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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2016 10:38 pm 
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I do like the numbers on those later Griffon Mossies; very impressive. The Swiftsure looks to be a very nice piece of kit, as do the Victorias/Victory bombers.

I didn't get to respond further to your outline of the economic situation due to work, but it seems to be a step in the right direction. It is still going to be very, very difficult to fund an RN and RFC/RNAS of great size in the 1960s. Not impossible, but a difficult matter of different priorities.

With all of the improvements described, a British GDP of ~$550 billion 1990 USD in 1960 isn't completely outside of the realms of possibility; it is ~20% in advance of the historical $452 billion. 10% of that gives $55 billion, which is a fair bit more than what Britain spent in @.

However, US defence spending in 1960 was ~$330 billion in 2004 USD, or $247 billion in 1990 USD; I use that number as it is what Angus Maddison's works on historical GDPs employ. Even with contributions from the rest of the Commonwealth and miscellaneous tweaks, the maximum British defence slice is several orders of magnitude below that of the US. The USN of 1960 is/was the closest force to measure against an RN of the size you outline:

6-8 CV + 1 CVN and 1 CVA
7-8 SSN
28+ SS
7 BB (3 Lion, 4 KGV)
14 CA
9 + 3 CG
~30 CL/CLG

It could be just affordable, with a fair few of the earlier/warbuilt CAs and CLs on their way out or in reserve. There would be very, very little left over for the Army once the RFC take their slice and to afford the SSN/SSBN, CVN and CG programmes of the 1960s and 1970s, Britain would need to keep growing at 1950s levels. It would also need to cap education, welfare and health spending at around 4-5% each.

A Commonwealth-wide tax base would be difficult, given the different defence needs of Britain, India, Canada and Australia among others; taxation without economic union and subsequent political federation is a long shot. Some degree of joint funding is possible for various missile and carrier projects and the operational costs of joint fleet units at Singers et al.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 10:07 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2009 8:46 am
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Things have probably diverged far more than that by the sixties; In @, Britain left the first world war as a severely wounded country, much of the confidence knocked out of her, very little real achievement to show for it, massively in debt and whatever the reality of the 'lost generation', it felt that way.

Partly what happens here is that largely because of earlier American involvement, the war is pushed home where it is no longer possible to deny that it was a victory, if a painful one; the German army cannot sensibly claim to be stabbed in the back, when it was so obviously, thoroughly and repeatedly stabbed in the front.

Which amongst other things means that the coalition, later Labour, postwar government has no refuge and actually has to start making good on those promises about homes fit for heroes, for a start. (Also managing to pay off large parts of the war debt by doing a deal with the new German Republic that resulted in America being paid in British owed papiermarks didn't hurt.)

Forced draft industrialisation of India and the rest of the Commonwealth, not nearly as much driven by state terror as the Russian equivalent but not far short in extent, accompanied by protective tariffs, and avoiding the dangerously principled idiocy of going back on the gold standard, should help a great deal, to the point where at the shambolic end of the Second Great War, America may be dominant- but does not have a clear majority of the productive power of the world, amounting to some thirty- five percent, with Russia and the Commonwealth ahead of each other in some areas and behind in others around the twenty to twenty- five percent mark.

Essentially a four cornered cold war once China pulls itself together, even if it is a rectangle rather than a square, with two pairs of corners close to each other. With a four cornered space race, and all that implies- and when you start looking at the economic spinoffs of that, things get a bit chaotic. (There was a reason for Lake Ward, you know.)


IIIc1; carrier based bombers

Ship based bombers should have been the Royal Navy's bread and butter; instead they turned out to be the bane of it's existence. The navy began the thirties and the process of rearmament with the Hawker Osprey (the naval version of the land based Hart light bomber), for reconnaissance and littoral bombing, the Blackburn Ripon (which was not known as the rip-off, largely because it simply wasn't expensive enough) as torpedo type with several replacements already in the works.

It's re- engined direct descendant the Baffin worked well enough in peacetime, but was kept quite busy making sure that it stayed peacetime, and as the cauldron of European politics began to boil over it seemed that it was not going to be enough.

The failure of two overambitious monoplane designs, both essentially on deck handling and landing, (a Supermarine type that showed every signs of having been a Mitchell sketch on the back of an envelope and having been worked up to nominal practicality by distinctly lesser lights, and a Blackburn first attempt that looked more like a pug fitted with glider wings), left the navy grumblingly consenting to an apparent step backwards, Son of III- the Fairey Swordfish.

The Fairey Type III wasn't actually a 1918 aircraft- it was a 1917 aircraft; first flight 14 September of that year. The Swordfish was a biplane designed by people well aware that monoplanes existed, but still very clearly showed it's heritage, and exploited the configuration for all it was worth- very low landing speeds, excellent handling- the first recorded Spitfire actually shot down was a victim of friendly fire as a result of an overenthusiastic RFC pilot 'bouncing' a Swordfish with a new and twitchy telegraphist/air gunner-

excellent crashworthiness and damage tolerance for its' size (that being a product of bulk and quality), the ability to maintain the air in conditions where even the birds were walking, load carrying capability better than the first generation of RFC twins and in great variety, it was a truly great biplane, and the problem there is self evident- it was no longer the time of the biplane.

As a front line aircraft, it was clearly not cutting edge and was never really expected to be more than an interim stopgap, a placeholder until the actual new front line torpedo bomber came along. Perhaps the overstrained aviation industry simply needed time to breathe, an operational pause to digest technical change, but it did not get it, and oddly this area was probably the most critical casualty.

There were numerous attempts to replace the Swordfish, three of them from Fairey, an improved biplane that never really got off the drawing board before being ridiculed out of competition, a monoplane that looked as if it had been designed by locomotive engineers, and a leaned down version of an already obsolescent land based bomber, not the firm at their best.

Blackburn tried to turn a dive into a torpedo bomber, Avro produced an interesting kitbash based on the outer wings of the Manchester, most of the Army light tactical bombers took a turn at being tested for carrier suitability, but in general all the first generation of which essentially fell flat- and ultimately were thereupon steamrollered into pothole fillings by the success of a much larger aircraft that eventually forced a division of roles on the Navy.

Designed as a private venture, in the belief that it could be done, De Havilland's last-of-the-old-school type 98 was rejected vigorously by the RFC on the grounds of unsuitable, wooden, construction, and when asked to take a closer look in view of the thing's performance, rejected with considerable force again on the grounds that tactically it was quite outside what the RFC were looking for in a bomber.

Much of the theorising on this revolves around turrets, but in the official documents the biggest single issue was crew workload. The RFC simply did not believe that what were in their training scheme the jobs of five men- pilot, flight engineer, navigator, wireless op, bomb aimer- could be condensed into two aircrew- they had no objection to the thing's performance (although considerable doubts over serviceability), just doubted that it was humanly possible to fly the thing efficiently.

What objections lay behind the official reason, and in all probability the rumours are right about defensive armament and wooden construction being the main sticking points- and whether the construction of the things would remain stuck in the tropics for one big subissue- the Navy believed that it could cope, infamously Admiral Lyster pointing to the Samuel Pocock painting of the Glorious First of June, and proclaiming that the navy was willing to retain an open mind on the issue of wooden vehicles, and such a thing would be a great asset.

Up to a point, he was right. While the survivability in tropical conditions was definitely an issue, one that required the sort of technical chemical wizardry to resolve that could not be called upon in an instant, and there were many days-of-sail reminiscent interim solutions (including a classical education based revival of the Athenian secret for holding lightly built triremes together, internal tension rigging), the Mosquito- nearly named the De Havilland Duncan after the Admiral of the same name, despite not resembling him in the least- outperformed most land based interceptors to become a brilliantly lethal medium bomber, and part time fighter bomber even.

The drawback being, while neat and compact by land based twin engine medium bomber standards, it was by carrier aviation benchmarks a clumsy, unwieldy monster.

To go over the numbers again, the RN possessed the three first generation indian/pacific fleet carriers, the three Royalists, the four I class which would be there from the middle of the war onwards, the four V class which would not quite make it, all of which were more or less comfortable with Whirlwinds and Mosquitoes as main striking force; they were capable of handling more or less anything the war could produce, at least that only had two engines. Flying a Swiftsure off one would, admittedly, have been pushing it.

the three Follies and four Protector class before the war and the eighteen in total Island class in four major variants arriving during the mid to late war period,the squadron carriers as originally designated, light fleets by later standard, were more problematic. The griffon engined types, the mosquito marks XII and onwards and the Whirlwind V, were neither practically viable or truly reliable on the relatively small ships; Whirlwind III and IV could be trusted, to an extent, but the Mosquitoes were just too big and too twitchy.

The hopefully last of the biplane generation Swordfish could be trusted from the Headland, Bay, Ranger (otherwise 'er' class) and Ruler trade protection carriers, but was no longer really a front line aircraft, and the navy really did need a medium- high performance single engined bomber for the light fleets.

There was a brief interesting stopgap in the Batfish, which was another peripheral result over horse- trading with the Stirling; unwanted Boulton- Paul Defiant airframes, converted to the designed but not yet employed Sea Defiant standard, power turret stripped and torpedo shackles suspended from the structural mounts for the turret.

