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Monday, 15 December 2014

Iconic Planes: McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II

The AV-8B, also known as the Harrier Jump Jet, is one of the few planes in the world which can hover. Yes, that's right. The plane is actually capable of hovering in place like a helicopter. It can also take off and land vertically, and make tight turns during a dog fight.

The AV-8B Harrier II is actually the second version of the Harrier (well, it is name II for a reason). The first Harrier was developed by Hawker Aircraft when the Bristol Engine Company announced planes for a directed thrust plane, i.e. a plane whose thrust nozzles can be moved in different directions. However, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier could carrier very less payload over very short distances.

McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) and British Aerospace (now part of BAE Systems) decided to improve the specifications of the Harrier, and came up with another version which had double everything of the first Harrier; double payload, double range, the works. The main change was the single engine inside the fuselage, which was improved an Pegasus engine designated the Pegasus 15. This engine can direct thrust downward, and can be swivelled backward to move the aircraft forward. These improvements made the Harrier more deadly than ever before. A hovering Harrier is seen in the right-hand-side picture.

The current Harriers have digital cockpits, night vision goggles, digital moving maps, chaff-flare deployers, radar warning systems and jammer pods. Also, advanced technologies like supercritical wings and engineered lateral stability make the plane much easier to fly. The Harrier II was also the first combat plane to make use of composites widely, making it both extremely light and strong. 26% of the body is made of composites, making is lighter than a full-metal structure.

Bottom view of jet aircraft showing its many under-wing pylons for weapons carriage. Two fences run along the length of the underside of the fuselage.
The Harrier has 6 pylons under each wing, and can carry anything from rockets and missiles to bombs and radio jammers. It is also carry the B61 nuclear bomb. The plane has a 5-barreled Gatling Gun under the nose and can carry 4 rocket pods with 19 rockets each. All missiles from Sidewinders to AMRAAMs are supported, as are bombs ranging from unguided bombs to JDAMs. The picture on the left shows some of the Harrier's diverse armament.

Back view of an aircraft taking off from a ramp aboard a ship. The ship is at sea.Usually, the Harrier does not take of vertically to save fuel. Indeed, it cannot do so when fully loaded. It makes sure of a short take of path, also known as a ski-jump ramp, which allows it to conserve fuel and take off at full load. The Harrier is used on smaller aircraft carriers because of this property of its. Smaller British aircraft carriers usually have a few Harrier IIs and a dozen helicopters. These are enough to be as deadly as any full-sized aircraft carrier. The picture on the right shows a Harrier taking off using a ski-jump ramp.

The Harrier's manoeuvrability gives it a distinct advantage over non-directed-thrust planes. In the Falkland Islands War near Argentina, the supreme manoeuvrability of the Harrier, coupled with its advanced Doppler radar system, allowed it to gain 20 victories without a single loss. (Left): The Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) ability of the Harrier make it an excellent carrier aircraft.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Iconic Planes: SR-71 Blackbird

This post will cover the Boeing Sr-71 Blackbird, the fastest non-rocket-powered manned aircraft in the world and the highest flying in the world. This plane was so fast that it could actually outrace surface-to-air missiles. It is one of the few planes in the world which can go to Mach 3.

The Sr-71 was designed by Boeing as a reconnaissance aircraft which could quickly get in and out of enemy territory and could fly high enough to avoid conventional SAMs. The Blackbird grew out of the U-2, the first attempt by Boeing to create an aircraft that satisfied the above requirements. However, the U-2 was much slower and, even though it could fly at altitudes above 70000 feet, one was shot down in Soviet Russia, which lead to the infamous 1960s U-2 incident. That, however, is another story.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly. Note the streaks of fuel from refueling spillage.The SR-71 was constructed out of radar absorbent materials to reduce its radar cross section, but after a while, renowned aerospace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson said that radar technology was advancing faster than stealth technology. However, the almost-flat structure was retained. The picture on the right shows a trainer aircraft flying over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The engines of the Blackbird were quite revolutionary. The Sr-71 employed two Pratt and Whitney J58 turbojet engines which were most efficient at speeds in excess of Mach 3. The whole engine compressed air a lot and in the end, injected fuel to give a huge amount of thrust. At Mach 3, the engines handed over thrust responsibility to the afterburner, which gave an extra push. The spike in the front slows the air down to subsonic speeds relative to the engine. The impressive thing was that the faster the engines went, the less fuel they used, which meant that pilots who flew faster to avoid interception consumed less fuel. The engines needed a smaller engine known as a "start cart" to get them running before take off. The start cart rotated the engine to 3200 rpm, after which the engine started running on its own. This process was repeated on the other engine. Later on, a quitter system was developed to jump-start the engines. The picture on the left shows the working of the engines.

The Blackbird had a very strong air-conditioning system because flying at speeds of Mach 3.2 heated the skin to 500 degrees Celsius. The system took heat from the cabin and injected it into the engines to provide extra energy.

