Letov LF-107 Luňák – “Engineless Fighter”

Of Proud Pedigree 

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Luňák landing at Brno, Czech Republic in 2017.

Established in Prague by the Czechoslovak Defense Ministry in 1918 for the purpose of repairing aircraft of the fledgling Czechoslovak air force, Letov was the first Czech aircraft company.

The company is credited with the design and production of the first indigenous Czech military aircraft, the Š-1 surveillance biplane, which first flew in 1920.

The company performed very strongly in the interwar period, producing a number of aircraft models in a wide variety of categories, both civil and military. As with all Czechoslovak companies, Letov spent the Second World War forced into the service of Hitler’s Germany. In this period of time, they served as repair depot for Luftwaffe aircraft and production site for military variants of the Junkers Ju 290.

The company briefly returned to making its own aircraft in the late 1940s, the LF-107 Luňák glider being the most significant of the company’s designs in that period.

From the start of the 1950s to the present, the company has focused on building components and structures for a number of other manufacturer’s aircraft.

Since 2000, Letov has been a subsidiary of French based Groupe Latecoere. Today, Letov makes components and structures for civilian aircraft from Airbus, Dassault and Embraer.

First flown in 1948, the Luňák was one of the last complete aircraft that Letov produced before being moved into construction of components for others.

Let’s spend some time with the LF-107 Luňák:

Acrobatics Above All 

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Lunňák seen at Brno in 2017.

For a period of approximately ten years between the mid 1940s and mid 1950s, design and production of sailplanes enjoyed some popularity among several Czech aircraft companies. A number of those designs found great success internationally. The most recognised of Czech sailplanes from this period is the Let L-13 Blaník from 1956.

Letov’s LF-107 Luňák, which first flew in 1948, was a sleek, single seat glider of largely plywood construction that was designed as an aerobatics specialist suitable for both solo and formation performances as well as aerobatic training.

Design of the aircraft was started in 1947 by a team overseen by chief engineer, Vladimír Štros. The aircraft was designed with the intent that it could exceed the aerobatic abilities of the German made DFS Habicht sailplane which debuted in 1936 and was well respected in competitive circles.

Because of the Luňák’s projected high performance, Letov was able to engage the interest and support of the Czechoslovak military at a very early design stage. The air force was looking for a high performance sailplane with which they could test the fitness of their fighter pilots in aerobatics.

The prototype showed very good qualities during its maiden flight in June of 1948. Test pilot, Jan Anderle, reported the aircraft and its performance to be flawless during that flight. A second flight was performed the following month in front of delegates from the ministries of defense and transport as well as a number of military and civilian pilots. On that flight, Anderle put the prototype through a series of aerobatic figures that demonstrated well the agility and speed of the aircraft as well as the robustness of the design. Authorisation for series production of the aircraft was given shortly after this second flight.

Even before production began, the Luňák prototype was catching eyes internationally. In 1948 and 1949, it appeared at competitions in Poland and Switzerland and turned many heads with all aspects of its design and flight.

While Letov had envisioned a production run of around 200 of the type, rising Cold War tensions led to only 75 Luňáks being made in total before the company was ordered to cease production and was charged with producing components and structures for other aircraft companies who were producing Soviet designed MiG-15, MiG-19 and MiG-21 fighter aircraft for the Czechoslovak military.

Aside of the baseline LF-107 model for civilian use, a small number with simplifications made to the design were built for the Czechoslovak military and designated VT-7. Additionally, a derivative of the LF-107 known as the XLF-207 Laminar was built to experiment with laminar flow wings and was one of the first sailplanes to be equipped with them.

The Kite Aloft 

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Luňák seen at Brno in 2017.

The word, luňák, translates into English as “kite”. Kites are predatory birds known for their mastery of both soaring and agile flight; they are also known for bursts of high speed when diving on prey. It was a very appropriate name for an aerobatics sailplane that had a maximum speed of 300 kilometres per hour.

The aircraft’s agility and speed led it to be nicknamed “Engineless Fighter” and similar by some people.

From the point of view of the experienced pilot, there was a lot to like in the Luňák beyond the aforementioned agility and speed.

The cockpit was spacious and the fighter style bubble canopy that covered it gave the pilot an excellent view all around the aircraft. In the style of fighter aircraft of the day, the canopy opened by sliding backward. This feature allowed the aircraft to be flown with the canopy open if the pilot wished.

The Luňák was known for being very responsive on the controls and , in spite of its aerobatic design, was appreciated for being quite stable and controlable in most aspects of flight.

Owing to its aerobatic optimised features and single seat cockpit, the Luňák was not considered a suitable aircraft for less experienced pilots.

In spite of the small number produced, the Luňák found some popularity outside of its mother country. Small numbers were exported to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Outside of former Eastern Bloc countries, examples of the type are known to have flown in America, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.

By the early 1970s, the arrival of more modern and efficient sailplane designs resulted in a majority of Luňáks being placed in storage or being destroyed in one way or another after they were replaced with newer types. During the 1990s, a renewed interest in the type and vintage sailplanes saw some Luňáks restored to airworthy status.

