August 13, 2004

Next Time Bring a Gun

When it comes to the new Eurofighter Typhoon, it seems the British don't want to bring a gun to a knife fight, as this UK Telegraph article reveals.

RAF gets a new fighter with a gun it cannot fire

You read that correctly, so let's wade into the saga of the concrete cannon.

Attempts by the Ministry of Defence to save money will leave all 232 of the RAF's new Eurofighter/Typhoon aircraft with a gun they cannot fire.

The MoD decided five years ago that it could save £90 million on the £105 billion project by not having a machine cannon in the British version of the Eurofighter.

How did anyone manage to pull this off? They spent a fortune on the fighter to make sure it excelled at high-rate pitch changes, meaning it can jink or turn rapidly, an ability that's most useful when engaged in a close-in dogfight. That's what that canard (forward wing) is there for. All that design and development work certainly wasn't done to make a fighter that's just a missile platform. In essence they spent a large fortune to make sure they'd have a good knife fighter, then turn around and try to save 0.085% of the cost by leaving out the knife.

Senior RAF officers defended the decision by saying that the use of guns on aircraft was outdated and would be a waste of money.

Would these be the same ones who argued that manned fighters were obsolete back in the 1950's, resulting in the near extinction of British fighter programs?

It was too late to stop the first tranche of 55 British aircraft being fitted with the Mauser BK27 gun, but the rest would have a lead or concrete weight in its place.

I wasn't kidding about the saga of the concrete cannon. Yes, they were thinking of adding lead or concrete to an aircraft, I suppose to up the percentage of useless weight to match that found on the staff at the Ministry of Defense.

But engineers found the only way to preserve the aircraft's aerodynamics was to have something that not only weighed the same as the gun but was also shaped exactly the same.

To make matters worse, each individual part of the makeweight's shape also had to weigh exactly the same as the real thing. In short, the cheapest option was to fit the cannon. So all 232 of the RAF's Eurofighter/Typhoon aircraft will be fitted with the gun at a cost of £90 million - but in order to save what is now a mere £2.5 million they will have no rounds to fire.

Not only are they dumb enough to remove the close range weapon on a fighter specifically designed for agility, but they're too dumb to figure out how to pour an equivalent weight of pot metal cheaper than Mauser can make an entire, functioning, fully automatic cannon. Or perhaps the people in charge of that exercise in stupidity said they merely couldn't bring themselves to do the design work on an idea so obviously daft. You know, after the 1973 war everyone made fun of Syrian fighter pilots for not even bothering to load their cannon ammunition before flying off to become a fireball over Israel. But the British won't be able to blame hot-headed pilots for a similar mistake, since they're planning to take off without ammunition. Maybe the MoD should have a bake sale to raise money for cannon rounds.

"This is old thinking, not to have a useable gun on a fighter," said Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, one of the RAF's leading air power strategists and a former commander of a fighter squadron.

He's exactly right. The US went through the same thoughts in the 1950's and 1960's, designing aircraft that carried only missiles. We sent them to Vietnam and then heard all the pilots screaming for cannon. Our cannon have been there ever since.

"If you are only going to go up against other combat planes then, OK, you use your missiles. But when you are dealing with terrorists and other unpredictable situations you want all the flexibility you can get and a gun gives you a lot of utility.

"We were prepared to use gunfire against helicopters breaching UN rules over Bosnia in the 1990s. You could also use it for strafing targets like pick-up trucks in the desert."

Additionally, what if you're fresh out of missiles or the range is too close? If you're deep in enemy airspace and fire off your last missile do you try and claim Euro-tourist status so you can slink back home? Many fighter missions also involve investigation and escort, and what could they do if the plane they're escorting gets feisty except threaten to drop way way back and shoot a missile? Plus, as we found over Southeast Asia, in a large dogfight you don't often get a good missile shot, and yet you can't always leave the hairball because any plane that makes a straight exit also makes itself an easy target for a missile lock. Missiles made dogfighting ability even more important than before, since early exit from a dogfight was a very bad option. In WW-II fighters that were faster in a dive could always nose over and leave, but missiles meant this was no longer a viable choice. This is one big reason we went from designs like the F-4 Phantom to design like the F-16 and F-18, designed to outmaneuver their opponents in a close fight. But to take useful advantage of this agility requires a close-in weapon that doesn't require any lock time, a specific flight envelope, or have a highly limited number of shots. In short it requires cannon, or else the agility merely buys you time to take a few snapshots of the plane that will eventually win, since it has no way to lose.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, the chief of RAF Strike Command, said eight aircraft had already been delivered to the RAF and he expected the first Eurofighters to begin quick reaction air defence in late 2007.

Asked about the gun, Sir Brian said the decision had been "discussed endlessly" and that "nothing is being closed off".

They're going to end up the same place they started, facing the obvious fact that not having any ammunition for the gun is just as dumb as having concrete cannon. I could suggest a use for the pencil pushing cost accountant who suggested they don't ever bring a gun to a highly agile knife fight, but that would be rude.

And thanks to LC and IB Mamamontezz for the link!

August 13, 2004 in Aviation | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

July 20, 2004

New FAA Sport License Approved

The FAA just approved a new sport license for pilots. This has been in the works for many years, ok decades going by my old issues of KITPLANES magazine from the 80's. Pilots and industry held that flying very small, lightweight aircraft and ultralights shouldn't need quite the strict certification requirements as a full private pilots license. Essentially the new license is for people who just like to go up and buzz around, as opposed to flying to Topeka for a business meeting. Instead of 40 hours and a medical certificate the new license just takes 20 hours and a driver's license.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Aviation Administration announced new safety rules Tuesday for light recreational aircraft like balloons, powered parachutes and gliders - a victory for private aviation groups that have long sought to lower the hurdles to flying entry-level aircraft.

Under the rules, an aviation enthusiast will be able to obtain a sport pilot license with lower training requirements than for a private pilot's license. The FAA said generally light sport aircraft are safer than private aircraft because they fly so low and so slow.

I wouldn't necessarily say they were safer, but they can land just about anywhere. Let's say that if something goes wrong and you crash into something you'll hopefully just break your leg instead of creating a debris field.

The new rules also apply to manufacturers, allowing sport planes, essentially kit planes, to be built under less stringent standards of manufacturing and inspection. After all, these are closer to a very well designed Sopwith Camel or Piper Cub than a Boeing. They also reworked the rules for ultralights, so its a big change for rules at the low and slow segment of aviation.

There's a bit more on it here at KITPLANES Magazine.

July 20, 2004 in Aviation | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 07, 2004

Funny Landings

Before I slip off to bed, I'll post a link to this funny story about an F-106 Delta Dart. The plane entered a flat spin, and the pilot ejected at 15,000 feet. After the ejection the airplane straightened back out. Later the AF gets a call from a local sheriff who wanted to know how to turn off the engine in a fighter plane that landed gear up in the middle of some guys field. The Air Force just told the Sheriff to let the engine run out of fuel.

But if you really want to see a bizarre ejection seat story, read this. In 1991 a bombardier/navigator on a US Navy A-6 partially ejected, meaning he was left halfway in and halfway out, with his parachute wrapped around the tail of the aircraft. They had to land on a carrier like that. He's fine, but read the whole thing. It has video and audio clips, too.

March 7, 2004 in Aviation | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack