Monday, August 31, 2015

Single Aisle News - August 31, 2015

August 31, 2015

Bombardier is reportedly close to securing new financing for its third-largest C-Series order, after Export Development Canada announced that it would no longer finance the order for Moscow-based lessor Ilyushin Finance Company (IFC).  Canada's government sponsored financier suspended support for the deal, following Russian intervention in the Ukraine and the imposition of international sanctions.  The new finance arrangement, however, is contingent on IFC securing signed lease agreements for the aircraft, which they are now close to achieving.

Bombardier's stock shares have continued to slide as investors wait to see if the manufacturer will secure additional sales for its new C-Series airline, following a gap of nearly one year since its last new order.  In the words of one market analyst, "The time has come for Bombardier to prove to the market that it can get orders on its self-proclaimed world-class planes, improve its margins and fix its balance sheet before asking investors to further believe in the company."

Despite the political turmoil in Russia, Airbus has declared a goal of matching Boeing's market share among Russian airlines by the end of next summer.  Airbus currently has 283 commercial aircraft flying among various Russian operators, compared to 296 aircraft that bear the Boeing label.

Russian manufacturer Irkut has confirmed to customers that its first MC-21 prototype is meeting its weight targets, as the first airplane begins assembly at the plant in Irkutsk.  The MC-21 features a mix of Russian-manufactured composite and structural components, and Western-supplied systems - including its PW1400G Geared Turbofan(TM) engine.  The airplane is aimed at delivering a lower cost competitor to the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320 NEO.

What was most noteworthy from this year's MAKS air show outside of Moscow was the number of suppliers that did not show up.  Airbus was the only foreign manufacturer that brought aircraft for display at this year's event, and no new major sales were announced as Russian airlines - wracked by the financial crisis brought on by international sanctions over Russia's intervention in the Ukraine - delayed or cancelled existing orders.

Boeing executives continue to downplay reports that supply chain issues, such as reported delays in the supply of thrust-reversers from GKN, would delay production ramp-up of the 737 MAX.  The re-engined 737 MAX will feature CFM International LEAP-1B engines, which will require the thrust-reversers to endure higher temperatures.  Boeing is planning to increase production from its current 42 aircraft per month to 52 aircraft per month once the MAX reaches production in 2017.

Mitsubishi Aircraft continues to report that its new Mitsubishi Regional Jet is on-track for first flight in the fourth quarter of this year.  The MRJ will be Japan's first attempt at a producing a commercial jet airliner, attempting to wrest market share from regional jet manufacturers at Bombardier and Embraer.  With seating for up to 92 passengers the MRJ will be the latest aircraft to be powered by Pratt & Whitney's PW1200G Geared Turbofan(TM).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Book Review: Gas Turbine Theory

H. Cohen, G.F.C. Rogers and H.I.H. Saravanamuttoo
Gas Turbine Theory
Harlow, UK: Longman Scientific & Technical, 1987
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 4-Stars

The first edition of Gas Turbine Theory was originally published in 1951.  Updated many times over in the years since, the third edition first came out in 1987, and has had several printings since then.  The longevity of this title speaks to its role in fulfilling a fundamental need.

The text provides a good introduction into the theoretical foundations for the Brayton Cycle, which underlies all of jet propulsion.  It also provides an introduction into the components of turbomachinery - including such fundamentals, for example, as the calculation of entry and exit angles, and velocities across successive airfoil stages.

Where this book falls short is in its practical application.  Gas Turbine Theory is - as it claims - an introduction into the theory behind jet propulsion.  Aircraft Engine Design, on the other hand, is an introduction into the practicalities of conceptual engine design, engine sizing, and trade assessments.  For those wishing to touch on the theory of jet engines with broad brush strokes, Gas Turbine Theory is therefore a more than adequate text.  For those wishing to understand how the engine components and design process comes together into a functional engine, Aircraft Engine Design is by far the more valuable tool.  Perhaps it's a question of taste, but as an engineer, I have found the real satisfaction to be in the practical application and design process - not the theory.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review: Shield of David

Murray Rubenstein and Richard Goldman
Shield of David
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1978
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 3-Stars

At the time that Murray Rubenstein and Richard Goldman came out with their overview of the history of the Israeli Air Force, the wounds from the 1973 Yom Kippur War were still raw, and security surrounding Israel's front-line fighting force was still extraordinarily tight.  Rubenstein and Goldman endeavored to write the first comprehensive history of the IAF to appear in the English language.  The access that they were given to Israel's leading pilots, however, and to the operational details of Israel's Air Force, were strictly monitored and limited.  Active duty officers are seldom allowed the freedom to speak freely regarding their experiences - or to even reveal their names.  It would be another decade before the first, unfettered interviews could be published - providing a more complete and nuanced picture of Israel's Air Force, its men, and their fighting doctrine.

Shield of David therefore stands today as a snapshot of Israel's Air Force, as viewed from the outside, at a time when events that are now considered historic episodes were part of recent memory.  Although overtaken by later writers and publications, who were granted less restrictive access, this book still merits its place as an important element - however circumscribed - of the published record.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - August 28, 2015

August 28, 2015

The US Air Force announced this week that it will be deploying the F-22 Raptor to Europe for the first time.  Air Force Secretary Deborah James cited "Russia’s military activity in the Ukraine" when making the announcement.

Russia's PAK-FA, T-50 prototype became the star attraction at this year's MAKS-2015 air show outside of Moscow, putting on an impressive aerobatic display.

Russian news sources are reporting that the first production examples of the PAK-FA could be delivered by the end of 2016 - at least two years earlier than reported a few years ago, when the PAK-FA began flight test.  The announcement comes after resports that Russia intends to reduce its purchases of the new fighter due to its high cost.