A total of 32 aircraft were made, and they flew for quite a bit of time until the American Congress retired them saying that they were costing to much to maintain. Each aircraft cost 400 million dollars to maintain per year, and old planes had to be scavenged for parts as manufacturing had stopped. The Blackbird was finally retired in 1989. However, within four years, the USAF looked at the SR-71s again, debating whether or not to reactivate them due to their unmatched aerial reconnaissance. This met resistance though, by the Congress and new developers alike. By then, new unmanned aircraft were being developed which could take over the job of the SR-71 and in 1998, it was permanently retired. Old Blackbirds are now on display, and one is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Museum (picture below).


Monday, 8 December 2014

Top 10 Bombers of All Time

This post will cover the most successful and most effective bombers of all time. This list contains mostly only modern bombers unlike the Top 10 Fighters of All Time list as most World War-era bombers were not very effective or accurate at bombing. Keep in mind that today most military planes are fighter/bombers and that few pure bombers remain.

Number 10: Xian JH - 7

The Xian JH - 7 was a 4th generation tandem two-seat, twin-engine bomber which is in service with the People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF). This plane was also known as the Flounder or the Flying Leopard. The JH - 7 emerged out of demands by the PLANAF for a plane with strike capabilities and with also fighter capabilities. Many offers were sent overseas, but none returned any results. Thus, they developed one themselves, powered by a Rolls-Royce Spey Turbofan engine. The resulting plane was quite powerful and effective.

The JH - 7's normal artillery include a 23mm cannon and up to 20000 pounds including normal bombs, precision bombs and missiles. Its top speed is 1.75 Mach, its combat radius is 1100 miles, ferry range is 2300 miles and its max conventional altitude is 51180 feet. The Xian JH - 7 is a great bomber which totally deserves a place on this list.

Image result for xian jh 7

Number 9: Sukhoi Su-34

The Su-34 is the main fighter/bomber of the Russian Air Force. It was first flew in April 1990, and the first production model passed testing phase in 2006. The Su-34's main structure is based on the Sukhoi Su-27, which had a huge range, could carry heavy payloads and had excellent manoeuvrability. The Su-34 was intended to replace the outdated Su-24. The Su-34 can fly in all weather conditions and under hostile fire. It is equipped with countermeasures for enemy fire and electronic warfare (jamming of radar, etc.).
The SU-34's normal arsenal contains a single 30mm cannon with a fire rate of 1500 rounds a minute. The wings have 10 hard points totally for all sorts of bombs, missiles, guns and extra fuel tanks. Everything from conventional bombs to JDAM's can be carried by the Sukhoi Su-34. Coupled with its ability to refuel inflight, the SU-34 is indeed a formidable bomber in every aspect.

Number 8: Sukhoi Su-24M

The Sukhoi Su-24M, also known as the "Fencer", is a Soviet all weather supersonic attack plane. Many variants of this plane have been produced to perform anything from reconnaissance to electronic counter-offensive. This plane incorporates a sweep-wing feature, which allows a plane to reach supersonic speeds more easily. When the wings are swept back, the whole figure of the plane becomes more streamlined, and it can cut through the air more easily. Plus, it looks extremely cool. 
The Su-24M can carry up to 4 radio commanded guided missiles, 2 radar-homing missiles and 2 air to air missiles. It is armed with a 23mm gun and can carry up to 8000 kg of bombs of all types.

Image result for sukhoi su-24m

Number 7: Xian H-6

Originally, the H-6 was intended as a nuclear deterrent, and was thusly developed to carry a single nuclear bomb. However, the development of ICBMs (Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles) which could be launched from silos or submarines put an end to its nuclear-bomb-dropping career. Thus, it became a conventional bomber. Later, it was outfitted to be able to launch missiles, further increasing its usefulness.
The H-6 has a normal Cold-War-era design, but this does not stop it from being effective and deadly. Up to 6 23mm cannons can be attached at different points on the plane, covering all possible angles of attack. In this respect, the plane is very much like the B-17 Flying Fortress, which had machine guns in the front, pointing upward and downward, on each side and even on the back!
The H-6 could carry up to 20000 pounds of bombs. It was powered by two Xian WP8 series turbojet engines, and had a range of 3700 miles. Its service ceiling (highest altitude) was 42000 feet. However, as this bomber is quite old and has not been upgraded, it is now used as an in-flight refuelling tanker too. Even so, in the case of war, quite enough H-6s remain to make them a formidable opposition to even the most advanced armies of today.

Number 6: Tupolev Tu-95

One of the few propeller-powered bombers on this list, the Tupolev Tu-95 was one of the more older bombers to become successful. The first prototypes flew on November 12th 1952, powered by 4 Kuznetsov 2TV-2F turboprop engines. However, they were later replaced due to problems. The armament consisted of 1 to 2 23 mm cannons in the tail controlled by radar. The payload was almost 20000 pounds - quite good for the time - and was later upgraded to include missiles. The plane could not carry nuclear weapons. However, the Tu-95A mark could do so.
After the fall of the USSR, their whole fleet of Tu-95s went to Ukraine, who returned them after negotiations. Today, about 50 "Bears", as they were called, remain in service. Ukraine, on the other hand, does not have any TU-95s left.
The Tu-95 was a very good plane for its time and continues to be one. It has certainly left its mark on the world.