It is perhaps the best testament to the type’s qualities that one of the world’s few remaining Luňáks won the British national aerobatics championships in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

The Luňák Today 

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Luňák seen in Brno in 2017.

With a production total of less than one hundred, it should perhaps come as no surprise that there are only a very small handful of Luňáks left in the world regardless of if they are in museums or airworthy.

It would appear, as of early 2018, that the fewer than ten remaining airworthy examples of the type are to be found in the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain and Slovakia. It would also appear that very few made it into museums, so your chances of seeing a Luňák in any form could be very slim indeed.

There isn’t much English language information out there about the Luňák. However, these Czech language links responded acceptably to online translator functions and can give you some further reading:

https://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=http://vztlak.net/Profily-a-testy/Kluzaky/Letov-LF-107-Lunak&prev=search

https://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=http://www.pilotinfo.cz/z-historie/akrobaticky-special-lf-107-lunak-stale-leta&prev=search

https://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=http://www.slavetind.cz/stavba/letadla/LF-107_Lunak.aspx&prev=search

https://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=https://technet.idnes.cz/akrobaticky-kluzak-lf-107-lunak-dkp-/tec_technika.aspx%3Fc%3DA171023_152312_tec_technika_erp&prev=search

This link to a Swiss page gives some interesting details about similarities between the Luňák and a Swiss glider design of the same period:
https://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.sagach.ch/Deutsch/flugzeuge/lunak.htm&prev=search

This link will take you to a page about the Luňák that made it to America:
http://www.museumofflight.org/aircraft/letov-lf-107-lunakglider

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Kunovice Air Museum Update

In early October of 2017, I posted an update about a generous expansion of land granted to the Kunovice Air Museum by the local town council in order to help them accomodate the Tupolev Tu-154 they had taken on in 2016.

Very recently, I received an email from the museum outlining further assistance that the local council has given them and progress they are making in preparing to move the Tu-154 to its reserved place in the museum collection.

As the October update is still on the main page of this blog, you can scroll down to compare it to this update.

Here is the content of the most recent email to me from the museum translated into English:

***

A short flight or a final transfer to the museum

Dear Friends of the Great Flight,

We are pleased to let you and your readers know that we have fulfilled another
commitment with money given to the project by Great Flight Starters through Startovac.cz. That was the building of reinforced concrete platforms for TU-154M (OK-BYZ) “Nagano Express”. A distinctive change from the original plan is the final placement of the “Nagano Express”.

Kunovice town council proposed and approved a larger extension of the area of ​​the museum than we originally announced and is also involved in the ongoing repair and extension of fencing.

Head of the Kunovice Aviation Museum, Martin Hrabec, praises cooperation with the municipality:

“This will make ‘Nagano Express’ stand in a much more spacious and dignified place, and allow us to reposition other exhibits. We greatly thank Kunovice town council for this decision.”

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This image shows the existing museum area (Původní plocha muzea) and the newly expanded area (Rozšířená plocha muzea) and one possible redistributed arrangement of their aircraft.  (Image credit: Kunovice Air Museum)

The first phase of the “Nagano Express” assembly is in its final stages and at the same time preparations are culminating for the final move to an honorable place in the museum.

Martin Hrabec continues:

“So far, we have been waiting in vain for the ground at the museum to freeze hard enough to bear the weight of a 40-tonne airplane. Even though the weather is not cooperating, we set the deadline for the first attempt to move on the weekend of 25. 2. 2018. ”

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This image shows the present position of the Tu-154 (Současná pozice) and the placement of its concrete platforms (Betonový fundament) in the museum’s new expanded area. the image also shows the current distribution of the museum’s aircraft and expresses wished for the ground to freeze hard enough to move the Tu-154. (Image credit: Kunovice Air Museum)

The final transfer will again be carried out by the Universal Transport team from Prague, under the direction of Martin Ludvík, who carried out the transport of the airplane from Prague – Kbely to Kunovice in autumn of 2016.

So keep your fingers crossed for at least a week of bigger frosts ;-). We will keep you informed of further developments.

Thank you very much for all your support and help so far. We will be happy when you share this information with your readers.

Regards

Great Flight Crew

***

Other Museum Developments

While the museum’s expansion and great support from the local council are indeed very exciting and heartening news, they are certainly not the only things going on at the museum in the off season.

The museum, in conjunction with the Slovácký Aeroklub, are giving a much needed facelift to one of the museum’s three Aero L-29 Delfín trainer aircraft.

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Delfín 0113 is currently undergoing restoration. I took this picture of it in 2013.

When finished, the aircraft will be presented in the colours of the former Czechoslovak air force’s 2 Flying School Regiment that flew from Košice in eastern Slovakia.