The first F-35A Lightening has been delivered to the USAF's Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, NV.

Rumors continue to circulate that Iran has closed a deal to purchase J-10 fighters from China, as part of an oil-for-weapons exchange.

China recently completed a joint military drill with Russia in the Sea of Japan, that included the participation of two J-10 fighters and two JH-7 strike jets.  The drill reportedly was focused on combined arms support for amphibious landings.

A Chinese developer at this year's MAKS-2015 air show has been showcasing a suite of new air-to-air and air-to-ground sensors under development for Chinese and Russian fighters.  The Beijing-based A-Star Science and Technology company reports that its EOTS-89 electro-optical targeting system and EORD-31 infrared search and track systems are being aimed at China's J-20 and J-31 fighters now in development.

Japan's Technical Research and Development Institute has reportedly been directed to focus on the development of new sensors and missiles to counter-act the introduction of China's low-observable J-20 fighter.  The J-20 is expected to reach operational units in China by 2018.

China and Russia are reportedly close to an agreement for the sale of twenty four Su-35 fighters to China.  The Su-35 is the latest, most evolved version of the Su-27 Flanker family.

France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is expected to visit India next week, where he's hoping to close on final terms for the delivery of thirty six Rafale fighters ordered by India.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Space Highlights - August 27, 2015

August 27, 2015

India's 25th communications satellite - the GSLV-D6 - is scheduled to be launched later today.  The 4667 lb (2117 kg) satellite, developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), is expected to lift off at 4:52 pm local time from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh, on its way to geostationary orbit.

Earlier this week, China launched what is being described as a "research satellite" for "land survey" and "crop yield assessment" from its Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, aboard a Long March-4C booster.  The satellite is believed to be part of the YG-8/15/19/22 series of electro-optical observation satellites.

Boeing has announced plans to lay-off several hundred employees from its satellite launch division in El Segundo, California.

NASA's Cassini probe made what is expected to be its last close-up pass of Saturn's moon Dione, as the space probe winds down its mission.  Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, but has gradually exhausted the fuel for its thrusters.  The space probe came within 295 miles (470 km) of Dione for its final pass.  Close passes at several other moons are expected before the probe exhausts its remaining fuel sometime in 2017.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover took an unusual, low-angle "selfie" this week.  The self-image also highlighted wear and tear on the rover's six wheels, with at least one martian rock embedded in one of the probe's aluminum wheels.  The self image was captured on Sol 1065 (1065th martian day) of the mission.

The first images from Pluto since late July are expected to be downloaded from the New Horizons spacecraft late next week.  The probe flew past Pluto on July 14th, but due to the vast distance from earth, download rates for images and other data are exceedingly slow.  Only seven close-up images have been returned to date.

India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has returned 3D views of Ophir Chasma, part of the Valles Marineris canyon system.

New images from Ceres from NASA's Dawn space probe reveal what is being described as a pyramid-shaped mountain with a flat top.  Scientists continue to puzzle over the origin of the unusual feature.  Ceres is the largest of the asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, and has been classified as a "dwarf planet."

The European Rosetta space probe, in orbit around Comet 67P, made its closest approach to the sun this past week, as the comet spewed plumes of gas and dust.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wide Body Report - August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015

This is the first edition of the Wide Body Report, which is expected to be focused on large commercial airliners: aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and 777 and the Airbus A350 and A380.

An American Airline 787 Dreamliner that was damaged in a hailstorm over China last month has been returned to service following repairs to its nose.

Qantas is evaluating the possibility of opening up new routes - such as a direct Melbourne to Dallas flight - using its new 787 Dreamliners, rather than applying them directly to routes currently flown by its older 747 aircraft, which are scheduled to be phased out of service.  Qantas' first Boeing 787 is expected to be delivered in 2017.

The UK's Air Accident Investigations Branch released its official report this past week into last year's runway fire in a parked Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  The aircraft, flown by Ethiopian Airlines, experienced a cabin fire caused by "crossed and trapped" wires in the lithium battery that powering the emergency locator transmitter.

An ANA Boeing 777 made an emergency landing at Osaka this past week, after the airplane suffered engine trouble.  The flight from Osaka to Tokyo was aborted after the pilot reported power problems and abnormal temperatures in the airplane's left engine.

A Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 made an emergency landing in Turkey this past week, after a flock of storks damaged its nose.

Korean Air became the second operator to receive the newest version of the Boeing 747 passenger jet - the 747-8.  Although a number of operators have taken delivery of the freight version, the -8 has been slower to reach the passenger market, with deliveries to Lufthansa in 2012 and Korean Air this past week.

Retirements of 747s from the passenger market continue to outpace new deliveries, as Boeing's venerable but dated jumbo jet has seen its market gradually taken over by newer, more economical aircraft.

Airbus has begun assembly of the wing for its first A350-1000.  Two different families of all-composite A350 aircraft are currently under development.  The smaller - comprising the A350-900 and the now cancelled A350-800 - is aimed at the same marketplace as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  The larger aircraft - the A350-1000 - will have a larger, all-new wing and is aimed at the same long-range applications as the Boeing 777.

The Airbus A350-900 has made its Moscow debut at the MAKS-2015 airshow, some three years ahead of the first expected deliveries to Russia's Aeroflot.  Airbus is the only foreign manufacturer to bring an aircraft for display at this year's show - a stark downturn from the MAKS-2013 airshow, which saw 49 foreign aircraft on display.

