot) and G-10/U4 (with a 30 mm cannon in the engine) sub-variants. The G-14 had the G-14/AS (High altitude with a Daimler Benz DB 605ASM engine), G-14/ASy (high-altitude command fighter), G-14y (command fighter), and G-14/U4 (with a 30mm engine-mounted cannon).
Bf 109H –This version was powered with a Daimler Benz DB 601E and DB 605A, reaching speeds of 620 km/h. Discarded after operational problems.
Bf 109K – Powered with a Daimler Benz DB 605 ACM/DCM of 1550 hp stabilized at 2000 hp with a MW 50 injection. The armament consisted of two 15mm MG 151 on the engine cowling, and a 30 mm MK 108 or 103 cannon. Many were armed with two 210mm rocket launchpads under the wings or bombs. Other proposed versions never came to service.
Bf 109T – Attempted version for use in aircraft carrier, made out from modified existing versions and equipped with a tail-hook and catapult-devices, increased ailerons, slats and flaps. The armament consisted of two 7.92 machine guns mounted above the engine and two 20mm guns in the wings. Never operated in the carrier, and were reassigned to training missions.
Bf 109X – Experimental aircraft.
The Bf 109 was also built in other countries, such as Romania, Spain, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia, having different powerplants and armament.
S-199 – Built by Avia for the Czech and Israeli air forces and powered by a Junkers Jumo 21 1F of 1350 hp and armed with two 13mm MG 131 machine guns on the engine cowling and two 20mm MG 151 machineguns under the wings.
The Spanish Series
HA-1109 and HA-1112 Buchon – The Spanish made versions of the Bf 109. The HA-1109 (also denominated HS-1109-J1L) was powered by a Hispano-Suiza 12Z-89 V-12 of 1300 hp engine, armed with two 12,7mm machineguns at the wings or 20mm Hispano 404 guns. The HA-1109-K1 had a De Havilland Hydromatic propeller, armed with two 20mm cannons and underwing rockets, followed by the HA-1109-K1L. The HA-1112-K1L seemingly featured a three-bladed propeller, powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine.
HA-1112-M1L Buchon – Powered with a Rolls Royce Merlin 500-45 of 1400 hp engine.
Germany – The main builder and user of the Bf 109, being its standard fighter up to 1942, when the Focke Wulf began to steadily replace it as main fighter of the Luftwaffe, mainly in the Russian Front. It served in basically all of the German campaigns during the war, as well as in the defence of Germany against the Allied incursions and the Spanish Civil War. Many famous German aces, such as Werner Mölders, Adolf Galland, and others fought with the Bf 109, scoring most of their victories. Its most excruciating test was at the Battle of Britain, where its limitations became evident, thus being unable to fully control the skies over Britain. On the Russian Front, it scored the largest amount of air and land kills against their Soviet counterparts.
Finland – The Scandinavian nation operated 159 Bf 109s after it ordered initially 162 fighters: 48 G – 2s, 11 G-6s and 3 G-8s). Three were destroyed en-route. They were used during the Continuation War, achieving notable feats. The Bf 109s were intended to replace the Fokker D.XXI, Brewster Buffalo and Morane MS-406 fighter Finland had inthose days. Remained in service until 1954.
Switzerland – The Swiss Air Force operated 10 D-1s, 83 E-3a variants, 2 F-4s and 14 G-6s, using them to safeguard its neutrality and to fight off many German and Allied airplanes that violated the Swiss air space.
Spain – Spain operated D-1s, E-3s, 15 F-4s and possibly B versions of the Bf – 109. A Spanish volunteer detachment – Escuadrilla Azul – operated in Russia in assistance to Germany and operating under German units and command, using E-4, E-7, E-7/B, F-2, F-4, G-4 and G-6 variants. The Hispano Aviacion HA-1112 is the Spanish-built version of the Messerschmitt Bf 109. In service after the war until the mid-Sixties, many Spanish Bf 109s were featured in some WWII movies, such as The Battle of England.
Israel – The recently formed Israel Air Force operated the Avia-built version of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, as it bought some fighters from Czech Republic. Operated during the Independence War, it scored 8 kills.
Italy – By 1943, a considerable amount of Bf 109s were operated by the Regia Aeronautica, while the established Italian Social Republic after the fall of the fascist government operated 300 G-6s, G-10s, G-14s, 2 G-12s, and three K-4s.
Bulgaria – Being an ally of Germany, it received 19 E-3s and 145 fighters of the G-2, G-6 and G-10 versions were operated by the Bulgarian Air Force.
Romania – The Royal Romanian Air Force operated with 50 E-3s and E-4s, 19 E-7s, 2 F-2s, and 5 F-4s. In addition, it operated with around 235 G-2s, G-4s, G-6s, G-8s and 75 locally built IAR 109-6as. The Bf 109 were used after the war until 1953.
Hungary – Being an ally of Germany, the Royal Hungarian Air Force co-operated with the Luftwaffe using around 500 Bf 109Gs.
Croatia – The Independent State of Croatia operated with 50 Bf 109s of the E-4, F-2, G-2, G-6, G-10 and K versions. Initially operating on the Eastern Front, they were re-deployed to defend their national territory against allied fighters.
Czechoslovakia – Operated license-built Avia S-99/S-199. 603 were built and after the war, the Junkers Jumo 211F engine was used as powerplant. Reportedly, the Czechoslovakian made versions had a tendency to suffer accidents while landing.
