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Not enough credit is given to Allison-engined variants of one of the world's most famous fighters. We now associate the name "Mustang" with the pretty bubble-canopied fighters which now grace our skies as war birds at Airshows around the world today. There is no doubt that the Merlin engine elevated the Mustang's performance from just being "very good" to "exceptional" and this, in many people's eyes, peaked with the P-51B and P-51C, not the more familiar and most produced version - the P-51D - which comprises the majority seen today. From its inception in early 1940, the development of the fighter, which culminated in the prototype NA-73X launched in October, can only be described as rapid. Before the aircraft had even left the drawing board, the RAF had already placed an order for 320 units, such was the confidence in the design and need for a fighter at the time; from preliminary design to maiden flight had taken just 127 days!By early January 1942, the Mustang was in service with the RAF, flying low-level armed reconnaissance operations over Northern France. This was to be the Mustang's hunting ground all the way up to D-Day and beyond. It had proved to be a highly capable aircraft in this role. While supporting Operation Jubilee over Dieppe, Mustangs were used in a more aggressive capacity for the first time and its first enemy kill was claimed - ironically, the pilot was an American volunteer! The RAF's Allison-engined Mustangs continued to prove their worth from late 1943, flying endless reconnaissance sorties in preparation for the Normandy invasion, and continuing to fly as the Allies slowly pushed eastwards towards Berlin. This was a remarkable service length and, despite later Merlin variants arriving in-theatre, the Mustang I, Ia and II served on the front lines until late 1944. In American hands the Mustang entered service as a dive-bomber designated as the A-36 Apache/Invader. From late 1942 onwards, this type served with distinction in North Africa, both in the ground-attack role and in air-to-air combat, and would do so in the Far East as well. The complete fighter variant was the P-51A which, along with the A-36, served in North Africa and the Far East, excelling in Burma as part of LtCol P. Cochrane's 1st Air Command Group supporting the Chindits. Like their RAF colleagues, the Americans flew the type in the low-level photographic role, designated as the F-6A and F-6B when it continued to serve with the 9th Air Force until the war's end and beyond.
An improved version of the Allison V-1710 engine gave rise to the Curtiss H-87, which began life in 1941 as the P-40D and featured a completely redesigned fuselage. The shorter and deeper nose of the new fighter gave it a decidedly snub-nosed appearance compared to the earlier P-40 models. Curtiss continued to tweak the H-87 for the next two years in the search for better performance, but the last major version, the P-40N, was only marginally faster than the first. In the process, Curtiss even tried an engine change to the Packard Merlin in the P-40F and L but to no avail. What the late model P-40s lacked in speed and service ceiling, they traded for maneuverability, durability and availability. Their niche became fighter-bomber operations, and they fought on fronts as varied as the arctic wastes of the Aleutian Islands and Iceland, the steaming jungles of the South Pacific and the barren deserts of North Africa. P-40s were a common sight in the skies over Burma and China, Sicily and Italy, and western Russia as well. By the time production ceased in 1944, Curtiss had produced nearly 14,000 P-40s.
At the outbreak of World War II, only 111 Squadron and a handful of others were equipped with the Hurricane. Thanks to sudden massive orders and a well-organized Hawker sub-contracting production to Gloster and General Aircraft, more squadrons rapidly became operational. Cutting their teeth during the Battle of France, it was during the Battle of Britain that the type excelled and came to form the backbone of Fighter Command. While the Hurricane was steadily overtaken by the Spitfire in the fighter defence role, it remained the fighter of choice in North Africa and the Far East. Despite a large number being shot down in these far-flung conflicts, many received hasty repairs and returned to the fray while more fragile designs were permanently grounded. The Hurricane may not have been the prettiest or, the best-performing aircraft but, as Francis Mason stated: 'The Royal Air Force was glad to get the Spitfire...it had to have the Hurricane!'
During the early years of the Cold War, the most effective way to gather strategic intelligence about the Soviet Union and its allies was manned overflight. Lockheed's U-2 was spectacularly successful in this role. Much to the concern of President Eisenhower, its shape meant that it could be tracked on Russian radars. Given the highly sensitive nature of such flights, the President insisted that every effort should be made to reduce to zero the U-2's radar cross section (RCS), thereby making the aircraft "invisible." When this was proven to be impossible, the stage was set for a U-2 replacement. Following a competition between Lockheed and Convair, the former was declared the winner and the result was the A-12. Designed to incorporate 'stealth' features before the term was even coined, the A-12 has to date proven to be the fastest, highest flying jet aircraft ever built, and is operated exclusively by the Central Intelligence Agency. This book will also cover a two-seat variation of the design built as an advanced interceptor - the YF-12. In addition, the D-21 drone programme, known as Tagboard will also be covered.
