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. It was 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).
The Saab 18 is another example of Sweden’s efforts to produce an aircraft to safeguard its neutrality, considering that the same War and international political context prompted the Scandinavian nation to do so. Only that this plane was not devised to keep the skies of Sweden, but rather to protect the national territory from the air. Curiously, when WWII started, the Saab B 17 was given priority at the earlier stages of the war, as a dive bomber was considered more necessary than a light/medium bomber. This plane gave also important contributions to the development of the Swedish aeronautic and military industry, contributing in the development of ejection seats and of air-to-surface (or AGM) missiles; more specifically, anti-ship missiles. Despite being required to maintain Sweden’s neutrality and protect its territory, it entered in service in 1944, quite late to address the threat from Germany but ready to address the threat from the East and to serve at the early days of the Cold War, with distinction. It became also the standard bomber of the Flygvapnet.
The Saab B 18 is a light bomber and reconnaissance plane with three seats, two engines and a double tail, with a design similar to that of the Junkers Ju 86 and the Dornier Do 17 with the rounded shape of the vertical stabilizers. Or simply the very characteristic shape of double tail and double engine bombers of the era: this is, the cockpit placed at the frontal section of the plane and with the bow being made entirely of glass (normally the place of the bomber), and the cockpit being of a glazed offset type with the pilot and navigator. The wing has a trapezoid shape, being a straight leading edge type with the rear part being instead angled.
The Saab B 18 was initially intended to be powered by British-made Bristol Taurus engines. But it received in the end two types of engines during its career as the Taurus engines weren’t available, powered instead with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engines of 1065 hp (the Saab J 21 had priority in receiving the Daimler Benz engines). Posterior versions received new powerplants as the Pratt & Whitney were deemed insufficient, hence receiving 2 Daimler Benz DB 605 of 1475 hp, enabling the plane to reach speeds of up to 570 km/h (357 mph), and making of the B 18 one of the fastest light bombers producing during the war. The powerplant was not the only modification the B 18 suffered during its service with the Flygvapnet, as the initial configuration of armament of 3 x 13,2 mm machine guns was changed to a set of one 7,92mm gun and 2 X 13,2mm machine guns (B 18B). Another re-configuration was the instalment of 2 X 20mm cannons and a 57mm gun (T 18B), along with rockets instead of bombs. Noteworthy to point out that the B 18 could carry up to 1,000 kg of bombs in the compartment and 8 x 50 kg bombs at the wings. As reconnaissance and torpedo-bomber variants were developed (though the last one was never put into service), the versatility and adaptability of the B 18 was made evident, at the point of being the platform for testing the Rb 302 anti-ship missiles. The crew was also modified, as following versions needed only two crewmen as rockets were introduced, suppressing the bomber.
Both versions (B 18B and T 18B) received another modification of armament in the 50’s, as they were fitted with rocket launchers allowing a maximum of 4 rockets on each wing, and even another rocket launcher allowing 2 or 4 rockets under the nose. The bomb sight was also equipped with an automatic reflex sight for rocket firing. This conversion meant that the B18B and the T18B would have increased – and more specialized – attack roles. Also, both the B 18B and the T 18B received ejection seats, maximizing the safety of the crew operating with these air assets. In addition, some B18 B units were fitted with two radars (a radar altimeter PH-10 and a search radar PS-18/A, which was a US Navy AN/APS-4 naval radar) for target designation and identification.
This airplane was purposed at replacing the Junkers Ju 86 in service with the Swedish Air Force back then, basing the requirement for a fast bomber with a crew of three. This was later on changed to a bomber having a crew of 3, a bomb payload of up to 750 kg (1653,46 lb), capable of reaching speeds of 500 km/h (310,68 mph) and to be used as a long-range reconnaissance, torpedo-bomber and heavy fighter. The fact that the B 18 ended in serving with the Flygvapnet was a sheer product of luck, as the competition’s design (the GV8 proposed by the competing AB Götaverken) was capable of meeting the requirements. Yet its costs and the departure of Götaverken’s chief designer resulted in Saab awarding the contract in 1938. As development began, many Americans reportedly took part in the design and development process, resulting in the B 18 having some “American traits” in the design. As a result, the B 18 development had a Swedish and an American chief designer: Frid Wänström and Carl Haddon, respectively.