If you wish to see what the new look of the L-29 will be, keep apprised of developments in the moving of the Tu-154 or see what the museum does with their expanded land, the following links to the museum’s website and Facebook pages are the places to go:

https://www.museum-kunovice.cz/

https://www.facebook.com/leteckemuzeumvkunovicich/

 

NOTE: Moving of the Tu-154 has been rescheduled for the weekend of 3.3.2018

Book Review: “Out of the Blue: The Final Landing”

Edited by: Ian Cowie, Dim Jones and Chris Long

Halldale Media Group (2017)

This is the third and final installment of the “Out of the Blue” series of books. The books consist of collected stories of Royal Air Force personnel past and present. Many eras are covered, from World War II up to the present.

As with the first two books in the series, this final volume gives the reader a solid cross section of aircraft types and bases used by the RAF from the Second World War to the present as well as a varied selection of mission taskings that were flown by the various types of aircraft. Most stories also include a photo or two of the aircraft type featured in the tale for those readers who may not be familiar with it.

This installment of the series has aspects of both the first two volumes and that works both for and against it at times.

Most of the stories here, as in the first volume, happen in the cockpit or very close to the aircraft and give good insights into what they were like to work around and operate. Digressions into off duty antics are few and far between.

Like the first volume, there’s lots of hair raising tales in this installment that get straight to the point and put the reader in the thick of things.

As with the second volume, some of the stories in the third book could have done with a bit tighter editing as they go on a bit.

One example of this is spread across three chapters and covers the sinking of the German battleship, Tirpitz. While a very interesting and engaging tale, the editorial notes make it quite clear that the story was taken from another book with that author’s permission.

While taking an exerpt from another book to gain material is not generally a problem for me, I feel that taking enough material to constitute three chapters is pushing things a bit in a book such as this and taking space away from possibly one or two more independent stories.

An additional problem, especially with the WWII stories, is that there is a lot of service and period specific slang that goes unexplained. All of the stories have some footnotes to explain some of the acronyms and jargon; a similar treatment to the slang in the WWII stories would have been helpful in several places.

The above mentioned criticisms certainly don’t take away from my recommending this book for both good stories and the completeness of the three volume collection.

As with the previous two volumes, this one was also published to raise awareness and funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund and other British military veterans’ charities.

This link will take you to the book’s page on the RAF Benevolent Fund website:

Out of the Blue: The Final Landing

Douglas DC-6 – Propliner Perfection

Pinnacle of the Propliners 

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DC-6B of the Red Bull fleet at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2017.

The propliner era of aviation began in the early 1930s and ended in the 1950s with the advent of jet and turboprop powered airliners. It was an extremely important period in aviation that brought many changes to not only how people travelled, but also how many people had access to air travel.

It was during the propliner era that air travel became reachable to the masses. In the interwar period, air travel was primarily the domain of the wealthy. Post WWII developments in aircraft and engine design brought operational costs of large aircraft down and led to airlines creating multiple passenger classes, thus bringing the price of air travel within reach of many more people of other social classes.

It was also during this period that land based aircraft became capable of flying trans-oceanic distances and the era of passenger service by flying boats came to an end. Large land based propliners were faster, more efficient, less maintenance intensive and much less limited in where they could operate from; the flying boat never stood a chance against them.

In general terms, a propliner is defined as a large passenger or cargo aircraft of primarily metal construction powered by two or four piston engines. Turboprop aircraft are not typically included in the propliner category.

One of the early and major players of the propliner era was the Douglas Aircraft Company based in California, USA. The company’s DC-1 of 1933 was one of the very first propliners to fly; the company improved upon it the following year with the DC-2 and in 1935 gave the world the legendary DC-3, widely regarded as the most significant and influential airliner type ever made. 1939 saw the advent of the DC-4, a very capable and well liked transport that served well during WWII and was the most widely used aircraft type of the Berlin Airlift. The DC-6 first flew in 1946 and served well in the Korean War as well as being one of the very first land based airliners to be put on regularly scheduled trans-oceanic routes. The last of the Douglas propliners was the DC-7 of 1953, it showed the limits of what piston powered airliners could do and was not as popular as previous Douglas designs owing to its limitations and the fact that the first generations of jet airliners and turboprop airliners were starting to make their appearances in airline service.

In the overall picture of the propliner era, the DC-6 is widely considered to be the best of the propliner category. The aircraft, particularly in its B model form, was considered to have the best balance of range, speed, efficiency, reliability, handling and passenger comfort of any propliner type.

At that, let’s spend some time with the DC-6:

A Child of Experience 

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DC-6B at Pardubice in 2017

With their reputation as a capable and competent designer of airliners well established during the interwar period, Douglas most certainly were not in uncharted waters for themselves when design of what would become the DC-6 started in 1944.

While the aircraft would claim its greatest fame in airline service, it was born from a military requirement for an improved version of the C-54, the military version of the DC-4.

The improved aircraft was to be longer and more powerful than the C-54 as well as have a pressurised fuselage as a standard feature. In US Army Air Force terminology, the new aircraft was designated XC-112. The XC-112 prototype did not fly until February of 1946 and, with the war over, the military requirement was dropped.

