US Air Force

America’s F-35 Faces Similar Problems As F-105 Thunderchief Fighter-Bomber

According to an official test pilot report, published by War is Boring, the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter which is added to the US military isn’t fast enough to beat a much older F-16 in mock air combat. The question is how is the F-35 going to survive against the nimble Russian and Chinese air force? Moreover, the F-35 is intended to be produced and used in high numbers.

To find the answer to that question, we need to look to the past. Fifty years ago, the United States Air Force was in the similar position. They threatened to defeat their enemies with the F-105 Thunderchief, which was a heavy, high-tech, ground-attacker which had the same goal as the F-35.

However, the same problem plagues both of these jets. They cannot turn too quickly to beat the enemy aircraft, such as the Russian-made MiG-21, which was the Thunderchief’s main rival back in the day. In order not to discontinue the production of the F-105, the US Air Force worked out special tactics to make things work, keeping the plane in the fleet. It is important to notice that the same thing needs to be done with the F-35.

The similarities between the two airplanes are striking, despite the age difference. Carlo Kopp, an Australian aerospace analyst, wrote in 2004: “Both the F-105 and JSF are large, single-seat, single-engine strike fighters, using the most powerful engine of the era … [and] with empty weights in the 27,000-pound class, and wingspans almost identical at 35 feet.”

“Both carry internal weapon bays and multiple external hardpoints for drop tanks and weapons,” Kopp continued. “Both were intended to achieve combat radii in the 400-nautical-mile class. Neither have by the standards of their respective period’s high thrust-weight ratio or energy maneuver capability favored for air superiority fighters and interceptors.”

Out of the 833 F-105 units the US Air Force acquired, 334 were lost in the war versus Vietnam between 1965 and 1970. MiGs North Vietnam army used, managed to take down 22 Thunderchiefs while the F-105s shot down at least 27 MiGs, as Kopp puts it.

However, this wasn’t enough for the Pentagon, and they wanted to improve its tactics. In 1969, the Air Force conducted mock air battles between an ex-Iraqi MiG-21 and an F-105 which was a part of the program called “Have Doughnut.” The experiment could have gone better for the American steel bird. The testers advised the F-105 crew to flee should they encounter the MiG-21. But if the F-105 was behind the MiG-21, and the crew didn’t notice them, the Thunderchief could attempt a high-speed ambush. This was the only scenario where the Thunderchief had an advantage.
In case they started out as equals, the American plane wouldn’t survive for a long time. The Air Force reported: “If the F-105 attacker attempts a prolonged maneuvering engagement, it becomes vulnerable to follow-up attacks as the offensive situation deteriorates due to loss of energy and maneuvering potential.”

The F-35 pilot in the JSF-on-F-16 test reported the similar issue: “Insufficient pitch rate.” During a turning fight “energy deficit to the bandit would increase over time.”

At least the F-105 had a straight-line advantage over the enemy jets, but that is not the case with the F-35. It is slower than today’s Sukhoi, Shenyang, and Chengdu fighters. Kopp says that the F-35 can survive in future wars but only if the Air Force is to create tactics which will give this plane an advantage. “The decisive factor for the JSF in this game will be its limited stealth performance,” says Kopp.


The B-58 Hustler – Mach 2 Bomber Feared By Many

The B-58 Hustler was one of the most outstanding warplanes in the US Air Force. It posed a serious threat to the enemies and it was characterized by large engines and delta wing. Even though the B-58 Hustler is an engineering marvel, the pilots had a handful of work. Flying this plane was more than difficult, plus the costs of maintenance were extremely high. This aircraft remained in service for ten years, and it is time to review its lifespan.

The Beginning

The B-58 replaced the B-47 Stratojet as the medium bomber. The role of these planes was to launch the attack at the Soviet Union from overseas bases, but for various reasons, the B-58 operated only from the US bases. In the 1950s, Convair produced and launched the B-36 Peacemaker which was a strategic bomber for the USAF. This aircraft was large and slow, but it could carry a hydrogen bomb over the ocean, posing a threat to the Soviets. However, their interceptors made the B-36 useless and they could even shoot down the B-47 and B-52.


