US Navy nuclear aircraft carriers – the seagoing airbase
The United States Navy has the biggest fleet of aircraft carriers in the World. Having 10 carriers in service, two in reserve and one being building it operates half of all carriers being used all over the World. Nimitz-class carriers which are at the moment (after USS Enterprise CVN-65 retirement in December 2012 and before USS Gerald R. Ford CVN-78 enters service est. 2015) the only type of carriers in service are a reason to be proud of for the US Marines. They are the largest warships ever built. 1’092 ft long, they are capable of carrying over 100’000 tons. When needed ships’s company can number 3’200 people and almost 2’500 air wing complement. Up to 130 F/A-18 Hornets or 80-90 aircraft of mixed types can find an accommodation. Although a maximum aircraft capacity is bigger currently typically air wing consists of 64 aircrafts including F/A-18 or F Super Hornets, F/A-18C Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, C-2 Greyhounds, SH-60F & HH-60H Seahawks. Historically also other aircraft were carried aboard Nimitz-class carriers: F-14 Tomcats, S-3 Vikings, A-7 Corsair II and A-6E Intruders.
Responsibility for all air operations on a carrier are hold by the air boss on the bridge. There are several facilities to be used during air operations such as four steam catapults for launching of fixed wing aircraft and four arrestor wires used to rapidly decelerate an aircraft after landing (USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76 and USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 are equipped with only three arrestor wires as the fourth was used rarely).
Nimitz class aircraft carriers over years
Designed to replace Kitty Hawk class and Enterprise class Nimitz class carriers started their service for the US Navy in 1975. First major mission in which USS Nimitz was involved was Operation Eagle Claw in 1980 which was an attempt to rescue 52 Americans held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and end the Iran hostage crisis. She also was used to provide security of the coast of South Korea during 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
By July 1992 already 6 of planned 10 Nimitz-class carriers were in service and in January 2009 the last one USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 was commissioned. She was first deployed in May 2011, crossed Atlantic to visit Britain and take part in Exercise Saxon Warrior. USS George H.W. Bush returned to Norfolk after 7 month deployment in December 2011.
Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers – the best is still to come
Nimitz class carriers which are in service for almost 40 years now are soon to be gradually replaced by the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. The new class will use almost unchanged hull design as its predecessor, but will introduce new technologies developed since USS Nimitz was commissioned. New technologies implemented will help to improve efficiency, lower running costs and reduce crew requirements.
One of the biggest innovations will be Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). Although the steam catapults used on Nimitz-class aircraft carriers (which were developed in the 1950s) have been really reliable, they are massive, hard to control and their efficiency is very low. The force used for launching can be controlled with greater precision in comparison to steam systems, allowing it to be used by wider range of aircraft from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to heavy fighter jets.
The first of Ford-class carriers USS Gerald R. Ford CVN-78 is announced to join the US Fleet in 2015, and will be 11th nuclear super carrier in the US Navy service.
Two next ships USS John F. Kennedy CVN-79 and USS Enterprise CVN-80 (named after USS Enterprise CVN-65) are planned to be placed in commission by 2020 and 2025 accordingly.
The main path is through the Air Forces Academy and the Naval Academy
Click to enlarge infographic
Military pilots, especially those flying on a supersonic aircraft belong to one of the most respectable and elite groups in the U. S. Armed Forces. Their profession is on the list of the most interesting and amazing job. After all, who does not want to be, even for a second, like Tom Cruise and take off from a carrier while watching the movie “Top Gun”? No wonder so many young people dream about it and link their future with it. Every branch of the United States Armed Forces is equipped with a military aircraft, but only the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps have fighter jets. The road to become a military pilot, especially a fighter pilot is tough and not possible for everybody.