Emirates has added a second Airbus A380 to its Frankfurt route, phasing out its Boeing 777-300ER operations from this airport.  Emirates is by far the largest customer for the Airbus super-jumbo, with 64 out of the 167 aircraft now flying, and with 140 out of 317 outstanding orders.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Single Aisle News - August 25, 2015

August 25, 2015

I've decided to launch a new series of posts - a selection of weekly news updates culled from the internet.  I'll be beginning today with a report on the single aisle airline business, with similar newsletters on widebody commercial airlines, spacecraft, and the military fighter market to follow.

Due to the growing overlap in application and market, the single aisle news survey will include both the mainline commercial aircraft market (aircraft such as the Boeing 737, 757, and Airbus A320), and the regional jets (aircraft such as the Embraer E-Jet).

Bombardier has reported that certification tests for its much delayed CS100 C-Series aircraft are over 80-percent complete, with more than 2250 flight test hours to date.  The manufacturer reached a milestone this past month when a total of six flight test aircraft all flew within the same day.  The all-new C-Series was intended to be the first aircraft to feature Pratt & Whitney's PW1500G Geared Turbofan (TM) engine, although delays in its development will likely mean that Airbus' re-engined A320 NEO will enter production first.

Bombardier has re-launched the production ramp-up for the C-Series, after it had earlier slowed production preparations more than a year ago, due to delays in the flight test program.  The second production-standard CS100 - airframe P-2 - entered the production line in parallel with the second CS300 flight test vehicle - airframe FTV-8.  The CS100 is expected to be certified by the end of 2015, with production deliveries to commence in early 2016.  The larger CS300 is expected to be enter service six months later.

China's Comac expects to roll out its first C919 prototype at the end of 2015, and has already begun assembly of its second prototype.  The C919 is expected to be a direct rival to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, featuring CFM International's Leap-1C engines.  First flight of the C919 prototype is projected for 2016.

Boeing is projecting that China will need to add over 6,300 new aircraft to its commercial fleet by 2034, an increase of 300 airframes over Boeing's market forecast from a year ago.  Some 4,630 aircraft out of this total are projected to be single-aisle models.

Boeing officials insist that the manufacturer is on-track to meet production goals for its 737 MAX aircraft, responding to news reports that delays with the GKN-produced thrust reversers threaten to delay production deliveries.  The 737 MAX will feature the Leap-1B engine - a smaller version of the Leap-1A and Leap-1C engine that will power the Airbus A320 NEO and Comac C919.  First flight of the 737 MAX prototype is projected in early 2016.

Low-cost carrier IndiGo has firmed up a record-setting order for 250 Airbus A320 NEO family aircraft.  The order brings the A320 NEO backlog to more than 4,100 firm orders.  An engine selection for the new order has not been announced, although IndiGo's previous firm order for 180 A320 NEO aircraft, placed back in 2011, are expected to be powered by Pratt & Whitney's PW1100G Geared Turbofan(TM) engine.

Lufthansa has confirmed that it expects to take delivery of its first A320 NEO by year-end.  The airline has a total of 61 A320 NEO and 40 A321 NEO aircraft on order.  Lufthansa's aircraft will be powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1100G Geared Turbofan(TM) engines.

Japan's ANA Holdings is evaluating routes for the new Mitsubishi Regional Jet, due to be delivered in the 1Q of Fiscal 2017, with a domestic route from Chubu Centrair International Airport currently leading the discussions.  First flight for the MRJ is expected later this year.  The aircraft features the Pratt & Whitney PW1200G Geared Turbofan(TM) engine.

Russia's Aviadvigatel is expected to showcase its PD-14 test engine at this year's MAKS-2015 airshow.  The PD-14 is being developed as a Russian-built alternative to the Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engine, that is expected to equip initial examples of the Irkut MC-21 airline - now under development.  The PD-14 is expected to enter flight tests aboard an Il-76 flying testbed later this year.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: Sukhoi Su-27

Yefim Gordon
Famous Russian Aircraft: Sukhoi Su-27
Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2007
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 5-Stars

Shortly after the end of the Cold War, I had the privelege to attend a series of guest lectures by Oleg Samoilovich, a former lead designer at the Sukhoi design bureau and one of the engineers behind the Su-27 Flanker.  His obscenity laced language (which our "official" translator only partially conveyed) was a frequent topic of conversation after each lecture.  He was also, however, one of the most naturally gifted aircraft designers that I ever met.  He could lay out design details by sight - correctly sizing every control surface and trim tab to within a few percent of the calculated value, just from wrote memory and decades of experience.  It was an intuitive understanding of stability and control that came from a career that spanned 28 years at the Sukhoi design bureau.  It was this kind of expertise that stood behind the Sukhoi Su-27.

Like the other books in this series, Yefim Gordon's tome on the Su-27 leverages years of declassified (some would say "leaked") Soviet documents to trace the history of the Su-27's development, from the earliest T10-1 prototype, to the redesigned T-10S configuration and the later production Su-27.  The Soviet Union's first fighter to be designed with relaxed static stability, the Su-27 set the standard for Soviet fighter design that lives on in the 21st century.  Gordon's book further extends this lineage to document the later Su-30 and Su-34 variants, and also provides background on the development of the Lyulka AL-31F engine that powers the Su-27.  At 591 pages in length, this is no light read, and the price of this large, heavily illustrated book reflects this.  Gordon's book will undoubtedly remain the landmark text on the Su-27 for many decades to come.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Review: Israeli A-4 Skyhawk Units in Combat

Shlomo Aloni
Israeli A-4 Skyhawk Units in Combat
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2009
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

Shlomo Aloni has published a broad selection of books dealing with the Israeli Air Force, across many years as a writer.  This short, paperback volume nonetheless stands out as unique.  Unlike most of the volumes in Aloni's collection of works, which focus on the headline grabbing role of the dogfight and air-to-air combat, this book is dedicated to units whose express job was to provide the air-to-ground support that the Israeli army counted on.