The development process was delayed by two factors explaining the reasons of the Saab B 18 entering in service relatively late: first, the abovementioned shifting in priorities once the war started, with the Saab B 17 dive bomber receiving priority over the Saab B 18. And second, a change in requirements from a light bomber to a medium bomber, which ended in increasing the development time. The first flight took place in 1942, entering in service in 1944 with two initial versions: the B 18A bomber and the S 18A reconnaissance versions. A torpedo-bomber and later attack plane (T 18B), and a dive bomber (B 18B) were developed, receiving ejection seats.
After WWII and in the wake of the Cold War, the B 18B had a very interesting career, as the increase of the Soviet threat asked for reconnaissance missions; in 1945 and 1946 the B18 B was used to reach the Baltic coast and take pictures of every Soviet vessel, meeting Soviet fighters almost every time.
244 units were produced with the Flygvapnet being the sole operator until 1959, year in which the Saab 32 Lansen replaced the B 18: 62 units of the B 18A, 120 units of the B 18B, and 62 units off the T 18B were built. A single surviving airframe is displayed at the Flygvapenmuseum.
The design of the B 18 is very typical of the pre-WWII double-tail light or medium bombers, having some interesting features despite its conventional sight at first glance. The B 18 is a straight leading edge wing airplane, with the engines placed at the first half of the wings. The fuselage was entirely made of metal, with fabric covering the control surfaces, and having the armor being integrally part of the structure.
The most remarkable areas are the canopy, the bow section, and the rear horizontal stabilizers, connecting the two vertical stabilizers with the main airframe. Regarding the canopy and bow section, the canopy is not placed at the longitudinal middle of the plane as it is normally placed, being instead an offset type at the left side. There, the pilot and the navigator were stationed, with the navigator seat being placed backwards. In addition, the bow section had a glazed tip where the bomber was stationed. Reportedly, such scheme improved the visibility for the pilot. The nose of the T 18B version was slightly modified. And the bow inferior section is not entirely straight, having instead an undernose gondola right before the wing-roots. The landing gear was of classic configuration, with the frontal landing gears retracting into the engine gondolas, while the small rear landing gear was placed at the stern of the bomber, right before the horizontal and vertical stabilizers area. In turn, the horizontal stabilizers are of a ‘butterfly shape’, having at the tips the two horizontal stabilizers; the rudders occupied the whole posterior area of the tails. The shape of the vertical stabilizers is of an isosceles trapezoid.
The wing is a mid-wing (cantilever) leading edge wing, with a shape of a right trapezoid and where the two engines are installed, along with the main fuel tanks. In some versions, there was a gun or a cannon installed at one of the wing-roots. The engines, depending of the version, were either a couple of Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engines or a couple of licensed-built Daimler Benz DB 605 liquid cooled inline V-inverted engines. Depending of the installed engines, the air intake might be located below the engine gondola or above the engine gondola. Normally the earlier versions of the B 18 can be identifying by the intakes placed above the engine gondola. The Daimler Benz engine gave the B 18 a quite remarkable speed for a plane of its type back then, being among the fast ones with speeds of 575 km/h (357 mph). Such speed would provide an advantage for attack and reconnaissance missions. Reportedly, the T 18B version could reach speeds of up to 600 km/h (372,82 mph). The propellers of the B 18 where a three-bladed type.
The armament configuration also varied from version to version. The initial configuration was of 3 x 13,2mm machine guns, one firing forwards at the wing root, another firing also forwards at the nose, and another at the rear. This set was then changed for a set of one wing root 7,62mm machine gun and two 13,2mm guns, and then it was changed for a set of a front-firing 57mm Bofors gun at the undernose gondola and 2 x 20mm guns. The B 18 could carry up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb and the bombs compartment and up to 8 x 50 kg (110 lb) bombs at the wings. This type of offensive armament was also changed, as it was first modified to carry a torpedo, which never came to be operational, and then it carried up to eight air-to-surface rockets. The B 18 was also used to test the Rb 302 anti-ship missile. The reconnaissance version was fitted with various cameras to perform its mission, along with a radar.