The only possible justification for this was that it was available, right now, minimally practical, and could fairly easily be kitbashed. Blackburn had attempted to design a turreted fighter for the navy, based on some theoretical study into the self defence abilities of dive bombers; had decided that to be more than a minor deterrent, multiple machine guns in a powered turret were really necessary, which precluded any real bombload- so the design split into an attack bomber and an escort fighter; at which point the Fifth Sea Lord's staff had sent them away with a flea in their ear.

The staff did not really believe in turret fighters, at this point or later, and also found it increasingly difficult to believe in the Batfish; little operational hangups like no proper wing folding mechanism getting in the way, and all that. It did serve, usefully but quirkily, Boulton- Paul weren't up to much else, and a properly converted Batfish TS.II was on the drawing board when, arguably thanks to the far eastern fleet, the thing found it's true and proper wartime role- using the turret for lateral fire in ground attack as a frontal aviation aircraft. Suddenly Defiants were in demand, and Boulton- Paul busy, again.

Back to plan C. Several candidates died in prototype, because by this point things were starting to happen, and combat experience from the Pacific starting to come in- in particular, how none of the contenders really had any survivability that mattered a damn, and only defenders' errors and strategic surprise prevented attacking forces from being routinely massacred.

Usually, the strategic surprise happened to the Americans and the defenders' errors to the Japanese, for the first bit of the war anyway. There were certainly lessons to learn from both.

In the end, it was Fairey that got the nod after all, although not with a bomber- they had a failed candidate for the long range naval escort fighter role that had been filled by the Whirlwind, which was also rapidly becoming the tactical bomber of choice; the Firefly was a single engined type, generally nowhere near the fighting qualities of the Whirlwind, but it was big, it had reasonable performance, a little getting behind Fairey and pushing and a bit of polishing and tinkering here and there, something could maybe be made of it.

The Firefly RT.I was a reasonable stopgap, by all accounts, a bit too strong on the fighter ancestry and possibly even too clean a break with the Swordfish, not quite the damage tolerance, cruising endurance and general abusability that the navy had wanted, but the already tortuous detail design of the Whirlwind's wing simply would not allow for the thing to sit tall enough on the deck to accommodate a torpedo, the other candidates were all far worse, and they needed something.

It used the phase one Griffon engine design, and really should have been available earlier, largely delayed by land based fighters- chiefly Spitfires'- priority claims on the engine. Despite this, it did fit as a reconnaissance/torpedo aircraft on the light fleet carriers, and was fast and long legged enough that at least it made escort more feasible, and it did serve through the rest of the Pacific war.

What was supposed to happen towards the end of the war was that new engine technologies would make new achievements possible, including the previously mythical one size fits all fighter-recon-dive-torpedo-bomber. This was to be achieved by the miracle of turbopropism, and if that sounds too much to ask from an inherently middling hybrid species of engine, you may be right.

Of the many candidates for the job, most of them never made it off the drawing board- of the three that did, two probably should not have. Blackburn had a fighter/attack type that was meant to use the same engine as the Victoria, but if a Griffon powered aircraft was iffy a Crecy powered one would have been nightmarish; it was reworked for the Rolls- Royce Clyde. It is debatable whether this was an improvement.

Supermarine produced such an offhand design that it was clear their minds were elsewhere thinking about jet engines; the quick and dirty jet kitbash of the Spitfire forward fuselage, wings and cockpit area into a tadpole with a Rolls- Royce Derwent engine, that inherited the name originally proposed for the laminar wing Spit, Spiteful (although it was inevitably known in service as the Sh*tfire), was probably more successful than it had any right to be, but their purposed multirole was a bit of a flop.

Westland in the end got it more or less right, ish, once beaten about the head (mostly metaphorically) with large rocks with 'simplify and add lightness' engraved on them, but the process of doing so pushed the Wyvern past the point where it could be in time to take any part in the war. It became increasingly prevalent in the savage wars of peace, though, most of the tidying up after the second great war being done by air groups consisting largely of Whirlwind III, IV and V, Wyvern and the early stages of the Fairey multirole family.

Carrier Based;

Blackburn Ripon, 1928-1932; Napier Lion powered, maximum 96kt, range maximum 356nm usual strike radius 125nm, crew two, single defensive Lewis, 18” torp or 1600lb bombs

Blackburn Baffin, 1931 to 1936; Ripon with Pegasus engine- maximum 118kt, range 426nm usual strike radius 150nm, similar otherwise

Avro Buffalo III; 1932 to 1935 front line service, to 1943 as trainer; initially failed candidate to replace Ripon, re-engined with Kestrel- top 127kt, range 580nm usual strike radius 150nm, 18” torp or 1600lb bombs

Fairey Swordfish I; 1935 on, Pegasus III powered 690hp, maximum 124kt, crew 2 or 3, pilot and observer/navigator, radioman/air gunner, or one crew doing all non-piloting jobs, ceiling 16,500ft, ferry 920nm, usual strike radius 200nm, single 18” torpedo or up to 2,500lb of bombs,

Fairey Swordfish III; autumn 1941 on, Pegasus XVIII powered, 955hp, maximum 132kt, usually crew 3, pilot, observer, radar operator, ceiling 18,420ft, ferry 1120nm, surface search radar, no centreline hardpoint, up to 2,000lb of bombs, rockets and depth charges

Fairey Dolphin; essentially Swordfish with floats and closed cockpit, antisubmarine specialist conversion with radar, less sticking out version, and hydrophones in the floats; winter 1942 to end of war

Boulton- Paul Batfish; winter 1940-41, conversion of unwanted Defiant airframes, without turret, to torpedo bombing role- maximum 258kt, ferry 890nm, usual strike radius 200nm, one pilot only, no defensive armament

Fairey Firefly; autumn 1942, early Griffon engine, maximum 287kt, ferry 1140nm, ceiling 28,000ft, gun armament removed, pilot and observer/navigator, 18” torp or 2000lb bombs to usual strike radius of 275nm

"Wisdom distilled from events which were unforeseeable should find expression not in criticisms of those who did their duty to the best of their ability, but in the taking of wise precautions for the future."-Sir John Jellicoe

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 30, 2016 9:09 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2009 8:46 am
Posts: 465
Yes, I know, story posts in waiting....still, typing this sort of thing up is almost therapy, of a sort. Early jets and turboprops this time.

The formative British experience in the Jet age was unfortunately not naval, but did have a great deal of influence over what the Navy chose to develop. With actual runways to play with the RFC could afford to be more expansive, to try out aircraft that would never have fitted on a carrier deck.

Not that they got any of them right to begin with. Gloster who were picked as the prime development firm because they had very little other work on- that should really have been a hint- turned out to be the exact opposite to the avant-garde, closer to a reincarnation of the Royal Aircraft Factory in pedestrian stolidity.

It is necessary to speculate what could have been done if someone more aerodynamically current had been given the responsibility only to a point; someone was, although not for the British. Westland, with a portfolio of successful designs, one service mainstay and a willingness to experiment, had been asked to assist the Black German exiles in coming up with something for the air wings of the new KGL.

The result was magnificent if almost too late to be of use; the Westland Westfalen owed more than a little to the Whirlwind, but used the power of twin Rolls- Royce Welland engines to afford to be considerably larger, simpler and more cheaply producable.

The Whirlwind had a notably gubbins- stuffed wing, slats and flaps and tabs and things everywhere, mostly to enable it to come and go from the ultimate short field of a carrier deck; the only design the Westfalen had much of a chance from would have been the Habbakuk, but at least that made it much less of a maintenance nightmare.

The shark- fuselaged, swept wing Westfalen was much faster than anything else in the skies at the time, but not a great dogfighter; Westland's influence made it into what it could be- a superb gun platform, much steadier in the air than the initial German attempts and with armament to take advantage of it, four long barrelled, high velocity 30mm revolver cannon that changed the game of air fighting tactics to a degree.

Like the American Lockheed Lightning and the British Whirlwind (and arguably Mosquito), the position of the weapons, in parallel, no convergence necessary, in front of the pilot, no prop in the way, and a much better cannon than the one step up from a mortar the Germans originally had planned, gave it excellent killing reach, often decisive.

(The infamously brilliant but unruly "south Canadian", Beurling, posted to JG2 Von Alten in the hope that they would bring some order into him, put in six kill claims for shots beyond 3,000 yards. He was given three confirmed and two probables. This sort of gun range became practical with digital computing sights in the late sixties, but was pure fluke earlier- for most people.)

Which, being the heavy beast that it was, it had to really- it could run rings round Gloster's overconventional, and overly accident prone, Meteor, and contributed greatly to its' demise and none too soon, but it was a poor match for a properly done single engined jet actually built for agility. It could serve as a fighter- bomber, and did for many years after it's frontline career was over, but it could never have been a naval aircraft.

On the other hand, something of the sort was clearly necessary. Filtering was going to be the big problem- there was an explosion of paper designs as everybody tried to meet every imaginable tactical role in every way possible, including some that the services actually wanted, and sorting out what would actually do was a task and a half.

The most promising things on the drawing board were Supermarine's and Hawker's single engined fighters- Hawker beginning by using the same cannon set as the Westfalen, and a new axial- flow engine that became the Avon; the straight winged Seahawk prototype giving place to the swept wing Hunter, and the navy grudgingly and grumpily, after attempts otherwise, coming to the conclusion that they may have to use the same aircraft as the Army for once.

Supermarine still had a Mitchell shaped hole in the design team, and unfortunately started work on the Swift only half a step behind their own Spiteful, largely because they felt that the Spiteful was a bodge job, quick and dirty and slightly shameful, and they needed to do a proper one.

