Aircraft take on their historical namesakes in air-to-air combat
The comedian and historian Al Murray suggested that I compare historical namesakes. As he had me in a headlock at the time of asking, I felt compelled to consider the idea. I pleaded with him that this concept couldn’t be easily described in an internet-friendly title, but as the oxygen drained from my brain I relented. Join us in fantastical anachronistic air combat as aircraft take on their historical namesakes.
One was intended as a high-powered fighter interceptor, endured a long problematic development with several name changes, and when at war was actually largely used as a bomber and CAP platform, and the other was…wait that’s both of them. Let’s try again, one was vital commercial follow-up work to a smash hit that was far from future-proofed…wait that’s both of them. Ok, one was fast and agile, with a big bubble canopy, had a gaping underslung intake, notable for its use against unmanned aircraft and had less range than its rivals…damn! Done it again.
World War Two’s butchest fighter-bomber takes on the plastic fantastic in an intergenerational brawl! FIGHT’S ON!
I once asked a Eurofighter Typhoon pilot how his aircraft would fare in combat against a Spitfire, the answers are utterly pertinent to the question of Typhoon versus Typhoon:
You have flown both the (Eurofighter) Typhoon and Spitfire: Imagining a situation where a guns-only fight between a Eurofighter Typhoon and a cannon-armed Spitfire took place — which aircraft would have the advantage and why?
“Unsurprisingly the Typhoon – by a country mile. The context is important, but everything in the Typhoon is geared to give you situational awareness. Your radar and various sensors tell you what is around you (imagine how much they would have wanted a datalink with the air picture transmitted to them in WWII) and you have vital information and weapons solutions displayed in the visor in front of your eyes. WWII pilots were reliant on fighter controllers (over the UK) and their own eyes – Typhoon has a huge advantage in finding the enemy. This gives you a huge advantage.
The Typhoon pilot would know exactly where to find the Spitfire in our imaginary flight to ‘the merge’ (where the two come together and start fighting). I will assume that the ‘guns only’ point means that Typhoon would not shoot the Spitfire down at range, but it would have the advantage entering the fight. The pilot could fly the intercept to make use of environmental conditions to arrive behind the Spitfire unseen.
The radar on the Typhoon gives a highly accurate gun sight (it is constantly updating range aspect closure etc), so the pilot would just have to put ‘the pipper’ on and pull the trigger. No deflection shooting – aiming off as the pilots had to in WWII because their gunsights were fixed and the cannon ‘zeroed’ at a point about 150 yards away where the bullets would converge.
If the Spitfire did manage to get into a turning fight, the Typhoon would likely make the most of its enormous power advantage and use the vertical rather than turn. The Typhoon pilot would point straight up, light the burners, keep an eye on the Spitfire (probably the hardest thing so far given that the radar won’t be pointing at it) and look to come back down in a position of advantage (hopefully out of the sun to avoid a visual pick up).
If I was in the Spitfire, I would try and point at the Typhoon to close the range as quickly as possibly, but would be aware of the fact that if I pulled hard to turn, I would bleed a lot of my speed off and would probably have to point downhill to get it back…the Typhoon could roll in behind easily.”
The reason I specified ‘guns-only’ as if missiles are involved the Hawker Typhoon would have little or no chance of survival. Whereas first generation infra-red guided missiles would have struggled to ‘see’ a piston-engined fighter from behind, as highlighted in early 1960s tests with a EE Lightning against a Spitfire, an ASRAAM would likely have little problem. Likewise the Typhoon’s radar should have no issues detecting the Typhoon even in ground clutter.
Firepower-wise its one 27-mm auto cannon versus four 20-mm cannon,
Wing area: Hawker: 25.9 m2 – Eurofighter 50 m2
Number of operators:
Westland Whirlwind aeroplane versus Westland Whirlwind helicopter
Fighting a cannon-armed fighter at least three and half times faster than you with depth charges and torpedos is a bad position to be in and the helicopter’s best chance of survival is evasive nap-of-the-earth manoeuvres. Unfortunately, low-level is exactly where the four-gunned Whirlwind aeroplane likes to hunt. The Whirlwind helicopter’s unlikely ace-in-sleeve may be the shallow detonation of a depth charge (perhaps against land) ahead of the pursuing aeroplane.
Former Royal Navy helicopter Observer ‘Bing’ Chandler noted: “You’d either need a direct hit as it flew underneath, or at low level drop so the pursuer flies through the plume of water from the explosion. The trigger only lets it explode under water so you couldn’t use it for an above water explosion without replacing that with a different design… the same basic design has been in use since World War 2 so the same ones were used on the Lynx!“
We asked helicopter-expert Ron Smith his opinion, he opined that the best approach may be “Depth charge attack – fly low over the sea and release a depth charge with minimal depth setting, so that the aircraft gets taken out by the water explosion. I seem to recall that dropping a bouncing bomb resulted in aircraft hit by spray. Much worse with depth charge exploding.”