All was not lost for the aircraft, however. Douglas had designed the aircraft to be easily adapted to airline use and several America airlines had placed orders for the new Douglas airliner before the war had ended. Douglas used the XC-112 as a prototype for the DC-6 and in a short time had developed the airliner from the transport. The new airliner first flew in in June of 1946 and deliveries began in November of that year to launch customers, American Airlines and United Airlines.

In spite of a four month grounding of the DC-6 fleet in 1947 due to a series of in-flight fires, fleets of the aircraft were serving airlines in North America, Europe and Asia on regularly scheduled intercontinental and trans-oceanic routes before the 1940s were out.

Military interest in the aircraft was rekindled with the Korean War in the early 1950s. The US Air Force and US Navy both ordered fleets of the aircraft, designated C-118 and R6D respectively, for their logistical needs.

The aircraft served well in Korea and in the wake of that conflict, the type attracted an increase of interest from several militaries worldwide to complement its already well established reputation in international airline service.

Secrets of Success 

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A legend powering a legend: The Pratt and Whitney R-2800 propelled the DC-6 throug the skies and into history.

In a production run spanning 1946 to 1958, more than 700 DC-6 aircraft were made in all variations.

The DC-6 enjoyed a longevity in practical life that none of its contemporaries nor its intended propliner replacement, the DC-7, enjoyed to any equal degree. As of 2018, a few DC-6s are still flying and serving practical purposes.

Over the years, the aircraft served numerous airlines and air transport companies in no fewer than 70 countries and served in the militaries of no fewer than 25 nations. The aircraft enjoyed as much success on second hand markets as it did with original customers and has operated from every continent including both poles.

In light of all that success, one could rightly ask what the DC-6 had to it that allowed it to become the definitive propliner.

Perhaps the best place to start looking is with the aircraft’s origin in a wartime military specification. A military in the midst of active combat will put function over form and simplicity over complexity. Priorities will be on ease of training and maintenance as well as timely production and supply of new aircraft. The design that would become the DC-6 had all of these things going in its favour.

It was not an adventurous design, rather a logical progression of the existing DC-4/C-54 design. As such, the learning curve for any air or ground crew to convert from the DC-4 to the DC-6 was not a steep one; this fact benefitted both civil and military users moving from the DC-4 to the DC-6.

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DC-6B at Pardubice in 2014.

The DC-6 was a relatively simple and strightforward design compared to its nearest contemporary, the Lockheed L-749A Constellation. Both aircraft were well designed and built, but the DC-6 proved more reliable mechanically and more flexible in the variety of roles it could perform. As a result of these qualities, the DC-6 was also more reliable as a money maker for the airlines.

The two aircraft were well liked by both crews and passengers and several airlines operated both types; typically using the Constellation and its better range for longer, intercontinental routes and the DC-6 with its better economics for regional and continental work. While the dawn of the jet age marked the end of the Constellation in widespread airline service, the DC-6 marched on strongly and held its own against jets in the fleets of smaller airlines and cargo operators. Later in life, the DC-6 was widely used in aerial firefighting.

Another aspect of the the DC-6’s success was the choice of engine, the Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp. The R-2800 family of engines started in 1937 and became legendary through WWII for their power and reliability. By the time the baseline DC-6 emerged, Pratt and Whitney had developed the R-2800 to a point where it could generate 2,400 horsepower. With the introduction of the DC-6B, Pratt and Whitney had introduced a version of the engine with a 2,500 horsepower output.

Using a quartet of these high performing R-2800 engines gave the DC-6 and impressive lifting ability that kept it in demand for years.

Additionally, compared to the Wright R-3350 engine that powered the Constellation and DC-7, the R-2800 was notably less complex to service and less temperamental and more economical in operations.

A Hauler with More 

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DC-6B at Pardubice in 2014.

Aside of its decades of service to many as a workhorse passenger and cargo aircraft, the DC-6 put some other more varied work on its resumé as well.

In Vietnam, a variant of the aircraft known as the MC-118 was used for medical evacuation purposes.

Through the 1950s, the aircraft was used by the CIA for a number of clandestine flights over China and Tibet.

During the 1960s, a pair of specially modified DC-6s were operated by Perdue University in Indiana as airborne transmitters for an educational television program called MPATI, or Midwest Program for Airborne Television Instruction. The priciple of the program was to broadcast educational television to remote regions of the central part of the continental United States. Flying a figure 8 pattern approximately 7 kilometers above Montpelier, Indiana; the aircraft could broadcast to an area of approximately 320 kilometers in radius. During the program, these aircraft broadcast signals to areas in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky.

Well into the 2000s, the DC-6 could be seen operating in the aerial firefighting role. The Conair company of Canada was a significant user of the type in this way and used the DC-6 in the role until 2012. During their years with the DC-6, Conair deployed their fleet as far afield as Australia to fight wildfires. The DC-6, with a capacity for over 11,000 litres of water or fire retardant, earned much respect in that role.

The DC-6 has also made many film and television appearances over the years.

The DC-6 Family 

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DC-6B at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.

The DC-6 family contained two core members from which all other variations were developed.