The B 18 was among the first planes in receiving ejection seats, as its high attrition rate made the Flygvapnet to implement such measure for the sake of the crew’s safety. The fact that it had ejection seats and capacity to carry missiles, along with its speed and un-conventional design, makes the B 18 a very interesting design made by a neutral nation during WWII and the early Cold War.
A Versatile Guardian of the Swedish Land
The B 18, although entering quite late to have a remarkable role in defending Sweden’s neutrality as WWII unfolded, it became a very valuable asset for the Nordic nation at the last stage of the war, when the Soviet Union became stronger and advanced towards the West, with the Cold War highlighting the threat it posed to Sweden. Not only its speed and considerable armament made the B 18 an air asset to be reckoned with, but also its versatility and adaptability, let alone its flexibility. The design allowed the installation of new engines that increased the speed of the B 18, as well as a change of armament while in service, at the point of serving as a test bed for one of the earlier anti-ship missiles, the Rb 302. These modifications allowed the B 18 to become very effective bomber and ground-attack planes, and even to serve as a reconnaissance plane capable of approaching or even penetrating Soviet airspace for its missions, facing quite often the Soviet fighters.
Striking at Speed
One of the characteristics that made the B 18 an airplane to be reckoned with was beyond any doubt its speed, especially after the Daimler Benz 305. The B 18B could reach speed of 570 km/h (357 mph), and the T 18B, the most powerful version in terms of firepower, could reach speeds of up to 600 km/h (372,82 mph). This was an advantage when it came to perform bombing or strike attacks with rockets, as the B 18 could have hit any advancing enemy ground forces formation with hit-and-run tactics or simply by direct strikes with devastating effects. Curiously, the S 18A was the slowest version, with speeds of up to 465 km/h being the maximum speed; this can be explained by the fact it was powered by the previous Pratt & Whitney engines, as the S 18A was a direct modification from the B 18A, which was (under)powered by such engines. Nevertheless, as the powerplants were enhanced, the B 18 became a very fast medium bomber. And it could have posed a serious threat to naval surface units approaching the Swedish coast.
Variants of the Saab B 18
18A – Two prototypes powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines of 1065 hp.
B 18A – This version became the first series version of the B 18, powered with the abovementioned Pratt & Whitney engines. Armed with 3 x 13,2 mm machine guns and up to 1400 kg (3086.47 lbs). 55 units were reportedly converted into the S 18A reconnaissance version in 146-47. 62 units delivered.
S 18A – A modified version of the B 18A for reconnaissance purposes, replacing the Caproni Ca 313 (S16) reconnaissance plane in service back then. It was fitted with a varied array of cameras: 3 high-altitude 10/92 and 5/25 cm cameras, 1 panoramic 10/105 cm camera and a 13/30 cm night camera. This version was also fitted with a PS-18A (An American-made AN/APS-4) maritime surveillance radar, with 36 units having this radar installed in pods under the nose, and serving as maritime reconnaissance airplanes.
Saab 18B – A single prototype powered with the Daimler Benz DB 605B.
B 18B – A dive bomber version powered by the new Daimler Benz DB 605B of 1475 hp engines. It was later on modified to carry up to 8 air-to-surface rockets, becoming an attack plane. Armed with a 13 mm machine gun and a 20 mm gun plus the 1400 kg (3086.47 lbs) payload of bombs, and later on the 8 air-to-surface rockets. A dive bomb sight m/42 developed by Saab engineer Erik Wilkenson maximized its attack capabilities. Reportedly, some B 18B received a PS-18A radar. This version received ejection seats, and had the crew modified, reducing it to two (pilot and navigator/radio operator). 120 units delivered.
T 18B – A projected torpedo-bomber to serve as an anti-ship asset, it ended in being a ground-attack plane thus receiving an armament of a 13mm machine gun, 2 x 20mm guns and a 57mm Bofors cannon at the undernose gondola, receiving later on air-to-surface rockets. This version also received ejection seats. 62 units delivered.