First and most important is a college degree. To be a military pilot you need to become an officer and to be an officer you need a college degree. This means one needs to have bachelor’s degree and completed Officers Candidate School (OCS) to become a fighter jet pilot. Also becoming an officer does not guarantee flying a fighter jet before being commissioned as a pilot. This is due to the fact that medical and physical requirements are so high and those who cannot fulfill them cannot become fighter pilots.
For those who are still in high school and aspire to be a fighter pilot the best way is through the Air Forces and the Naval Academies. Entering one of the academies is extremely difficult and it calls for hard work during high school. Not only high ranks and perfect exam results are a minimum requirement, but also extra activities that prove leadership abilities or athletic skills are necessary. Moreover, recommendation letters and support from local congress people is very helpful.
However, after entering the academy there is still a lot to do. Many cadets desire the pilot slots and competition begins again. Being commissioned as a pilot depends on the class rank, extra activities and, of course, medical and physical predispositions. For those lucky young cadets in the Air Force Academies there is the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), a 1-year-long initial flight training. It starts with a screening program, similar to the Private Pilot License course. After it, the class is split into those who will fly helicopters, heavy aircraft and fighter jets. The priority of choice is given to the best students and they will probably fly supersonic jets in the future. The rest has to settle for the other aircrafts. Those cadets who receive fighters compete during the rest of the course for the opportunity to become a pilot of a plane they would like to fly. Again it does depend on the class rank, instructor’s opinion and the Air Force’s demand.
Finally, after this great competition and graduation a pilot training cadet waits for the centrifuge and survival training. For those who pass it, the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course (IFF) begins and it is performed on Northrop T-38 Talon. This is the last flying course before going to operational Major Weapon System (major aircraft). The basic course (B-course) and the introductory training course for the chosen fighters is the last stop before being transferred to an operational unit. After several months of training a cadet becomes a Mission Ready (MR) wingman and a full operational fighter pilot.
The road to become the fighter pilot after the Navy Academies looks similar, especially during the first years. After gaining a pilot slot the training starts with the Introductory Flight Screening (IFS) and Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API). Following the API completion the Primary Flight Training begins and students pilots learn to fly the T-6 Texan II Beechcraft or the T-34C Turbo Mentor. At this point cadets choose the Intermediate and Advance Flight Training paths: helicopters, the MV-22 Osprey, heavy military planes and finally Tailhook aircraft. After an advanced training, pilots go to Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) where they start flying on their specific aircraft.
Different ways to become a fighter pilot
The second way to become a fighter pilot is Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTS). This solution is for those who want to study in a normal way as a civil, but along with the preparation training for officers during a college or a university education. The student’s duty is to attend a military training and courses, mostly at the weekends, and spend at least one summer on a training camp. When the officer training is complete, there is an option to apply for the pilot training. The competition is fierce and requirements are high so it is a difficult way, but in the end you can gain the pilot slot and start UPT or IFS training.
The third and last way for future pilots is the Officer Candidate School (OCS), also known as the Officer’s training school. Those who graduate civil colleges and gain a bachelor’s degree without a military background can attend officer courses. During four months of training a cadet can become an officer and apply for the pilot training. The same rule applies to this group: great medical and psychical condition is required, moreover applicants have to be before the age of twenty-seven. This all means that there is not much time left after studies to become a military pilot.
You can still be a fighter pilot as a civilian
Becoming a fighter pilot is a long and difficult task. Not everybody can meet all requirements, especially those medical and physical ones. Moreover, during all the years of study and UPT a candidate cannot be sure about his future. But if you still dream about becoming a military pilot and you do not have any chance to go to the U.S. Armed Force, there is a solution. In the USA as well as in Europe you can become a fighter pilot for one day and fly a real fighter jet like the L-39 Albatros. With an experienced flight instructor in a two-seater fighter jet you can for a moment feel like a real military pilot and perform amazing maneuvers while flying. So all is not lost and you can still feel like Tom Cruise in the movie “Top Gun” for a second. If you are interested, have a look at the fighter jet rides available at flyfighterjet.com
What exactly does Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle mean?