DC-6/VC-118

The Baseline DC-6 debuted in 1946 and was a pure passenger carrier available in domestic and trans-oceanic variants. It featured a fuselage 2 metres longer than the DC-4 and more powerful engines.

The VC-118 was a single baseline DC-6 fitted as a presidential transport for the US Air Force.

DC-6A/DC-6C/C-118A/R6D

The DC-6A was the freighter specialist of the family. It featured a slight fuselage stretch over the Baseline DC-6, more powerful engines, strengthened floor, a large cargo door and an elevator capable of lifting 1,800 kg.

The DC-6C was a cargo conversion variant of the family and considered a sub-variant of the DC-6A. It was designed for quick conversion between passenger and cargo configurations.

When taken into US military service, the US Air Force and US Navy had their own individual designation systems for aircraft. To the USAF, the DC-6A was the C-118A while it was the R6D-1 to the USN.

Both the air force and navy had special VIP staff transport variants of the DC-6A, known as the VC-118A and R6D-1Z respectively.

In 1962, the US military introduced a common designation system based on the USAF model. Under the new system, the R6D-1 and R6D-1Z were redesignated C-118B and VC-118B respectively

DC-6B

The most numerous, and by many accounts the best, member of the DC-6 family was the B model. The DC-6B was a passenger variant based on the DC-6A. The A version’s cargo door was deleted and, Like the baseline DC-6, the B version was available in domestic and trans-oceanic versions.

What Remains and Learning More 

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DC-6B at Zeltweg in 2013.

Several DC-6s are known to remain intact around the world, though the bulk of them are in museums or in storage.

Through an internet search, I could find that in 2017 there were at least 20 DC-6s on civil registers worldwide. Of those, it appeared that around 11 were regular flyers.

The bulk of the flying examples belong to the fleet of Everts Air Cargo in Alaska. According to some references, Everts predicts they have enough spare parts on hand to keep their DC-6 fleet flying at least until 2020.

One of the biggest obstacles to keeping large piston engined aircraft airworthy is the availability of appropriate fuel facilities. Few modern airports keep adequate amounts of avgas readily available for aircraft the size of a DC-6 or the avgas related equipment to fill the DC-6’s large fuel tanks in an efficient manner.

As with so many vintage aircraft, it will be the financial resources and interests of those operating the DC-6 to determine how much longer we’ll be able to see one fly.

For the moment, it seems your best bet to see one fly is to travel to where they still live.

The following links will give you more information about the DC-6

This link will take you to the Delta Flight Museum’s page on the DC-6. It gives some good insights into what made the aircraft attractive to the airline business:
https://www.deltamuseum.org/exhibits/delta-history/aircraft-by-type/propeller/douglas-dc-6

This link will take you to a page with some great information and photos of DC-6 firefighting aircraft in action:
http://www.goodall.com.au/photographs/dc-6-final-visits/80slastdc-6s.html

This is the page for the DC-6 of the Red Bull fleet. The only DC-6 to ever be registered in Austria and seemingly the only actively flying one in Europe as of 2018:
http://www.flyingbulls.at/en/fleet/douglas-dc-6b/

While a bit dated in spots, this site has some very good information about the DC-6 in Africa and the disposition of many of the ones that operated there:
http://dc-6.co.za/

This link will give you more information about Perdue University’s MPATI program which made use of two DC-6s in the 1960s:
http://www.chicagotelevision.com/MPATI.htm

Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet – A Tutor with Teeth

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Alpha Jet E of the French air force at Čáslav, Czech Republic in 2017.

A New Trainer for a New Generation

The early 1950s showed that dedicated jet powered trainers were required to properly and safely train pilots for jet aircraft. The performance gap between piston engine trainers and first generation jets was simply too great to prepare new pilots for the jets they’d be flying. First generation jets did not tend to have dedicated two seat variations for type specific training and so a new pilot’s first flight in a high performance jet fighter was solo in the early jet age. This resulted in many accidents and unacceptably high attrition in both aircraft and trainee pilots. Thus the idea of the dedicated jet trainer was born.

First generation jet trainers included the Fouga Magister from France, Aero L-29 Delfín from Czechoslovakia, Cessna T-37 from America, Aermacchi MB-326 from Italy, PZL TS-11 Iskra from Poland, BAC Jet Provost from Great Britain, Canadair CT-114 Tutor from Canada and Soko G-2 Galeb from Yugoslavia.

By the early/mid 1960s, the increased performance of second generation jet fighters had created the need for a second generation of jet trainers to match them. An additional demand on the second generation of jet trainers was an increased capability with regards to weapons. While a number of first generation training jets did possess some limited weapons capability and were even capable of light attack in some cases, many of the second generation trainers would be expected to have a weapons capability that would allow them to easily transition between the trainer and light attack roles.

The Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, which first flew in 1973, is an example of this second generation of jet trainers.

The Franco-German Tango 

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Another angle on the Alpha Jet E at Čáslav in 2017.

The 1950s and 1960s marked the start of cooperation between France and Germany, particularly with regards to military equipment development, that continues to the present.

