Empire of Japan (1945) Prototype Special Attack Aircraft – 3 Built
The Ta-Gō was an attempt at creating an easily made and cheap kamikaze aircraft in anticipation of Operation Downfall and Operation Olympic. The plane would have been used by special “shinpū” (kamikaze) units to ram advancing Allied tanks, infantry and boats. Fortunately for the Allies, the Ta-Gō project was cancelled once the Empire of Japan capitulated.
The concept of the Ta-Gō came in late 1944, when Japan was beginning to lose the war. With the recent loss of Guam, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and other islands, Japan’s military was becoming weaker and weaker. By 1945, Japanese factories and industries suffered from constant bombings by the USAAF. This led to the deprivation of much needed materials to produce planes and tanks. Because of this, much of the already existing aircrafts were designed to be built with wood. (Example: Ki-106 from Ki-84, D3Y from D3A). Even then, Japan’s industry could barely produce such planes due to the situation of the war.
Watching his country’s resources slowly depleting and the rapid advance of the Allies, IJA Captain Yoshiyuka Mizuyama wanted to make a difference. He wanted to design a simple, cheap and easily producible plane requiring minimum materials for designated kamikaze units. If the Ta-Gō was mass produced, it could easily fill already depleted kamikaze units, and would make kamikaze attacks more popular. Once Mizuyama finished designing the plane, he went to Tachikawa Hikōki Kabushiki Kaisha (Tachikawa Aircraft Company) and submitted his design. His design was however rejected because Tachikawa Hikōki simply could not afford to allocate resources for the Ta-Gō. It was also rejected due to the fact that Mizuyama’s design was not officially approved by the state.
Determined to initiate his project, Mizuyama looked around the city of Tachikawa until he discovered a small woodwork shop. He rented the shop and began constructing his first prototype with the help of his men. Around February of 1945, Tachikawa was firebombed by the USAAF. The workshop was completely destroyed along with the sole prototype. Still determined to initiate the project despite the major setback, Mizuyama approached Nippon Kokusai Kogyo K.K (Japanese International Aviation Industries Ltd) to continue his project. Luckily for him, Kokusai accepted his project. Since Kokousai accepted the project, they asked that Mizuyama redesign certain parts of the plane to so that it would require even less materials and manpower. The Kokusai design’s dimensions was significantly scaled down compared to Mizuyama’s original design and was simpler altogether.
Now satisfied that his work was accepted, he began building the new model of the Ta-Gō with help from Kokusai. The prototype was completed around the middle of June, and was test flown for the first time on June 25th, 1945 with an experienced pilot from Kokusai in the cockpit. The test pilot expressed obvious handling concerns and gave helpful tips to the designers. As a result, the Ta-Gō participated in more test flights and was modified on the drawing board. In the end, the blueprints for the production variant were finalized. Unfortunately for Mizuyama and Kokusai, the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies in August of 1945, and the Ta-Gō never entered production. Interestingly enough, the Allies discovered two variants for the Ta-Gō named “Gi-Gō” and “Tsu-Gō” after Kokusai surrendered all their documents. However, there is no known information on them today.
Tachikawa, funnily enough, took on the project too after the Kokusai prototype was completed and authorized by the Gunjushō (Ministry of Munitions) despite them rejecting the project earlier. Once the American Occupation forces arrived in Japan, they found the Tachikawa Ta-Gō incomplete. Once the Ta-Gō was accepted, it was given the designation Ki-128. It is not confirmed whether the designation was for the Kokusai or Tachikawa variant or both.
The Ta-Gō was a single seated kamikaze plane made mostly out of plywood, fabric, and wood lathes. The original Ta-Gō design used wood lathes for the fuselage and structure, and used plywood and fabric for the outer skin and control surfaces. The pilot’s compartment featured a simple acrylic glass. The landing gear was fixed, meaning they couldn’t be retracted. It featured a Hitachi Ha-13 Ko 9-cylinder radial engine that produced 450hp, with thin steel sheets as the engine cowling. The only armament it could carry was a 500kg bomb, which cannot be released. Other than these details, little is known about the original Ta-Gō as hardly any evidence exists.
The refined design for Kokusai made the Ta-Gō much smaller than its original size. Due to this, the plane could no longer house the Hitachi Ha-13 Ko, and was replaced by the Hitachi Ha-47 11 producing 110hp instead. Because of the severe engine power decrease, the 500kg bomb load had to be changed to 100kg. Another change from the original design was the cockpit was open topped. The only thing that covers the pilot is a simple acrylic glass pane that shields from the wind. As for the engine, it was protected by an angular wooden cowling. The engine was paired with a two-blade fixed pitch wooden propeller. The engine mount was made of metal, with the fuel tank placed on top of the engine, thus using a gravity feed system. In between the acrylic glass pane and the fuel tank, there was an oil cooler. As for cockpit instruments, only the very basic and important ones were kept. Such instruments used were a compass, speedometer, altimeter, and engine-related gauges such as fuel and oil. The fuselage was also boxier than the original design. This design feature was extremely simple to manufacture, but was very un-aerodynamic.
The fuselage and structure was made with wooden spars and plywood, much like the original Ta-Gō. The wings were rectangular shaped, and were hinged near the landing gear, which allowed the the wings to fold upwards. The reason why the wings could be folded was because the Ta-Gō was suppose to be hidden in caves and take up less space in the factory line. The rudder and elevator of the Ta-Gō were both rectangular shaped. As for the landing gear, it was made out of steel tubing and paired with rubber wheels. Each landing gear was supported by a metal strut.
Original Ta-Gō: The original Ta-Gō was powered by a Hitachi Ha-13 Ko (450hp) and could carry a 500kg bomb. It was almost completed before being destroyed in a bombing raid. Only one photo of the original prototype is known to have existed.
Revised Ta-Gō:The revised Ta-Gō design featured a smaller airframe to save the factories effort and materials. As a result of this modification, the engine had to be changed to a Hitachi Ha-47 11 (110hp) and the bomb load was reduced to 100kg. Two of these were made. One was completed by Kokusai, test flown and evaluated while the other one by Tachikawa was incomplete.
Gi-Gō: The Gi-Gō was a late war development of the Ta-Gō. There is no information known about it to this date. The project was commenced by Kokusai.
Tsu-Gō: Like the Gi-Gō, the Tsu-Gō was developed very late in the war. No information about it has been discovered to this date. The project was commenced by Kokusai.
Empire of Japan – The Ta-Gō would have been used by special kamikaze units in both the army and navy.
Nazi Germany (1942)
Light Transport and Trainer – 1,216 Built
The Siebel Si204 was a twin engined light transport and trainer aircraft built by Siebel for the Luftwaffe in World War II.
The story of the “Siebel” factory starts in the 1934, with the founding of “Hans Klemm – Flugzeugwerke Halle“ that was a branch of “Leichtflugzeugbau Klemmin Böblingen”. In December 1937 the name changed to “Siebel Flugzeugwerke“ when it was taken over by Friedrich Siebel.