Slovak Republic – Two air forces within the nation operated with the Bf 109: The Slovak Air Force, loyal to the Axis, operated 16 E-3s, 14 E-7s, and 30 G-6s. The Slovak Insurgent Air Force, loyal to the Allies, operated 3 G-6s.
Yugoslavia – The Royal Serbian Air Force operated 73 E-3s, and the post-war Yugoslav Air Force operated many Bf 109s that belonged to the Independent State of Croatia and Bulgaria.
Japan – 5 E-7 were purchased in 1941, used mainly for trials and tests.
United States – Some captured Bf 109 served with the US.
United Kingdom – Some captured Bf 109s operated with the RAF.
Soviet Union – Bf 109s that were captured operated with the Soviet Air Force.
Specifications (Bf 109 G-6)
9,92 m / 32 ft 6 in
8,95 m / 29 ft 7 in
2,60 m / 8 ft 2 in
16,05 m² / 173,3 ft²
3 m/ 9 ft 10 in
1 Daimler Benz DB 605A-1 liquid-cooled inverted V-12 of 1,455 hp
Maximum Take-Off Weight
3400 Kg / 7,495 lb
2247 kg / 5,893 lb
3148 kg / 6,940 lb
17 m/s ; 3,345 ft/min
640 km/h / 398 mph
850 Km / 528 miles; 1000 Km / 621 miles with a droptank
Maximum Service Ceiling
12000 m /39,370 ft
2 X 13mm (0.51 caliber) MG 131 machine guns
1 X 20mm MG 151/20 cannon at the nose cone of the engine
1 X 30mm MK 108 cannon at the nose cone of the engine
2 X 20mm MG 151/20 cannons at pod installed on the wings (optional)
2 X 210mm Wfr. Gr. 21 rockets
1 X 250 kg (550 lb) or 4 X 50 (110 lb). 1 X 300 litre (79 gallons) fuel drop tank
The FFVS (Kungliga Flygförvaltningens Flygverkstad i Stockholm/Royal Air Administration Aircraft Factory in Stockholm) J 22 was a small light fighter airplane, and an exception to the mostly Saab-built airplanes, which were the ones equipping the Flygvapnet the most. But like those made by Saab during WWII and the early Cold War, this aircraft is a product of the defence needs that the war was imposing upon the Scandinavian nation. Although not so renown as its colleagues, this fighter proved to be a feat of Swedish capacities during dire times and tight resources, compensating its comparatively small size with good firepower and good performance. Of course, and like all of Swedish-made (and imported) air assets, it was purposed with giving Sweden with tools enough to defend its territorial and airspace integrity and security, let alone its neutrality. This under a locally built armament programme while facing restrictions to foreign advanced aviation technology.
A single-seat, single-engine airplane. Its design is conventional, yet the wings are placed further bow of the airframe, with a trapezoid shape. The nose is very similar to those of the American-made fighters, with a wide and cylindrical shape due to the shape of the engine. The cockpit was also placed at the bow section of the fighter, yet slightly aft the leading edge of the wing. The canopy was a bird-canopy design. The canopy hinged to the right side.
The J 22 was powered by a SFA STWC-3G 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine of 1065 hp, which was an unlicensed version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engine. A three propeller-blade composed the other propulsion element of the aircraft. The engine-propeller combination allowed the J 22 to yield speeds up to 575 km/h (360 mph), being this speed aimed to make the fighter comparable to the Messerschmitt Me109 and Supermarine Spitfire. The first version of the fighter (J 22A/J 22-1) was armed with a set of 2 X 7,9mm and 2 X 13,2mm light and heavy machine guns. The second version (J 22B/J 22-2) was armed with a set of 4 X 13,2mm heavy machine guns. As it not carried bombs or rockets as secondary weapons like most fighter designs of those days, it was a 100%-designed fighter.
The J 22 was developed aiming at providing Sweden with an air asset enough for it to defend its airspace, by providing the Flygvapen with a rather modern fighter. But it was also aiming at producing a new aircraft through a company established solely for this purpose, as Saab was already busy producing the Saab 17 and Saab 18 bombers.in addition, it was purposed with replacing many of the outdated fighter assets the nation had by the beginning of the war. Development began in 1940, with Bo Lundberg as both head of design and head of the newly established company (FFVS). Lundberg was already having experience as head of Swedish Air Commission USA, and as chief designer of Götaverken’s aircraft division that designed the GP 8 bomber and the cancelled GP 9 fighter. He was commissioned with designing a new fighter required to use the STWC-3G (Pratt & Whitney R-1830) engine, being small and light in size and weight, and interestingly, to be made of parts manufactured by a large number of subcontractors. The J 22 development, manufacturing and testing took place at the workshop of Flygtekniska Försöksansalten (FFA) near the Bromma airport. Both prototypes crashed during testing, due to pilot’s oxygen device and engine failures.The J 22 first flight took place in 1942
The J 22 entered in with the Flygvapnet in 1943, remaining in that until 1952, year of its retirement, with 198 fighters built from 1942 to 1946. During its service, it was well received by the pilots, thanks to its good manoeuvrability and responsive controls, capable of giving a fight to the Mustangs P-51 at heights up to 5000 meters (16,000 fts). It did not have stall problems at turns or straight forward course, and the second version (J 22B/J 22-2) was considered the best in terms of firepower. Moreover, the simple systems facilitated maintenance and service. The J 22 was reportedly comparable to the early versions of the Supermarine Spitfire and of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Three J 22 are preserved as static displays in museums.