In the aviation context, prior to the Alpha Jet, the relationship had borne fruit in the form of the Breguet Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft and the Transall C-160 tactical transport aircraft.

The Alpha Jet story began in 1967 when France and West Germany entered talks about creating a jointly produced aircraft to fulfil both nations’ need for a new trainer to replace their Fouga Magister and Lockheed T-33 fleets. However, from the start, there were some differences of opinion between the nations regarding exactly what the aircraft would encompass in the scope of its roles.

France wanted a simple jet trainer that was easy to maintain and attractive to the  export market while Germany wanted a light attack capability incorporated into the design as the Luftwaffe wanted to replace their fleet of Fiat G.91 aircraft as well as their Magister fleet. At the suggestion of Germany, it was ultimately agreed that the aircraft would be designed in two distinct versions to accomodate the desires of both nations.

There was  also some disagreement about the engine for the aircraft early on. While both nations specified that the aircraft would be capable of high subsonic speeds, France wished to use the domestically designed SNECMA Turbomeca Larzac turbofan while Germany leaned towards the American made General Electric J-85 turbojet. Using the American engine was not acceptable to France as it would allow America to exercise some control over the exportability of the aircraft. With France refusing to finance the purchase of American engines, Germany agreed to use the Larzac in their version of the aircraft.

The design that would eventually become the Alpha Jet, was put forth by a team made up of the Breguet, Dassault and Dornier companies. Initially known as the TA501, the design was a mixture of existing Breguet and Dornier concepts and competed for the Franco-German trainer requirement against designs from another Franco-German team, SNIAS/MBB, and a Dutch/German proposal from VFW/Fokker. All three aircraft were designed around a pair of Larzac engines.

The TA501 was announced as the winning design in July of 1970.

Through 1971 and 1972, the foundations for building the new aircraft were laid and prototypes for both the French and German variations of the aircraft were constructed.

The French and German prototypes had their maiden flights within months of each other, with the French aircraft flying first in October of 1973 and the German version in January of 1974.

It is also worthy of note that Dassault merged with Breguet in 1971 and the Alpha Jet became the first aircraft to be built under the Dassault-Breguet name.

Taking on the Field 

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Former Luftwaffe Alpha Jet A in Red Bull fleet colours. Seen at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2017.

The Alpha Jet was one of the first second generation trainers of its class to take to the air and enter production and the first of western design.

While it was beaten into the air by the Aero L-39 Albatros from Czechoslovakia; it did have a distinct though narrow head start on its primary western rival, the Hawker Siddeley (later, BAE Systems) Hawk trainer which first flew in August of 1974.

Though it flew before the Hawk, the British aircraft entered service before the Alpha Jet. This should not come as a surprise as the Alpha Jet was a multinational project while the Hawk was fully British. The logistics of Alpha Jet production were more complex as the workshare was split between Dassault-Breguet in France (front and centre fuselage), Dornier in West Germany (rear fuselage, tail and wings) and SABCA in Belgium (nose and wing flaps).

While the Alpha Jet and Hawk have been frequently compared to each other over the years, they really are very evenly matched machines. When looking at the lists of user nations for the two types, it becomes quite clear that historical diplomatic ties to the aircrafts’ respective country of origin may have had more to do with which aircraft a nation chose than aircraft performance did. The Alpha Jet did well with nations in northern Africa that were former French colonies and kept strong ties to France while many nations who chose the Hawk had stronger historic ties to Great Britain.

The Alpha Jet had certain advantages over the hawk including a better thrust to weight ratio, higher cruising speed, higher operational ceiling and a stronger airframe.

The Alpha Jet’s high set wing also allowed it to carry some larger weapons and other underwing stores that there was inadequate ground clearance for under the low set wing of the Hawk. The Alpha Jet’s ability to carry the large French made Exocet anti-ship missile is one example of this.

The Hawk does have the advantages of longevity, Alpha Jet production ceased in 1991 while Hawk production continues to the present, and higher capacity for upgrading. However, the Alpha Jet has done well for itself on second hand markets in refurbished forms. Ex-Luftwaffe Alpha Jet A variants were particularly popular with second hand users after Germany retired and sold off their fleet through the 1990s.

Additionally, former military Alpha Jets have found favour with a number of civilian operators as either aerobatic display aircraft or in the Aggressor role in training air combat tactics to military fighter pilots.

Baring the Teeth  

IMG_7259
Former Luftwaffe Alpha Jet A in Red Bull colours at Pardubice in 2016.

When it comes to sending the Alpha Jet into battle, Nigeria has most certainly been the aircraft’s biggest user.

Extensive use of Nigerian Alpha Jets was made during the First Liberian Civil War which lasted from 1989 to 1997.

Since 2013, Nigerian Alpha Jets have been used against insurgent actions of the Boko Haram terrorist group which is active in the northern regions of Nigeria as well as areas of neighboring countries.

During the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, Alpha Jets of the Qatari air force were used for coastal patrol to protect against potential Iraqi beach invasion.

Moroccan Alpha Jets were used in the counter insurgency role during the Western Sahara War which lasted from 1975 to 1991.