It turned out to be far worse- the Swift was begun too soon, intended to use centrifugal flow engines, and the butchery committed on the airframe to get an axial flow Avon into it made it a sadly ragged thing beside even their own propeller to jet Spiteful. It would come good, eventually, after such a comprehensive redesign that one wonders why they kept the name.

Gloster made the mistakes in design and tooling that cost them their independence at this point, a private venture to specification F.12/45- an arguably premature attempt at a supersonic service fighter that did convince Hawker's, who already had a controlling financial interest, to pull the plug.

Other interestingly doomed ventures at the same time included Saunders- Roe's seaplane jet fighter, which also caused the demise of the company, although for the opposite reason; it was a brilliant attempt to meet a fundamentally bonkers specification, which meant a design team singled out as worth their hire and a company with little production to defend itself with, being bought over by English Electric.

Miles did themselves in in much the same way, succeeding beyond their ability to consolidate upon, with a series of supersonic research aircraft and the world's first supersonic fighter, the Musketeer, which largely proved a false dawn, it being a long time before there was or could be a successful follow-up.

It was a land based fighter, though, for the good and sufficient reason that the short field performance was dubious in the extreme, which looked to be the major issue with early jets- arguably the Royal Navy was better off in this than the USN, having a smaller number of larger ships to begin with. Not that it was infused by a spirit of optimism or anything.

Great hopes had been held for the turboprop, at some points it had been expected to be the best of both worlds, but reality set in, the problems of supersonic propeller tips began to assume the proportions of a bottleneck, and it began to look as though there was at most going to be a generation of stopgaps before the new, jet, state of the art fully asserted itself.

The American Skyraider came from a similar vein of thought, and established itself as a benchmark to beat- there were actually larger and more powerful late prop jobs, but they too (like the magnificent but operationally stillborn De Havilland Hornet) were sacrificed to a sense that they were not where the future was.

Westland were at this point well into their own self- destructive phase, riding high in brilliance but without the productive assets to defend it- although they had certainly designed more good aircraft than Blackburn, they had relatively limited production facilities subcontracting extensively, and arguably did themselves more damage upgrading too drastically trying to develop them. (“Their” last and oddest, Warlock, was de facto an English Electric aircraft, produced under the old name to avoid the stigma associated.)

What emerged from the process, though, definitely benefited from being designed as if it was going to be state of the art rather than stopgap- the Wyvern single turboprop fighter bomber, shark- fuselage, low broad thin- chord wings looking for a sweet spot between speed and agility, pilot basically sitting on the engine in a high bubble for excellent visibility, provision for radar antennas in the wings for night ops;

Slower than the Whirlwind but more agile, more maintenance and pilot friendly and capable of operating off the light fleet carriers, it and the Skyraider competed for developing- powers' international sales, essentially the dividing line being that if the purchasers' likely enemies had any air power themselves, the fighter like qualities of the Wyvern carried the day, if air to ground was all that was necessary the Skyraider.

Subsequent developments reduced both of them to the same category, once all sides' jets had matured enough that they too began to be offered for sale, but for the late forties and early fifties the Wyvern served the Royal Navy well.

It was not a first-line fighter, though, nor could it be made into one; simply lacked the absolute performance for the job. De Havilland were busy doing themselves a great deal of damage at this point by deciding they had outgrown the old school and trying too hard to be different;

refusing to listen to the other pioneers in the fields and not learning from Miles and Vickers cost them arguably the chance to break the sound barrier, the chance to build a ground-breaking new fighter and a generation of leadership, two of Geoffrey de Havilland's sons being killed in flight testing.

The DH.108 Swallow was one of the purest examples of hubris of the twentieth century, and nemesis did follow in its' wake. It was not long before many were wishing the 110 had gone with it, albeit with less human cost if possible, the Vampire clearly trying far too hard to be out of the ordinary to the extent that it ignored good practice.

It could function from a carrier deck, it had a clear nose for radar and a reasonable reach for an early jet, it had the promise of being an effective all weather type, and it was different from the RFC's Hunters, but it was fragile, wobbly, bobbly, structural nightmare to look after, difficult of maintenance and a step behind in combat effectiveness.

After a few years trying, they basically gave up. De Havilland would have another chance, but the maintenance record of the Sea Vixen was what would destroy them eventually- one of the worst aircraft ever for that, setting the absurd record of one thousand maintenance hours per flying hour.

While it would have seemed at the time unthinkable to kill off a winning team, in hindsight the Hornet was their last really good aircraft and everything after only really brought pain to British aviation. After the stratospheric Vickers Victoria, fitting square cornered windows to an airliner was unforgivable.

Which still left the RN short of a credible carrier borne fighter, and although there were some calls to simply re- engine the Wyvern or at least produce a jet version, Westland were having problems at this point too, major artistic differences between Petter, the Black Germans, and the rest of the design team.

Blackburn were not to be trusted with a fighter design at this phase, the rather later FRS.3 supersonic Buccaneer being as close as they ever got; Fairey had a few bright ideas that ultimately led to a dubiously successful outer screen interceptor and a very successful Army medium bomber, and would before long provide the backbone of the navy's helicopter and rotodyne strength;

but all they had for the moment was one of the ugliest aircraft ever to fly, an attempt to get as much bulk as possible onto a single propeller (with hideously complex double turboprop arrangement driving contrarotating props, initially, subsequently replaced by single Rolls- Royce Clyde much to everyone's dismay- because that meant it would work and they would be stuck with it), for antisubmarine and airborne early warning purposes, the deeply unlovely Gannet. As mixed blessings go, it was a biggie.

As part of the fallout from Westland's internal feuds, a small group of Black Germans took an idea to anyone who would buy into it, and found listening ears in Bristol, who turned it into something the navy was interested in. The Bristol Billhook was almost but not quite a delta; sharply swept wings, lean, tapered forward fuselage, cockpit fairly far back, clear nose and aft- set engines in the fashion of the much later Warthog.

Two of the most interesting things the Billhook could do were in the field of agility- the second prototype introduced, or reintroduced, canards to British service; the third did something far more radical- graphite thrust deflector fins in the jet stream.

Several of the Russian- Red German, really- heavy artillery rockets were guided for the first portion of the flight, and that was the chosen means; it tended to fail too soon on more powerful rockets, but it might be a useful addition to the agility of a turbojet. It turned out that it very much was indeed.

The Billhook was competitive for agility with the late propeller generation, could run rings around the Vampire, Venom, and the rest of the early jets, and it proved the most successful of the carrier based first generation- for a while.

It was ahead of its' time in one very illustrative way; it was exactly what a large school of American minimalist/purist theoreticians were talking about in the seventies, the light weight, high energy, visual rules dogfighter. The circumstances of it's exit from service should have been better remembered at the time.

The Billhook was built around two late centrifugal flow Bristol Artemis engines, and a very tight, lightweight, very highly optimized design at that; the growth potential of the thing was too limited to keep it in service once more advanced jet fighter bombers and fighter- interceptors began to emerge. It was a great stunting aircraft, and used as an advanced trainer into the late sixties largely to keep it available for aerobatic displays, but like the Wyvern it was in many ways the last of an old school.

What succeeded it on carrier decks was, bizarrely enough, Swift FA.3. Supermarine were not too proud to listen, and had taken great interest in the whole transonic drag, area rule issue, and the 1953 Swift bore more or less the same relation to the 1948 Swift as the later American F-106 did to the F-102.

Why they kept the name the same after such a major redesign is the mystery, perhaps mainly to wipe out the memory of the earlier failure. If so, it was a risky business strategy, but one that paid off. Larger and heavier than the Hunter, it was a better weight lifter and could afford larger fuel fraction and payload, could be wired for early guided missiles, a solid multirole type, much to everyone's surprise who remembered the first attempt.

On the heavier land- based aircraft, the navy left the war with a relatively small collection of high performance but still propeller bombers and maritime patrol. At least that meant they could be replaced without having to sack eighty percent of the personnel involved.

After sitting down to have a think about it, the RNAS Modernization Plan reckoned several types were going to be necessary; being able to use the same medium bomber off carriers and for land based coastal defence, as the Mosquito could, was far too useful an advantage to throw away, so it would be designed primarily as a carrier aircraft, and needed to be a good one- interim conversions and stopgaps were better than settling before the state of the art was sufficiently mature.

Folding wing Canberras nearly happened, probably would have if Blackburn had not finally, after years of grotesque mediocrity, actually produced a genuinely great aircraft. Sixty shambling abominations were retroactively justified by the magnificent Buccaneer, and arguably they never really got over the shock.

On the main bomber force, in view of the threats starting to be arrayed against them, it seemed as if the route to survival was performance- greater than the rapidly changing state of the art could provide, unfortunately. There would be a need for an air freighter for distant operations support, parts and ground crew, there would definitely be a need for tankers, there probably wasn't a need for jet performance but there might be a business case for commonality of parts and stores for a jet MPA, all of this was going to be expensive.

So why not try to kill as many birds as possible with the first salvo of grapeshot, and order a first generation jet bomber that could serve as a learning experience, help push on the state of the art, and be later adapted into the support roles, tanker, airborne early warning and so forth, for its' higher performance successor- the older propeller types first doing the same for them?