The design of the J 22 is a conventional one, being a small and lightweight airplane, whose shape is very similar to most US airplanes of the era. The fighter is a cantilever mid-wing design, with its structure being a mixed steel tube and wood construction (plywood) one. In fact, the tubular-steel framework and fuselage were having coverings of moulded plywood panels. The only drawback of the design was that forward visibility was poor.
The J22 wing has the average shape of most WWII-era fighters, a trapezoid shape. It was located slightly towards the bow of the airplane, containing the fighter’s guns and the fuel tanks. In addition, the air intakes were placed at the roots of the wings. The aft section of the airplane contained the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, with the rudder dominating most of the tail, while and as a result, the horizontal stabilizers were placed before the rudder. The landing gear, in turn, was also of classic configuration – two ‘legs’ with the wheel and a tailwheel – being also retractable and rotating, very similar to the Vought-Chance Corsair F4U. The only problem with the tailwheel was that, if left unlocked and able to swivel, it could result in ground-loops. Interestingly, the landing gear was designed to accept skies, that were never installed as snow-clearance service of the runways was improved.
The engine was a SFA STWC-3G 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine of 1065 hp, an unlicensed copy of the American-made Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engine, allowing speeds of up to 575 km/h (360 mph). given the shape of the engine, the nose has the characteristic cylindrical shape of the American homologues. The propelling system was comprised of a three-blade license-built Hamilton standard propeller connected to the engine. Alongside speed, the J 22 was deemed a manoeuvrable and easy to control fighter with good performance especially at low altitudes. Furthermore, it had no stalling problems but the tendency to flip over its back if pulling hard when turning. It was considered capable to outperform the P-51 Mustangs, and be equal to the early versions of the Zero and the Spitfire. The armament had different configurations on the two main versions: The J 22A (J 22-1) was armed with 2 X 7,9mm and 2 X 13,2mm machine guns. The J 22B (J 22-2) was armed with 4 X 13,2mm machine guns. In both cases, the armament was placed at the wings. No secondary weapons were carried.
The canopy was of a bird-cage type, which hinged to the right to allow the pilot to enter and exit the airplane, with the windshield made of 6mm laminated Gremax or acrylic, and the center part being thickened with 60mm for ballistic protection. The gunsight was a fixed reflex sight.
Noteworthy to point out, that 500 hundred contractors produced 12000 of the 17000 total parts of the J 22.
A war-time solution for a non-belligerent nation
The J 22 is also a product of the need to defend the airspace and the neutrality of Sweden, as modern air assets were required to meet this objective. By the beginning of WWII, Sweden was having 60 Seversky P-35 (of the 120 ordered), 60 Italian-made Reggiane 2000 and 72 Fiat CR. 42 biplanes – bought as a temporary measure – and old Gloster Gladiator fighters. As Sweden did never receive the remaining 60 P-35 and 144 Vultee P-66 Vanguard it ordered from the US, due to the embargo imposed to any arms delivered to any country but the United Kingdom after the invasion of Norway by Germany, in 1940.
As a result, Sweden bought the abovementioned Italian fighters to provide the Flygvapnet with some air assets, but it was deemed necessary to introduce up-to-date fighters. Initially, Sweden considered to buy additional fighters from abroad, such as the Finnish VL Mysky, the Soviet Polikarkov I-16 and even the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But these options were having problems, such as not bing enough or being impossible to transport into Sweden despite being available, s it was the case of the Zero.
As a result, the FFVS was established, as Saab was already concentrating on the fabrication and development of bombers and fighters, with the sole purpose of developing and manufacturing a new lightweight fighter that would provide the Flygvapnet the needed modern air assets to keeps its neutrality in a world at war. Consequently, it replaced the Gladiator, the Severski, and Reggiane and Fiat fighters while other air asserts were received – like the Mustang P-51 – and the Saab J 21 was ready to enter into service.
The fast and small Viking warrior of the skies
Although the J 22 was a very small and lightweight fighter, it was a very capable one, proving itself to be able to undertake its purposed task: defend the Swedish airspace and neutrality. The secret of its good performance was its engine and structure. It was among the fast fighters the Flygvapnet had back then, reaching speeds of 575 Km/h (360 mph). It was also a manoeuvrable fighter, with a fast turning rate – it was even capable of getting the Mustang in the gunsight by out-turning It – with responsive controls. The altitude where it tended to perform the best was at low altitudes, with the performance decreasing at higher altitudes. Stall problems where rather absent, and it was an airplane easy to maintain and service by land maintenance crews.
Variants of the FFVS J 22
J 22A (J 22-1) – First production series armed with 2 X ,9 mm M/39A (Browning M2) machine guns and 2 X 13,2 mm heavy machine guns. Operated until 1952. 143 delivered.
J 22B (J 22-2) – Second production series armed with 4 X 13,2 mm M/39A (Browning M2) heavy machine guns. 55 delivered.
S 22 (J 22-3) – Reconnaissance version (the S stands for spaning, or ‘reconnaissance’ in Swedish), equipped with a vertically mounted camera. Developed from J 22A (J 22-1) airframes in 1946, refitted as fighters in 1947. Operated until 1952. 9 airframes modified and refitted.
