Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane? - We Are The Mighty
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Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

The SR-71 Blackbird is an awesome plane. But did you know that it could have been even more awesome than it was? The Air Force was planning to make a fighter version of the plane.


Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as the early iterations of the SR-71 were being designed, there was a need for an interceptor. The F-108 program had been cancelled due to its high cost. However, there was still a desire for a high-speed, long-range interceptor.

 

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
The YF-12A – a fighter version of the Blackbird capable of carrying four AIM-47 Falcon missiles. (USAF photo)

The A-12 OXCART being developed for the CIA was seen as a likely basis for a fighter. Lockheed’s Skunk Works team soon figured out how to add a powerful radar, the AN/ASG-18, capable of detecting targets from as far off as 500 miles in some cases, and four AIM-47 missiles.

The resulting plane was designated the YF-12, and three prototypes were built.

Designation-Systems.net notes that the AIM-47 had a range of over 100 miles and a speed of Mach 4. While a 250-ton W42 warhead never materialized for this missile, it did get a 100-pound high-explosive warhead.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
An AIM-47 Falcon being loaded into a YF-12. (USAF photo)

News of the the YF-12’s development was leaked in an effort to distract the public from the work being done to make a reconnaissance plane. But the plane – awesome as it was – would not ever see service due to the development of reliable inter-continental ballistic missiles.

The YF-12 would get a production order for 93 airframes from the Air Force. However, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara refused to release the funds, and the project ended up being halted at the three prototypes. Two were handed over to NASA for research flights. One of those crashed after a fuel line caught fire in 1971, with the crew ejecting from the stricken plane.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
A Fighter Squadron 211 (VF-211) F-14A Tomcat aircraft banks into a turn during a flight out of Naval Air Station, Miramar, Calif. The aircraft is carrying six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.

 

The YF-12 will remain one of the biggest “could have been” planes in history. The jet still has a legacy – partially in the SR-71 Blackbird, but also in the form of the AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles used by the F-14 Tomcat. Even though this plane never got a chance to serve, it still did a lot for America’s military aviation development.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-15 is taking a page out of the Su-27 book (for once)

The F-15 Eagle rightfully boasts of one of the most successful runs in air-to-air combat of all time. In fact, the F-15 Eagle is undefeated when the air-to-air combat has been for real, with over 100 kills. But believe it or not, it has lacked something — something that its arch-rival, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, has had from day one.


According to a release from Lockheed Martin, the Air Force has announced Lockheed’s Legion Pod has been selected for use on the F-15C Eagles the service has on hand, starting in 2018. This pod will give the Eagle an infra-red search and track system, or IRST.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
A pair of Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aircraft. (DOD photo)

When the F-15 was designed, it was given an awesome radar. That radar helped the Eagle guide AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missiles. But the Su-27 not only had a radar for its AA-10 “Alamo” and AA-12 “Adder” missiles, it also had an IRST, which gave it a technological edge in air-to-air combat.

Radar, while it has long range, is a system that can itself be detected. When a radar “paints” a combat aircraft, the crew will find out because most combat aircraft have what is known as a radar warning receiver, or RWR. In essence, when the radar locks on to the target, the RWR screams bloody murder, telling the pilot, “Hey, someone’s trying to blow you out of the sky. DO SOMETHING!”

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
The Legion pod mounted on a F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter. (Lockheed Martin Fort Worth Texas Photo by Alexander H Groves)

IRSTs get around this by tracking on the heat from an aircraft. It works a lot like a forward-looking infrared, but it specializes in the air-to-air arena as opposed to the air-to-ground arena. Furthermore, it can feed data to an infra-red guided missile, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder or AA-11 Archer. Those cannot be picked up by a RWR, and thus, they give a pilot much less warning when targeted.

Lockheed notes that 130 Legion pods will be purchased. The first of the pods is expected to be delivered in 2018.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch this high-energy laser weapon shoot down 5 drones

Lasers have long been a staple of science fiction weaponry — but they are also becoming much closer to reality on the battlefields of today.