The RFC found themselves doing more or less the same by default, there were brilliant things on paper but the state of the art would take a great deal more of a run up. The naval candidate was designed for a short span in the first line and multiple purposes in their second career; the RFC wanted a service bomber, but found itself doing the same as the defences thickened and the minimum necessary specifications rose.

Who did what was a great source of confusion and surprise; with the navy using Supermarine and Vickers bombers, Saunders-Roe and Shorts MPA, it was not the most likely possibility that got the nod. Vickers' Valiant was the most proficient candidate, but Shorts' Sperrin was the most solid- literally; designed with flying boat style structure to withstand decades of abuse as an airborne pack mule.

This did cost it in flying performance, being relatively little real advance over the Victoria- not as radical as jet propulsion should have made it by a long shot, but enough to justify itself for the time being, and it was quite active in the small wars of peace. More successfully so than the Valiant, actually, which was pushed beyond it's limitations.

Ambition and optimism and the pace of development outrunning materials science had left the Valiant with a dangerously brittle main wing spar- other aircraft had made the same misstep, although not the Sperrin- and while replacement was possible, it was expensive, enough so to be feasible for niche aircraft that could not be easily replaced, but for a first generation bomber needing other major upgrades, and with potential successors baying at it's heels?

The Sperrin was essentially done in by the Valiant's replacement, based on a civil airliner with a short- field performance requirement, capable of larger payloads carried sufficiently faster and more efficiently that it made good sense for the navy to replace their mules too.

Apart from the historic flight and air show appearances, Shorts' interim bomber was the last of the first generation to leave active service, the last of the turbulent generation which calmed down as benchmarks were established, practicalities grasped, aircraft lifespans lengthened, and the circumstances and times in which they might be used ticked closer to midnight.


Westland Westfalen; june '44 entry, twin Rolls Royce Welland engines, crew one, max 516kt, most efficient speed 396kt, ferry range 940nm, service ceiling 37,600ft, four long ER2 cannon with 110rpg, racks for up to 2,000lb bombs and rockets at severe price in performance

de Havilland Sea Vampire; RR Goblin engine, apr '46, max 476kt, ferry 1060nm, service ceiling 42,700ft, four Hispano cannon, 150rpg, up to 1000lb bombs and rockets

Saunders- Roe Saracen; jan '47 service entry, retires feb '51, twin Metro-Vick Beryl engines, max 445kt, ferry 850nm, ceiling 48,000ft, four 20mm Hispano w/200rpg, up to 2,000lb bombs

Supermarine Swift F.1; initially RR Nene, bodged into early Avon, service mar 1950- feb 54, maximum 556kt, ferry 760kt, ceiling 45, 400ft, twin ADEN 30mm and 150rpg, 2000lb ordnance, ranging gun radar only

Bristol Billhook; may 1951, land based from 1959, final retirement aug '69, twin Bristol Artemis engines, maximum 584kt, most efficient 490kt, ferry maximum 820nm, service ceiling 43,000ft, two 30mm ER4 cannon (30x184mm), 100rpg, no more than 1,000lb payload

Hawker Sea Hunter; 1952 service entry, 100- series Avon engine, maximum 605kt, ferry maximum 1450nm, service ceiling nominal 50,000ft, four 30mm ADEN cannon with 150rpg, four hardpoints for up to 5,000lb of bombs and rockets

Supermarine Swift FA.3; 1955 service entry, 200- series Avon engine, maximum 625kt, ferry maximum 1125nm, service ceiling 45,800ft, two 30mm ADEN, 150rpg and proper AI radar, up to 7,000lb of bombs, rockets and missiles including early AAM


de Havilland Hornet; service entry oct '45, serves until mar 52, twin Python engines, crew one, maximum 21,400lb, maximum 422kt, cruise 250kt, ferry 2280nm, usual strike radius 600nm, service ceiling 41,400ft, up to 6,000lb load including gunpod, two torpedoes, early ASM;

Blackburn Firecrest; A-S Python engine, service entry aug '46, leaves service nov '50, maximum 364kt, cruise 215kt, ferry range 950nm, strike radius 300nm, service ceiling 31,600ft, four 20mm cannon, up to 4,000lb bombs or rockets

Westland Wyvern; service entry feb 1948, replaced by Buccaneer, last leaves service apr '58, maximum weight 26,112lb, crew one, Clyde mark 118 turboprop, maximum 410kt, cruise 348kt, ferry range 1380nm, strike radius 400nm, either four 30mm ER2 cannon at 60rpg or four 20mm Hispano, 90rpg and AI mk.XVI radar, up to 4,000lb bomb, rocket, torpedo or missile payload (four Red Flash AAM possible.)

de Havilland Sea Venom; serves 1952-leaves first line 1958, attack trainer until 1964, DH Ghost engine, maximum 556kt, ferry 934nm, usual strike radius 225nm, four Hispano cannon at 150rpg, up to 2500lb bombs and rockets

Ugly Thing;

Too many Blackburn aircraft to count, specifications vary;

Fairey Gannet; single Clyde turboprop, maximum 292kt, ferry range 1580nm, service ceiling 27,000ft, crew 3 (two tandem and one in 'shed' just forward of tail), ASW version with small surface search radar, sonobuoys, magnetic anomaly detector and 2,000lb of depth charges or torpedoes; AEW version with air search radar that removes after weapon operator position to plant dish antenna with two crew on workstations in bomb bay; MR version with large surface search radar in bomb bay monitored from aft station; no attack version.

Bombing and maritime patrol;

Supermarine Shackleton MR.1; maritime reconnaissance adaptation of Swiftsure- the wartime equivalent being the MB.II; four Clyde turboprop, maximum 367kt, cruise 284kt, service ceiling 36,200ft, ferry range 3,420nm, usual 12 hour patrols, crew of eight, reconnaissance mapping radar, magnetics, esm and sonobuoys, usual up to 5,000lb torpedoes and depth charges

English Electric Canberra MRB.2; service entry 1949, maximum weight 56,000lb, two Avon mk.109, maximum 504kt, cruise 365kt, service ceiling 55,000ft, ferry range 3,010nm, normal strike radius 750nm, crew two, up to 8,000lb weapon load, options include sea surveillance radar pod and extra crewman

Blackburn Buccaneer S.1; service entry 1955, carrier capable, crew two, maximum weight 60,800lb, two Gyron Junior engines, top speed 564kt, ferry range 2,670nm, strike radius 800nm, service ceiling 38,750ft, up to 8,000lb load in internal bay and four pylons

Shorts Sperrin B.1, prot.1948, service preproduction 1950, service july 1951-march 1958 as bomber, tanker/transport versions until apr 1967; maximum takeoff weight 127,000lb, length 102ft span 106ft, 30deg leading edge 15deg trailing edge sweepback (significant change from prototype), four Avon mk 114, maximum speed 516kt, cruise 440kt, service ceiling 47,000ft, ferry range 3,490nm, usual strike radius 1,450nm, crew five (pilot, flight engineer, navigator, electronic warfare officer, bomb aimer), 24,000lb maximum bombload; as tanker stretched to 42,000lb dispensable fuel

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 01, 2017 7:09 pm 

Joined: Sun Feb 13, 2011 8:30 am
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Intresting updates as always, is the Billhook a Folland Gnat by another name?

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 01, 2017 8:31 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2009 8:46 am
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No, although it was probably replaced by the Gnat- quite likely the Gnat would have been, in this TL, designed as a rival to it; Petter would not have been a happy man after the arm twisting it took to get the Whirlwind developments out of him, and likely parted on very bad terms from Westland, even more determined to follow his own idiosyncratic path.

The Billhook is actually descended from a napkinwaffe (for looks, the @ Ta-283), a flight of German fancy that went elsewhere as part of the fallout from Westland's design team's internal feuds following Petter's departure, and the almost too sensible Bristol kept the best bits and threw away the raving lunacy, performance overestimates and collections of small moving parts; at that, it probably is too complicated and high maintenance for a light fighter.

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PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2017 9:23 am 

Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2009 8:46 am
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The second and third generation;

Given the terms the Second World War ended on, it seemed as though there were going to be a great many chances to live up to the Navy's official motto, and technical progress could not be allowed to stand still. No matter how happy the navy was with it's range of aircraft, there was always something more to do. Always a little further.

'Per Caelum Ad Decoquo' [through the sky to bankruptcy] at times seemed far more realistic than per ardua ad astra, and the RN nearly won it's perpetual battle with the Treasury by finally horrifying them into giving up, quivering in a corner and actually spending money. But not quite.

The Swift was, as improved, a reasonable fighter/light attack aircraft, with the Sea Hunter as second and land- based version, rather easier to look after; Spitfire and Hurricane in modern guise, it was often said- but for all the action they actually saw, in the various 'conflicts of settlement' that followed the second great war and the new political polarities of the world, the bloody friction that came with adjustment and realignment, there was a large and increasing distance between them and the frontier of the possible.

Miles' Musketeer was fairly capable in raw performance, but it was dubious in terms of armament and in no way sea- going or remotely practical for carrier operations. English Electric's Lightning was already slated to succeed it, but whether that was any more naturally a naval fighter- fractionally less impossible was probably the best term.

It was also an actual step back in armament from the Swift, with fewer missiles and no cannon to begin with, and arguably a less effective air intercept radar; not the natural seed of a next generation. That and it had a considerable amount of maturing to do before reaching anything like a definitive variant.