Sweden – The Flygvapnet operated the J 22 during the last half of WWII, being also in service during the earlier days of the Cold War, as it was retired until 1952. A total of 198 airframes were in service, being 143 of the J 22A version, 55 of the J 22B version and 9 airframes of the first version modified to produce the S 22 version, which served for a very short period of time as reconnaissance airplane. In 1945 all the J 22 were re-designated as J 22-1 for the first version, J 22-2 for the second version, and J 22-3 for the third version. These last airplanes were re-conditioned a year later as fighters. Three J 22 remain today as museum exhibitions in Sweden. It served with seven squadrons throughout its career: F3 Malmen; F8 Bakarby; F9 Säve; F10 Barkråka; F13 Bråvalla; F16 Uppsala; and F18 Tullinge. The S22 (J 22-3) served only in the F3 Malmen squadron.
J 22 Specifications
10 m / 32 ft 10 in
7,80 m / 25 ft 7 in
3,60 m / 11 ft 10 in
16 m² / 172,16 ft²
1 SFA STWC-3G (Pratt & Whitney R-1830) 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine of 1065 hp
Maximum Take-Off Weight
2835 Kg / 6,250 lb
2020 kg / 4,445 lb
2835 kg / 6,240 lb
575 km/h / 360 mph
1270 Km / 790 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling
9300 m /30,500 ft
2 X 7,9 mm M/39A (Browning M2) machine guns and 2 X 13,2 mm heavy machine guns located at the wings (J 22-1).
4 X 13,2 mm M/39A (Browning M2) heavy machine guns located at the wings (J 22-2).
The F4U Corsair is another most famous fighter and fighter-bomber of WWII, although it saw action mostly against the Japanese in the Theatre of the Pacific, therefore being primarily used by the US Navy and the Marines. This airplane in particular was specifically designed for aircraft carriers, being a naval aircraft in essence, although initial doubts over its performance on-board an aircraft carriers made it to serve initially as a land-based asset. It saw also action during the Korea War as a ground attack and Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft, and with the French in the Indochina, Algeria, and Suez Canal crisis. It also saw some service in the Atlantic during WWII, mainly with the British Fleet Air Arm, where reportedly provided air cover to the airplanes attacking the battleship Tirpitz, and served in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Corsair contributed to change the balance over the skies of the Pacific by shooting down many Mitsubishi A6M Zeros, although not as much as the Grumman F6F Hellcat.
The Corsair is single-seat and single engine fighter/fighter-bomber for day and night-time, featuring a characteristic inverted gull wing (Similar to that of the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka and the Loire-Nieuport 40) and a very long propeller-blade. The development of the Corsair began following a request by the US Navy for twin and single-engine fighters in 1938, with the single-engine required to obtain the maximum speed possible and a stalling speed of no more than 110 km/h (70 mph), and a long range. Interestingly, the initial requirements comprised the aircraft to carry anti-aircraft bombs to be dropped on enemy formations. That same year, Vought – the builder company – was awarded a contract to start with the development of the Corsair.
The Corsair was a pretty advanced aircraft for the times, and this characteristic meant that its development would find several problems that required solution, which in turn, were quite remarkable. Even so, the Corsair required improvements while in service, which does not deny the fact that it was one of the greatest and unique airplanes of the war, let alone a good complement to other aircraft carrier-based fighters and among the best naval fighters in the war.
One of the main features during development was the incorporation of the largest engine available, the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 V-18 Double Wasp of 2250 hp, requiring the installation of a wide three-blade Hamilton propeller. This installation had two visible effects on the design: First, the characteristic shape of the airframe, where the bow is basically the area where the big and long engine is located, almost displacing the cockpit further aft. Second, it yielded speeds of up to 652 km/h (405 mph), making it the first single-engine American design to reach such speed. But the first problems emerged, especially in regards to diving speed that, although achievable, meant considerable damage to control surfaces and access panels, as well as problems with the engine. Spin recovery standards also needed to be revisited.
The wing itself, along with the longitudinal shape, were both a challenge when designing the frame. In regards to the inverted gull wing, it was purposed to make the width and the landing gear as short as possible, benefiting also the minimization of drag, as the anhedral of the center section gave an optimal meeting angle between the wing and the fuselage. Yet the weight of the wing alone neutralized those effects. But it also had the problems when recovering from developed spins, as the shape of the wing interfered with the elevator. It also had problems with the starboard strip, that used drop without warning, requiring the installation of small stall strips on the leading edges. The port wing also had the potential of stalling and dropping in failed landings, which was further dangerous if throttle was abruptly increased in such cases. The inverted gull wing was also a product of solving the problem of the landing gear, as they needed to be tall enough to keep the propeller away from the ground (the same problem the Saab J-21 had). It simply shortened the length of the legs, while the landing gear was able to retract and rote 90° into an enclosed wheel well, maintaining the streamline of the wings.
The Corsair, however, was benefited during its development thanks to the experiences of other air forces when the war sparked in Europe. As a result, the set of 2 X 7.62mm synchronized engine cowling-mount machine guns, and the 2 X 12.7mm wing machine guns was deemed unsuitable, prompting the armament scheme to be modified. Three 12.7mm machine guns were fitted on each wing, increasing the firepower of the Corsair.