The Northrop Grumman X-47B Pegasus is a very unusual aircraft. Designed to execute missions likes any other multirole fighter jet but without a pilot on board. To handle such a responsible task the X-47 from the beginning has been developed as an autonomous aircraft. That means it would fly in all possible weather conditions, at high altitude on long range sorties, simultaneously cooperating with other vehicles and satellites without human interference. Of course, engineers and officers supervise drones during flights and missions, but still there is no one on board. Moreover, the X-47B is amazing because of its construction. The flying wing structure and the stealth technology make it low observable and give it high aerodynamic efficiency which allows for long range series. Another assumption of the project was the possibility to operate it from the Navy carriers which is probably the greatest difficulty for constructors. The unfriendly environment, folding wings, take-offs, landing, and operating on the carrier’s deck had to be taken into consideration. All this is really difficult for experienced pilots so one can only imagine how complex and advanced this project is.
The Navy considers Pegasus to be the perfect aerial vehicle for surveillance and reconnaissance, striking and penetrating an enemy’s air defense system missions. The payload capacity during stealth missions (4500 lb.) and aerial refueling really improve its capabilities. Furthermore, if technology and budget allow, there is a chance for air defense equipment and combat flights. All those aspects make the X-47 one of the most advanced weapons of the future, and who knows, maybe the best.
The complicated history of the UCAS-D program and the long road to the first X-47 flight.
In the second half of the 1990s Boeing and Northrop Grumman individually initiated the projects of UAV (unmanned air vehicle) under private funding. In June 2000, the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) together with the US Air Force and US Navy developed a program of UCAV and gave money and green light to mentioned companies. Boeing X-45 was designed for the Air Force and Northrop X-47A for the Navy. Because of similarity of both projects, the government decided to scale them into the one, named J-UCAS (Joint Unmanned Combat Air System). A few years after that the US Air Force lost interest in the project and abandoned it. Since then the Navy has taken over the J-UCAS program and together with Northrop Grumman continued the project under a new label UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System – Demonstrator). In December 2008 the completed prototype of X-47B Pegasus was officially unveiled and there began a long and advanced program of test flights, launches and recoveries on an airfield and an aircraft carrier at sea.
The X-47B’s first historic flight took place at the Edward Air Force Base on the 4th of February 2011. It took 29 minutes and provided information and test data of the aerodynamic control, navigation systems and all basic avionics. This flight was a verification of all pre-flight preparation and design of the tailless construction. Moreover, for everyone devoted to the project it was a sign that they had made a great job despite all the problems. The Navy is planning the first carrier trails for 2013. Now the UCAS-D program is preparing the X-47B for it at the Edward Air Force Base and we are looking forward to the first carrier take-off and landing.
The X-47B is not only an armed drone
Modern warfare requires new kinds of technology and weapons to be used on battlefield. That is the reason why UAVs (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle) during the last years have changed from unarmed reconnaissance aircraft to fully weapon-equipped fighters. A great example could be the General Atomics MQ-1A Predator which is equipped with Hellfire anti-armor missiles. Currently few countries decided for that kind of weapon. What is interesting is the fact, that the costs of the drones and the development programs are much cheaper than fighter jets. The same applies to trainings for operators. Moreover, aircraft pilots are not in danger during missions what is one of its biggest advantages. The direction of the technology development clearly shows that most likely one day the drones will display the fighters. We write an article about this topic on the MiGFlug blog, you can find it unter MiGFlug.com/jetflights.
Additional Articles and Resources:
More detailed information about the X-47B on globalsecurity.org
Boeing E-3 Sentry - Airborne early warning and control (AWACS)
The “Red Flag” operation does not mean walking or dancing with a Soviet Union or a Chinese flag. One may say, it is probably the most realistic and advanced aerial combat training held at the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Every year since 1975, during two weeks (several times a year), the United States Armed Forces (mostly USAF) and its allies simulate modern ,,aerial warfare’’. The main goal of these trainings is to give the pilots a chance to recognize their skills in almost real war situations. Besides, everyone engaged in such exercises improve ability to cooperate between diverse branches of the army and in different languages.