One of the most underrated medium bombers of the Second World War, the Martin B-26 Marauder never fully managed to shake off an underserved early reputation as a dangerous aircraft to fly. Admittedly, in inexperienced hands, the B-26 could be tricky to fly, but once mastered, proved to be one of the best in its class. The aircraft incorporated a host of both revolutionary design methods and construction techniques, never before attempted amongst American aircraft manufacturers. Peyton M. Magruder's design had its roots in a USAAC proposal dating back to March 1939 calling for a twin-engined medium bomber capable of reaching 350 mph with a 2,000lb bomb load up to a range of 3,000 miles. Deemed superior to all other designs on the table at the time, almost a 1,000 had been ordered before the aircraft first took to the air November 1940. From late 1941 the first B-26s became operational in the Pacific, followed by the Mediterranean, but it is in the European theatre that the type was most prolific. Initially serving with the 8th Air Force, the type was 'discarded' to the 9th Air Force with whom it served with great distinction for the remainder of the war. It was particularly during the Normandy Landings and later the advance beyond 'the bulge' into Germany, were the B-26s medium level tactical ability shone through.The Marauder also served with the RAF, SAAF and Free French Air Force in the Mediterranean and also as part of the little credited Balkan Air Force in support of Tito's Partisans in Yugoslavia. Sadly the B-26 was unfairly treated at the beginning of its career and even more so at the end as many of the 5,200+ aircraft built were scrapped only days after the end of the war. A great aircraft in many respects the B-26 deserves to be in a better place.
The Republic F-105 was the fastest and most successful Cold War strike fighter. Designed to deliver nuclear weapons at low altitude and then fight its way back to base it was the primary weapon in the USAF's world-wide tactical strike arsenal in the early 1960s. Thunderchief pilots in Europe, the Far East and the USA stood on short-notice alert, ready to take on formidable defences in their supersonic attacks on pre-planned Communist bloc targets. However, the F-105 achieved legendary status in a very different conflict. When direct American involvement in Vietnam began in 1964 F-105s were deployed to the area, initially as a deterrent but increasingly as conventional attack fighters against insurgency in Laos and Vietnam. As the pace of war increased and bombing of North Vietnam began in 1965 the Thunderchief was the most important weapon in attacks against the most heavily defended territory in modern history. Two wings of F-105s, manned by pilots whose experience often included combat in WWII and Korea, performed truly heroic deeds in an environment where the political and tactical odds were usually stacked against them. Flying long distances from their bases in Thailand the fighters maintained daily attacks on military, transport and industrial targets, braving deadly Soviet anti-aircraft missiles and flak 'thick enough to walk on' (in the words of one pilot). Additionally, they shot down at least 27 North Vietnamese MiG fighters in eighteen months, more than half the total scored by the official F-4 Phantom II anti-MiG escorts in that period. However, the cost was unacceptably high: 330 out of a total production of 753 F-105Ds and two-seat F-105Fs were lost in combat, curtailing the type's front-line service. The two-seat F-105F, initially produced as a trainer, became a vital pioneer in the field of electronic warfare. Specially-equipped examples used new technology to detect and defeat Soviet radar guided missiles and anti-aircraft guns introducing revolutionary tactics in SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) which are still in use today. They provided essential support to the Linebacker operations that ended the war in 1972 and continued in service after the surviving single-seat F-105s had been relegated to reserve duties. Historically and technically the F-105 epitomises the 'faster and higher' design philosophy of 1950s aircraft technology. Its designer, Alexander Kartveli, was responsible for the WW II P-47 Thunderbolt and a series of F-84 fighter designs that gave the USAF its first credible jet striker for the Korean War and the basis of its tactical nuclear strike capability in the 1950s. The F-105 marked the climax of this design process, creating a fighter which could out-run any MiG at low altitude and project US air power at long range in ways that defeated the most sophisticated air defences. Visually, the F-105 was an impressively large and dramatic-looking fighter. In combat service it acquired a wide range of colour schemes (including that of the Thunderbirds aerobatic team) and wartime artwork that lead to attractive illustrative material. Despite its undoubted importance, popularity and its legendary combat record the type has attracted comparatively slight attention from publishers and nothing (at least, since the 1960s Profile Publications) that presents its full story in the compact but thorough form that an Air Vanguard could offer to a wide range of enthusiasts and students.