As a light attack and day fighter, the Swift would do for the moment- what it could not reasonably be stretched to was a night/all weather, medium range radar guided missile armed, fleet defender. Which would have ideally also been supersonic.

In some ways, the success of the Swift may actually have been counterproductive; it took perhaps too much of the pressure off the fleet defender type, and meant that seriously optimised designs became feasible, unbalanced oddities that really should have been better worked out before making it to service.

Considering what the rest of the world was up to, the Russians had huge gaps in their structure- no equivalent of the Swift or Hunter at all, they had purebred fighters that were reasonably capable in daylight, with the bare margins of air to air missile capability but no strike at all, strike fighters that were helpless against any moderately capable defence, and were making a beginning on radar guided air to air- but mostly with scaled down or modified tactical bomber designs with no close- fighting capability, or for that matter ability to defend themselves against intruder bombers.

The Americans, on the other hand- still largely potential rivals rather than enemies- were leaning quite hard on the future, with the supersonic but short- range armed F-100, 101 and 102 in land based service, and the brilliantly bonkers F-103 a crazy dream that, it looked then, might just possibly be made to work. (As pathetic as it's armament was and as wide it's turning circle, the main advantage of its' speed would have been the ability to go home, refuel rearm and come back for another go. Its' operational procedure would probably have been an armed variation of circuits and bumps.)

At sea, the USN was in a transitional period, with it's mainstay Grumman, leaving straight winged jets, F9F-2 Panther and kin, behind for swept wing subsonics, F9F-6 Cougar, with supersonic gun and short range missile fighter F-11 Tiger in near prospect, and side contributions from Vought, which had produced one late prop design (the magnificent but unruly Corsair, brilliant in the air but a real challenge to get it safely there and back again) and one somewhat mad early almost- delta jet (Cutlass- the later version of which was theoretically Sparrow capable, but deeply dubious as an aircraft), trying again with a conventional airframe that actually succeeded rather well- the Crusader. Douglas had another delta, supersonic but again basically a day fighter.

Great things were, however, not far away, Douglas and McDonnell planning a merger that could result in the effective USN weapons system being grafted to a USAF ambition- driven airframe, and that would potentially be a world class fighter- which indeed it turned out to be, a little further down the line.

They were probably more committed to the idea of a fleet interceptor than the RN, strictly speaking, Commonwealth forces being all too well aware of the frequent need to close with and visually identify targets in the smaller, scruffier wars around the fringes of Empire, particularly as between Arab or African factions who may be using exactly the same aircraft apart from the national markings.

Telescopic optics to do this from range and their necessary stabilisation gear would fit much more easily on a bomber than fighter airframe, which was another interesting thought; but a genuine fighter-interceptor was some distance, perhaps two generations, away. Or should have been.

Interim solutions were possible, but there were three primary candidates for a naval heavy fighter; Gloster had put forward a large- radomed delta wing fighter, running out of good G- names they had called it the Javelin, for the same operational requirement that the Lightning- with an inferior but not massively so weapon system on a vastly more capable airframe- had won.

Buried in the submission was a plan for a second generation, thinner winged, much faster version, and after seriously shouting at them for not bringing that one up to begin with, the RFC turned their back on them, and rather short of money at this point (close to being wound up entirely by Hawker-Siddeley, who held controlling shares), they had a go at turning it into a naval fighter.

The Gloster Harpoon, as it became, was not far off a British Cutlass unfortunately- reasonable weapon system mated to highly dubious airframe, there were a number of basic inadequacies with the Javelin's control setup and hydraulics that were actually magnified when it was redrafted to a supersonic design, and what was initially written down as teething troubles unfortunately failed to go away.

Attempts to palm it off on the RFC failed, and the type was not so much withdrawn from service as allowed to lapse- the maintenance requirements were indecently high, and it was much simpler to not bother repairing them and just phase them out. Several served as target drones, and apparently gave much more satisfaction in that role than they had as fighters. Much the same happened to the parent company.

They may, however, have been better than what replaced them. de Havilland had a twin engined, twin boom and slab tail type, running out the last of the configuration, the Sea Vixen which earned a reputation as probably the second worst maintenance headache the RN ever deployed, shattering records in the field of needing to be reassembled after every flight. (Good training for Space Shuttles, it was later said.)

The number of man hours it took to get a Sea Vixen ready to fly again after a barrier patrol would have sufficed to build a Mosquito from scratch, according to legend- and nearly accurately, too. Engine stripping was proposed to replace field gun racing at the Royal Tournament, and ruled out on the grounds that the public could not be kept in their seats for the best part of a week.

Nobody expected de Havilland to produce something quite so hopelessly gremlin- ridden; a great deal of thought, discussion and design effort had gone into the Vixen, it looked excellent on paper, and it's increasingly miserable record in practise was more of a shock than a disappointment to begin with.

Its' problems could no more be managed and tamed than the Harpoon's could, despite effort; eventually, by dint of enormous, untiring effort on behalf of legions of air mechanics, and mirror images on the other side- Russian doctrine being to win as far as possible on the first move, axe theory- if their first stroke could be met by serviceable Vixens, that should be enough and they could safely be put back together while the russians were reeling from the failure (hopefully) of their opening gambit-

eventually, the number of hours required to keep them in the air was brought down from the dizzyingly gargantuan to the merely horrific, just before it was decided they really weren't worth the candle. They had more room for search radar and avionics than they had electrical power to drive it, and their lifting capacity was unreliable, loadout was always on a case by case basis. And there were better options on the drawing board.

In fact, looked at one way, the fleet interceptor mission did have an inherent lethality about it, in that it killed off more British aviation companies than anything except World War III. de Havilland became a faint shadow of their former selves after that, Gloster were gone, and certainly the next contestant suffered by it.

The RFC was going through a range of experimentals at this stage, arguably suffering from too many bright ideas all at once and certainly far too many prototypes; borrowing one of them seemed a distinct possibility, but what? Straining budgets and tired maintenance crews were as much a factor- more- there than they were at sea, and they had more good ideas than they could afford to bring into service or really had roles for.

One of the most likely, and probably the one that got away, was the Hawker P.1121 Halberd; originally an interceptor design, based on the general plan of One Big Engine, with underfuselage intakes and a solid radar nose; a little behind the Lightning in development, stretched for an attempt at the outer barrier role but ruled out as single engine, single crew, and revised again as a battlefield fighter.

The Halberd was easily supersonic, initially slated for a Gyron engine, that overtaken by the rather more mature and efficient RB106 Moray, had the raw power for considerable payload, and looked promising enough to replace most of the existing battlefield types and light bombers. The main problem was that the RFC wanted all of them.

The other, and arguably more serious problem was that it would be a major dent in the Navy's already overstrained and rapidly depleting supply of one armed paper hangers. Hawker's design was very overambitious, in the field of pilot workload; arguably it was a fighter- interceptor, medium range missiles and barrier patrol capability, at least a generation too soon- needed at the very least a weapons officer to manage the search radar and missiles.

Partly because of this, its' deck landing qualities were execrable. The RFC found it a handful too, and operated it in harness with Lightning and Arrow interceptors for many years until it eventually flowered into its' full potential in the age of solid state electronics.

What the Navy could get their hands on was a blue sky design from Supermarine that they were quite surprised that anyone was interested in; originally intended to be a twin engined Swift, with vague hopes of getting the bomber gig that the Buccaneer nailed down- it was more of a strike fighter than a bomber, really, more agile but less stable, in the same realm of flying brick- hood (which was simply more believable in a Blackburn than a Supermarine aircraft, so it never really got full credit for that), but basically redundant. Didn't really have the payload at the strike radius to qualify.

Second place to the Buccaneer wasn't that bad on any absolute scale, could probably afford to lose a little structural weight actually, and the aerodynamics didn't look too bad- given a decent engine fit it might turn out to be quite useful until the next generation came along. Looking around for said engine, the obvious did indeed occur- the Buccaneer was getting Speys, so why not go for commonalty?

It was lighter than the Bucc, usually operated in thinner air, and the Spey proved to be perfectly capable of supersonic flight; fixing battle damage was difficult, but routine maintenance was easy enough- a blessed relief after the Vixen. (It might have been capable of sustained supersonic flight in dry thrust if fitted with Morays, but never got that much investment.)

It did have a very strange radar fit- almost a step back, a large emitter antenna in the nose and receptors on the wingtips and tail; this made for a simpler main installation, that could have decent levels of power put through it, and surprisingly good resolution- it was quite jam resistant, and an electronic support version was a fairly easy conversion.

The basic problem with the Scimitar is that it was designed as a stopgap. It had the structural strength and robustness, and the engine power, to be potentially at least a rival to the Phantom- the American fighter may have had the edge as an airframe and as a fighter-bomber, the Scimitar with complex weapon systems- but it was never fully developed as such, and indeed never really pushed to the limit until it was already on it's way to the breakers.

Which a great many regretted, particularly as it's fleet interceptor/heavy fighter successor was by a long margin the absolute worst maintenance abomination the RN ever expected its' air wing crews to endure. It should have been no surprise that walking right out on the bleeding edge came at a price in blood, sweat, toil and tears.

It really was a English Electric design, albeit based on a Petter back-of-envelope, itself based on an idea Westland had had back in the twenties, but it was produced under the Westland brand- name partly for historical resonance, partly because it was obvious even then that a monster was emerging from the drawing board and English Electric felt their domestic business might be damaged by association.