Number 5: Tupolev Tu-22M

The Tu-22M was based on the Tupolev Tu-22. it first flew in 1971 and was first deployed in Afghanistan in between 1987 and 1989. It was used in combat in Chechnya in 1995. it is usually used as a nuclear delivery vehicle and a conventional bomber. However, it can also be used in anti-ship and maritime reconnaissance missions.
The Tu-22M can carry up to 24000 kg of bombs. Like the Tu-95, the 22M has two 23 mm radar controlled cannons in the tail. It can carry nuclear weapons and a wide variety of bombs, missiles, cannons and extra fuel tanks. This plane has special landing gear for operations on unprepared runways.
The Tu-22M is another member of the highly successful Tupolev family, which have three members on this list alone.

Number 4: Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

The B-52 is probably the largest and most powerful bombers on this list. While the previous bombers could carry about 20000 pounds of bombs, the B-2 can carry a whopping 70000 pounds of ordnance. Its maximum take off weight is an astonishing 488000 pounds. The newer variant of the B-52, the B-52H, can carry all kinds of weapons from conventional bombs to guided missiles and JDAMs. The B-52s sheer size requires it to have 8 Pratt and Whitney TF - 33 turbofan engines to get it into the air. The first B-52 flew in 1952 and is still operational today, making it the longest serving aircraft in US Air Force history. 
The B-52 can fly for around 10000 miles without being refuelled, which is an amazing feat. It can also fly surprisingly high for a plane of its size; the B-52 can reach heights of over 50000 feet. It is used by the US Air Force and NASA and is used in interdiction, maritime and counter-air offensives. The B-52 was originally intended for carpet bombing i.e. bombing a large area of land to eliminate all hostiles there. However, this was a waste of resources and precision bombing was seen as a more attractive option. So, this is what the B-52 does now.
The B-52s sheer size and effectiveness, coupled with its unbeatable stats make it one of the most deadly and feared weapons in the sky.

Number 3: Rockwell B1-B Lancer

The B1 Lancer was designed as a supersonic bomber with large range and payload meant to replace the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. It is now a low-level penetrator and can achieve Mach 1.25 speeds at higher altitudes. The Lancer can carry short-range nuclear warheads. Its usual load includes 84 Mk. 82 500 pound bombs or 24 JDAMs. It also has the sweep-wing feature, adding to its coolness.
The Lancer has a very sleek design which radiates an aura of deadly purpose. It also has a low radar signature, which makes it harder to detect on radar. It can carry 125000 pounds of ordnance, internally and externally (combined) and its service ceiling is 60000 feet. The Lancer is expected to serve until the 2030s, and will most probably serve until much later owing to its superb design, technology and effectiveness.

Number 2: Tupolev Tu 160

The Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack" has been, since its inception, the largest, heaviest, most powerful swing-wing combat aircraft ever. It was designed to compete with the B-1 Lancer, and though it looks almost like the Lancer, it is much bigger and has greater range and payload. About 30 of these mammoth beasts were produced, and about 19 are in Ukraine currently.
Many variants were produced, such as the 160R for reconnaissance and the 160PP for pure electronic warfare countermeasures. This plane sports 4 Kuznetsov Nk-321 afterburning turbofan engines, two under each wing in pairs. It has two bomb bays that can hold anything from missiles to conventional and smart bombs. The Tu-160 can also carry 12 short range nuclear missiles.
Recent efforts have been made to keep this plane flying, and it is expected to serve until the 2030s, like the Lancer. This gigantic bomber is a truly awe-inspiring sight in its glory and power.

Number 1: B-2 Spirit

The B-2 Spirit is one of the most advanced and most deadly bombers in the world. It is one of the two stealth planes commercially being produced, the other being the F-117 Nighthawk. The B-2 has a rad-absorbent coating and paint, making it essentially invisible to radar systems. This makes is easy for the B-2 to slip under anti-aircraft nets and rain havoc upon targets deep with enemy lines. It is one of the most expensive aircrafts in the world, costing about 2.1 billion dollars per plane. In comparison, a whole nuclear powered aircraft carrier that's as long as the Empire State Building costs about 4.5 billion dollars. The USAF plan to operate the B-2 till 2060.
The B-2s armament consists of a wide range of bombs of all kinds and missiles of all kinds, It can carry up to 40000 pounds of munitions. It can also carry a lot of nuclear weapons. This plane carries some of the most advanced weaponry on the planet, including up to 16 satellite-guided JDAMs, joint air to air stand off missiles and joint stand off missiles. It can also carry two Boeing Massive Ordnance Penetrators, each of which contain 2400 kg of explosives which are designed to destroy underground targets.
The B-2 is a very advanced plane carrying very advanced weaponry, and advanced technology is the key to winning any war. Thus, wherever the B-2 comes, there victory is certain.