When fitted for attack roles, the Alpha Jet is able to carry a respectable range of guided or unguided weaponry under the wings as well as American made AIM-9 Sidewinder or French made R.550 Magic air-to-air missiles for self defense. It can also be fitted with 27mm Mauser or 30mm DEFA cannon pods on the fuselage centreline. A reconnaissance pod was another option for mounting on the centreline.

Some variants of the aircraft are fitted with laser targeting equipment thus allowing them to designate targets for other aircraft carrying laser guided bombs.

The Alpha Jet Family 

IMG_0700
Portuguese air force Alpha Jet A seen at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.

Alpha Jet production lasted from 1973 to 1991 and a total 512 were made with more than half being exported.

Generally speaking, the aircraft family can be divided into three generations:

First Generation

The first generation consisted quite simply of the original A and E models built to German and French standards respectively.

Owing to the German desire for light attack, the Alpha Jet A was a more complex aircraft than the E model from a standpoint of avionics.

Externally, the most immediately visible difference between the two models was the nose. The A model had a smooth pointed nose while the E model had a blunt nose with strakes on either side.

The first generation also included Belgium’s Alpha Jet B model, though it was a standard E model when it entered service.

Second Generation

Three models of the aircraft represent the second generation: MS1, MS2 and Alpha Jet 2

The MS1 was the designation given to the Egyptian export version of the E model trainer. These aircraft were assembled in Egypt from kits supplied by Dassault-Breguet.

The MS2 was an attack optimised version based on the MS1. It included many improvements to avionics as well as more powerful engines.

The Alpha Jet 2 was a ground attack optimised version of the E model that incorporated aspects of the MS2.

Third Generation

This generation never really existed beyond paper concepts. It included the Alpha Jet ATS and Lancier variants.

The ATS (Advanced Trainer System) was to be a fully modernised version with full glass cockpits and other modern avionics.

Lancier was to be the attack optimised variation and was to have included all the upgrades of the ATS version plus an attack radar.

Alpha Jet B+

In 2000, Belgium initiated an upgrade program for their Alpha Jet B fleet.

This upgrade included modern flight controls and heads up display along with a modernised navigation system among other improvements.

In the late 2000s, France had a number of their E models upgraded to the B+ standard.

The Alpha Jet Today 

IMG_0866
Another Portuguese Alpha Jet A at Zeltweg in 2013.

The Alpha Jet has flown in the air forces of 12 countries and has found its way onto civilian registers in Austria, Canada, Germany, Great Britain and the USA.

It has served as the mount for military demonstration teams from Egypt, France and Portugal.

In civilian service, it is used for aeobatics displays, but is also highly valued as a platform for research and test flights as well as an aggressor aircraft for modern military fighter pilots to fly against in air combat training.

As of late 2017, the Alpha Jet continues to serve most of the military operators who selected it. However, the type’s European military users are seriously considering replacing their Alpha Jets or retiring them without replacement.

Whether in civil or military hands, it looks like the Alpha Jet will still be taking to the air for a while yet. How many chances are left for the public to see the type perfom is another matter entirely.

Learning More

This link will take you to a brief history of the Alfa Jet on Dassault Aviation’s web site:

https://www.dassault-aviation.com/en/passion/aircraft/military-dassault-aircraft/alpha-jet/

This link will take you to the Alpha Jet page of the Red Bull fleet:

http://www.flyingbulls.at/en/fleet/alpha-jet/

This link will take you to a photo essay of Alpha Jet based demonstration teams of the Portuguese air force (Some great pictures here!):

https://maptia.com/joseantunes/stories/20-years-of-alpha-jet

This link will take you to a short article about the arrival of civil registered Alpha Jets in Australia and their intended use as aggressor aircraft there:

https://downunderaviationnews.wordpress.com/new-alpha-jets-providing-operations-support-for-royal-australian-air-force-training/

While slightly dated, this page will give you some information about Belgian Alpha Jets:

http://www.air-passion.be/fas/report/alpha%20jet/article.htm

This link is to an article about Nigerian air force Alpha Jet operations during the First Liberian Civil War:

https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/ecomog-air-operations-during-the-liberian-civil-war-a-brief-overview/

 

Kunovice Air Museum Update

I very recently received an email from the Kunovice Air Museum with some very exciting news to see out the 2017 season and give good reason to eagerly anticipate the start of the 2018 season.

As regular followers of Pickled Wings will know, the museum took on a former Czech air force Tupolev Tu-154 in 2016 for restoration and eventual display. Not only did the museum set a national record for the most successful crowd funding project in the country to date in order to achieve the goal of moving the aircraft by road from Prague to Kunovice, they also received some very generous help from the Kunovice town council.

The help from the town council includes the expansion of the museum land in order to accomodate the Tu-154 in close proximity to the rest of the museum’s collection.

Here, I provide for you an English translation of the content of the email I received from the museum:

***

The Kunovice town council has prepared and approved the extension of the land of the Kunovice Air Museum.