The Warlock's essential problem was that it was not designed as a stopgap. There were two alternative routes, an interceptor, large, fast, stable and heavily electrified, or a dogfighter, energetic, nimble and agile, and the Warlock's essential seed of disaster was to try to produce a large, fast, energetic, agile aircraft with long range missiles and advanced avionics. To the limit. No compromises. The worst thing the project could have done was to succeed.

It combined the pilot- eroding qualities of the Halberd with the maintainer- eroding qualities of the Sea Vixen, if not actually worse. It was expensive to build, too- the only flat surface on the entire aircraft was the face of the instrument panel, supposedly (not far from the truth, at least in aerodynamic terms), complicated and difficult, especially in the advanced metals that proved necessary, and it's only saving grace, the only thing that saved it from a rapid trip to the scrapyard, was that it delivered.

It could outmanoeuvre almost anything else in the sky at that date, being almost a repeat of the Whirlwind in how gizmotic it was- flaps, slats, canards, boundary layer control, puffer jets and main motor vector thrust all tied in to the normal flight controls and usable in manoeuvring. As slick a design as it was when tucked in, it was also exceedingly fast- joining the MiG-25 in potential airframe melting territory. And it retained a degree of agility at speed that made it almost impossible to touch with beyond visual range missiles for many years.

Which it carried in abundance, internal weapons bay and semi- recessed, and a large and highly credible radar with infrared and optical support systems; it was more than world class, it was the class of the world. The main problem was that it's crews thought it even more of a nightmare than the enemy.

The reason that Warlocks came in squadrons of twelve, it was said, was so that two of them might be operational at any given moment. The reason they remained in service for any length of time is that those two had a decent chance of going out and doing a squadron's job of work anyway.

Worse than not working, being unable to fly, is the state of just being a little bit broken, of being a maybe, of having some part of the appallingly complex flight control system down, but enough of the rest up that it might be feasible, and depending on how necessary it was to take the risk, well... the Warlock had an accident and incident rate that looked like something from the 1920's.

How many were actually genuinely lost in action, as opposed to having the wrong bit break at the wrong time when it happened to be in a war zone, is highly debatable. The debit side of the balance sheet is deeply unclear, and there is a distinct possibility that the type remains technically undefeated in air to air combat, although there were certainly a few that fell out of the sky in places where operations were being conducted.

The oddest thing it achieved was the survival of the British car industry; it was specifically worse than the Vixen in skilled hours, did not need mechanics to look after it, it needed engineers- the number of ground crew that achieved high qualifications as part of Warlock squadrons simply so they could do their jobs, and then burnt out and left the navy looking for other work, may not have literally saved Britain as a manufacturing nation, but certainly contributed.

It may also have been responsible for the Royal Navy's rum ration surviving into the mid- eighties. Captain Ward's comment that “On the day World War Three breaks out, I want one. For all the long years of standing guard to make sure that it doesn't, dear God keep me away from the bastard things.” goes far to explain why.

It was a shattering tactical success at an extremely high technical price, and it's eventual departure from service had more to do with the damage it was doing to recruitment than any loss of military standing. A simpler successor was desperately needed.

Fortunately, they were not the only kind, breed or class of fighter to fly off RN decks. In addition to the heavies, there were on most first line fleet carriers, and the older carriers and later escort types deployed solely with, a body of multirole rotary wing and a body of light fighter/attack, to make up the numbers for routine operations and low intensity.

That had been the Billhook, and the way the large fleet carriers scaled the Swift could fill the role there for a while, but Hawker's bonkers ideas division had a plan. Considerably aided and abetted by Bristol, who had looked at these newfangled helicopter things, decided there was no frontier in them, and they could come up with something that would do much better, provided they could give it enough oomph.

The idea of a vertical launch and landing jet fighter, with jet combat performance as opposed to the interwar- esque numbers even the best of the rotary wings were giving off, was so obvious and so potentially brilliant, at first glance it really is amazing how few other people managed it. It becomes less amazing when looking at the problems the Kestrel, Harrier and Harrow encountered in development.

Unicycle configurations simply did not work- far too easy to fall off the thrust column, and any damaged or malfunctioning aircraft could not be brought home; two was worse, almost as unstable and with an additional set of things to go wrong; most aviation firms went millipedal, attempted to get by with separate lifting jets, which could work but would be pure dead weight in normal flight.

Rolls- Royce were being a little bit malicious, selling things that wouldn't work to people who didn't know better- they had an interesting line of lift jets- and Bristol were being ambitious but (potentially) rubbish, pursuing diverging lines of effort, and for once it was not the Admiralty that banged their heads together and told them to get on with it, it was the RFC.

Put the Rolls- Royce work on airflow diversion together with the Bristol work on semi- automatic engine control, and something viable might emerge, they thought- and they were more or less right, although not immediately. Initially it was hoped that the Kestrel would have a supersonic dash capability, this rapidly went away for airflow reasons, it turned out that vector thrust or not, tailplanes were still not merely optional.

The Harrier that emerged as first viable V/STOL was actually the scaled down version of the dream; the Pegasus could move the volumes of air required, some nifty ductwork mean the thing could be balanced in the hover, but the sides of the fuselage, and the aerodynamic control surfaces, tended to melt and go runny on reheat.

Names, incidentally- it was originally supposed to be Kestrel proof of concept/trainer, Harrier supersonic fighter, but the chamber burning issue- too often, it did- meant that the four nozzle subsonic version got loaded out with fighter avionics and acquired the Harrier name; when the BS100 Sleipnir (Odin's horse, maintaining the theme) succeeded with a three nozzle layout, burner in the aft third, it needed a new name, and partly because of the trouble it had been, partly for ground attack purposes, became the Harrow.

It very quickly became obvious that it was not a simple aircraft by RFC standards, that the idea of rough field deployment, camouflage hides, so on was somewhat mistaken; “if you really wanted to be able to do that, mate, I've got a set of plans for a Sopwith Camel stashed around here somewhere...” there was more to a viable airfield than just a set of runways, a high performance aircraft needed more technical support than most open fields could provide.

It did, however, have major potential advantages as a naval aircraft, serious effect from compact decks, and it most certainly was a simple aircraft by RNAS standards- the supersonic Harrow was the only thing that came even within an order of magnitude of the heavy interceptors. Warlock maintenance technicians transferred to a Harrier squadron considered it light duty.

The Harrow did have a nasty habit of melting older flight decks, the modern fleet carriers' heavier structures could cope as could some land bases, the Harrier was kinder, easier to look after, and far from the subsonic type being replaced by the supersonic as most expected, the Harrow served predominantly as the utility filler- in on large carriers, and as spearhead/defence suppression for shore based units, and the Harrier much more numerous, on escort carriers, in RFC service, and frontier forces.

Forward basing was never possible to the extent originally envisaged, but the work done on mobile servicing facilities did bear fruit to a degree- merchant carriers would become vastly easier in future, if they were ever needed again. The hardest place to base a Harrier would probably be on a medium warship, one of the Cruisers, whose flight deck and stores space were all taken up already with more conventional, rotary, vertical flight.

Tactically, what the Harrier and Harrow do is raise the bar; they are more than capable of dealing with the second line, counterinsurgency, second hand relics- they make brushfire wars significantly more dangerous for the opposition, and there are a good number of small conflicts they have helped keep a lid on. How well they would really do against the latest offerings of Mikoyan and Sukhoi- or McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics for that matter- somewhat debatable.

In bomber terms, the Buccaneer was maturing rapidly, and it's two most serious problems had become sufficiently evident that sensible, unequivocal things could be done about them. A few wild- eyed design studies that would have to be followed up later, but a good interim solution would be an engine upgrade, to something more appropriate for a bomber for a start, something that could give greater payload, greater reach or ideally both. A fully laden S.1 could not be got reliably off the deck with Gyron Juniors.

Bypass engines- turbofans- were starting to appear, although the first was a civil engine, like a bomber engine but not quite as heavily built, and far too large for retrofitting to any existing type; the idea of a Canberra with Conway engines has some appeal, but would have needed major reengineering.

It might have been a better enduring brushfire war type than the RFC's TSR2, but that could come later- the main need was for a primary deterrence bomber, world war III capable, the small war and peacekeeping needs could be filled in later. It was also a major sidetrack that happily lasted just long enough for Rolls-Royce to produce a smaller low-bypass turbofan that could be crammed into a fighter or tactical bomber airframe.

The RB168 Spey was a natural adaption for the Buccaneer S.2, needed some slight structural and a lot more internal- gubbins rearranging, but with only a small rise in maximum take off weight- up from 60,500 to 63,600lb- added four thousand pounds to the maximum payload, pylons to allow a broader selection of missiles to be carried, and four hundred nautical miles to the strike radius, and considerable margin of operational safety.

The other major issue the Buccaneer had was avionics. It's performance took it into realms where the human hand and eye were barely up to the task- it was tasked for naval land attack as well, and hurdling far- foreign treetops at 560 knots with pen and paper navigation was not the most reliably target- hitting procedure in the world. (Albeit still better than RFC Bomber Command.) Guided weapons needed something to guide them, as well.

Improvements in missile guidance bled across, but it was a real test of a crew's sense of humour to be told their attack navigation package was a modified version of that for the Blue Steel standoff bomb. The attack radar was also more of an adaptation than an innovation- the TSR2 was in severe trouble at this point, being essentially overloaded with avionics that tended to interfere with each other and present an almost unmanageable workload.