As it was abovementioned, other problems prevented the Corsair to serve as a carrier-based fighter until 1944, mainly those related to the type of landing required in that type of vessel. Not only the wing-related problems when performing this manoeuvre, but also the location of the cockpit plus the long bow made landings particularly dangerous for new pilots. Furthermore, during landing approaches manoeuvres, the oil from the hydraulic cowl flaps had the tendency to spatter onto the windscreen, compromising visibility, and the oleo struts had bad rebound when landing, making the entire aircraft to bounce upon landing. The top cowl flap down was sealed, while a valve was fitted to the landing gear legs in order to solve the issues, solution that were, on the other hand, implemented by the British firstly. It had its first flight in 1940, entering in service in December 1942 intended as a naval fighter, but these problems delayed its utilization as carrier-borne fighter and the US Navy initially preferring the F6F Hellcat, but it also meant that the Marines would use the Corsair as their main air assets, and it was with this branch that the Corsair began to carve its reputation. It entered in service in the late 1942, where the Marines began to make use of it at the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, where its first debut was rather disappointing. But once the Marines learned how to maximize the advantages of the Corsair, they began to contest the air supremacy the Japanese had. It also saw extensive action as a fighter-bomber/attacker in the Marshall Islands, Palaus, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
It was the British the ones that solved the operational problems of the Corsair for naval use, as they began to operate with the Corsair in 1944, on-board the HMS Victorious. Those Corsairs saw action as carrier-borne aircraft by supressing Flaks and providing escorts to aircraft performing raids against the Kriegsmarine battleship DKM Tirpitz in three raid operations: Operation Tungsten, Operation Mascot and Operation Goodwood. Later on the British Corsairs were deployed in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, attacking Japanese targets on April 1944.
The Corsair saw action in post-WWII conflicts such as the Korean War, the Indochina War, among others. Many served with other air forces as surplus or donated aircraft, where it served more than 30 years after WWII was over, when it scored its last air victories and gave an honourable closure to an era past gone. 10 F2G ‘Super’ Corsair series also served as civilian racers after the war. A total of 12571 Corsairs were built, being in service with the US Navy, the Marines and other air forces from 1942 to 1979, attesting the good quality of the aircraft and its endurance, being produced until 1953. A total of 15,386 Mustangs were built.
The Corsair is a low inverted gull wing fighter, with a single tail and a single engine: Pratt & Whitney R-2800 V-18 Double Wasp of 2250 hp, with a wide propeller fitted as to maximize the power yield. As a result of the size of the engine, the bow or nose of the Corsair is particularly long, which made the cockpit to be located further aft. The relocation and reconfiguration of the armament – which was placed at the wings – and the resulting relocation of the fuel tank in front of the cockpit contributed to its location in the airframe, which in turn had to be elongated.
The wings with their characteristic shape were the result of the need for shortening the legs of the landing gear and for accommodating also a folding wing, while being located also well ahead the pilots’ cockpit, making the Corsair to have a cross shape. This wing design also resulted in the Corsair having remarkable aerodynamics over similar airplanes of its type. The shape of the wing was also beneficial in the sense that the meeting angle between the wing as the fuselage reduced drag and saved the utilization of wing root fairings, although the bent wing tended to neutralize such benefits given its weight. On a similar way to the Saab J 21, the supercharger air intakes, alongside the oil coolers, were placed at the wings, this case on the anhedraled center section of the wings. The combination of the propeller diameter, the engine and the wing’s shape and length – alongside the resulting aerodynamics – made the Corsair the fastest naval aircraft the US had at its disposal. The flaps were changed to a NACA slotted type while the ailerons were increased in span.
The fuselage, mainly the large panels, were made of aluminium and attached to the frames by spot welding, which eliminated the use of rivets. The top and the bottom areas of the outer wings were made out of fabric, as well as the ailerons, the elevators – which were also made of plywood – and the rudder. At the rear an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) transponder device was installed.
The landing gear consisted typically of two ‘legs’ at the wings and a rear small wheel, with the carrier-based version having also a tail hook for the arresting cable. All of the set was retractable, only that the ‘legs’ at the wings rotated 90° and then swivelled backwards, a trait that common among many US fighters. Noteworthy to remark that the landing gear was hydraulically operated, alongside the cooling flaps, the wing flaps, the wing folding and locking, the arresting gear, the gun charging, and the dive breaks.
The aft cockpit had some interesting features and modifications resulting from the assessed hazards while landing on an aircraft carrier. As this problem was the result of the nose and the location of the same cockpit, a rectangular plexiglass panel was fitted in the lower center section, so to allow the pilot to see below and perform carrier landings with more safety. In addition, armour plates were applied to the canopy area, with the windscreen being a 38mm bullet-proof installed internally and the behind the curved windscreen. To aid the pilot’s rear view, half-elliptical planform transparent panels were placed at each side of the structure right behind the cockpit, yet the view provided was rather limited.
The aft section of the Corsair is also full of noticeable characteristics, with a projecting fuselage tip where the vertical stabilizer is placed, which is large. The horizontal stabilizer is, in turn, placed ‘aft’ of the tail.
The Corsair’s armament was originally a set of two 7.62mm machine guns at the frontal section of the nose, and two 12.7mm machine guns, one at each wing. But as the abovementioned reports from the war in Europe obliged the armament to be modified, the final disposition was of 6 X 12,7mm machineguns at the wings, three on each side.
Death has bent wings.