Sweden The Flygvapnet was the sole operator of the B 18, which entered in service in 1944 with 62 units of the B 18A model, followed shortly by 120 units of the B 18B that were initially purposed as dive bombers, developed later on into the T 18B with 62 units, which served as a ground-attack plane. The T 18B, in turn, was initially purposed to be a torpedo-bomber, but given problems with the new payload, received instead rockets hence serving as attacker. Some airframes were modified to be the S 18A reconnaissance plane, performing reconnaissance missions off the Soviet Baltic coast in the aftermath of WWII. It remained in service until 1958, year in which the Saab 32 Lansen replaced the B 18. It was used for testing the Rb 302 anti-ship missiles. The B 18B operated in 4 squadrons from 1944 to 1958: F1 Västerås, F7 Såtenäs, F14 Halmstad, and F17 Kallinge. The T 18B torpedo-bomber/attack aircraft operated also in the F17 Kallinge from 1948 to 1958. The S 18A operated in three squadrons in the same perios of time: F3 Malmen, F11 Nyköping and F 21 Luleå. A single B 18B recovered from a lake remains as a museum exhibition.
13.23m / 43ft 5in
17m / 56ft 9in
4.35m / 14ft / 3in
43.75m2 / 470.92 ft2
2 X Daimler Benz DB 605 of 1475hp (some were licensed-built versions made by Svenska flygmotor AB).
Maximum Take-Off Weight
8800kg / 19,401 lb
6100 kg (13,448 lb)
8140 kg (17,948 lb) (B 18A)
570Km/h / 357 mph
2600 km /1,616 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling
9800m / 32,150ft
3 (2 in the T-18B)
A 13mm machine gun; 20mm cannon
A 13mm machine gun; 2x 20mm cannon; a 57mm gun (T 18B)
Up to 1400kg of bombs and rockets (the T18 B was intended to carry a torpedo or a mine, but it ended in having a payload of rockets)
Military events have significantly influenced history, and this is why military heritage is considered to be extremely important as captured by online resources such as Plane, Tank and Naval Encyclopedia. Many of the most significant events shaping history have associations with national defence and conflict across the globe. Preserving military heritage helps us to comprehend important societal ideals and traditions. Every country is unique with regards to its military heritage and how it is expressed through events such as air shows, festivals, museums and military parades.
Military heritage events serve as a way for people with vested interest therein or simply the casual and curious among us to learn more about a countries military history. Military heritage events exist because of people with similar interests who come together to honour and celebrate their shared military heritage. The seventh annual Military Festival was held at the Voortrekker Monument in South Africa on 1 May drawing roughly 4000 visitors. Exhibits included modellers, private military memorabilia, re-enactors of South African conflicts and their equipment as well as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) displaying a Olifant Mk2 and Rooikat 76D.
An anti-poaching demonstration was carried out by Group73 using Alouette helicopters.
Plane Encyclopedia donated a one of a kind “South African Gripen-C poster design” as an incentive for visitors to take part in a research initiative carried out by a local university in establishing their motivation for attending the military festival. The Gripen C was designed by our very own Edward Jackson while the vehicle specifications were researched by Dewald Venter from Tanks Encyclopedia.
The Meteor is an active radar guided beyond visual range (BVR) air to air missile produced by MBDA. It has entered service with the Swedish Air Force as of April 2016 on the JAS 39 Gripen. The notable feature of the Meteor is it’s ramjet technology, which enables the missile’s rocket motor to be throttle controlled, which combined with the missile’s advanced guidance make it extremely responsive to it’s target’s evasive maneuvers.
The Meteor was developed in response to several European nations’ need to begin considering the next generation of air to air missiles, with the ability to not only engage conventional manned airborne threats, but also unmanned vehicles and cruise missiles. The missile will be utilized by the air forces of the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden. The Meteor will eventually by equipped by the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, the Saab Gripen, and eventually Britain’s F35 Joint Strike Fighters with the introduction of its Block 4 software.
The Meteor is being manufactured at MBDA’s facility in Lostock, Scotland.