Aloni provides the historical setting, as well as first hand accounts from the pilots who flew some of the most dangerous missions throughout the War of Attrition and Yom Kippur War.  Stories such as Moshe Melnik's successful return to base flying a badly damaged A-4 on 19 August 1969 (control column dead, maneuvering using engine throttle and trim control alone), or the account of Giora Romm's first air combat sortie as the new commanding officer of Squadron 115 (which was also his very first familiarization flight in an A-4, flown on the first day of the Yom Kippur War), are all part of the fare.  These are further supplemented by the appendix, which includes a listing of every Israeli A-4 lost in battle, as well as the name and fate of the pilot (whether rescued, KIA, or POW).  Through the pages of this short collection, and vivid accounts, Aloni pays homage to the bravery of the pilots who carried out these essential missions.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Aircraft Engine Design

Jack D. Mattingly, William H. Heiser and Daniel H. Daley
Aircraft Engine Design
New York: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1987
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 5-Stars

Aircraft Engine Design is easily the most comprehensive and directly relevant textbook available on jet engine design.  Now in its second edition, the text provides the underlying mathematics for the design of the propulsion system, as well as accompanying software to support trade studies during the conceptual design process.

The all-important, central role that the propulsion system plays in modern aircraft is often overlooked.  While there is a broad array of developers throughout the world that have successfully designed and produced a modern jet aircraft, only a handful have succeeded in developing a competitive jet engine.  In terms of complexity and the number of components necessary to make its operation successful, the jet engine easily exceeds the part count and design complexity of the airframe itself.  Which is why a book such as this is all the more vital as part of the engineering literature.

In addition to describing the mathematics and performance trades of the overall propulsion system, Aircraft Engine Design also relates the engine performance back to the aircraft's mission profile, providing the necessary relationships for calculating range and fuel burn.  Succeeding chapters, in turn, delve into the design of the individual engine modules, providing a high level overview into some of the challenges and technologies that go into the fan, compressor, burner, and turbine.

An indispensable resource for both aircraft and aircraft engine design principals.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Aircraft Performance - Part 5 - Video and PDF

Video edition for Part 5 of the Aircraft Performance Review.

Original chart pack is available below:

Aircraft Performance - Part 5 - Example Calculations

Completing either a performance calculation or mission analysis requires three essential ingredients:
  • Basic statistics on the airplane's size and configuration
  • Engine thrust and fuel performance throughout the flight envelope (including max, military and part power conditions)
  • The airplane's drag polar, including the effects of stores drag, Mach number, and g-loads

A central element of this simulation will be the predicted engine performance.  For many of the jet engines now flying, performance information is readily published at static, sea level conditions.  Such statistics as maximum and military (or dry) thrust, specific fuel consumption, overall pressure ratio, fan pressure ratio, bypass ratio, and air flow are all published for many of the engines developed during the 1980s and in the decades before.  These statistics provide a basis for extrapolating engine performance across to other design conditions.  Again, the objective here is not to precisely simulate everything that goes on inside of a modern jet engine, or to design its components.  We are not seeking that level of detail.  Moreover, any functional limitations - such as maximum pressure limits - will be unknown.  But such an extrapolation will allow an engineer to draw some conclusions regarding how the engine, and aircraft, will perform across a broad variety of flight conditions.

There are two software packages currently available to the general public that would allow us to perform precisely this sort of extrapolation: AEDsys, produced by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) as a teaching tool; and GasTurb, produced by a retired engineer from MTU Germany.  The GasTurb software offers a more comprehensive tool set, but is also more difficult to use.  For the limited objectives of the example calculations portrayed here, AEDsys will be used.

The F100-PW-220 engine can be used as an excellent first benchmark.  This is the engine that today powers many of the older F-16 models, and most of the world's F-15 aircraft.  Many of the basic operating parameters for this engine are readily available from the open literature for sea level static (SLS) conditions.  This includes the overall pressure ratio, fan pressure ratio, bypass ratio, air flow, specific fuel consumption, even the burner exit temperature.  The only major parameters for which estimates would need to be made would be the component efficiencies, the afterburner temperature, and turbine cooling air and leakages.  Employing these basic parameters, its possible to generate an engine simulation for the off-design performance of this engine.

To assess the quality of this model, a comparison can be drawn against publicly available data for the F100-220 available from NASA publications.  Comparing the predicted and published thrust lapse (thrust at off-design conditions divided by the sea level static thrust), we can see that the analytical simulation provides a fair estimate for the performance of the engine across a wide range of Mach numbers and altitude.

Building on this successful experience, we can assemble a similar simulation for the F110-GE-100 engine, which equips the Block 40 F-16C.  Like the F100, statistics are publicly available for overall pressure ratio, fan pressure ratio, bypass ratio, air flow, and specific fuel consumption.  Unlike the F100, there is no publicly referenced value for the burner exit temperature - but we know that the F110 was a contemporary of the F100, employing similar technologies, and that the burner temperatures must be of similar magnitude.  There is therefore sufficient detail to develop an analytic model for this engine.

Similarly, basic statistics and configuration data - including airframe and fuel weights - are readily available for the the Block 40 F-16C.

Ordinarily, an outside analyst would need to make projections from the published airframe data to estimate the zero-lift drag coefficient and Oswald's efficiency.  Not a difficult task, but one which would add uncertainty.  However, in this particular example a significant amount of the data necessary for projecting the drag polar of the F-16 has also been published under various NASA reports - so airframe-calibrated data is already available.