The Corsair was the most effective fighter the US Navy and the USMC had from the moment it was introduced and entered combat in the Solomon Islands in 1943. It was appraised by the pilots due to its performance and its capacity to remove the threat posed by the Mitsubishis A6M Zeros, as well as to break Japanese bombing raids. It was also capable of outfling and outfighting any land-based aircraft. It was capable of performing interception, bombing, ground-attack and fighter missions. The Corsair was a fighter that was also an ace-maker, with Kenneth Walsh (21 kills), Gregory “Pappy” Boyington (28 kills) and Joe Foss (26 kills). It was under Boyington lead that his squadron, the “Black Sheep” were the most effective squadron, scoring 97 kills and 103 damaged airplanes on the ground. Noteworthy to remark, the Corsair was also appraised by Admiral Nimitz giving its performance.
As the Corsair was cleared for carrier use, it began to operate on-board USS Essex and USS Bunker Hill. The Corsair also performed dive bombing missions in the Marshal Islands as it dropped more than 90718 kg (200000 lbs) of bombs against Japanese installations. It also took part in combats at China Sea, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Formosa and the Philippines. It also took part on the Saigon and Tokyo Raids, which were diversionary attacks prior to Okinawa. It was also during Okinawa where they had to operate as fleet air defence against the Kamikaze attacks in the earlier stages of the battle, performing CAS with bombs, rockets and Napalm once the threat was neutralized. They reportedly achieved remarkable feats, like keep flying after ramming an enemy. The Corsairs scored 2140 Japanese airplanes with only 189 Corsairs lost, along with 14 warships and 33 merchants sunk (Saigon raid). These scores earned the Corsair Nimitz’s appraisal and a US government citation, and the builder granted an “E” after the War.
The Corsair was among the few WWII-era aircraft to serve right into the earlier days of the Cold War, as it took part in low altitude attack fighter-bombing and CAS missions in Korea, as well as heckling the enemy in night missions. It also attacked enemy installations It dropped bombs, Napalms, rockets and cannons the same way as in WWII, being both aircraft and pilots both veterans of that conflict, and operating from WWII aircraft carriers (USS Essex and USS Bon Homme Richard). As tough as it was, it was able to cary alarge payload and remain more time in the combat zone for CAS missions, and even the Corsair even managed to kill a North Korean Mig-15. The Corsair also had a high rate of availability and hard resistance against enemy fire.
One last dogfight over the jungle
When the 1969 ‘Soccer War’ sparked between Honduras and El Salvador, both nations were having among their air forces inventories some WWII-era fighters, namely F4U/FG-1 and P-51D/TF—51 fighters. These airplanes were to perform the last dogfight between WWII-era (or piston-propelled engine) airplanes, like two medieval knights clad in armour, ready to joust for a last opportunity as to write the last chapter of an era. The morning of the 17th of July, 1969, the encounter was bound to take place. As Honduran Captain Fernando Soto was leading a group of three F4U-5 to strafing missions at the border, one of the Corsairs was attacked by two Salvadorian P-51, with Capt. Soto shooting it down. But there was to be a second encounter between the veteran aircraft, as late on the same day, during a bombing mission alongside another F4U-5, they encountered Salvadorian FG-1. The result was that both FG-1 were shot down, making of Capt. Soto the only “Ace” of the War.
P-51 of the Salvadorian Air Force, piloted by US mercenaries, patrolled the Salvadorian skies and border, looking also for the Honduras Corsairs, with no avail.
F4U-1 (Corsair Mk I)/FG-1 – This was the first production series of the Corsair, being characterized by a ‘bird cage’ canopy and a low seating position, featuring also the definitive abovementioned modifications for the series-production models, including the 6 X 12,7mm machine guns’ configuration. An additional pair of auxiliary fuel tanks were installed in each wing edge A two-seat trainer was built but was not accepted by the US Navy. The Corsairs in service with the Marine Corps did not had folding wing capacity neither they were fitted with an arrester hook but a pneumatic tail wheel, as they were land-based, receiving the designation FG-1 and being built by the Goodyear. Those with the British Fleet Air Arm were denominated Corsair Mk I.
F4U-1A (Corsair Mk II) – A post-war denomination introduced to differentiate the mid-to-late production batch. This version – which would be the second production version – would have a new type of canopy, similar to a Malcolm hood type – like that of the Spitfire – and with only two frames. It had a simplified windscreen, which improved visibility overall along with the canopy being taller. That the pilot’s seat was raised 180mm (7 in), in combination with a lengthened tailwheel strut, meant that visibility was also improved, solving the problems posed by the long nose. This is the version that, along canopy modifications, also introduced wing and undercarriage oleo struts modifications, becoming in the US Navy carrier-based version. This version also received a new power plant, the R-2800-8W water-injection engine, and the capacity to carry a center-section fuel drop tank. Goodyear also built a variant of this version, land-based and without folding wing capacities. Those in service with the British had their wings modified – shortened by 2cms/8 in – for use in their carriers, denominated FG-1A.
F3A-1 (Corsair Mk III) – Denomination for those built by the Brewster, which none of them reached front-line units as the building both production and quality control were poor, noticeable after having speed restrictions and broken wings (due to poor quality wing fittings).
F4U-1B – Unofficial post-war denomination to identify Corsairs modified for Fleet Air Arm use.
F4U-1C – Ground attack and fighter version, with the 6 X 12,7mm guns replaced by a set of 4 X 20mm AN/M2 (Hispano-Suiza) cannons thus providing considerable firepower for ground attack missions. Based on the F-4U-1. This version had a remarkable performance in the Battle of Okinawa, as it was introduced in 1945.