Initially Siebel had a license to produce the Focke-Wulf Fw 44 “Stieglitz” and later during the war Heinkel He 46, Dornier Do 17 and the Junkers Ju-88. In addition to the production of licensed aircraft, in 1937, “Siebel” produced its own aircraft under the name Fh 104. It had its first test flight that same year, and some 46 planes where build during the period of 1938-42. The Fh 104 made a number of notewortly flights:
In March of 1939 flying a 39975 km tour of Africa,
Winning the “Littorio rally in Italy”,
And flying a 6200 km across 12 countries in 1938 (Europa Rundflug).
By the end of 1930, “Siebel” company was commissioned by the Luftwaffe to design a new type of all-metal twin-light light transport aircraft with a capacity of eight persons with two crew members. In 1940 the first prototype of the twin engine and larger and also heavier Si 204 appeared with originally a conventional stepped cockpit and a powerplant of two 360 hp (268 kW) Argus As 410 engines . The prototype made its first flight during the period of May to September 1940. Second prototype made it first test flight in early 1941. The third prototype was re-designed as a trainer aircraft for blind flying. Because of this, its first test flight was only possible at the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942. The other 12 planes produced by “Siebel” were used for general flight evaluation. After this small production run Siebel stopped building this aircraft, and future planes would be built in France and Czechoslovakia.
Model A was build in relatively small number by the French “SNCAC” (Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Nord) factory. It was designed as a transport and communication aircraft.
The next model D appeared in 1942, with a new glazed nose and cockpit with no separate flat windscreen for the pilot. Almost all German bomber aircraft during the war shared this design. The D model also had more powerful 600 hp As 411 engines. The D model was used for radio navigation and for training. This model was mostly used during the war.
The production of the D-3 version start in October 1944 by the “Aero” company. The D-3 had wooden wings and a tail-plane made of wood because due to material shortages. In France, production of this aircraft was stopped in August 1944 as a result of the Liberation.
“BMM” produced the aircraft until October 1944 and then changed to producing spare parts for the Si 204. The “Aero” was scheduled to cease production of the D-1 in March 1945 after building 486 aircraft and then switch to D-3 only. The E version was built in limited numbers and can be considered as an experimental series.
After the war, production of Si 204 continued in Czechoslovakia and France. Czechoslovakia produced some 179 Si 204D, developed into military trainer variants Aero C-3A, passenger variant C-103 and military transport variant D-44. France produced 240 transport NC.701 Martinets and a number of passenger NC.702 Martinets.
During the war the Luftwaffe put the plane to use for transport, communication while also seeing use as an advanced trainer and blind flying trainer.
It was generally regarded as a good plane, but with some drawbacks like the lack of any armament, which prevented many exercises for the combat training program and possible use as a combat aircraft, although for this role it is not designed.
Designers in Halle had developed few different military projects, like installing bomb racks, machine gun turrets and other necessary equipment, but none of these plans were ever realized. This problem was attempted to be solved with some modified Si 204D airplanes with three 13mm MG 131 machine guns, intended to be used as a night combat aircraft but this model was not used in combat and was built in limited numbers.
Despite these unsuccessful attempts, Germans tried to make a new bomber variant, in order to be used in anti guerrilla fighting with a built to this specification. Three Si-204E were sent to the military tests in Belarus. They were treated as special anti-guerrilla aircraft. The scope of the actions of the Belarusian partisans forced the Germans to throw against them not only regular troops, but armored vehicles and aircraft. The extent to which they were used in this role remains unknown.
Si 204 is reported to has the “honor”, of being the last German aircraft shot down on the Western Front. On May 8, 1945 an Si 204 was shot down by an American P-38 Lightning, three miles southeast of Rodach, Bavaria.
Because Siebel produced the Junkers Ju-88 under licence and the need for as many military aircraft as possible, Germans decided to increase the volume of production for this aircraft. This was done by moving the production to French “SNCAC” and Czechoslovakian “Aero”, and “ČKD-BMM” factories. The “SNCAC” produced some 168 aircraft and the “Aero” and “ČKD-BMM” produced 1033 aircraft, Siebel produced only the first 15 prototype Aircraft, before the production was stop in favor of Ju-88. In total some 1,216 aircraft of this type where build, during the war.
Si 204 – Prototype version with 15 plane build by Siebel (Number V1 to V15),
Si 204A – Model A was a transport and a communication aircraft, with crew of two and eight passengers.
A-0 – Passenger plane version,
A-1 – French built version.
Si 204B and C – Were paper projects
Si 204D – Model with a new glazed nose and cockpit and with two 600 hp As 411 engines. Model D was used for radio navigation and for flying training.
D-0 – Blind flying trainer,
D-1 – Czechoslovakian production version,
D-3 – This model had wooden wings and tailplanes, in order to save on metal.
204E – Experimental night fighter plane. This model had on its nose two 13mm MG 131 machine guns plus one more machine gun (same caliber) in a glazed cupola on the upper hull of the plane. This model was not used in combat and was build in limited number using rebuild Si 204D planes.
E-3 – Proposed version to be armed with bombs, and to be used in anty guerrilla fighting, possibly only few were build.
Flying carrier – Paper project that was originally intended to carry one DM-1 (Doctor Alexander Lippisch plane) on the back of a Siebel Si 204. Little is known about this project
Aero C-3 – Used for flying and crew training,
Aero C-103 – Used for Civilian transport,
Aero D-44 – Military transport version.
SNCAC NC.701 Martinet – Military transport version with SNECMA 12S-00 air-cooled V-12 engines,
SNCAC NC.702 Martinet – Improved Passenger transport version.
Germany – Most produced planes where used by the Luftwaffe as advanced schools training, transport, blind flying trainer (usage in this role was at best was sporadic) and communication. There were plans for arming this plane for night fighter and anti-partisan operatons, but it all left on paper only with few model build and not a single one was used in combat.
Czechoslovakia – Used German build planes and the new Aero C-3 version after the war.
France – Used some captured German planes and also the NC. 701 version which was build by France after the war.
Hungary – Operated some C-3 Aero version after the war.
Poland – Used six NC.701 version.
Soviet Union –They were captured in some numbers at the end of the war. At first, the captured Si-204 was mostly used by the military. The headquarters of many regiments and divisions stationed in Germany used the Siebel for official flights, but only for short period.
Sweden – Operated five NC.701 (1962-1970) for mapping photography.
Switzerland – Operated some Si.204 D planes.
Specifications (Si 204D)
70 ft / 21.33 m
39 ft 3 in / 12 m
14 ft / 4.25 m
495 ft² / 46 m²
2x Two Argus As 411 12 cylinder inverted piston engines (447kW/600 hp)
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.
Republic of China (1944)
Prototype Bomber – 1 Built
The XB-3 was a prototype medium bomber designed by the Republic of China in 1942. Although outdated for its time, the plane showed decent performance. It was lost in its third test flight and as a result, the project was abandoned and all documents concerning it were destroyed.
With the demands of the Republic of China Air Force in mind, the Institute of Aviation Studies and the Third Aviation Factory began designing a medium bomber. The designers were Zheng Baoyuan (郑葆源) from the Third Aviation Factory and Tang Xunyi (唐勋贻) from the Institute of Aviation Studies. The design was finalized in mid-1942, and was ready to be produced in September. However, due to constant Japanese harassment bombings, only one model was produced from between September of 1942 and January of 1944. The plane was produced at Dong Bu Sha He Bao (东部沙河堡).