Combining this collection of airframe statistics, projected engine performance, and drag polar data, we can  begin to perform an example mission profile assessment - in this instance for a hi-lo-hi mission.  Comparing between the published and predicted combat radius of the aircraft, we can see that the two values are in close agreement - with a predicted value of 770 nm compared to 760 nm from the published literature.  This comparison further affirms that with sufficient aircraft and engine data, and some fundamental design relations, we can draw some fairly accurate projections for the mission capabilities of a particular aircraft.

This assessment however, only touches on the mission profile capabilities of the airplane.  To complete the complementary performance assessments for this aircraft, we would need to be able to assess the effects of flight conditions on the drag polar of the aircraft.  This includes Mach number effects (for which published data does exist), and g-load effects.  The latter data is more difficult to come by, since it is not an area of particular concern for commercial aircraft.  There is, however, at least one published resource - again coming from NASA - that documents the effects of g-loading on the drag polars of the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18, allowing us to calibrate prediction methods for these effects.

In summation, there is a broad body of published data for both aircraft and engine operation, available for many of the aicraft flying today.  Even many Soviet aircraft, once shrouded in secrecy, have come into public view with the fall of the Berlin Wall - drive by the Russian manufacturers as they seek to secure export sales.  Significantly, this same data is not readily available for some of the most recent aircraft flying today.  Many of the basic statistics for both the airframe and engine of the F-22 and F-35 remain unpublished, to prevent a potential adversary from performing precisely the type of analytic studies that are illustrated here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Raid on the Sun

Rodger W. Claire
Raid on the Sun
New York: Broadway Books, 2004
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

Raid on the Sun is the most recent book to be published on the subject of Israel's 1981 Osirak reactor raid.  On the one hand, this book is a little more oriented in the direction of retelling the pilots' stories than is Two Minutes Over Baghdad - which tries to be more even between the operational and historical, or political perspective. It also, however, lacks the inside familiarity of life in the cockpit that gives Bullseye One Reactor its sense of immediacy.  The result is a fair retelling, although one which occasionally jars us with a reminder that the author is not as intimately familiar with the cockpit as many members of his audience will be - as when he mistakenly describes the pilot as "pushing the stick" when he meant to say "pushing the throttle".

Coming as it does so many years after the fact, Raid on the Sun was able to take advantage of a relaxation in the tight censorship which once surrounded this raid.  The individual pilots who participated in the raid, and who have since retired from front-line, active duty, can now be named.  Even many of the operational details of the raid that were once shrouded in secrecy can be spoken of.  Claire, for example, is able to reveal that in order to extend their range, the Israeli F-16s that took part in the raid had to be stripped of the Israeli-built electronic countermeasures that they would otherwise have carried.  Instead, the escorting F-15s were outfitted with additional jamming pods to provide cover for the unprotected F-16s.

While Claire was able to speak at length with the individual pilots, and provide some new insights into the raid, Raid on the Sun does not quite live up to the in-the-cockpit feel that accompanies Dan McKinnon's Bullseye One Reactor.  Still, however, a worthwhile read.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Review: Two Minutes Over Baghdad

Amos Perlmutter, Michael I. Handel and Uri Bar-Joseph
Two Minutes Over Baghdad
London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

This is the second edition of this book - updated from the original published in 1982 to include the names for many of the pilots whose identities had not yet been acknowledged at the time of the original raid.

Whereas Dan McKinnon's book focuses on the pilot's role in the mission, and Shlomo Nakdimon's book focuses on the diplomatic and technical aspects of the Osirak raid, Two Minutes Over Baghdad attempts to perform a little of both: providing more political background than McKinnon's book, and more of the operational perspective than Nakdimon's.

Well written, the book succeeds in providing an engaging survey of the decades leading up to the decision to stage the raid, and the diplomatic and political ramifications that followed.  All told, a well balanced, historical perspective on a pivotal military operation of both regional and global significance.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: First Strike

Shlomo Nakdimon
First Strike
New York: Summit Books, 1987
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 3-Stars

Whereas Dan McKinnon's book on Israel's 1981 Osirak nuclear raid was focused on the perspective of the pilots, Shlomo Nakdimon's book is focused on the wider political battle which both preceded and followed the raid.  This is the story of Israel's diplomatic campaign to prevent Iraq from obtaining the Osirak research reactor from France - one of the largest research reactors in the world - as well as to prevent the delivery of plutonium separation cells from Italy.  This is the political battle in Europe and Washington to dissuade the French from delivering the enriched uranium fuel that would allow the research reactor to become the plutonium factory that Saddam Hussein intended it to be.  And this is the story of the internal political wrangling within Israel between those who insisted that the Iraqi reactor be eliminated and those who feared the political fall-out of an Israeli raid, preferring instead to trust promises from France to prevent Iraq from producing nuclear weapons at the plant.

All of these elements are part of the wider story surrounding Iraq's quest for nuclear weapons.  It is a story clearly laid out by this book.  Despite this, however, the real-world, human immediacy of these events gets lost somewhere between the diplomats and the politicians - which is why I have to give this book an "average" rating.  This is still an important part of the story behind Iraq's nuclear weapons program - but it's not nearly as gripping as the first-hand accounts of those actually charged with carrying out the Osirak reactor raid.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: Bullseye One Reactor

Dan McKinnon
Bullseye One Reactor
San Diego, CA: House of Hits, 1987
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 5-Stars

There have been a number of books written about Israel's raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.  Of these books, this remains my favorite.  The author, Dan McKinnon was himself a former U.S. Naval aviator.  He was therefore able to bring to this book a practical, experienced perspective of this historic raid - which others were unable to replicate.