F4U-1D/FG-1D/F3A-1D (Corsair Mk IV and Mk III) – Ground attack and fighter version, developed and built in parallel to the F4U-1C. It had the new engine fitted in the F4U-1A, yielding speeds of up to 684 km/h (417 mph). It also carried an increased payload of rockets and a twin-rack plumbing for an additional belly drop fuel tank, which increased firepower but also drag. The range was also increased, meaning it could perform long missions. A single piece – Malcolm hood type – canopy was adopted firstly as a standard for this version, then for the following Corsairs. Goodyear and Brewster also produced this version, under denominations FG-1D and F3A-1D, respectively.
F4U-1P – Photo-reconnaissance version.
XF4U-2 – Nigh-time fighter version fitted with two auxiliary fuel tanks.
F4U-2 – Experimental carrier-based night-time fighter. Armed with 5 X 12,7mm guns, with the starboard gun being replaced by an Airborne Intercept radome containing a radar. 32 were modified by Naval Aircraft Factory, ant two more were modified in the front-line. It saw action in the Solomon Islands and in Tarawa.
XF4U-3 – Experimental version used to test different engines that never entered into combat. Goodyear also produced some units of this version, denominated FG-3. A single XF4U-3B was produced with some modification, intended to be issued to the British Fleet Air Arm.
XF4U-4 – Version with new engine and cowling.
F4U-4 – A naval fighter/fighter bomber version, being the last one taking part in WWII, as it was introduced by late 1944. It was powered by a 2100 hp dual-stage-supercharged V18 cylinder engine, with its power boosted to 2450 hp when the cylinders were injected with a water/alcohol mixture. An air scoop was fitted under the nose, while the wing fuel tanks were removed. The propeller was also changed from a three blade to a four blade type. The new engine, the mixture and the new propeller blades allowed the F4U-4 to reach speeds of up to 721 km/h (448 mph) and a better climbing rate (4500 ft/min / 1180 m/min). A flat bulletproof windscreen was also installed, avoiding optical distortions. Versions with wingtip tanks and a six-blade contra-rotating propeller were proposed but ultimately rejected by the US Navy.
F4U-4B – Corsair that were set to be delivered for the British Fleet Air Arm, but were confiscated by the US.
F4U-4C – A version with an alternate weapons set of 4 X 20mm AN/M2 (Hispano-Suiza) cannon. 300 delivered.
F4U-4E/F4U-4N – Night fighters with the starboard wing radar radome. The F4U-4E was equipped with an APS-4 search radar, and the F4U-4N was equipped with an APS-6 search radar. These Corsairs would have an armament of 4 X 20mm AN/M2 (Hispano-Suiza) cannons. These Corsairs served in the Korean War.
F4U-4K – Experimental drone version
F4U-4P – A photo-reconnaissance version.
XF4U-5 – Version with new engine cowling.
F4U-5 – A modified version of the F4U-4, introduced in 1945 and aimed at increasing the Corsair’s performance and introduce many of the suggestions issued by the pilots. It was powered with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-32(E) engine with a two-stage supercharger of 2850 hp. Automatic blower controls, cowl flaps, intercooler doors and oil cooler for the engine were fitted. Spring tabs for the elevators and rudder, a modernized cockpit, a retractable tailwheel, heated cannon bays and pitot head were also fitted. The cowling was lowered two degrees, and the wings were all-metal. 223 units delivered.
F4U-5N – A radar equipped version. 214 units delivered.
F4U-5NL – A winterized version equipped with rubber de-icing boots on the leading edge of both wings and tail. 72 units delivered and 29 units modified from F4U-5N.
F4U-5P – A long range photo-reconnaissance version. 30 units delivered.
F4U-6/AU-1 – A re-designated AU-1 (which in turn, was based on a modified F4U-6), which was the ground-attack version in use by the Marine Corps. The AU-1 had extra armour protecting both pilot and fuel tank, as well as extra racks, and the oil coolers relocated inboard to reduce changes of ground fire damage. The supercharger was redesigned for low-altitude operations. Capable of carrying up to 3720kg (8,200lbs) of bombs and of reaching speeds of 383 Km/h (238mph) or 479 Km/h (298mph) when armed with bombs or rockets and with one or two fuel tanks. At empty payload this version could reach speeds of 626 Km/h (389mph). produced in 1952 and retired in 1957, seeing action in the Korea War.
F4U-7 – Version based on the AU-1 for service with the French Navy.
FG-1E – Goodyear-made Corsairs FG-1 with radar equipment.
FG-1K – Goodyear-made Corsairs FG-1 used as drones.
FG-3 – A turbosupercharger version from modified FG-1D airframes.
FG-4 – Goodyear-made Corsairs F4U-4 that were never delivered.
Super Corsairs (F2G-1 / F2G-2) – Versions developed after the war, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Was major with 4-row 28-cylinder radial engine and a teardrop/bubble canopy. The F2G-1 had a manual folding wing and a 4,3m (14ft) propellers, the F2G-2 had hydraulic operated folding wings, 4m (13ft) propellers and carrier arresting hooks. Development problems delayed and finally ended further developments, with the F2G-2 becoming racing planes.