Meanwhile, the Hustler was nothing like the Peacemaker. It could reach Mach 2 with the nuclear warhead and fuel tank on board. With the Hustler, Americans had a weapon capable of breaching the Soviet airspace, hitting some of the crucial targets. The B-58 took off in 1956 for the first time, and it remained in the service of the army for years later.

Common Accidents

Early delta wing airplanes were catastrophic for the pilots. Flying this plane was too demanding and many pilots struggled to master the controls. Every part of the flight could have been disastrous. It was hard to take off, land, and rotate the plane in the air. No wonder 26 out of the 116 Hustlers suffered accidents, which was 22.4% when looked over a ten-year span. Indeed, a lot of those early jets were prone to accidents, but the Hustler was the worst and many pilots died for naught.

The B-58, together with the B-36 and B-47 was never in a war. The Vietnam War was finished without the Hustler’s involvement, but that was perhaps for the best. The handling at low altitudes was poor, and most of the bombs would probably miss the targets. At that time, the Air Force desperately needed a high-performance penetration bomber, but the B-58 just wasn’t it. As a replacement, they started using the B-70 Valkyrie, but instead of fixing the problems which troubled the B-58, exactly the same things were the issue. The bomber was rendered obsolete.

It was ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for the fleet to retire in 1965 and the Air Force did this five years later when the last of these warplanes were decommissioned. This meant that the Hustler was in service of the US Air Force for slightly less than ten years. The idea was to turn the Hustler into a civilian jetliner, but nothing happened in that respect. Instead of gaining more dominance in the air, the Americans were forced to return to the B-52 which was much more efficient in penetration of the Soviet airspace at low altitudes. Meanwhile, the FB-111 Aardvark assumed the position of the medium bomber, but this one also had a series of issues. That was the reason why it was replaced with multi-mission fighter jets F-15 and F-16. All of that led to the F-35.


All in all, the B-58 perhaps didn’t have much influence in the sky, but at least it had a menacing appearance which artists and directors found inspirational. In the movie called Fail-Safe from 1964, the group of B-58 Hustlers completely demolished Moscow. The B-58 might have been a failure, but the Americans learned a lot from it. Only multiple-mission jets such as the B-52 that is versatile enough would survive.


America’s F-4 Phantom

One of the best airplanes during the Vietnam War was The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. This airplane entered the US military service in the 1960s, and more than 5,000 examples were produced. Out of that number, hundreds are still in great condition, and they are used in the country’s defense.

The Phantom was never the perfect aircraft, especially if you were to compare it to the F-15 Eagle that has never been destroyed in the air-to-air combat. However, the F-4 has a special place in the US forces, and it will always remain one of the most authentic airplanes. At first, the aircraft relied on brute engine power and weapons which were obsolete, but these flaws were corrected by 1970s. Nowadays, of course, the F-4s have everything according to the modern standards. And they are saving a lot of money because they are capable of doing everything an F-15 can do, but at a lower price.

The first F-4 was produced in 1958, and it was completely different from the other planes at the time. Unloaded, the aircraft weighed 30,000 pounds and thanks to the J79 twin engines, it had excellent thrust to weight ratio and it could, and still can, reach impressive speeds. Speaking of which, the F-4 Phantom can go up to 1,473 miles per hour. Back in the day, this beast could be loaded with 18,000 pounds of ammunition which is three times more than what famous B-17 bombers, which were active during the Second World War, could carry. The plane had the advanced radar that was operated by the weapons officer in the backseat while the pilot was focused on flying.

The F-4 penetrated through every pore of the US military. It served in the US Air Force, as expected, but it was also used by the Marines and Navy. Both ground- and carrier-based models were available, and all of these models were eagerly used.

Even though it was the state-of-the-art plane, the losses in Vietnam were huge. While the US army had success in the Korean War and shooting approximately 8 and losing 1 in air-to-air combat, the situation in Vietnam was different. The ratio was 2-1, which was far from satisfactory, and many F-4s were hit. The missiles it used were radar-guided AIM-7 Sparrow, the heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder, and the AIM-4 Falcon, but it took some time for the US to realize that these were all awful. A large percentage of missiles couldn’t be launched at all or locked on, and during and after large maneuvers, the probability for the airplane to hit the target with one of those missiles was under 15 percent.