The Red Flag exercises are quite large operations. Within a 12-month period from over 500 to more than 1.200 aircraft (depends on a year) fly beyond 20.000 sorties. Interesting fact is that 20.000 personnel gaining experience, almost equals to all personnel of the Polish Air Force (25.400).
United States Armed Forces and NATO against who?
F-15 and F-16 belonging to 64 and 65 Aggressor Squadron
The typical war situation requires two enemy sides, and here is the same. Consider that the Red Flag originated during the Cold War.The defenders (Blue team) were the U.S. and NATO against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact members (Red team). It should be noticed that the White Team represents the neutral controlling force. Of course nowadays it is a historical fiction, but this scenario is still played. The aggressor’s ground units are armed with the soviet-designed air defense missiles (S-75, S-125), the anti-aircraft weapon (ZSU-23-4, ZSU-57-2) and more. Those weapons are equipped with electronic devices for sending out simulating signals of fire and aiming. It still has to be as realistic as it is possible, but it is clear that they don’t kill each other. The only simplifications are the jets, both teams are using ,,NATO’s” aircrafts. Blue forces use every aircraft which can be used during a real war. Bombers (B-1, B-2, F-117, etc.), air superiority aircrafts (F-15, F-16, M2000, F-22, etc.), reconnaissance aircrafts (U-2, UAV, etc.), electronic warfare aircrafts (EA-6B, F-16, EA-18G, etc.) And also air support, search and rescue aircrafts, aerial refueling aircrafts, and the commander aircraft E-3. The Red force comprises of the 64th Aggressor Squadron (64 AGRS) and the 65th Aggressor Squadron (65 AGRS) using the F-15 and F-16 to compete with the MIG-29 Fulcrum and the Su-30 Flanker. This emulation is not a mistake, western and eastern fighters have many similar features and are among the best fighters in history. Furthermore MIG-29 flights are available for tourist. If you want to know more, click here for additional information.
The “Red Flag” operation was initiated by Colonel Richard “Moody” Suter. His experience from the Vietnam War and analytical abilities (ex. Project Red Baron) pushed him to persuade the Tactical Air Command to adopt the program. It was well known, that the first 10 sorties were mostly dangerous for young pilots and crew members. To avoid unnecessary losses and strengthen self-confidence of “greenhorn” pilots in the air, he gave them opportunity to train. But it is not only the aircraft that wins the war. There are also paratroopers, rescue and search units, and an ops center. All that makes this operation one of the most advanced and outstanding exercise in the U.S Armed Forces.
Despite everything is a simulation, bad things can happen. So far a few incidents took place. One of them was deadly. In 1979 an F-111 crashed in the Nellis Air Force Base. MAJ Gary A. Mekash and LT COL Eugene M. Soeder were killed. Hopefully such accidents will never happen again.
Red Flag is not secret!
Everything that’s going on in the Nellis Air Force Base and the Eielson Air Force Base is public. No “black ops” are being held. Moreover, defense giant Boeing made a documentary movie for IMAX called Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. Fantastic shots and amazing aerobatics and extremely realistic shots make it worth seeing. For a moment you can be part of Red Flag. Watch the video below under Red Flag videos on Youtube.
It is interesting that the last exercises were quite popular because of the clash of two great jet fighters, the F-22 Raptor and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Surprisingly German Eurofighters won dogfights against the F-22, despite the technology and cost difference. This led us to ask is the F-22 invincible?
The Mikoyan fighters in a nice Wings of Russia documentary.
A nice Wings of Russia documentary about the successful development of Mikoyan Design Bureau/MiG Corporation – from the MiG-1 to the newer 4+ generation MiG-29 variants like the MiG-29KUV and the 4++ generation MiG-35.
Wings of Russia: Take off into the future 1/2
Wings of Russia: Take off into the future 2/2
New MiG-29 variants: MiG-29KUB and MiG-35
MiG-29KUB and MiG-35
KAB-500Kr TV-guided bomb
Kh-35E (AS-20 Kayak) subsonic anti-ship missile
Kh-31A / Kh-31P anti-ship missile with active seeker
RVV-AE medium range air-to-air active radar-guided missile
3M-14E / 3M-54E1 land attack cruise missile / anti-ship missile
Kh-29T TV-guided missile
KAB-500LG laser-guided bomb
Mikoyan MiG-29K/KUB Fulcrum-D
The Mikoyan MiG-29K/KUB is a 4+ generation carrier-based multirole fighter jet (now on the official MiG website also classified as 4++). The MiG-29K has hands-on-throttle-and-stick control (HOTAS), multi-function radar and very modern cockpit displays. Also, the weaponry is very modern (see image above).
The program was not successful until the Indian Navy were interested in that carrier-based fighter jet after they bought a former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (now recommissioned as INS Vikramaditya).
The Russian Navy preferred the Sukhoi Su-27K, but the Mikoyan Design Bureau did not stop developing the MiG-29K variant despite a lack of financing after the financial crisis following the end of the Soviet Union. The smaller MiG-29 has an advantage over the Su-27 as a carrier-based fighter jet as it uses less valuable space in the aircraft carrier.
Mikoyan MiG-35 Fulcrum-F
The Mikoyan MiG-35 is a 4++ generation variant of the MiG-29 based on MiG-29M2 and the MiG-29K/KUB. Due to the 30% increased maximum take off weight, the MiG-35 is now classed as a medium-weight aircraft. The MiG-35 fighter jet has improved avionics and weapon systems.
F-22 Raptor “Far and away the best air-to-air fighter ever produced”
Above quotation is from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. And he’s not known as a “Raptor-friend” as he cut the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor production to just 187 of the famous stealth fighters – which lead to a incredibly high USD 400 mio per F-22 produced. Many experts questioned if it is worth to spend that much on a single fighter aircraft. Thoughts were that even though the F-22 is a huge step in technology, it might not be worth to spend that much. More and cheaper aircraft even if less developed would in the end be the better choice. But none of the experts questioned the F-22 itself from a technological point of view – it was somehow clear that the F-22 Raptor was simply invincible. Another similar quotation is from former Air Force general Norton Schwartz: “Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor [...] unquestionably the best air-to-air fighter in the arsenal of the world’s leading air force.
How to Defeat the Mighty USAF Stealth Fighter.
Now here is the surprising fact – During a recent Red Flag exercise in Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor had some dogfights against eight German “Luftwaffe” EADS Eurofighter Typhoons. The Eurofighter Typhoon is a 4.5th generation, non-stealthy aircraft. With a system cost of around €90m per aircraft (German Tranche 3A) the Eurofighter is far cheaper – even due to the fact that the cost is far higher than expected. So you would expect the F-22 having a good kill/loss ration against the Eurofighter. And it seems both the Luftwaffe pilots in the Eurofighters and the US Air Force pilots in their F-22 were surprised about the result. A German Eurofighter pilot proudly said “Yesterday we had Raptor salad for lunch”. German Major Marc Gruene summarized the air-to-air exercise with “We were evenly matched”. Major Gruene further said “The key is to get as close as possible to the F-22 Raptor and then stay there. They didn’t expect us to turn so aggressively.” In close air-to-air combat, in slower, close-range tangle (merge), the “bigger and heavier F-22 is at a disadvantage”.
The result and the huge purchasing cost of the F-22 led to the ABC-News Headline: “F-22 Raptor Loses $79 Billion Advantage in Dogfights”.
Can the F-22 kill any enemy aircraft beyond visual range only?
The Raptor excels at fighting from beyond visual range with its high speed and altitude, Major Gruene said. Main reason for the advantage on long range is the superior radar and the Raptor’s long-range AMRAAM missiles. And this is exactly the combat tactics the F-22 was developed for: “Advanced air forces plan to do most of their fighting at long range and avoid the risky, close-in tangle” says Maj. Gruene. But there is evidence that this might be wishful thinking: Think tank RAND warned against relying in long-range missiles. The Air Force-funded RAND researched 588 air-to-air shoot-downs since 1950. RAND counted in the study that just 24 air-to-air kills occurred with the attacking fighter jet firing from beyond visual range. Long-range air-to-air missiles used by the US Air Force have been 90-percent less effective than predicted – which could also be a result of the mighty lobbies in the US. Weapons might be less effective in real combat (or “real” exercise) than assumed. The link to the study can be found below.
L-39 crash of the Breitling Jet Team #2 near Valkenswaard, Netherlands
We are very sad to about the news that #2 of the Breitling Jet Team crashed. At the same time very happy that the pilot and his technician ejected safely. The team displayed at the Den Helder Airport Airshow on Saturday, September 15th, 2012. The BJT almost reached Kleine Brogel Air Force Base, when #2 reported technical problems. Soon after this, the L-39 jet #2 crashed in a field near the Dutch-Belgian border. After the crash, the jet didn’t catch fire, first speculation say it just run out of fuel.
Did they use a LOM Praha engine?
We heard from the Breitling Jet Team maintenance crew that 3 L-39s had engines with modifications. A couple of L-39s have engines built or upgraded from LOM Praha, a state-owned Czech manufacturer. There has been a discussion between Ukrainian manufacturer Motor-Sich and LOM about the responsibility. Motor-Sich claims LOM made alterations to the L-39 engine without consulting the Ukrainian designer and producer of the engine. LOM engineers replaced the titanium parts in the front of the engine with steel ones. It is assumed that this alternations already led to a L-39 crash of “Les Ailes de Pégase” near Gironde in France.
But anyway, let’s wait until the incident cause has been researched.
Breitling Jet Team will be back!
We met the leader of the Breitling Jet Team, Jaques Bothelin two years ago in Switzerland to talk about a possible cooperation. He’s an impressive personality and we are convinced that he’ll lead his team during this hard time.
We hope our friends of Breitling Jet Team will be ready with their amazing display program soon. The Breitling Jet Team has taken the decision to fly back to the team’s home base in Dijon, France. They apologise that they will not be displaying at Sanicole in Belgium and Lens in France. And they say they will be back in the air & displaying very soon!
Well, let’s hope Jaques Bothelin and his team will manage to be ready again soon to show their impressive discplay program. Also we hope that the negative series in September will end soon, after another L-39 of the US display team “The Hoppers” crashed at the first September weekend in Davenport.
What is better? Air Force Technology from the East or the West?
The comparison of Eastern with Western fighter jets is very popular. It is an often discussed topic on forums and of course many (if not most) opinions are a bit biased. But it is interesting that after the downfall of the Soviet Empire and the end of the East block we now have countries with both – Western and Eastern technology. And we have NATO countries flying with MiGs. Even the US Air Force purchased MiG-29s from Moldova. But of course the research results and tests are not really public, one would lose an advantage if too much information is public. The Polish Air Force is currently operating the F-16 and the MiG-29. And Poland bought the 24 MiG-29s which German Air Force/Luftwaffe inherited from East German Air Force (Luftstreitkräfte der NVA) for a symbolic EUR per piece. It is interesting to talk with pilots of such “mixed” fleets, they usually identify themselves with the fighter jet they fly. MiG-29 pilots highlight the advantages of the MiG, F-16 pilots accentuate the strengths of the Fighting Falcon. And both are right!
Different roles – different fighter jet. How to compare them?
Picture: A drawing from the 1992 Fulcrum-Flanker review by General Dynamics.
One needs to be aware that both MiG-29 and F-16 were developed in different circumstances, which had an impact on different requirements towards the jets. F-16 was designed to be a cost effective, light multirole (fighter-bomber) jet that could be a support to the more expensive F-15 Eagle. On the other hand the MiG-29 is a typical air-superiority fighter jet. For MiG-29 designers range and avionics were not as crucial as powerful engines, high altitude flights, rate of climb, speed and the ability to take off from really shabby runways.
Those differences are visible in the construction of both machines. The MiG-29 Fulcrum has two engines (Klimov RD-33 afterburning turbofans) – officially for better aerodynamics, in fact for more power and safety reasons. The Eastern construction is also equipped with two vertical stabilizers helping the pilot keep stability after starting the engine.
Western specialists saw the F-16 as safe enough with just one engine. But the US designers saw the need to improve the cockpit and general ergonomics. It resulted in single piece bubble canopy (with exceptional field of view), the pilot’s seat is reclined at an unusual tilt-back angle of 30°, multifunctional displays and general automation. All these features led to enhancing pilot’s combat effectiveness. The MiG-29 is not equipped with the above.
Combat capabilities MiG-29 Fulcrum vs F-16 Fighting Falcon
Actually, the comparison is between Mikoyan MiG-29A Fulcrum and General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcon. Why? It is because first MiGs entered service in early 80’s, the same time as Falcons in C version.
Neither of the two fighter jets is able to attack the target from large distance (over 100 km or 62 miles). If they are flying towards each other – at medium distance it would probably be MiG to be detected first, as F-16C has a better radar (with all-weather capability with BVR (beyond-visual-range) AIM-7 and AIM-120 air-air missiles), so it would give the F-16’s pilot more time for reaction. In case of the air combat between the two, if they both would fire the missiles it is hard to predict which would succeed as technical data for R-27R (AA-10 Alamo) are inaccurate. Russian sources show the range of 100 km, but if that’s true, its range is really limited to the radar range of the jet. The AMRAAM efficiency is not as high as the Western specialists say, but F-16 would still probably have advantage here, as AMRAAM is actively guided and the pilot can fire the missile first and then make a maneuver.
In case of the dogfight at short distance – advantages of Eastern construction become visible. The MiG-29 is more maneuverable, the reason why the performance of MiG-29 and Su-27s at airshow is always very impressive – especially the versions with thrust vectoring (TVC), eg the Sukhoi Su-37 and the Mikoyan MiG-35 (MiG-29 OVT).
It is always hard to clearly point which jet is better, or assess the quality of the aircraft. There are number of crucial differences between MiG-29 and F-16 not even mentioned here. But both of them are great aircrafts: in general older pilots tend to favor the MiGs as when they control the stick they “feel” the jet, in opposite to the joystick of the F-16.
What about the cannons? The Western M61 Vulcan has much higher rate of fire (6,000 rounds per minute comparing to GSz-30-1 1,500 rounds/min) but the Eastern GSz-30-1 is 30mm caliber (comparing to M61 is 20mm). So one Russian bullet makes much more damage than the American one. It is worth mentioning that combined with its laser rangefinding GSz-30-1 is extremely accurate and able to destroy the target with as little as 3 to 5 rounds. Another interesting feature of the eastern MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-29 Flanker is the IRST (Infra-red search and track). It was most successful when the Indian Air Force Su-27 had 9:1 wins against the American Air Force F-15 in a joint exercise.
So it appears for the compared versions that F-16 should be more successful at medium distance air combat, but MiG-29 in short distance dogfight. But the results of combat missions really depend on possessed weapon system options and commander’s skills (superior pilot training). It strongly depends how much training the fighter pilot gets, and what quality of training. There are rumors that North Korean MiG-29 pilots can not fly that often because of the lack of fuel the Korean People’s Air Force faces. Also, Air Forces with combat experience have a know how others don’t get, especially when the air force does not profit from foreign know-how.