The plane was disassembled at the factory in March of 1944 and shipped over to Taipingsi Airfield for flight tests. When the XB-3 arrived at the airfield, it was immediately reassembled and test flights began. Unfortunately, due to an engine malfunction, the pilot lost control during landing and destroyed the prototype. Luckily, the pilot survived but sustained serious head injuries.
As a result of the accident, the project was cancelled, and all information and documents concerning it were destroyed.
The design of the XB-3 was heavily influenced by the SB-2M-103. The airframe was nearly identical other than the materials it was constructed with. The spars and airframe were created with quality Szechuan wood, while the skin of the plane was made with a mixture of bamboo and wood. The engine, flight instruments and landing gear were all taken from the SB-2M-103, which was outdated and inferior by 1944. The notable difference between the XB-3 and SB-2M-103 was the cockpit and nose of the plane which were copied from the Ilyushin DB-3. As a result, plane was nearly entirely based off of the DB-3 and SB-2M-103.
The defensive armament the plane would have had would also have been taken from the SB-2M-103, which would be ShKAS machine gun. However, some sources say that it may have been reequipped with American sourced guns.
Only one XB-3 was made at the Third Aviation Factory in Dong Bu Sha He Bao (部沙河堡). This was all the Third Aviation Factory could produce under the constant harassment from Japanese bombers.
The XB-3 went through a total of 3 test flights before it’s accident.
On the first flight test, the XB-3 was piloted by Huang Rongxiang (黄荣想), although some sources claim that it was flown by Li Yangqin (李焱芹)*. The flight test was to test taxiing, take off and landing. The pilot claimed that the plane handled well, very much like the SB-2M.
On the second flight test, it was piloted by Tan Xunyi (唐勋贻), but once again other sources claim that it was piloted by Li Chen (李琛)*. The second test was to determine the maneuverability of the XB-3 at low altitude. It pulled many basic and advanced combat maneuvers, and the pilot once again complimented the plane on its performance.
On the third and final flight test, the plane was in the air for 30 minutes before heading back to base due to an engine malfunction. The plane made it back to base but upon landing, the pilot lost control of the plane and one of the wheels hit the runway, flipping the plane and breaking its wings. Miraculously, the plane didn’t catch fire and the pilot was able to be dragged out by the ground crew and rushed to the hospital with a major concussion and serious head injuries.
Due to the catastrophic failure on the third flight test, the flight data was not recorded. The designers finally put an end to the project due to the injuries of the test pilot and the fact that the design was simply outdated, as it was based on a 1934 design. To save themselves from embarrassment, the designers burnt all documents on the XB-3.
*The reason why there is confusion about the pilots was probably because there was mix up of the backup pilot and the official pilot. This is understandable as all the documents of the XB-3 were destroyed.
Republic of China (1948)
Prototype Helicopter – 2 Built
The Hummingbird was a prototype helicopter developed by the Republic of China in 1944 to 1948. Inspiration for the Hummingbird was mostly from designs of other nations. The Hummingbird was to be used in a light reconnaissance role. The development ended when the Taiwanese lost the Civil War and evacuated to Taiwan.
The origins of the Hummingbird began in 1944, when the American 14th Air Force stationed in Kunming received a shipment of Sikorsky R-6As and R-4s. The Americans put up an airshow to boost morale amongst troops using the new R-4 helicopters. Amongst the spectators were Zhu Jiaren (朱家仁), one of the managers at the First Aviation Factory. He was fascinated by the R-4 and decided to design a helicopter of his own. He began sketches and basic designs of a helicopter in that same year. He successfully made a 1/10 windtunnel model for testing, but no data was recorded. Despite building a 1/10 model, Zhu didn’t understand the details of helicopter design and the project stagnated.
After the Second Sino-Japanese War ended in 1945, the American and European countries declassified their helicopter designs, and the Republic of China was able to receive some of these plans. Zhu studied them and gained valuable information, finalizing his designs in 1948 and personally overseeing the production of the first Hummingbird prototype. This was a great moment in Chinese aviation history as it was the first helicopter made by the Chinese.
The first Hummingbird prototype was completed in March of 1948 and was designated Jia (甲). Zhu was satisfied with the result, and ordered stationary tests to commence right away. Unfortunately, due to an accident, the sole prototype of the Hummingbird was destroyed. However, the pilot survived and gave valuable suggestions and ideas to improve the design. Then later in July, another prototype was produced and was designated Yi (乙). The new prototype had a redesigned cockpit with improved visibility, allowing the pilot to see the ground. It also had an improved aerodynamic design, which theoretically offered improved performance over the Jia model. The Yi model also partook in stationary tests, and experienced no mishaps. The Yi was later abandoned in mainland China as the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan. The fate of the Yi is unknown.
The Hummingbird helicopter was a tailless lightweight helicopter meant for reconnaissance. It featured two helicopter blades on the same transmission, a uncommon design at that time. It was a single seater helicopter with the sides of the cockpit open.
The fuselage of the two Hummingbirds could be best described as an elongated teardrop shape. The shape of the helicopter was quite different compared to the helicopters of other nations at the time. It mainly used American sourced flight instrumentation (tachometer, altimeter, etc.).
Only two prototypes were ever made. Variants Jia (甲) and Yi (乙 ). Jia was lost in a accident during flight tests and the fate of the Yi is unknown. Nothing else was produced due to the evacuation of the designers to Taiwan.
The Jia was produced in March of 1948, with the Yi being produced in July of 1948.
Testing of the Jia:
Shortly after the Jia was completed, the designers did not immediately want to commence flight tests. The engineers first wanted to test the helicopter blades at different throttle speeds. The landing gear of the Hummingbird was fastened to a steel anchor plate using ropes. The helicopter started up its engine and achieved an altitude of 1 meter. While testing the blade speed, a ground anchor was pulled loose from its mooring in the soft ground. The Hummingbird immediately tilted left and crashed on the ground, destroying the sole prototype. The pilot however, was relatively unharmed thanks to a seat belt.
Testing of the Yi:
Learning from the mistakes made during the Jia’s test, the designers reinforced the ground anchors. The helicopter successfully hovered at 1 meter and the blade speed was tested. The helicopter was scheduled for actual flight tests, but it was cancelled due to the pilot’s complaint that the helicopter’s equipment and flight instruments would shake and rattle uncontrollably at full throttle. This could have been due to the prototype’s crude motor, a rough running Kinner B-5 radial engine, a design dating back to the 1930s. The helicopter was then grounded until further improvements could be made.
The Hummingbird showed great potential at being an effective reconnaissance helicopter. The engineers and designers calculated that the helicopter’s performance would be equal to or greater than the performance of other helicopters developed at the time. In late 1948, the tide of the war turned against the favor of the Nationalists. Mass evacuation of equipment, troops, and strategic supplies was occurring and The First Aviation Factory was evacuated, along with Zhu.
After arriving in Taiwan, Zhu requested that the Hummingbird helicopter to be shipped over so he could continue developing it. However, the Republic of China Air Force denied his request due to an unfortunate technicality. The Hummingbird technically belonged to the Kunming Airfield, which was owned by the Air Force, and not to the First Aviation Factory. Due to this, the Hummingbird was never shipped over and met an unknown fate.