United States of America – The Corsair was primarily used by the US Navy and the United States Marine Corps in most of the campaigns of the Pacific War. It started its service at Solomon Island in 1943 as fighter in the hands of the USMC, where three famous Pacific War American Aces marked their scores with Corsairs. It also took part of dive bombing operations in the Marshal Islands, seeing also action in the China Sea, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Formosa, the Philippines and also in the Tokyo and Saigon Raids. In Okinawa, it became the main defence against Kamikaze attacks. The Korean War brought the Corsairs back given its capacity to carry large and heavy amounts of payload/ordnance, performing ground-attack and CAS missions, used by the USMC. Many were also sold as surplus aircraft, serving in the air forces of Argentina, El Salvador and Honduras.
United Kingdom – 2,012 Corsairs were issued to the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in 1943, where the wings were clipped 8 inches in order to increase storage in the lower carrier decks, being the British Corsairs the first ones to be used in on an aircraft carrier. The Corsair also took part as escort fighter and anti-air defences in three operations – Operation Tungsten, Operation Mascot and Operation Goodwood – against German battleship DKM Tirpitz. In 1944, British Corsairs took part in operations at the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, remarkably used in Java as bombers. It was during Corsair service with the British, that enhancements for carrier operation were made.
France – France and its naval air branch or Aéronavale operated with 69 AU-1 and 94 F4U-7s from 1954 to 1964. It was introduced to replace the Supermarine Seafires, Grumman Hellcats, Curtiss Helldivers and SBD Dauntless that equipped the naval air service. They operated from 4 carriers – Arromanches, Dixmude, La Fayette and Bois Belleau – that were part of the French Navy. 4 squadrons – the 14F, 12F, 15F and 10F – were operating with the Corsair, alongside two training squadrons – 10S and 57S. French Corsairs intervened firstly in Indochina, as they were handed by the US (AU-1 Korean War veterans) and where they were well received by French troops and pilots. In Indochina 6 Corsairs lost and 2 pilots dead.
The Corsairs also operated in Africa, namely in Algeria, Suez and Tunisia. In Algeria, they provided fire support, bombing, reconnaissance and protection of airborne troops. There were some considerable losses due to accidents and AA fire took place. In Suez, they took part in operations from carriers Arromanches and La Fayette, attacking the Cairo-Almanza airfield with only one loss against 12 planes damaged and 1 damaged of the Egyptians. The last action the French Corsairs saw was in Tunisia, where they provided support to besieged troops at a French airbase after Tunisian independence, attacking also Tunisian troops and vehicles. 3 Corsairs were lost due to the AA. The French reportedly used the Corsairs to experiment with anti-tank missiles, but they were never used. As new carriers and new air naval assets were introduced, the Aéronavale withdrew its Corsairs.
New Zealand – The New Zealand air force shifted from the P-40 to the Corsair in 1944, receiving in total 424 airframes as a lend-lease, with 13 squadrons operating it. The RNZAF operated with F4U-1A, F4U-1D and FG-1D, concentrating on attacking the bypassed islands with ground support, escort and air patrols. Only 17 Corsairs were lost, as the Japanese air superiority was, by the time the Corsairs were received, almost neutralized. A squadron equipped with Corsairs served an occupation duty for two years once the Pacific War was over.
Argentina – Argentine acquired the day-time and night-time fighter versions of the Corsairs (26 F4U-5/5N/5NL) in 1957, being incorporated to the Argentinian aircraft carrier ARA Independencia. As the abovementioned versions were fitted with Radar, Argentina became the first nation in the region to operate aircraft with radars. They intervened during the 1958 border incidents with Chile, and in the period of 1959-1960, the Corsairs were used as submarine chasers – equipped with depth charges – following the detection of unidentified submarines. They also took part during the political revolt of 1963, being 1964 their last year of operational service during another set of border incidents with Chile. They were withdrawn from service in 1968.
Honduras – The Honduras Air Force operated the Corsair from 1956 to 1979, with 19 units. The Honduran Corsairs also took part in the 1969 ‘Soccer War’, where a single Corsair scored three victories against two Salvadorian Corsairs and one Mustang, piloted by Capt. Fernando Soto. These were the only air-to-air victories of the war. The Honduras Corsairs also performed strafing missions at the border. The Corsair that scored those victories is now a war memorial.
El Salvador – The Salvadorian Air Force operated the Corsair from 1957 to 1976, with 25 F4U-/FG-1D. They took part in combats during the 1969 ‘Soccer War’, where took some losses in the hands of the Honduras Air Force operating similar F4U-4 and F4U-5 fighters.
Germany – Germany captured only one British Corsair that was forced to land in Norway due to technical issues while taking part in Operation Mascot.
Japan – Japan also captured two Corsairs after emergency landings, with one possible tested in flight.
12,49 m / 41 ft 0 in
10,27 m / 33 ft 8 in
4,5 m / 14 ft 9 in
29,17 m² / 314 ft²
1 Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W 18 cylinder radial engine of 2,250 hp
4,06 m/ 13 ft 4 in
Maximum Take-Off Weight
6149 Kg / 13,556 lb
4174 kg / 9,202 lb
5626 kg / 12,405 lb
718 km/h / 446 mph
2511 Km / 1,560 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling
12650 m /41,500 ft
3050m in 5,1 minutes (22.1 m/s; 4,360 ft/min)
6 X 12,7mm (0.50 caliber) M2Browning machine guns or 4 X 20mm AN/M2 cannons.