McKinnon tells this story from the pilot's perspective.  This is not the story of the political wrangling that went into the decision to launch the air raid, and it is not the story of Israel's intelligence agencies which at first sabotaged Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions, and later provided the targeting inform necessary to carry out the raid.  No, this is the story of the men in the cockpit who executed the raid.

McKinnon was the first journalist to be given free access to the Israeli pilots - long before their identities were released to the public.  He therefore had to resort to pseudonyms for each pilot, rather than acknowledging each by name.  McKinnon's perspective on what it's like to fly a jet fighter at tree-top level for hours on end, however, all to reach a target undetected, is what sets this book apart.  This is the real drama, the people who risked their lives to carry this raid out.  The months of training, practice and preparation, the hours in the cockpit with sand dunes streaming by, the pop-up and targeting maneuver over a hostile reactor dome ringed with anti-aircraft artillery and missiles.  This is the human dimension to the story that needed to be told, and McKinnon delivers it.

This book was in printed in hardcover under the title of Bullseye One Reactor, and later in softcover under the title of Bullseye Iraq.  In either edition however, this was the story that needed to be told.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Book Review: Chinese Aircraft

Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov
Chinese Aircraft: China's Aviation Industry Since 1951
Manchester, UK: Hikoki Publications, 2008
Category: People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)

Rating: 4-Stars

Whereas Yefim Gordon's reviews of individual Russian aircraft are rich in details fueled by official, declassified documents and personal eyewitness interviews, China continues to be a relatively closed book with regard to its military aircraft experience.  Consequently, Gordon's survey of the Chinese aircraft industry has had to rely on a more limited range of sources, leaving certain gaps in the tapestry of this story.

While it remains frustrating that so much of China's aviation history remains hidden from view (and potentially lost to succeeding generations), Gordon's book nonetheless brings together a survey of the available sources, including a wide assortment of photographs and striking artwork.  This book therefore fills a void in the aviation literature, attempting to shine light on a subject that has historically been more shrouded than even Soviet fighter aviation once was during the latter part of the Cold War.

On balance, Gordon's survey of Chinese aviation will therefore remain an important part of the literature on this topic - at least until China becomes a little more open about its past and present experience.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: Air War On the Edge

Bill Norton
Air War On the Edge: A History of the Israel Air Force and its Aircraft Since 1947
Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2004
Category: Israel Air Force - Aircraft

Rating: 5-Stars

Bill Norton's exhaustive compendium traces the operational history of every aircraft type to enter service with the Israeli Air Force, from the 1940s to the turn of the 21st century.  Illustrated with black and white as well as color photographs and artwork, Norton provides the context for the introduction of each aircraft, statistics on each airplane, upgrade history, and pilot interviews from the men who flew them.  Individual serial numbers, service losses, even their post-retirement fates are all enumerated.

At 432 pages, this volume is packed with details.  Even aircraft that flew only as experimental types - such as captured or leased MiG fighters - are chronicled.  If there was ever an encyclopedia for the aircraft of the IDF, this would be it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: Introduction to Aircraft Performance

Mario Asselin
An Introduction to Aircraft Performance
Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1997
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 5-Stars

Aircraft design begins and ends with performance.  Performance is what the customer is paying for.  It is where the designer begins during conceptual design - when assessing trade studies - and it is what the customer will judge the product against when it comes time to pay for the aircraft.  It is therefore perhaps long overdue that an engineering text devoted to this subject came into print.

The subject of aircraft performance, and the mathematics behind it, is also dealt with in Jan Roskam's multi-volume collection, and is touched upon in Dan Raymer's book as well.  Asselin's text, however, takes the study of performance to the next level: describing methods for calculating optimum cruise or climb conditions, and for assessing peformance trades in more detail.  My one disappointment was that, while this book does deal with the mathematics of energy maneuverability, it makes no attempt to describe the E-M diagram, or how to interpret one.  That aside, Asselin's book stands out as a much needed addition to the aircraft design literature.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: Famous Russian Aircraft: Mikoyan MiG-29

Yefim Gordon
Famous Russian Aircraft: Mikoyan MiG-29
Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2006
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 5-Stars

There was a time when obtaining details regarding Soviet fighter programs bordered on the impossible.  Grainy images smuggled out of Eastern Europe often gave the only hint as to what was brewing behind the Iron Curtain.  In the case of the MiG-29, rumors were leaking into the Western press by the mid-1980s, fueled by clumsy artist's impressions released by the Pentagon - drawn from satellite photos.  When the MiG-29 first flew into public view during a Soviet exchange flight to Finland in July 1986, the reality of this airplane came jarringly into view.  In terms of hard technical details, however, very little was known.

In sharp contrast, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the amount of detail publicly available on this and other Soviet era programs has multiplied many times over.  Russian manufacturers who were once gagged by the tight grip of the Soviet censor have been aggressively marketing their products on the export market, releasing details that were once closely held.  Yefim Gordon's excellent books on this and other Soviet-era fighters are a product of this new age of openness.

Gordon has assembled a detailed history, tapping into official records and personal interviews to reconstruct the development, flight test and operational history of the MiG-29.  The MiG-29 was first introduced into Soviet service in 1983, with the express aim of surpassing the U.S.-built F-16 in a close-quarters engagement.  Intended as the successor to the MiG-21 and MiG-23, the "Fulcrum" (as it was code-named by NATO) was a short range air-to-air fighter developed as a single-mission aircraft.  Later versions would add weight and fuel capacity to the aircraft, in an attempt to make it more multirole in function - but the original lines of the design are there for all to see.