With the knowledge gained from the Hummingbird, Zhu later developed the CJC-3, another helicopter.
Jia (甲) aka Model A: This was the original model which began development in 1944. This model had poor visibility from the cockpit, and a large airframe. Powered by a Kinner B-5 engine.
Yi (乙) aka Model B: Second prototype with a redesigned fuselage and better aerodynamic design. This version had a window in the lower front quarter of the cockpit, which allowed the pilot to observe the ground. It retained the same engine, equipment and helicopter blade layout.
The Shenyang JJ-1 (沈阳 歼教-1) was the People’s Republic of China’s first domestically designed jet plane, and thus it has a special place in Chinese aviation history. The JJ-1 was intended to serve a trainer role to help pilots transition from propeller planes to jets. The JJ-1 was not mass produced, despite its success since it was concluded that propeller trained pilots could easily move into jet engined planes. The JJ-1’s engine was also very difficult to repair. One JJ-1 still exists to this day and can be seen at the Chinese Aviation Museum in Beijing.
In the beginning of 1950s, the People’s Republic of China was still a relatively new nation. Itwas faced with the Korean War shortly after its formation. Due to the demands of the Korean War, China formed their aviation industry in 1951, focused solely on developing the economy and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The PLAAF was already formed prior to the industrialization using captured Nationalist Chinese, Japanese and American aircraft.
As the size of the air force began to expand, the high command realized that they needed a more effective way to train the pilots. China’s then ideology for industry was to copy the Soviet planes, gain experience from studying their blueprints, practice manufacturing them and design their own planes. Due to this ideology, China bought many Soviet aircraft. Among them are Yak-18s, MiG-15s, and MiG-17s. They successfully reverse engineered the Yak-18 with help from the Soviets, and branded their copy as the JJ-5. The JJ-5 successfully flew on July 3rd, 1954. The successful imitation proved that China was indeed capable of building aircraft, and they gained experience from doing so. With morale high, the Second Machinery Industry Department decided to design and develop a brand new aircraft.
On August 2nd 1956, under the permission of the Aviation Department, a department for aircraft design was created. It was named The Shenyang Department of Aircraft Design (沈阳飞机设计室). The government appointed Xu Xun Shou (徐舜寿) as the director, and Huang Zhi Qian (黄志千) and Ye Zheng Da (叶正大) as co-directors. The Shenyang Department of Aircraft Design was focused on studying Soviet aircraft designs, so China gained more knowledge and would not have to keep purchasing aircraft from the Soviet Union. The department would satisfy the needs of the air force and also form China’s own design team.
While designing the JJ-1, Xu Xun Shou (徐舜寿) evaluated China’s ability to produce aircraft and the needs of the air force. The original design criterion for the JJ-1 was that above all, it should prioritize pilot safety. The second criterion was that it should be on-par with American and the Soviet Union jet trainers. The third criterion was that all of the aircraft parts must be easy to produce, and be made with simple materials. The fourth criterion was that the aircraft itself should be easy to maintain, fly, and produced in China. After the basis of the aircraft was decided, a name had to be given. Three names were considered for the project: Eastern Wind 101 (东风101), Red Reserve 503 (红专503) and Annihilation Instruction 1 (歼教-1). In the end, they chose to go with Annihilation Instruction 1 (歼教-1) and gave it the code designation JJ-1.
During the design stage, engineers were faced with the difficulty of designing an aircraft from scratch with no prior experience. A turn of events led to a carpenter named Chen Ming Sheng (陈明生) to lead a small group of workers to create a wooden prototype for the designers within 100 days. This gave the designers the crucial information they needed to proceed with the design. Shortly after wind tunnel tests and evaluating the wooden mock-up, they sent the data to the USSR for advice and help. In total, it took 92 people to design and build the aircraft. The average age of the designers and workers was 22, which showed that China’s youth was capable of contributing to the nation. Most of the designers had studied abroad, mostly in the Soviet Union.
The design of the JJ-1 was fairly simple. It was an all metal construction with two air intakes on the sides of the fuselage. It had two seats in tandem, one for the student and one for the instructor. The student would sit in front while the instructor would sit behind. It also had a tricycle landing gear and straight wings. The plane was to be fitted with a single NR-23 cannon. No sources specify how many rounds the gun would have, but it is generally assumed to be 50-100.
The powerplant of the JJ-1 was the SADO PF-1A turbojet, which was a copy of the Soviet Klimov RD-500, which itself was a copy of the British Derwent V turbojet. The JJ-1 would also be fitted with a RCP-3000 generator with two 12-CAM-28 batteries. Other than the tachometer and fuel gauge, every other flight instrument was borrowed from the J-5 (Chinese copy of the MiG-15). The right wing had a pitot tube (ПВД-4) to measure indicated air speed, while the left wing had a counterbalance to even out the weight made by the pitot equipment on the right wing. The radio that was installed was an ultra-short wave radio for communication with the control tower (РСИУ-3М). The inflight radio model installed was the СПУ-2, which was meant for communication between the student and the instructor. An ОСП-48 landing equipment model was also installed, meant for bad weather landings and emergency landings.
The JJ-1 vaguely resembles the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star with elements from the Hawker Sea Hawk and the Grumman F9F. Surprisingly, it took very little influence from Soviet aircrafts.
In total, two airworthy JJ-1s were produced used for flight testing, while an additional wooden mockup was used for static tests.
Within 100 days of the design being completed, the JJ-1 was manufactured and ready for air trials.
On July 26th 1958, the prototype of the JJ-1 was towed out of the hanger onto the airfield in preparation for the first test flight. . The test pilot was Yu Zheng Wu (于振武), a selected pilot from the PLAAF. The event was marked by a celebration among the factory workers and designers. The plane successfully took off after a green signal flare was fired from the aircraft control center, marking the first successful flight of a domestically designed aircraft in China. The plane climbed to high altitude while testing controls and maneuverability. When the plane landed, Wu was congratulated by onlookers for the occasion. One interesting thing that Wu suggested that the plane could be a potential close air support vehicle, as it could slow down to a stable speed to approach enemies and speed off when needed.
The Ministry of Aviation decided to inspect the JJ-1 for themselves after the first successful test flight. Marshal Ye Jianying (叶剑英) and Commander Liu Yalou (刘亚楼) came to inspect the aircraft. Both of the men were impressed with the performance of the aircraft. The test pilot Yu Zheng Wu (于振武) performed an unplanned low altitude aerobatic maneuver in front of the two men. This action left the onlookers cheering and applauding.
In October of 1958, the JJ-1 successfully completed its trials. Shortly after the annual celebration of the formation of China, the two airworthy JJ-1s were brought to Beijing to perform in an air show. Mao Zedong and the other official government staff were thoroughly impressed with the design, and deemed it successful. In November, while the two JJ-1s were returning to Shenyang from Beijing, one of the aircraft’s suffered a turbine fan failure. Despite this, both of the JJ-1s managed to return to Shenyang. Unfortunately, the factory was unable to fix the fans as they had no experience in repairing engines.