Like the American A-10 Warthog, the first Soviet jet dedicated by design to CAS (Close Air Support), the 'Frogfoot' has durability and firepower.In February 2012, the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO reporting name Frogfoot) celebrated 37 years of its maiden flight, 31 years of its formal induction into squadron service and 25 years of its formal entry into service with the Soviet Air Force. It was the Soviet Air Force's first mass-produced jet purposely designed for the Close Air Support (CAS) role and is a simple, effective and durable attack workhorse that, by 2012, had seen combat in no fewer than 40 conflicts.The Su-25 received its baptism of fire five years after its maiden flight, during Operation Romb in Afghanistan in 1980. This operation saw the new aircraft go through its field evaluation and testing in real-world war conditions.As many as 630 Su-25 Frogfoot-As were built between 1979 and 1991 at the Georgia-based aircraft plant now known as TAM (Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing) for the Soviet Air Force, as well as 185 Su-25Ks for export, while no fewer than 70 Su-25UB/UBK Frogfoot-B two-seaters rolled off the production line at the aviation plant in Ulan Ude (UUAP), Russia. Currently, there are plans to resume production of the two-seater variant with state-of-the-art avionics and the latest weaponry to replace those Su-25s dating from the mid/late 1980s that are still in service.The Frogfoot is known as the most cost-effective ground attack aircraft available to the Russian Air Force (RuAF) and, between the RuAF and the Russian Navy's aviation assets, there are some 200-220 Su-25s still in operation today, though only half of that number is airworthy at any one time. As with many Soviet designs, the Su-25 has been widely exported, with 25 nations operating variants of the Frogfoot at one time or another, and it remains in service 19 of these states - a testament to its effectiveness and reliability.
In many respects the most successful, versatile and widely-used combat aircraft of the post-war era the F-4 Phantom II was quickly adopted by the USAF after its spectacular US Navy introduction. It was so much better than any other USAF fighter at the time that Air Force generals were happy to comply with the US government's 'commonality' policy and purchase a naval aircraft. As an interceptor it was superior to the existing F-106A Delta Dart and it combined outstanding fighter characteristics with the ability to carry more ordnance than many WW II bombers and offered the possibility of a sophisticated reconnaissance variant. McDonnell had provided the USAF with both fighter-bomber and reconnaissance versions of its successful F-101 Voodoo and the Phantom offered the same twin-engined reliability, sturdy engineering and reliability but with the clear advantage of multiple missile armament and long-range radar. Its introduction to USAF squadrons happened just in time for the Vietnam conflict where USAF F-4Cs took over MiG-fighting duties from the F-100 Super Sabre, freeing it and the F-105 Thunderchief to fly attack sorties instead. Although the F-4 was never intended as a dog-fighter to tangle with light, nimble, gun-armed MiGs it was responsible for destroying 109 MiGs in aerial combat. More often, Phantoms deterred MiGs from attacking US bombers, or delivered ordnance themselves. Reconnaissance RF-4Cs replaced RF-101C Voodoos, offering far more advanced data-gathering devices. Elsewhere, F-4C and F-4D Phantoms re-equipped Tactical Air Command squadrons in Europe, Japan and the USA and they were joined by later models. In Vietnam numerous MiGs had also been destroyed by gun-armed F-105 and F-8 fighters and even by Phantoms with 'strap-on' gun-pods, lending weight to the argument that the Phantom should also have an internal gun. In its original naval interceptor role this had been considered unnecessary but the USAF sponsored development of the F-4E with the same built-in gun as the F-105 in addition to its existing missiles and other ordnance. In the early 1970s further funding added wing slats to improve the F-4E's manoeuvrability, an updated cockpit and a television-based, long-range visual sighting system to identify possible enemy aircraft. USAF Phantoms also took over the nuclear alert role combining this with air defence or conventional ordnance delivery as required. For a very different scenario some F-4Es were modified as replacements for the F-105G Wild Weasel. With sophisticated radar detection equipment and anti-radiation missiles these F-4Gs were still in service in 1991 and they provided invaluable service during Operation Desert Storm, as did the remaining RF-4C reconnaissance Phantoms. At the end of their careers many of the survivors from the 3,380 'land-based' Phantoms were converted into target drones for training purposes. Others were passed on to Air National Guard or Reserve units before becoming drones or joining five air forces in other countries. New aircraft were also built for West Germany, Iran and Israel while 140 F-4EJs were assembled or entirely built under licence in Japan. With the Israeli Air Force F-4s achieved notable success in combat.The USAF's experience with the Phantom showed clearly that the air-to-air fighter was still a necessity and its decision to fund its successor, the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle (as well as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-22A Raptor) was heavily influenced by the lessons of US and other Phantom pilots in combat.
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