To make matters worse, the American pilots were not trained for close range combat, and that was something North Vietnamese exploited. Furthermore, the J79 engines were leaving a thick black smoke behind them which make these, already large planes, easy to spot. But that was not all. While the Vietnamese forces shot the US airplanes down, the US pilots had to identify the target first before they launched the missiles. They were crippled, indeed.

However, in the years to come, better Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles were produced, and the F-4 Phantom was becoming more capable. In 1972, Maj. Phil Handley created history. He managed to shoot down a MiG-19 using only the plane’s gun, and this is the only case of such shooting. Note that this happened at supersonic speed. Later on, the F-4Es received wing-slats, making the aircraft easy to maneuver, but slowing them down slightly. Still, the speed reduction was a small price to pay for the increase of maneuverability. The engines were improved as well, and there was no more a black trail behind the tail of the F-4.

The Middle East Utilization

The Phantoms were not used only in the Vietnamese War. They were also heavily used in the Middle East where most of the combat took place after the situation in the Asia-Pacific region calmed down. When the Israeli fought the Egyptians and Syrian air forces, they recorded 116 air-to-air kills. The fights took place in 1969, during the so-called War of Attrition. Four years later, Egyptians used MiGs to attack the Ofir Air Base. Just two of the allied airplanes managed to survive, but they knocked down seven enemy planes.

While the Israeli had success against the Syrians and Egyptians in air-to-air combat, they struggled against Arab surface-to-air missile batteries. 36 Phantoms were lost during the battles, and most of them were shot down by the SAMs. The Phantoms showed their true strength in the War in Lebanon when they managed to destroy all 30 of Syria’s SAM batteries which were located in the Bekaa Valley. Even though the Phantoms were followed by the new F-15s and F-16s, not a single plane was lost. Furthermore, the USA sold 225 F-4 Phantoms to Iran before the revolution, and they helped them defeat the Iraqi forces.

F-4 Phantom in the 21st century

Believe it or not, but the Phantom is still used in service. It is strange when you think about it. The airplane which was produced in 1958 and entered the US military service at the beginning of the 1960s is used in 2018. Yes, it has been modified throughout the years and constantly improved but how did the F-4 survive next to far better F-15 and F-16 fighter jets.

In their fourth generation, these two airplanes managed to shoot more than 80 Syrian third-generation MiGs in Lebanon at no loss. They proved the supremacy in the Gulf War when only one plane was shot down compared to 33 losses of the enemy. In order to keep up with the modern jets, the F-4 Phantom integrates modern hardware that its relatives use. The Phantoms which flew over the Turkish and Greek air forces have state-of-the-art pulse-doppler radars, which means that they have the eyes that can look down with missiles that can shoot down. For those who are not familiar with the context, let us explain. In the past, the high-flying airplanes couldn’t notice the low-flying jets since the radar waves bounced off the ground and gave incorrect data. This problem has been solved, and the more modern devices are now used, and they can detect any low-flying aircraft.

This is not all, even the electronics and instruments are updated. Today, the F-4s are equipped with Heads Up Displays so that the pilots have their instruments in front of them. Many countries bought these airplanes from the US. For instance, Germany used them until 2013 and even though they do not use them currently, the planes are safeguarded and garaged for future use. Also, one part of South Korean air force consists of the F-4Es, while Japan is another country with American airplanes. Furthermore, Iran and Israel are the two countries in the Middle East that have been in possession of the F-4.

The F-4 Phantom has proven to be versatile and adaptable, which is its biggest trait. This only shows that even though it had flaws at first, this jet is considered a part of the United States history and heritage. Honestly, who would have thought that planes which took their first flight in 1958 would patrol the sky in 2018? We are confident that the F-4 Phantom is going to live on, maybe in some other form and with some new technology, but it will survive.