Due to the factory’s inability to fix the turbines, the government questioned the effectiveness of the designers and factories. In the end, the Ministry of Air decided to not mass produce the JJ-1 despite it being very successful in trials. The Air Force also realized that the transition of propeller plane trained pilots to jet engine planes was relatively smooth, and a jet trainer was not required. This put an end to the JJ-1 project once and for all.
Only one of the three JJ-1s still exists to this day, and it can be seen at the Chinese Aviation museum in Beijing. The aircraft on display was the one that suffered the engine failure during mid-flight.
Shenyang JJ-1 Specifications
37 ft 6 in / 11.43 m
34 ft 8 in / 10.56 m
12 ft 11 in / 3.94 m
1x SADO PF-1A Turbojet (15.9 kN thrust)
Maximum Takeoff Weight:
10,145 lb / 4,602 kg
Empty Takeoff Weight:
6,942 lb / 3,149 kg
Normal Takeoff Weight:
9,169 lb / 4,159 kg
Maximum Climb Rate:
93 fps / 28.4 m/s
560 mph / 950 kmh
600 miles / 957 km
47,500 ft / 14,500 m
1x Student Pilot
1x Instructor Pilot
(intended for production model) 1x 23mm NR-23 Cannon
The first domestic aircraft factory in Yugoslavia was established in Novi Sad under the name “Ikarus” on November 20, 1923. In 1924, Ikarus delivered two new training planes for the armies of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes which were designed in the factory. The first trainer model was delivered in April 1924 designated the “Мали Брандербург-Serb” (Small Brandenburg), which was a direct copy of Brandenburg B.I. The second plane was delivered in June 1924, a copy of school hydroplanes “IIIM” (School Mercedes/Школски Мерцедес-Serb.). Both of these aircraft did not fall far behind foreign aircraft in terms of its technical and flying characteristics, of the same intended roles which strengthened the morale of the Army and the domestic constructors, opening prospects for the domestic production of new planes.
In April 1924, another aeroplane factory was built in Belgrade: “The first Serbian aeroplane factory Živojin Rogožarski – Прва Српска фабрика аероплана Живојин Рогожарски-Serb.” They joined Ikarus as the only aircraft factories in Yugoslavia. Živojin Rogožarski was initially only building parts for the aircraft but later they began to build entire planes. From 1928, these two factories supplied around 100 training aircraft and seaplanes to the army of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and Maritime Aviation.
During the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, the company Ikarus started to design and later produce two new types of fighter aircraft, the IK-2 and IK-3. The IK-2 was a “high wing” plane, with the wings set on top of the fuselage, equipped with the Hispano-Suiza 860 hp engine and armed with one 20 mm cannon and two machine guns set above the engine. The machine guns were initially Darn type caliber 7.7 mm but this was later replaced with the new Browning 7.92 mm. The IK-2 was constructed by a team of engineers Ljubomir Ilić and Kosta Sivčevićem. Ikarus built small batch of 12 aircraft plus two prototypes in 1939. While in production the IK-2 was considered obsolete and production of the fighter ceased, nevertheless, the IK-2 saw some use in World War ll but all the planes were lost.
Designed as a successor to the older IK-2, the IK-3 was Yugoslavia’s first modern single-seat fighter. It was conceived in 1933 as a fighter utilizing the cantilever low-wing with a cockpit that was fully enclosed as well was fully retractable landing gear. On the tail or fuselage, the planes would carry a small black military-tracking number. The IK-2 used numbers from 2,101 to 2,112 and the IK-3 used 2.151 to 2.163. At the time of its construction, the IK-3 was equally matched to its contemporaries, representing a very advanced solution behind which stood a team of ambitious and young engineers Ljubomir Ilić, Kosta Sivčevićem, and Slobodan Zrnić j.
After some statistical and aerodynamic calculations in 1936 were completed, a 1:10 wooden scale model of the IK-3 was built. The model was tested in the Eiffel wind tunnel in Paris. The planned Hispano-Suiza 12Y Engine had already been tested in earlier IK-2 aircraft. The contract to build the prototype IK-3 was signed on March 31, 1937 with Rogožarski. The first prototype IK-3 was completed on 14 April 1938, piloted by Captain Milan Bjelanović. By the end of 1938, the first factory tests were completed. Despite the good flying qualities, the pilots noticed some problems. The complaint by pilots was related to the shape of the windshield and canopy of the cockpit, while the army suggested adding two additional machine-guns in the wings. Some additional problems cropped up including engine overheating and unsuitable landing gear doors. The majority of these problems were corrected in the first batch of planes produced.
On 19 January 1939, an accident occurred while examining the behavior of the plane in flight, the right wing completely separated from the fuselage. This accident claimed the life of pilot, Captain Milan Pokorni. No domestic or foreign investigators were able to clearly determine the exact cause of the crash. In any case, the wings were reinforced during wing construction and production continued.
The loss of the IK-3 prototype did not postpone the production of new fighters. On 26 November 1938, a contract between the state and the factory was signed which authorized the production for a new batch of 12 aircraft. Delivery of the planes was planned for the end of 1939, but the beginning of World War II affected the production process. Delays in deliveries and the rising costs of raw materials postponed the completion of the first batch. The first aircraft of the series were delivered on 15 December 1939. The deliveries and production were again postponed due to a worker strike in the aviation industry, lasting until July 1940.
In March of 1940, the factory offered an improved version of the IK-3 called the IK-3 ll. The factory originally offered the production of 50 new aircraft but this was rejected by the state who instead ordered production for only 25 aircraft. It was thought that the production of 50 aircraft could not be achieved because it was impossible to obtain the necessary materials and equipment from abroad due to the war. The Command of the Royal Yugoslav Army demanded improved aerodynamics, a more powerful engine, self-sealing fuel tanks, armored glass, armored seats etc. In the end, only one plane (number 7) from the first series was modified into a prototype for the second series.
Prior to the War
After the end of production, all operational aircraft were allocated to the 51st Independent Fighter Group at Zemun which was part of the 6th Fighter regiment. Squadrons 161 and 162 were both given 6 aircraft.
In its first year of service, an IK-3 was lost when one of the squadron commanders, Captain Anton Ercigoj, was making a “mock attack” on a Potez Po.25 over the Sava and Danube rivers. After passing below the Potez, he went into a climb with the intention of performing a loop. His rate of climb was too steep and the aircraft fell into a spin at low altitude and hit the water. Caption Anton Ercigoj did not survive the crash.
The introduction of new planes offered the opportunity for pilots of the IK-3 to test it against the Yugoslav Messerschmitt Bf 109E in “mock dogfights”. The evaluation after the dogfight concluded that the IK-3 had several advantages over the Bf 109E. The IK-3 was more maneuverable in level flight, enabling it to quickly get behind a pursuing Bf 109E by making tight horizontal turns.
Germany was very interested in the IK-3. In the summer of 1940, Abwehr organized a spy operation to obtain valid information on this plane. Prior to the first test flight of the prototype IK-3, the aircraft manufacturer Rogožarski applied for insurance for the IK-3 plane which was worth about 2.376.638 dinars, which was common in the world at that time. This was a signal to the Abwehr to launch its plan. Abwehr action was to take place through the insurance company “Internationale Versicherung Geschäft” from Vienna, with mixed Austrian-German-Italian capital, offering the best financial terms of insurance. However, the secret service of the Army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia intervened and determined, in accordance with the legal regulations and with regard to the secrecy and interests of the state that the insurance of the prototype aircraft IK-3 can only be entrusted to a domestic insurance company.
After the secret service of the Army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia restricted insurance to domestic only insurance companies, the Germans tried to found an “insurance branch” in Yugoslavia under the name “Balkan” in Belgrade. The German/Balkan insurance company won the competition for the insurance of the IK-3. In order to assess the degree of risk, the insurance company requested detailed IK-3 aircraft calculations and plans according to the instructions of the headquarters of the Abwehr. The Rogožarski Company, with the approval of the General Staff, the Army Air Force Headquarters and in agreement with the constructors, submitted the required technical documentation to the German/Balkan insurance company, which, according to one of the IK-3 aircraft designers, engineer Slobodan Zrnić, was “faked” in the more important details.
Two years after this unsuccessful attempt to obtain the schematics of the IK-3, the Abwehr took concrete steps to get to the desired data on the new IK-3 plane. German agent/officer Vermaht Schiller was supposed to come to this information during the time when the first series of aircraft was to be officially handed over to the Yugoslav Air Force. Schiller was formally deployed as assistant to Colonel Lauman, a German aviation attaché in a German mission in Belgrade. Schiller tried to obtain the schematics of the IK-3 through a Yugoslav Air Force officer. He asked about some technical data for the IK-3 which was soon to be handed over to the 51st Fighter Group in the 6th Fighter Regiment for testing and training of pilots. The Yugoslav secret service learned of this and arranged a meeting of its agents with Schiller. Schiller was arrested and, after signing a police record, he was released and all the papers with him were confiscated.
After the completion of the Yugoslavian counter-intelligence operation, the Chief of the General Staff of the Army, General Petar Kosić, requested to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Schiller and his associates be declared “persona non grata” and they were expelled from Yugoslavia.
For the attack on Yugoslavia, the Axis forces amassed around 2236 warplanes in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania with some 1062 bombers, 289 reconnaissance planes, and 885 fighter planes.
The Yugoslavian Air Force had around 420 combat aircraft, in various conditions. They had about 147 modern bombers including the German Do. 17, Britain Bristol Blenheim, and the Italian SM.79. There were also about 131 reconnaissance planes, including 11 British Bristol Blenheims, about 120 outdated Brege 19 and Potez Po.25 aircraft, and over 100 combat aircraft including 61 German Me-109E, 35 British Hawker Hurricanes, some of which had been built in the “Zmaj” factory in Zemun. Yugoslavia also had a whole series of IK-3 aircraft, minus one lost in pilot training. In addition to these forces, Yugoslavia also controlled 30 two-engine Hawker Furys, 8 IK-2’s, 2 Avia BH-33’s, and 2 two-engine Potez Po.63’s. In essence Yugoslavia controlled a much smaller force than Germany but it was made up of some of the most modern aircraft of the time.
Out of the 12 IK-3 of the first series, only 6 were fully operational by 5 April 1941. One aircraft was lost in the 1940 accident, and 5 were in different states of repair: 3 in the Rogožarski factory, and two in the aviation workshop at Zemun airport. The units equipped with the IK-3 had the task of preventing the deployment of the enemy air force above the territories of Northern Serbia and parts of Vojvodina. The majority of the IK-3’s were used in the defense of the capital Belgrade, bolstered by fighters from the 102nd fighter squadron equipped with Me-109E’s.
On 6 April 1941, at about 0600, the commander of the First Air Base, Major Marko Konrad, informed the commander of the 6th Fighter Regiment that the Germans attacked Yugoslavia and that air attacks on Belgrade should be anticipated. At about 0645, the observation service TVO (teritorijalne vazdušne osmatračke službe-Territorial airborne observation services) reported two large formations of aircraft were flying in from the north towards Belgrade. At about 0650, commander of the 6th Fighter Regiment, Major Adum, ordered all three squadrons 161, 162, and 102 up for patrols. These patrols were led by First Class Captain Gogić, Sergeant Semiz, First class Captain Poljanec, Sergeant Vujić, and Lieutenant Borčić.
In their first battle, pilots with their IK-3’s shot down six German planes while only losing one IK-3, in which Lieutenant Dusan Borčić was killed, and one lightly and two heavily damaged aircraft that did not participate in any further combat. By the end of the day, two more German bombers were shot down, but this group remained with only three operational IK-3 aircraft.
On April 7, Sergeant Semiz, during an intercept with German bombers, was hit by German machine guns fire. 36 bullets hit his plane and 20 bullets hit his engine and ignited it. Although he was wounded, he managed to return to the airport in Zemun. The loss of his aircraft was compensated by the IK-3 ll (the only aircraft of the second series to be constructed) that was under repair in the Rogožarski factory. The combat state of this unit remained at three operational aircraft.
By the end of the day on April 7, the remaining aircraft were relocated to the auxiliary airport, Veliki Radenci II. Commander Major Adum was replaced, and Captain First Class Gogić was promoted to this position. In the following days, there was no action due to bad weather. On 11 April, at around 1000, one German Me-110 attacked Veliki Radenci II but did not cause any damage. Sergeant Samiz with his plane pursued and managed to shoot it down. On the same day at around 1200, a group of about 20 Me-110’s were attacking the airport Veliki Radenci I. Several of the 51st group took off, the pilots were First Class Captain Gogić and Sergeant Vujičić, managing to shoot down two attacking German planes.
At around 1700 on 11 April, a German armored column was spotted approaching from the North. Part of the non-flying group of the Yugoslavian Air Force had been ordered to withdraw in the direction of Sarajevo, airplanes and pilots stayed at the airport. On 12 April, they were supposed to be transferred to Sarajevo, but this did not happen. Because of the speed of the German attack and the inability of pilots to fly in time, they decided to destroy all the remaining planes in order to prevent them from falling into German hands.
Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Kraljevina Jugoslavija) – Were used during the “April War” and most were lost in combat or were destroyed
Nazi Germany – Captured at least 5 to 7 planes in different states. One complete surviving IK-3 was used for flying test performance.
Turkey – Was considering the possibility of buying the license for the production of the IK-3, but World War II prevented any plans for this program.
33 ft 10 in / 10.3 m
26 ft 3 in / 8 m
10 ft 8 in / 3.25 m
178 ft² / 16.5 m²
32.6 lb/ft² / 159.4 kg/m²
One 980hp (731kW) Avia-built Hispano-Suiza 12Y29 liquid-cooled V-12 piston engine
Maximum Take-Off Weight
5799 lb / 2630 kg
4560 lb / 2068 kg
16,000 ft / 5,000 m in 7 minutes
328 mph / 527 kmh
249mph / 400kmh
488 mi / 785 km
Maximum Service Ceiling
30,800 ft / 9,460 m
One Oerlikon FF 20 mm cannon – fixed forward-firing cannon in the propeller hub
Two 7.92 mm Browning/FN machine guns with 500 rounds per gun – fixed forward-firing machine guns in the upper part of the forward fuselage
Nazi Germany (1940)
Prototype Wooden Glider – 2 Built
The Ju 322 “Mammut” was a prototype wooden glider developed by Junkers in 1940 in anticipation of the Invasion of Britain. The design was riddled with flaws and eventually scrapped in 1941 after two prototype models were made. Instead, the RLM decided to use the Me 321 as their main heavy glider. No part of the Ju 322 is known to have survived to the present day.