Kill/Loss ratio favors the F-16, not the MiG-29
A study found F-16 has a 92:13 kill/loss ratio, with MiG 29 having a 16:28 kill/loss ratio. Largest share are Israeli Air Force with 52 claimed kills (2 unconfirmed), the Pakistani Air Force with 24 kills claimed. Turkish Air Force is third. As discussed above, this can have different reasons and doesn’t necessarily mean the F-16 is so much better.
The newer MiG-29 versions with the helmet mounted sight coupled with the AA-11 Archer missile gives the MiG-29 a great kill zone. Swiss Air Force F/A-18 pilots were very impressed by the German MiG-29 when they had a joint exercise with German Luftwaffe MiGs before they were sold to Poland. The ability to target enemy aircraft has proved to be a success, so that helmet mounted sights have become requirements on any new fighter program.
Another nice thing about the MiG-29 is that tourists can fly it. No joke. There is a MiG-29 UB two seater available for fighter jet rides in Russia. More information here.
Below you can see a MiG-29 vs. F-16 dogfight. Deblin Airshow 2010, by the Polish Air Force.
Thunder City offered the possibility to fly in supersonic jets – Next to the Russian Zhukovsky Airbase until June 2006 and Sokol Airbase from 2006 the only place in the world to offer tourist flights in supersonic aircraft. In places like Europe or the US it is not possible to experience a supersonic flight, it is allowed only for special purposes like documentary filming, for research etc.
Also, Thunder City had probably the most impressive fleet of jet fighters, with Zhukovsky airbase where the MAKS airshow takes place. The fleet is even more impressive when you consider the cost of maintaining these jets. But this was also a reason why Thunder City flights where hard to finance.
English Electric Lightning, Buccaneer, Hawker Hunter
Thunder City currently owns 3 English Electric Lightning supersonic Jet Fighters which have been in service with the Royal Air Force before. The Lightnings have been used for Edge of Space Flights and reached altitudes more than 15km with tourists. Until November 14th Thunder City had 4 English Elctric Lightnings, that day one of the two T5 two-seaters was lost in a deadly Airshow accident at Overberg Airshow. Thunder City was the only operator of the English Electric Lightning, one of the first supersonic aircraft, reaching Top Speeds of Mach 2 and Mach 1.6 with tourist flights.
Also, Thunder City owns three Blackburn Buccaneers, also the only airworthy examples worldwide. The Buccaneer is a giant, a low-level strike fighter with nuclear weapon capability. The South African Air Force operated 16 Buccaneers. The Apartheid-Regime had nuclear weapons, even did a nuclear test.
The third large military fighter aircraft owned by Thunder City is the Hawker Hunter, of which it operated seven. The Hawker Hunter Flight was the cheapest among the Thunder City aircraft. It is still available for flights today in the Swiss Alps.
Why did Jet Fighter Operations at Thunder City stop?
One of the main reasons the flight operations stopped was the Airshow crash that left only one two-seater Lightning left. Of course that Lightning crash hit the reputation very badly, and the death of Dave Stock was a shock not only to Thunder City. But Thunder City continued to offer passenger flights until September 2010. The bad economy led Thunder City customer numbers sink by around 50%, which made it even harder to finance the very costly maintenance and flight operations. Also, the South African Civil Aviation Authority suspended the operation certificate.
Thunder City now wants to sell all its aircraft, in August 2011 they have been available for sale. A potential buyer of such aircraft must not only have huge financial power, but also the knowledge to operate this high-performance aircraft. It can be assumed that they will end as displays.
This is really sad, it leaves the MiG-29 Flight on Sokol airbase in Russia as the last and only possibility to fly in a supersonic aircraft.
English Electric Lightning Video
English Electric Lightning Edge of Space passenger flight at Thunder City
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