The propulsion system, a ramjet, utilizes solid fuel with a variable ducted flow. The “no escape zone” is reportedly larger than any other air to air missile in production due to the missile’s ability to engage “maximum thrust” when in final pursuit of the target. The weapon’s electronics and propulsion control unit (ECPU) adjusts the cruise speed depending on launch conditions and the target’s altitude by controlling the ramjet’s intake ducts. The unit monitors the remaining fuel, maintaining ‘cruise’ mode whilst avoiding “full throttle” until the final stage of closing in. The ‘no escape zone’ is a cone shaped area calculated by the guidance software wherein the target will be unable to evade using it’s own maneuverability. As soon as the target is within the ’no escape zone’ the missile will usually accelerate to full throttle.
Externally, the Meteor has two square intake sections affixed to the aft of the length of the missile. The Meteor only has four rear fins for maneuverability but they enable it to perform bank to turn maneuvers.
In addition to it’s active radar guidance seeker, which is shared with the MICA and ASTER series of missiles, the Meteor possesses two-way data link capabilities that allow it to continue communication with the targeting systems on the airframe it was fired from which itself may be receiving linked targeting information from other sources. This allows the weapon to more reliably pursue targets through cluttered countermeasure environment and report back it’s functional status. The guidance section also has its own IMS or inertial measurement system, enabling the missile to ‘dead reckon’ it’s location in the battle space relative to where it was launched from in it’s terminal phase.
The high explosive blast fragmentation warhead utilizes both impact and RF proximity fuzes which detonate to inflict ‘maximum lethality.’ It is capable of rail or ejection launching.
The maximum range of the missile is classified, but a report noted during a head on engagement test mentioned a distance “well in excess of 100 kilometers.”
The Meteor features an active radar guided seeker head which is capable of engaging in all weather.
United States (1956) Air to Air Missile – Over 200,000 Built
The Sidewinder is a supersonic, heat seeking, air to air missile for use by fighter aircraft. The missile was originally developed for the U.S. Navy for fleet defense, but was subsequently adapted for wider usage by the U.S. Air Force. The AIM-9 achieved the first successful combat use of a guided air to air missile. It has become the most used missile by Western air forces, with it’s low cost and reliable track record. Its code word is “FOX-2,” which refers to the launch of an infrared guided missile. The Sidewinder is estimated to have 270 aircraft kills. An example of the current unit cost of one Sidewinder is $603,817 for one AIM-9X Block II (2015).
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is the world’s most successful short-range air-to-air missile, and will remain the U.S. military’s main “dogfight” AAM until at least 2055.
In the 1950s the United States Navy went about developing a short range air to air missile that could be used during combat. The missile was originally developed by the United States Navy at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California. William B. McLean were experimenting with proximity fuzes sensitive to infrared heat. Being involved in R&D, it was not officially sanctioned for their office to develop weapons. As such their ‘intelligent’ fuze was kept under wraps and developed by volunteers using spare parts for several years, with the ultimate goal of building a heat seeking air to air missile. The final design featured a gyroscopic mirror spinning at around 4,000 RPMs behind a glass cover on the front of the missile. It utilized a lead-sulfide detector as it’s ‘eye’ which kept the assembly focused on the infrared source of the target. Issues with roll and target tracking were overcome with the invention of ‘rollerons’ which were wheels mounted to the tail fins of the missile to stabilize it in flight. The guidance section utilized circuits comprised of 14 tubes and 24 moving parts, a remarkable achievement in the 1950s.
After it became clear that its new technologies offered superior performance over the USAF’s own AIM-4 Falcon, the Air Force began using the Sidewinder on most of its combat aircraft.
The first kill from a Sidewinder missile was on September 24th 1958, when F86 Sabers belonging to The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) ambushed a flight of MiGs belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PLAAF) during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis .
During this conflict, one AIM-9B struck one of the PLAAFs MiG-17s without detonating, enabling the pilot to safely bring the aircraft back to base. The Soviets used this to reverse engineer their own copy of the Sidewinder, dubbed the Vympel K-13 or AA-2 Atoll (NATO).
AIM-9s were used extensively in Vietnam by the USAF and the US Navy. The two services combined scored 82 air to air victories out of 452 Sidewinders fired, resulting in a kill probability of 18%. Sidewinders of this period often flew up into the exhaust of their targets before detonating just aft of the wing.
Today though various upgrades and variants the AIM-9 is being used by most Western countries, with many more equipped with the Soviet copied K-13.