History of the Mammut
Operation Sealion (Invasion of Britain) was to commence in the fall of 1940, and the Germans lacked a means of transporting supplies and troops effectively. In that same year, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, the German Ministry of Aviation or RLM, issued a demand to Messerschmitt and Junkers to design and develop a glider capable of carrying a very heavy payload. The conditions were that the glider was to be able to carry some of the heaviest equipment in service with the Wehrmacht. Messerschmitt developed the Me 321 as a result, and Junkers with the Ju 322.
The Ju 322 “Mammut” (Mammoth) was designed as a fully wooden heavy transport glider which was originally designed to carry at least 44,000lbs (19,900kg). This weight was around enough for a Panzer III/IV, FlaK 88, or a StuG III/IV or a full load of 100 troops and all necessary support equipment. The Ju 322 was designed so that cargo was to be loaded into the plane from the nose, which could be folded. The cockpit had a single position, and was located on the outside of the cargo hold on the left wing. The glider would be on a carriage which would be dropped right after take off or while airborne. The designers noted that the carriage was extremely heavy, and could not be dropped from a high altitude without it breaking. They also noted that if the carriage were to be dropped from a lower altitude, there was the risk of it bouncing back up and hitting the glider. Many different kinds of gears were experimented on, using from as little as 8 wheels to 32 wheels. As for landing, the glider was fitted with four sprung landing skids. The production variants were suppose to be fitted with three turrets armed with MG 15s. Two turrets would be located on either side of the nose, near the front of the wings and the other turret would be located near the back of the cargo compartment. The Ju 322V1 and V2 were not armed.
After two prototype models were produced, stationary tests began. It was found that the Ju 322V1 had troubles with the materials it was built with. An observation made by engineers were that the wooden structure of the glider were weakened by rot. It was agreed that this was to be blamed on poor manufacturing techniques.
When a Panzer III was loaded onto the plane, the floor broke and the Panzer III fell straight through it. This incident was partly to be blamed on the ramp design and poor wood quality. Due to this flaw, the original design was not able to be met and the maximum cargo weight was reduced twice. The first reduction was to 35,280lbs (16,000kg), the second reduction was to 24,255lbs (11,000kg). The reduced weight of cargo and reinforced floor solved the problem of loading tanks and equipment on, but at the expense of payload. As a result of this along with other changes, the designers had to reduce the plane’s maximum cargo weight to 24,255lbs (11,000kg).
A common misconception is that there was a competition between Messerschmitt and Junkers to develop the best glider and dominate the glider market. However, it was not a competition at all and each company were given specific guidelines. Messerschmitt was allowed to use steel while Junkers was only allowed to use wood. This was because the RLM was anticipating a shortage of steel, in which case the RLM could fall back on the Junkers design. It is also worth noting that the Ju 322V1 used eight tons of steel to strengthen the airframe, despite the RLM’s orders.
As the Ju 322 was in prototype stage, only two models were ordered and constructed. The only two models are known as Ju 322V1 and Ju 322V2. V1 was the only model to see testing, while V2 stood by in case V1 was destroyed. During testing of the V1, construction began on 98 airframes, although none were completed.
The Ju 322V1 made its first and only flight in April of 1941 at Merseburg Airfield. According to the reports, the Ju 90* towplane failed to lift the glider off the ground on full throttle. In a subsequent attempt, the glider was able to get off the ground. However shortly after takeoff, the tow plane pilot noticed two immediate flaws. First, the glider could not maneuver or change direction and it had no pilot during the test. Second, the glider had extremely poor vertical stability such that its wings would sway in small arcs which swung the tow plane dangerously. Because of this, the glider was immediately cut from the tow plane after take off. The glider ended up landing in a field not far from the airfield. It took over two weeks for the glider to be transported back to the airfield by towing. This was the Mammut’s only test flight, and it was deemed a failure.
* – It is interesting to note that the Ju 90 which towed the Ju 332 on it’s maiden flight was one of the two Ju 90s meant to be sent to South Africa before the war, and were therefore fitted with Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engines which had 900hp each.
Financially exhausted and convinced that the Ju 322 will not be successful, Junkers finally terminated the projected in May 1941. As a result, the two Ju 332s were cut up and used as firewood, along with all the uncompleted airframes and spare parts still in factories.
Trainer & Sport Plane – 3,000 Built
The Focke-Wulf 44 (Fw 44) was the most famous Focke-Wulf design after the famous Fw 190 fighter. The aircraft was a biplane with a fabric-covered welded steel-tube fuselage sporting wooden wings with fabric and plywood coverings, powered by a 140hp (104kW) Simens Sh 14 radial engine. This aircraft was primarily designed as a two-seat aerobatic civilian training aircraft but was later used for military purposes.
The origin of the Fw 44 Stieglitz (Goldfinch) started in 1932 when designer Kurt Tank, conceived the two-seater double-decker of mixed construction. In its prototype stage it had a number of unacceptable flight characteristics. The frst prototype was making its first flight in the late summer of that year with pilot Gerd Achgelis at the controls who problems with oscillations.
Kurt Tank had joined The Focke-Wulf Company in November 1931 from BFW, later Messerschmitt, and headed the design and flight test department for Focke-Wulf at the same time, replacing Heinrich Focke who was preoccupied with rotary-wing activities. Tank would remain in the position until the end of the World War II.
After further extensive flight testing, undertaken by Kurt Tank himself, he found the root of the problem. While flying the prototype back from a test flight, he happened to be looking at the shadow of the plane on the ground and he noted that the tail’s shadow blurred which indicated some kind of vibration in that area. Then the whole aircraft shook. Having landed he and his engineers check the tail of the aircraft and they found that the vibrations were being caused by separate cables operating the elevators. By joining these together to make the elevators act as one unit, the vibration problem was eliminated.
With this issue solved the Focke-Wulf 44 “Stieglitz” soon proved to have excellent handling characteristics and powerful aerobatic capabilities that won many prizes in numerous competitions, such as the Artificial Flying World Championship. The Fw 44 was popular, and known aircraft all over the world as a simple training glider. Following many successful aerobatic displays around Germany, demand for this aircraft was so great that other German manufacturers manufactured the Fw 44 under license. In addition to the export models, production began in several other countries, such as Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria and Sweden. It served as a standard training aircraft at the German transport school and the Luftwaffe.
One interesting fact about Fw 44 is that the body of one plane, the design retaining both the fuselage and engine, was used as the basis for the world’s first “practical” helicopter known as Focke-Wulf Fw 61.
Stieglitz’s Sporting Success
The Fw 44 was known for participation in numerous flight competitions, especially in the 1930s and always scored high, thanks to pilots Gerd Achgelis and Count Otto von Hagenburg.