Ferranti were actually quite happy to get a chance to try out the system in relative isolation from the secure datalink that kept modulating it and the deception jammer that kept frying it, and Blue Parrot found a new home on the nose of the S.2- albeit with a more generous radome and more need for guided standoff, the naval and land versions did quickly diverge.

It was, generally, a very successful and very satisfactory aircraft; the only reason to replace the S.2 was that something more was possible, not that it was necessary. And its' replacement on the large fleet carriers turned out to be an upgraded Buccaneer.

Blackburn, too, had originally proposed a supersonic version, the P.150, but that it would need more development work before being practical; much of that work had been done as a result of other projects, and there was certainly a viable engine for it; there was very little parts commonalty between the S.2 and the FRS.3, and it nearly did change name, but the strongest voices against it were the test pilots. It just flew like a Bucc. With, admittedly, extras.

Such as a more than merely nominal air to air capability, in theory about fighting through to a defended target but which rapidly expanded in practise for essentially Warlock related reasons to being able to function as a backup fleet defender; four semi-recess missile slips sized for medium AAM, with recon or jamming pod alternatives; far more thrust that did more than merely push acceleration up a bit, allowed for an almost doubling of effective payload; in addition to radar improvements, a more extensive countermeasures and signal- sniffing suite; and so on.

In fact the FRS3's avionics suite was designed backwards from the Warlock's; calculating how many maintenance hours could reasonably be spent on it, and
how much looking after each bit of kit took, and how much of the wish list they could actually afford to carry. (Several cartoons emerged around this point showing Buccs with AWACS radomes, magnetometers, towed arrays...)

They got most of the useful bits, anyway. The FRS.3 was a bit optimistic in description, though- it could certainly do the strike part, recon with a reasonable set of gadgetry was fine, but fighter? Interceptor, perhaps. Speed, but the boundary- layer system was, after the Warlock, resolutely not attached to the control column, the various carrier- operation lift enhancers were to remain precisely that.

The upper air was never it's natural home- like all the variants of Bucc, it was optimised for very low level, high speed flight, under the radar, in terrain clutter by land; the main difference being that the FRS.3 was supersonic at sea level, if carrying only bay and recess weapons. For efficiency the high approach, let down under the radar horizon, launch underwing missiles to strip the target's defences ahead of low, fast bomb run seemed to work.

Probably the most ridiculous thing the Navy ever had seriously designed for it was a post Second World War jet flying boat bomber, the Supermarine Seascale. This did exactly what it sounded like.

It was a product of that brief, largely non- professional driven, moment of pro- nuclear public feeling, and the momentary fad for nuclear aircraft engines before the drawbacks became painfully obvious. The biggest single obstacle in the way of the viability of such a thing, of course, actually being shielding.

The American project PLUTO was, on paper, feasible, because it was not only unmanned and needed no biological shielding (although the effects of radiation on valve technology flight controls were underestimated- they are not large, but more than zero), and because the airstream flowed directly through the reactor core, leaving a wake of poisoned air behind it.

The Seascale, on the other hand, like everyone else's similar attempts except the Tu-95LAL, was closed cycle and dependent on heat exchangers, and adequately (by the standards of 1954) shielded, the weight and efficiency of which as well as the structural requirements of a flying boat meant that the thing would probably have been capable of about two hundred knots at best- assuming it could get off the sea at all.

It got as far as a plywood mockup and some further sketching along the lines of 'all right, if this won't work, what will'-what works with next to no speed and immense endurance? MPA, ASW, air sea rescue?- the design improved to something that would have been almost acceptable at the start of WWII before being, and for once quite deservedly, cancelled.

Rumour did, however, insist that the work done on compact thermal reactors did serve, by being redirected towards beyond- the- atmosphere operations; the prototypes, documentation and many of the design team disappearing in the direction of Lake Ward.

What made somewhat more sense was a jet MPA based, not as had been more than half expected on the Sperrin, but on the first really effective jet civil airliner, de Havilland's Comet. Partly because having saved de Havilland from embarrassing and possibly terminal mistakes- square windows, really?- the air development unit felt the company owed them, and a Comet hull based MPA could be had relatively cheap.

A Sperrin based MPA would be too much of a heavyweight, being first generation it had been if anything considerably overbuilt, and the civil airliner probably had performance closer to requirements, including an exceptional patrol range when converted for military purposes.

The fascinating thing being that avionics are surprisingly light; the lifting capacity of an airliner being largely unneeded, most of it can be used for fuel, the Nimrod having a far greater effective range than the Comet it was based on. (Military absence of health and safety standards helps, too.)

Unfortunately for the Nimrod, there were other later airliners that turned out to be equally convertible, and the RFC needing a replacement for it's own creaky, cracking Valiants in their second life support role seized on the best of them, Vickers' awkward-corners-of-Empire offering, the relatively high performance VC-10- which did far more service, in the end, as a military aircraft than it did as an airliner.

The old Brythonic god of hunting got a look in this time, and the Herne was duly adapted to suit the Navy as well as flying corps versions emerging, some equipment sets being directly carried over from the Nimrods, the older aircraft being converted to tankers mostly. It was an incremental improvement, having more room to lay out equipment, more electrical power and more growth potential.


Gloster Harpoon, subsonic RFC version proposed 1948, prototype 1952, rejected 1954, supersonic RNAS thin wing version proposed feb 54, initial service aug 56, retired feb 60; two crew, maximum 1067 knots, most efficient cruise 589kt, ferry 1250nm, service ceiling 62,150ft, four 30mm ADEN, 32” radar dish 35nm against fighter target, four missile hardpoints, four Red Flash, or two and two Blue Jay or Blue Glass

de Havilland Sea Vixen; after many prototypes, enter service sep 1959, drops below one thousand maintenance hours per flying hour jan 1963, withdrawn from service oct 64, crew two, maximum 986 knots, most efficient 600kt, ferry 950nm, service ceiling 51,400ft, 29” radar scanner with unusually wide sweep, 30nm against fighter target, six hardpoints, in theory capable of up to 4000lb bombload in attack, usual armament four light missiles (almost invariably Red Flash), two medium, usually Blue Glass, wired for Blue Schmoo although retired before it's introduction

Hawker Halberd FA.1; enters service with RFC april 62, one pilot/observer, RB106 mark 145 engine, maximum 1480kt, most efficient 610kt, ferry 1320nm, service ceiling 58,400ft, 32” concentric-rings radar scanner 40nm against fighter target, four hardpoints under each wing, up to 7500lb payload, two ER4 long 30mm cannon, usual payload two drop tanks, four medium missiles and two light, many later versions

Supermarine Scimitar; fighter version initial service may 63, retired 74, twin Spey, crew two, maximum takeoff 41,000lb, maximum 1240kt, most efficient 600kt, ferry 1430nm, split radar with 36” 150kw main dish, 64nm against fighter target, up to 6000lb payload, two ADEN, usually four medium four light AAM

Westland [English Electric] Warlock; service entry Jul 1968, crew two, twin RB106 Moray mark 174, never-exceed 1,892 knots at altitude, 820 knots at sea level, supersonic on dry thrust, ferry 2,680nm, ceiling 70,000ft, Blue Lancer airframe-integrated radar, broad side sweep, nominal 135nm against fighter target, track while scan, telescopic camera system and IRST, single 30mmx198mm ER5 cannon, internal bay four medium AAM, two recesses and two pylons under each wing, recesses rated for heavy AAM, outer two rated for medium, usually light in service

Hawker Harrier FA.1; entry 1964, crew one, Pegasus engine, top speed 635kt, ferry 1850nm, usual strike radius 250nm, ceiling 51,400ft, 28” radar dish 45nm against fighter target, 120nm in surface search, twin ADEN cannon, up to 5,000lb ordnance on four pylons and belly- usual load as fighter two Blue Glass or Blue Schmoo, two Red Flash

Hawker Harrow FS.1; entry 1971, crew two, Sleipnir engine, top 945kt, normal cruise 580kt, ceiling 58,600ft, ferry 2,310nm, 33” dish 72nm against fighter target, twin ADEN, up to 6,500lb ordnance on belly and six wing pylons- usually two drop tank, two Blue Pelican, two twin racks for Red Flash


Buccaneer S.2; entry 1960, crew two, twin Spey, maximum 612kt, normal cruise 560kt at low level, ferry 3800nm, strike radius 1200nm, service ceiling 47,500ft, Blue Parrot N radar with 45nm against fighter target, 120nm in surface search, up to 12,000lb in 8000-lb rated bay and three hardpoints under each wing rated 2000, 2000, 1000lb

Buccaneer FRS.3; entry 1968, crew two, 35,600lb dry, maximum 80,000lb, twin RB106 Moray mark 162, maximum 1447kt at altitude, 780kt with internal stores at sea level, transonic normal cruise, ferry w/drop tanks 3600nm, strike radius 1140nm, service ceiling 64,000ft, Blue Foam radar with 40” dish, maximum 70nm against fighter target, 200nm against medium warship in surface search, TCS, IRST, four recesses each rated 750lb under wing roots for AAM, jamming, recon pod, up to 21,000lb total, in bay (four 2000lb or similar shaped missile, or ten 1000lb or similar discrete-finned missile) and three pylons under each wing (inner rated 4000lb, mid 3000lb, outer 2000lb)

Maritime Patrol;

Supermarine Seascale; not procured, would have been 1959, single Harwell mk 15V (partly deceptive numbering, partly paper versions) shielded liquid metal cooled reactor feeding four Conway- based turbofans, crew two pilots, four flight engineers, twelve mission specialists, maximum speed 312kt, service ceiling 39,400ft, logistic endurance 20 days, variety of sensors planned including AEW- class (350nm?) air search radar, probably same model of surface search as actually employed on Nimrod, extensive electronic intercept gear; probably 20,000lb payload for sonobuoys, torpedoes and depth charges

Hawker- Siddeley Nimrod; entry 1958, crew twelve, four Spey engines, maximum 505kt, cruise 425, ferry range 7,650nm, service ceiling 44,000ft, surface search radar good for perhaps 220nm against medium warship, 20nm vs. periscope target, IR, magnetic detectors, ESM, 20,000lb in bomb bay including sonobuoys, depth charges, torpedoes;
post-1970 tanker version carries 75,000lb transferrable fuel

Vickers Herne; entry 1968, VC10 based, four Conway engines, maximum 550kt, cruise 495, ferry range 10,125nm, service ceiling 54,000ft, maritime patrol version surface search radar good for 360nm against medium warship, IR, magnetics, ESM, 32,000lb in bomb bay and underwing pylons, fitted for drone launch; AEW and tanker versions exist

Air to air missiles

Red Queen- artillery rocket with early infrared sight coupled through autopilot to fins- June 1944 deployed, 500lb, motor good for 4nm, sight good for about 1.5, wildly unreliable, widely used but retired postwar

Blue Spear, beam riding rearward firing bomber defence missile, first to have modern research driven rocket motor- Feb 1948, 700lb, effective (theoretically) to 6nm, but highly toxic and real handling problem.

Red Baron, delta miniature-aircraft, apr 1951, 685lb, command flown to point where it's own infrared sights enabled, (Cmd/TIRH), good idea but too much weight and complexity of guidance system, needed separate WSO and largely a failure anyway, theoretically good to 10nm mostly in glide phase

Red Dean- heavyweight, long range terminal active radar AAM intended for outer barrier role- complete failure in design phase, written off 1956 as unable to produce an acceptable weapon at an acceptable weight- the “At least I learned what not to do, and that is always something” factor was its' only real contribution.

Blue Jay- began as Blue Spear III, quickly adapted to forward firing fighter based missile, 1953 entry, 650lb and good for 8nm, not so much less toxic as better sealed, two stage weapon- separate booster and attack stage, beam rider with operational drawbacks that implies

Red Flash- third attempt at infrared guidance and first really successful, learning from previous errors- first 1954 version 300lb, that then becoming the standard for a 'light' AAM, 4.5nm and rear aspect only, but would actually chase a target- reflex pursuit guidance; much elaborated in many versions, used as test body for innovations several of which found their way into the production weapon- the 1962 mark III has larger wings and moves to twist-and-steer, still tail chaser but good to 12nm; the 1964 mark IV reduces motor and warhead weight to fit larger guidance section, all aspect capable for 8.2nm, mark VII and after use a lifting body airframe and really should have been renamed.

Blue Balloon- failed project, overly ambitious; independently terminal active radar homing missile, capable of searching for and acquiring it's own targets- effectively a scaled down Sea Squirrel, which did not scale well and it didn't really work in the larger version anyway. Of developmental use.

Blue Glass- benefited from previous failures to be first actual semi- active radar homing missile, smaller version of Blue Balloon missile body, 1955 service entry- quickly adapted into stopgap naval SAM; good for 15nm in mark I, 680lb from air launch, medium speed missile- large sustainer motor; mainstay fighter missile for about a decade

Blue Hebe- evolved version of Red Hebe, itself a scaled down and de- frilled Red Dean, in fact almost completely different- only the missile body diameter remained the same, guidance, motor, warhead, steering, length, weight, all rearranged to fit. 1958 entry, 1100lb, 34nm, mach 3.4 at launch, beam rider radar homing, large aft delta fins- data may have been stolen for Bisnovat R-40, improved later versions- 52nm in mk IV; oddly never converted to SARH.

Blue Boar; began as ramjet version of Blue Glass, design elaborated to match new motor, and it crept over the established weight limit into use as a bomber defence weapon- still semi- active, 800lb, 1962 service entry, pop- out wings, good for a slow 32nm, but with a lot of terminal agility- the range was arguably insufficient.

Red Feather- began as infrared homing version of Blue Hebe, quickly elaborated and diverged to suit the guidance system, and plan A went largely out of the window as that changed too- it was repurposed as a passive radar homer, optimised to seek and attack mostly Russian interceptor search radars. The complicated and expensive electronics this involved made it much less popular with armourers, accountants and service chiefs than bomber crews, it was a technical success but operationally and logistically dubious; 1140lb, 38nm, 1964 service entry.

Black Arrow; ambitious decoy, consisting of an air- launched antiballistic missile improvised out of a Black Brant III sounding rocket; potentially it might have worked, if the guidance system had been remotely up to the task- “equal amounts of prayer and wishful thinking, with traces of electronics” being the line at the enquiry. Largely a strategic bluff, used to create uncertainty. 1820lb, maximum altitude 220nm, 1965

Blue Schmoo- anglo-canadian reworking of Sparrow missile (AAM-N-6B) for compatibility with Canadian aircraft, chiefly Avro Arrow; adds weight, larger (folding) fins, 560lb, 25nm semi- active radar homing, monopulse seeker considerably more ECM resistant, 1966, proliferates throughout British service with several later versions

Red Gravel- medium- long range infrared homing ramjet missile on improved Blue Boar frame, actually using seeker head details stolen from R-40 in reverse technical piracy; basic problem being aerodynamic heating, with the burn time of the ramjet it probably set a record for longest minimum range for an AAM, 700lb, 1967 entry, 40nm, minimum probably 20nm in Mk I, later versions are better cooled, ~5nm and a maximum reach of 50 in mark III

Vermillion Kestrel; electronics advances made anti-radiation homing practical on a smaller chassis, not necessarily cheaper but the price of the targets was going up as well so that was all right. Folding winged ramjet with multiple rings of receptor antennae around nose intake, 600lb, 30nm, 1971, largely replaces Red Feather on bombers and intruders, later versions increase in weight and reach

Blue Pelican; more conventional semi-active releasing to terminal active radar homing missile, based on stretched Kestrel missile body- 700lb and less weight and complexity of guidance, 45nm, 1972

Blue Riband, codename for what began as Sky Dart, 1200lb semi- active ramjet in mk I form, 100nm nearest round number, more or less depending on headwinds, follows development of the surface to air version including cavity-cast booster; sheer size of guidance radar required, especially in later versions, makes it a bomber defence missile largely by default, first deployment 1972

Red Nimbus; slightly modified version of air to surface Red Hand, intended to make good on the promise of a long range infrared homing missile, designed to be lobbed ballistically into the target area, activate it's seekers and second stage motor, hunt independently; midcourse command, may have (officially denied) loiter mode, 1400lb rocket, 90nm nominal range. 1975

Blue Bauble; new standard medium range missile, lifting body vector thrust steering ramjet, midcourse datalink with terminal active homing, unifying several advances- a leap ahead that lands on solid ground; 700lb, 60nm nominal, service entry 1978

Red Brick; first of many design attempts to ease out of the shadow of Red Flash, 150lb vectored- thrust dogfight IRH missile, all aspect, optimised for agility, frequently used for carriage by armed drones for use on enemy examples of same, nominal 6nm, 1980

Blue Oolong; technical espionage driven- albeit there probably was a bit of paper in there somewhere- scaled down copy of cancelled American Pyewacket lenticular bomber defence missile; naturally had to have a tea related codename. 500lb, semiactive radar, awkward shape for a bomb bay- carried in large numbers or not at all usually, mainly by intruder bombers, good for perhaps 40nm, British version is conventional warhead- uses similar principle to sea dart, thin layer of explosive intended to fragment the missile body and rocket casings as shrapnel, 1981 (American use 1983)

Blue Scorpion; radar guided version of Red Brick airframe, intended for positive control, positive interception of incoming missiles- rival to Blue Oolong project, but whether this is electronically feasible is debatable as it requires all round search and designating radar that smaller bombers cannot afford space and weight for, the weapon itself is the most discrete part of the system. 150lb, 1984

Black Rose; serious attempt to make good on promise of Black Arrow, using aircraft large enough to carry upward looking acquisition radar and battle- management staff for an actually effective antimissile capability; three stage weapon, optimised for air launch with nozzles to shape, gel fuelled, maximum engagement altitude 420nm, 2500lb, nominal entry 1986 with a lot of bugs still to work out; Black Rose IV is optimised for orbit to orbit

Green Gauntlet; large turbojet engined missile- air to air cruise- intended as airborne command post killer (with possible secondary defence suppression role), fairly advanced and very expensive weapon with interesting aerodynamics in motor duct, antiradiation with home-on-countermeasures improvements, 320nm? Foldout wings, 2000lb, Mach 3.5, limit of engine- 1989 entry

Tangerine Butterfly, two stage gel fuelled lifting body rocket, similar engagement pattern to Red Nimbus, medium weapon- 700lb, infrared primary, passive radar secondary, 80nm? 1993

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PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2017 8:30 am 
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A nice amount of detail combined with an acerbic style that doesn't pull punches in describing the more eccentric moments of design and procurement.

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