Dear friends,

We are pleased to inform you and your readers about the fact that the Kunovice town council, headed by Mayor Ivana Majíčková, has prepared and approved the extension of the museum’s land. This will not only save us a lot of work, but it will also allow for a more appropriate exposure of our new eagerly awaited exhibit, the Tupolev TU-154M, and free up space for other exhibits.

Bez názvu

Image: Proposed design of the presumed location of the TU-154M in the extended area of the museum. (image credit: Kunovice Air Museum)

Apart from the extension of the land, the town of Kunovice also offered help with the preparation of the area for the Nagano Express. Thanks to this, the aircraft will have a dignified place in the Kunovice Aircraft Museum.

Museum Head, Martin Hrabec, said:

“This unexpected and generous offer was a very pleasant surprise for our team and we are very happy about it. Immediately we started to prepare everything needed to build a paved spot at a new location so we did not incur a significant time deficit and have been able to prepare a place for the airplane before it starts to freeze. The primary goal is to keep to the planned airplane movement which is scheduled for the beginning of next year, when we assume that the soil will be sufficiently frozen.”

Moving the Tupolev will be followed by the finishing work on the airplane and its surroundings, so that it can be publically unveiled and made available for viewing in the 2018 season.

***

 

For all the latest updates of museum activities, you can visit the museum’s web page:

http://www.museum-kunovice.cz/

You can also visit their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/leteckemuzeumvkunovicich/?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser

Book Review: “Tornado F3 in Focus”

Tornado F3 in Focus: A Navigator’s Eye on Britain’s Last Interceptor
By: David Gledhill
Fonthill Media (2015)

“All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. TSR2 simply got the first three right.” – Sir Sydney Camm

No truer words can be spoken about modern aircraft development than the above famous quote from the legendary aircraft designer, Sir Sydney Camm, when reflecting on the 1965 cancellation of the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) TSR.2 tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft program.

Politics will always hold some sway in procuring new military technology of any sort. A shift in power resulting from an election can utterly hamstring a much needed and well progressing project while those who control the flow of money will often get their way at the expense of the needs and safety of those charged with operating the equipment in the field.

Thus began the story of the Panavia Tornado F3…

The Tornado Air Defence Variant (ADV) program which would eventually lead to the F3 was quite controversial and well under many microscopes before the first prototype flew in 1979. It courted even more criticism when the lacklustre interim Tornado F2 variant entered RAF service in the early-mid 1980s.

From the first prototype flight in 1979 to the final retirement of the F3 by the Royal Saudi Air Force in 2014, the members of the Tornado ADV family would become both maligned and appreciated by various parties.

It was an aircraft that, in spite of its many detractors and early setbacks, would mature into a credible and valuable air defence asset which provided the Royal Air Force with a quarter century of service before they retired it in 2011.

In this book, David Gledhill lays out the Tornado ADV story in the RAF context from start to finish and covers in great detail all of the various road blocks in the aircraft’s development that held it back as well as the various incremental improvements that pushed it forward during its life.

Mr. Gledhill is a uniquely qualified voice to speak on matters of the Tornado ADV variants. He was one of the very first Tornado F2 navigators trained for the aircraft and his subsequent RAF flying career was dedicated to Tornado F3 operations as both an instructor navigator and an operational one.

Prior to his time as a Tornado navigator, he did the same job in the F-4 Phantom. As such, his knowledge and expertise of the air defence arena is extensive and he is well placed to not only compare the various stages of Tornado ADV development, but also to compare the Tornado and the Phantom in the the air defence role in a first hand and meaningful way.

Where this book really shines, in my view, is in Mr. Gledhill’s inside knowledge of the politics and other bureaucracy inside the halls of the Ministry of Defence that so often held the Tornado F3 back but kept the media and most other outsiders quite ignorant of why the aircraft seemed lacking.

The author is able to give us such an insight as he did two non flying tours of duty at the Ministry of Defence and was directly involved with many of the upgrades made to the Tornado F3 during that time. He relates tales of various projects jockeying for funding, his own extensive experience with the aircraft being placed second by those of higher authority who knew far less about the aircraft and perhpas nothing about the needs of the crews operating it.

The sections on procurement are particularly eye-opening and give a look at the intricacies of the development and procurement process of complex military technology that some who are keen to discredit contemporary military projects, such as the Lockheed-Martin F-35, but are dubiously informed about them might do well to read before going on a tirade in cyberspace against them.

The author also describes squadron deployments to the Middle East, the Balkans and the Falkland Islands in good detail.

Along the way, Mr. Gledhill also dispells many of the lingering myths and misconceptions about the Tornado F3 that followed it through its service life.

While there are a few typographical errors peppered through the book, they are not major impediments to undertsanding the text of the book.

If there is a more authoritative and well rounded book on the Tornado F3, I’m not aware of it.

Here is the book’s profile on the publisher’s website:

http://fonthillmedia.com/epages/a72b332e-5c82-4e84-ad34-4c5316ee7a6b.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/a72b332e-5c82-4e84-ad34-4c5316ee7a6b/Products/978-1-78155-307-7

Buy with confidence.