1935 Stuttgart Seventh German Art Flying Championship Gerd Achgelis achieved second place after Willi Stor who flew in a Messerschmitt M35 plane.
1936 Eighth German Aerobatics Championship at Munich-Oberwiesenfeld Count Otto von Hagenburg won second place. Willi Stor was victorious again with his Me. M35 plane.
1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin
Perhaps the most publicized aviation event in pre-World War II Germany was held in conjunction with the 1936 Olympic Games. Adolf Hitler, who wished to impress the world with the strength of Germany’s aviation industry, arranged the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics Games to include the first ever aerobatics competition. This flying event took place within the track and field stadium. Graf Otto von Hagenburg as a pilot won the men’s competition, flying the new Fw 44. It’s very likely that the aerobatics competition was staged in a way to enhance Germany’s potential results. Either way, the German built planes and their pilots were well regarded as exceptional.
1934 Paris World Championship
An enormous event, with some 150,000 spectators crowded into the military parade-ground at Vincennes which had been modified for this occasion.
The initial compulsory competition required a list of manuevers to be performed within a time limit of eight minutes, including a right-hand and a left-hand spin, a bunt, a negative loop forward and upward, and an inverted 360 degree turn. Each contestant was also afforded the opportunity to fly their own routine for ten minutes. The sequence was to be submitted in advance to the judges, and each maneuver was assigned a difficulty coefficient set in the rules. New maneuvers were also awarded appropriate coefficients, but most were found to be already in the catalogue of 87 maneuvers. The judges’ task was to assign each figure a mark between 1 and 5 points for quality of performance, with a zero for figures not executed. These were then multiplied by the difficulty coefficients, the totals of all the judges were then averaged to obtain the final score.
Gerd Achgelis achieved third place with a score of 527.6 points. The winner was the German pilot Gerhard Fieseler, designer of the Fieseler Storch, with a score of 645.5 points.
Thanks to its exceptional flying characteristics, it was ordered by many nations around the world. In addition to export orders from Turkey, Switzerland, Bolivia, Chile, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland and Romania, it was produced under license in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria and Sweden. The Fw 44 was built in substantial numbers for the Luftwaffe, serving as a trainer until the end of the World War II. It was also in use by the Deutsche Luftsportverband and Deutsche Verkehrfliegerschule. Exact production numbers are not known, due to production in Germany by Focke-Wulf and and many other subcontractors such as AGO, Bucker and Siebel, in addition to other license agreements worldwide. It is assumed that the production numbers are between 1900 to more than 3000 planes. Focke-Wulf had to build another factory just to keep up with demand for the plane.
The production variants differed from each other in minor equipment details. The most numerous variants were the Fw 44C, Fw 44D and Fw 44F, with all three models utilizing the same Siemens Sh 14a engine. The final production Fw44J model had a 160 hp Siemens Sh 14a-4 seven-cylinder radial engine.
Fw 44A The Fw 44A was powered by a 150hp Siemens Sh14a engine, and was used for flight tests. This model was in production until the end of 1932.
Fw 44B The improved Fw 44B first appeared in 1933, with production commencing in 1934. The Fw 44B, had an Argus As 8 four-cylinder inverted inline air-cooled engine of 90 kW (120 hp). The cowling for this engine gave the plane a more slender, aerodynamic nose. The other change was in the extension of the fuselage from 6.6 to 7.3 meters, which was tested on this model.
Fw 44C This model was used extensively by the Luftwaffe at advanced training schools throughout the Second World War. The Fw 44C, was powered by the Siemens Sh 14a engine, which offered the best overall performance.
Fw 44D The D model was same as the Fw as 44 C, but with different exhaust manifold. The plane got a small luggage compartment made of fabric, which was attached to the rear cockpit. From 1934 onwards, improvements were taken into series production. Due to the high demand for this model, it was temporarily produced in other plants (Bücker Flugzeugbau – 85, AGO – 121, and an additional 515 planes under license). The Luftwaffe ordered some 1,600 examples of this model.
Fw 44E Basically identical with to the D model, it was equipped with an Argus As 8 engine. It was built in limited number, only 20, in 1934.
Fw 44F An upgrade of the D model. With some luggage compartment modifications, and the replacement of the rear pad with a landing wheel.
Fw 44H Only one plane of this model was produced in 1936, and was used only for testing. This model was equipped with a six-cylinder engine (118hp).
Fw44J The J model was mainly intended for export and was equipped with the 160 hp Siemens Sh 14a-4 seven-cylinder radial engine. This model was demonstrated in Sweden in late 1935, and in February 1936. The testing resulted in a license agreement between the Swedish aviation administration and Focke-Wulf on September 29, 1936. Two test aircraft were ordered, receiving the Swedish designation P2.
Germany The Luftwaffe used the Fw 44 until the end of the World War II, mainly as a trainer aircraft in the Flugzeugführerschulen. The Germans used more than 1,600 planes. Many famous German aerobatic pilots flew the Fw 44 aircraft, including Gerd Achgelis, Adolf Galland, Emil Kopf, Ernst Udet and perhaps most famously Hanna Reitsch, who flew on almost all aircraft models.
China China purchased around twenty Fw 44’s which were all used during the Second Sino-Japanese War where all were lost in action. Some of them were modified for combat missions.
Bulgaria In November 1936, the first six Fw 44 J were delivered and in May 1939 ten more followed. By February 1940 twenty more planes were delivered to Bulgaria, making a total of 46 J models. After the war surviving planes were handed over to Yugoslavia.
Sweden In late 1936, 14 aircraft were ordered from Focke-Wulf. ASJA, AB Svenska Järnvägsverkstädernas Aeroplanavdelning, and the Swedish Railway Workshops Aircraft Department placed an order for 20 more aircraft in June 1937, while the Central Verkstaden at Västeras (CVV) placed an order for 37 more aircraft in 1939. Another 12 were ordered from Focke-Wulf in 1940, however, these were produced by Flugzeugwerke CKD at Prague, Czechoslovakia.
These were used for elementary and aerobatic training. Other training units flew this plane, and after withdrawn from basic training in 1946-1947, it was used for liaison, observation, glider-tug, and other ancillary roles. After being withdrawn from use, many came ended up on the civil registries in Sweden and Germany.
Turkey 8 planes were ordered and delivered in 1939.
Finland As the Fw 44 was suitable for operation in polar regions, Finland required the aircraft for basic pilot training. In April 1940, a contract was signed between Finland and Focke-Wulf, for delivery of 30 Fw 44 J models.
Norway Norway placed an order for ten Fw 44 Js, which were delivered in April 1940.
Austria From 1936 onwards Austria’s Federal Army used the Fw 44 as a basic school training aircraft, with some ten aircraft were purchased from Focke-Wulf. The Fw 44 was also produced under license. Some 40 Fw 44J models were produced by Hirtenberger Patronenfabrik, (Wiener Neustadt).
Argentina Argentina ordered fifteen Fw 44 Js in January 1937, and built another 60 under license.
Brazil Built a production facility to produce the plane in some numbers.
Chile In September 1937, Chile signed an agreement to buy 15 Fw 44 J models.
Yugoslavia Some war trophy aircraft were taken from the Bulgarians as war reparations and used after the war as trainers.
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).