But would the radar-less Whirlwind aeroplane be able to even find the helicopter? Back to Bing “Having done fighter evasion exactly twice against Hawks, use the terrain to hide and then dash for the next bit of cover after they’ve flown past you and are turning around. Certainly when we did it I spent most of my time telling the Hawk where we were so they could make an attack run for us to practice countering! They often still couldn’t spot us. If they did stay low at fly at speed towards them. This will force them to lower their nose to get a shot in which starts to get dangerous for them. Slightly different over the Bristol channel where we ended up in a turning fight wondering if we could elevate the gun enough for a shot. We could effectively out turn them but it left us vulnerable to their wingman when he realised he couldn’t find the Lynx he was supposed to be chasing. Turns out if you don’t follow the pre-briefed route the Hawks had no chance of finding you!“
Easier with a radar? “To be honest having spoken with people who did fighter evasion against Tornadoes in the Falkland Islands a radar doesn’t always help!”
Theoretically the Whirlwind could fire a heavy machine-gun or even MANPAD from the door though this must be discounted as it did not happen in reality (we can’t even find historical examples of the Whirlwind carrying a light defensive machine gun but do share evidence if you have some) .The first MANPAD used by British forces, the Stingers in the hands of the SAS were introduced around a week after the last Whirlwind SAR squadron (84) converted to the Wessex in March 1982. According to Bing, “Mind you we were advised to land and get something tube shaped to wave in the direction of the attacking fighter. So a length of drain pipe might work… although given how hard the fighters seemed to find spotting a helicopter I’m not sure if they’d see the people never-mind the tube!” We also can’t think of any examples of a cabin-fired MANPAD as the back blast into the cabin would be a big issue!
Modern helicopters versus fixed wing aircraft
A well equipped attack helicopter flown by a trained crew will defeat most fighter airplanes in 1v1 air combat, should the fighter be foolish enough to drop down to try and engage,’ Nick Lappos, Technical Fellow Emeritus at Sikorsky and former U.S. Army AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter pilot, said on Quora. ‘A helicopter immersed in ground clutter is very hard to detect by almost any means, and so is hard to engage. Meanwhile, the helicopter can be equipped with air to air missiles and large caliber guns that easily engage fighters as they maneuver at low altitudes against a blue sky in their attempts to engage the helicopter. The helicopter if properly flown will always maneuver to cut off the angle from the airplane, forcing impossibly steep closure maneuvers for the fighter. Typical helicopter turn rates are 30 to 40 degrees per second, three times that of the fighter, even at high g, so the fighter will find the helicopters weapons always engaging it during any serious contest. If the helicopter gun and missiles were selected for anti-aircraft (like the 30mm guns on the Mi-24 and KA-50/51), the results are that the attack helicopter becomes like a rapidly mobile SAM site, a very dangerous target.’
Lockheed F-35 Lightning II versus English Electric Lightning
Yes we could have chosen the P-38, but this is a far more interesting fight. The EE aircraft is faster, both in top speed and climb rate but is mercilessly outclassed in situational awareness. The F-35 Lightning II would certainly spot the Lightning first release an AMRAAM before the Lightning was aware of the F-35. The Lightning has no chance in any scenario with open rules of engagement. If a visual ID is required – which could be accomplished at some distance by the EO systems – or the Lightning is not considered hostile until the last moment a dogfight is possible.
The F-35 though G-limited to 7, is broadly comparable to the F-16. Lightning pilot Ian Black flew against teen fighters in training:
“How did Lightnings do against teen series fighters in BFM/DACT (dogfight training) exercises? What tips would you offer in these situations?
Lightnings fought F-14, F-15, F-16 and F-18s. At long ranges Lightnings would have been shot down with radar-guided missiles- with no RWR (radar warning receivers) the Lightning would not have stood a chance. Against the teen series the Lightning did OK in close-in combat, but the best version for air combat was the F.Mk 3 and that had so little fuel you could really only one last for one engagement.
B-1B Lancer versus Republic P-43 Lancer
The name Lancer hasn’t really caught on in the B-1B’s 36-year career with most calling it the B-1B, B-1 or Bone. The P-43 was the wild troubled older brother of the Thunderbolt.
Though the P-43 would be hard pressed to intercept an offensive B-1B, an ambush while the bomber was at lower speed. The B-1B has a cruising speed of 647 mph and the maximum of the P-43 is 356mph. Though the B-1B has no defensive armament the P-43 would have to be extremely fortunate to catch the aircraft, and even then its .50 cal rounds would only have a glancing opportunity: however, in optimal head-on conditions the heavy machine-gun rounds could have a closing speed of over 3,000mph. In offensive terms the B-1B would be limited to a manoeuvre or jet efflux wake kill.
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