The missile’s primary components consist of an infrared guidance section with active optical target detection, a high explosive warhead, and rocket motor. The principles of the infrared guidance allow it to ‘home in’ on a target aircraft’s exhaust heat signature. The missile’s seeker must be cooled to extremely low temperatures to achieve effective operation. This operation makes the missile a ‘fire and forget,’ and relatively immune to electronic countermeasures.
Early versions of the missile had to be fired at the rear of the target to maintain an effective lock. The seventies saw the introduction of the AIM-9L which was capable of “all aspect” usage, meaning it could be fired at a target from all directions. This even meant that a target could be engaged head-on, a factor that has since significantly impacted aerial combat doctrines.
The Sidewinder is also capable of being equipped to rotary wing aircraft, such as the AH-1 SuperCobra. AIM-9Xs have also been successfully tested against ground targets and have proven useful against light ground targets.
AIM-9B – The first joint service production version of the Sidewinder, utilizing an uncooled detector with thermionic (i.e. vacuum tube circuits) and possessing a top speed of around 1.7 mach, making its combat debut in 1958.
AIM-9D – The first Navy version implemented numerous changes and upgrades. The seeker head was now cooled and the warhead size was more than doubled to 25 lbs. The 9D and all other subsequent models could achieve speeds of 2.5 mach or above. The 9D also achieved dozens of kills during Vietnam.
AIM-9E The first USAF version, utilizing a peltier electronic cooling device for its seeker head, meaning that the seeker could remain in continuous operation during flight. It also integrated a few solid state components into the guidance section. The canards were changed to a square tip double delta arrangement to improve angle of attack performance. Around 5,000 9Bs were rebuilt as 9Es. The 9E achieved six kills during the Vietnam period.
AIM-9G – The 9G was an upgrade of the 9D for the Navy, utilizing a Sidewinder Extended Acquisition Mode (SEAM) allowing the missile to be slaved to the onboard radar or helmet sight.
AIM-9H – This version was a further evolution of the 9G produced in the early 70s and seeing limited use during Vietnam. It retained the G’s optical system, but the electronics were upgraded to solid state. A thermal battery replaced the previous turbo alternator. It also had an increased tracking rate and stronger actuators. The 9Hs fired in Vietnam reportedly had the best kill rate of any missile of the period.
AIM-9J – The Juliet was developed from the 9E for use by the USAF in the early 70s, and saw changes to the forward canards, offering incremental improvements in maneuverability, speed, and range. 6,700 built and widely exported.
AIM-9L – The first ‘all-aspect’ Sidewinder. With the introduction of the Lima in 1976, the missile was once again a joint-service model, developed from the 9H and capable of hitting a target from any direction, including head on. Characterized by a now standard natural metal finish on the guidance control section, it first saw combat with 2 US Navy F-14 Tomcats shot down 2 Libyan Su-22 Fitters in the Gulf of Sidra in 1981. In the Falklands conflict it saw large scale use by the United Kingdom, achieving an 80% kill ratio as compared to the Vietnam era versions with around a 15% kill ratio.
AIM-9M – An evolution of the Lima with upgrades only to the guidance section, improving capabilities against infrared countermeasures and ‘background rejection.’ The Mike was first deployed in 1982. Subvariants of the Mike include versions for the Navy and Air Force and were the mainstay of the USAF and USN short range AA capability from the 80s to the introduction of the 9X.
AIM-9R – The 9R was a prototype project that began in the late 80s that aimed to introduce digital imaging and programmable software into the guidance section allowing for aiming of the vulnerable area of a target. The R was being developed by the Naval Weapons Center and had flown live fire trials until the early 90s when its funding was cut in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
AIM-9X – In the mid eighties the Soviet Union developed and deployed successful infrared countermeasures (IRCM) that reduced the effectiveness of existing Sidewinders. After various stalled efforts in the late 80s, the U.S. began working with Raytheon and Hughes on the 9X during the 90s. Upon introduction in 2003 the 9X ushered in Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) compatibility, allowing a pilot to lock on to a target simply by looking at it. This capability drastically increases combat effectiveness, along with “Lock-on After Launch” capability which allows for use in internal launch bays such as the F-35 and F-22.