In addition to a text rich in historical and technical detail, Gordon has assembled a collection of photographs dating back to the early, pre-flight development program, documenting the airplane's evolution from concept to flight test.  Although the book is a little pricey, at 512 pages Gordon's book stands out as a truly remarkable assemblage that will undoubtedly be looked back upon as the benchmark history of this fighter program for decades to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: G-Suit

Merav Halperin & Aharon Lapidot
G-Suit: Combat Reports from Israel's Air War
London: Sphere Books, 1990
Category: Israel Air Force - Biography

Rating: 4-Stars

This small, and little-known paperback contains a wealth of first-hand interviews with the pilots of the Israeli Air Force.  At 203 pages in length, this little volume packs an array of eyewitness accounts of life in the cockpit - many of which are available nowhere else.

Spanning from the 1956 Sinai Campaign to the 1982 Lebanon War, this compilation includes accounts from such celebrated Israeli pilots as Ran Ronen, Giora Romm, Beni Peled, Asher Snir, Yiftach Spector, and Aviem Sella, in addition to many lessor known pilots.  There's even a first-hand account of the final mission of Shmuel Hetz (commanding officer of Israel's first Phantom squadron), as told by his navigator, Menachem Eini.  In many of the later accounts, the individual pilot names have not been released (as is typical for pilots who are still on active duty).

All told, this book is a little-known treasure for those who appreciate first-hand experiences from the cockpit.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Aircraft Performance - Part 4 - Video and PDF

Video edition for Part 4 of the Aircraft Performance Review.

Original chart pack is available below:

Aircraft Performance - Part 4 - Energy Maneuverability

Energy-Maneuverability theory arose during the latter 1960s as a means to evaluate air combat capabilities in a more holistic sense.  Prior to this, fighter jet requirements had been specified on the basis of a few discrete performance parameters - parameters which often had little to do with the success or failure of an aircraft in a combat setting.  Criteria such as maximum speed, maximum altitude, or time to altitude were not uncommon.

Energy-Maneuverability was the brainchild of then Major John Boyd (USAF) and Thomas P. Christie, a mathematician and civilian consultant to the Air Force.  E-M theory provided a means to portray aircraft capability - and even relative capability comparing two different designs - by utilizing isoplots of specific excess power, plotted on a graph portraying speed or Mach number on the one hand, and turn rate on the other.

In a typical E-M diagram, we will see the airplane's speed or Mach number plotted on the horizontal axis, and the turn rate plotted on the vertical axis.  Within this plot, will be portrayed the maneuver envelope for the airplane.  The left-hand bound will typically designate the lift-limit of the aircraft - as defined by its stall characteristics.  The upper bound will designate the airplane's maximum load factor or g-limit.  And the right-hand bound will be defined by a dynamic pressure limit that usually designates either an airframe limitation, or an engine limitation.  Where the lift limit and the g-limit converge, will be the airplane's maximum instantaneous turn rate.  Note that the speed or Mach number where this occurs will be identified as the "corner speed" of the aircraft.
Within this envelope will be plotted a series of isocontours for specific excess power.  This is the amount of energy that the airplane has available to either accelerate or climb.  The contour where specific excess power equals zero will define the maximum sustained turn rate for the aircraft.  This is a contour - not a single value.  It will change depending on altitude and Mach number.  Above this maximum sustained turn rate, specific excess power will be negative - meaning that the airplane will loose either speed or altitude when it flies in this regime.  Below this line, specific excess power will be positive - meaning that the airplane can accelerate or climb.

If we combine the E-M diagrams for different aircraft, we can draw a direct comparison for how each aircraft would fare in a dissimilar air combat exercise.  The example shown here is from published sources, comparing between the F-4J Phantom and the A-4M Skyhawk.  Note that at the top of the diagram, it describes the fuel, payload and weight of each aircraft, as well as the altitude at which this comparison was made.  We can see that the limit load factor or g-limit for each aircraft is very similar.  As expected, however, the F-4 has a higher maximum speed.  Conversely, we can see that the lift-limit, or stall speed for the A-4 is significantly lower than for the F-4.

The zero-specific excess power isocontour identifies the maximum sustained turn envelope for each aircraft.  If we draw a line connecting the equivalent isocontours for the two aircraft, we can begin to understand where the pilot of aircraft would prefer to engage his opponent.  The A-4 pilot will seek to draw his opponent into a low-speed turning engagement, where his aircraft will have the upper hand.  The Phantom pilot, on the other hand, would be advised to retain his speed advantage and to engage his opponent on the lower right side of the envelope, where he will have a specific excess power advantage.

There are of course a number of other factors which can effect the outcome of an engagement.  Control authority is one such example.  During the Korean War, on paper, the MiG-15 should have had a clear advantage in a turning engagement over its U.S. F-86 Sabre counterpart.  However, the MiG of that day was still employing a mechanical control system featuring push-rods and pulleys, whereas the F-86 was the first fighter to employ a hydraulically boosted control system.  This meant that the MiG pilot had to exert tremendous force at higher g-loadings to control his aircraft.  This was further exacerbated by the excessive flexibility of the MiG wing structure, which could lead to aileron reversal at high g-loading - resulting in loss of control.  Other examples of the central role of control authority can be seen in the decision to increase the size of the tail surface between the YF-16 and later F-16 production aircraft.  A similar phenomena occurred between the YF-22 and the F-22 production fighter.

Weapons systems can also play an important role in the outcome of an engagement.  During the Falklands War in 1982, the British armed forces were at a distinct advantage in part due to the all-aspect heat-seeking missiles at their disposal.  The Argentine Air Force, in contrast, had to rely on older generation missiles that required the pilot to maneuver before he could fire the missile, so that it could home in on the hot exhaust of his opponent's engine.  Similarly, the advent of high-off-boresight heat seeking missiles, in combination with a helmet mounted sight, potentially placed U.S. aircraft at a distinct disadvantage vis-a-vis their Soviet counterparts during visual range engagements by the latter 1980s.  This "missile gap" was only recognized after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when U.S. aircraft had the opportunity to interact with former East German Luftwaffe fighters.  The advantage that this technology provided to the East German MiG-29s was overwhelming - leading the United States to develop the AIM-9X together with a helmet-mounted sight produced to close capability gap.

And of course, modern sensors have similarly altered the conduct of war, with the introduction of AWACS being the most noteworthy example of this impact.

Nonetheless, pilot training remains essential, even today.  Despite all of the electronic wizardry, the pilot remains the chief tactician behind any aerial engagement.  It is up to the pilot to select the strategy that will place the enemy within the lethal envelope of his own weapons, without unduly exposing himself to his adversary's weapons.  This is a role that no machine can substitute for.

Finally, there will be some that will question whether energy maneuverability, and maneuverability in general, are still relevant in an age of beyond visual range (BVR) missiles.  As demonstrated in actual air combat experience, however, the majority of air-to-air engagements - even in a missile age - will still occur within visual range.

A study commissioned by the U.S. Air Force in 1986, combining data on all known U.S. and foreign missile kills, found that only four kills could actually be ascribed to BVR missiles fired from beyond visual range.  That's 4 out of 407 successful missile kills.  Even those kills made by radar-guided, BVR missiles it turned out, were predominantly made within visual range.

In the decades since, sensor technology has continued to advance.  During the 1991 Gulf War, 16 out of 38 allied kills were made from beyond visual range.  However, this still means that the majority of air-to-air kills, 58% to be precise, occurred within visual range.  Similarly, in the post-Gulf War era, only 3 out of 11 successful kills by U.S. aircraft were made from beyond visual range.

Typical BVR engagement profile (Herbst 1983)
Studies into the dynamics of air combat have also affirmed that even in BVR engagements, "careful power management" is essential to maximizing a fighter's kill-to-loss ratio.  Maintaining an energy advantage therefore remains as essential today as it was when E-M theory was first developed in the 1960s.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Book Review: Fighters Over Israel

Lon Nordeen
Fighters Over Israel
New York: Orion Books, 1990
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

Lon Nordeen's book covers the history of the Israeli Air Force from its beginnings in Israel's War of Independence in 1948, through the tumultuous years of the Sinai Campaign, Six Day War, War of Attrition and Yom Kippur War, before finally closing with the 1980s and the first Lebanon War.  Drawing on extensive interviews and meticulous research, Nordeen's book covers a broad sweep in Israel's air force history.

Many of us will remember Lon Nordeen as a consultant on the History Channel's "Dogfight" series, where his clearly articulated descriptions and technical explanations were an integral part of the episodes featuring the Israeli Air Force.  A former manager of communications at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, Nordeen was one of the first authors to obtain broad access to Israel's leading pilots as well as to the commanding Air Force officers who led many of these campaigns.  Although Nordeen's book came out slightly earlier and was less expansive than the later works by Ehud Yonay and Eliezer Cohen, it still contains details and insights that are not found elsewhere.  I particularly appreciated his appendices, which tabulate many of the important trends in modern air combat - such as the transition from guns-only to missile-based kills.

Definitely a worthwhile addition to any Israel Air Force library.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book Review: Aircraft Design

E. Heinemann, R. Rausa, K. Van Every
Aircraft Design
Baltimore, MD: Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1985
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 4-Stars

This slim volume contains a collection of aircraft design fundamentals, as told by Ed Heinemann - the chief designer in charge of naval attack aviation at Douglas Aircraft during the 1940s and 50s.  Although not as broad or deep in its scope as Jan Roskam's multi-volume set, and not as up-to-date as Dan Raymer's text, Heinemann's classic study still retains its practical charm.

Heinemann presents the fundamentals of combat aircraft design, without going too deep into the underlying details.  His book is therefore appropriate as an introductory text for someone who wants to understand the lay of the land, but who is not yet ready for all of the mathematics that preliminary aircraft design would demand.  The true attraction of this particular text for me, however, lies in the seasoned wisdom of the man behind it: a real airplane designer, not a professor ensconced in academia.  It is the practical perspective and advice that sets this book apart.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review: Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle

Steve Davies
Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle
Ramsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2003
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 5-Stars

There are many books that have been written about the F-15 Eagle, but fewer it seems that have focused on the F-15E Strike Eagle.  This is unfortunate, since while much attention has historically been focused on the air-to-air mission, it is the air-to-ground mission that ultimately contributes directly to the outcome of war - and where the majority of fighter jet losses will ultimately occur.

Steve Davies has therefore filled an important vacuum in the story of the F-15, detailing the development and deployment of the Strike Eagle version of this impressive aircraft.  As many of us are aware, transforming the air-to-air Eagle into an air-to-ground platform required an array of structural and avionics alterations, allowing the Eagle to carry far more payload and fuel that it was originally designed for.  Davies follows this evolution, providing the associated technical background, and then follows up with the deployment and operational history of this remarkable aircraft.  I particularly appreciated the operational perspective from U.S. and foreign pilots.  The additional weight made early versions of the Strike Eagle less nimble than its F-15C predecessors - but with the addition of an enhanced thrust version of the F100 engine, the Strike Eagle truly came into its own.  This is further supplemented by an appendice that lists the serial numbers for every Strike Eagle - foreign or domestic - that was delivered to date.

In summation, an impressive and well told tale.