American weapons maker Lockheed Martin recently proved it can shoot down enemy drones with a live-fire test of its ATHENA laser weapon system.

Also read: ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance

According to a company release, the 30-kilowatt laser was fired against five unmanned aerial vehicles and “defeated airborne targets in flight by causing loss of control and structural failure” during the test, which was conducted in conjunction with Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
The Athena laser weapon system. (Youtube Screenshot from Lockheed video)

A video released by Lockheed showed that the targets, MQM-170C Outlaw drones, based on the Griffon Aerospace G2, were destroyed in crashes caused by the damage inflicted on the tail by the laser. Designation-Systems.net notes that the MQM-170A version of the Outlaw, based on Griffon’s G1 has a top speed of 120 miles per hour, can fly as high as 16,000 feet, and has as much as four hours of flight time.

Related: This is the laser that will take out enemy drones

The need to take down enemy drones has been acutely demonstrated in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. During the fighting for Mosul, the radical Islamic terrorist group made extensive use of UAVs, including spotting for mortar gunners, as well as to carry out small bomb attacks.

One particularly insidious tactic was to land a booby-trapped drone, and then to detonate it as coalition troops attempted to recover it.

The development of lasers has been advancing in recent years, and while right now they’re being used to target drones, that’s not all defense planners have planned for beam weapons.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
One of five MQM-170C Outlaws moments before impact after its tail surface was damaged by Lockheed’s ATHENA laser. (Youtube Screenshot from Lockheed video)

“As we mature the technology behind laser weapon systems, we’re making the entire system more effective and moving closer to a laser weapon that will provide greater protection to our warfighters by taking on more sophisticated threats from a longer range,” Lockheed Martin’s Chief Technology Officer, Keoki Jackson, said.

You can see a video of the Outlaws being put into the ground by the laser below.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Moscow sending advanced air defenses to Syria after lost plane

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he expects to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York amid concerns expressed by Washington over Moscow’s plans to supply Syria with the S-300 surface-to-air missile system.

Pompeo made the remarks on Sept. 24, 2018, just hours after Russia announced that it was supplying the S-300 missile system to improve Syria’s defenses and help prevent a repeat of the downing of a Russian warplane by Syrian forces in September 2018.

Anticipating a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which opens on Sept. 25, 2018, Pompeo said “I’m sure Sergei and I will have our time together.”


“We are trying to find every place we can where there is common ground, where we can work with the Russians,” Pompeo said, adding that Washington will hold Moscow “accountable” for many areas where Russia is working against the United States.

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton said on Sept. 24, 2018, that Russia’s decision to deploy the advanced antiaircraft missiles to Syria was a “major mistake” and a “significant escalation” in Syria’s seven-year war.

Bolton also said U.S. troops will not leave Syria until Iranian forces leave.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sept. 24, 2018, that Moscow will deliver the S-300 within two weeks and will provide Syrian government forces with updated automated systems for its air-defense network.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

SA-12 high altitude surface-to-air missile systems

(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

This will improve Syrian air-defense operations and “most important, the identification of all Russian aircraft by Syrian air-defense systems will be guaranteed,” Shoigu said.

Syrian government forces shot a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane down off the northwestern province of Latakia on Sept. 17, 2018, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Shoigu’s ministry angrily blamed Israel, accusing the country’s military of using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian air-defense systems.

President Vladimir Putin took a softer approach, saying that the shoot-down appeared to be the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

But Putin announced that Russia would take visible measures to protect Russian military personnel in Syria.

In a statement on Sept. 24, 2018, the Kremlin said that Putin told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the decision during a telephone conversation initiated by Assad.

Putin “informed [Assad] about the decision to take a number of additional measures with the aim of providing for the security of Russian forces in Syria and strengthening the country’s air defense, including the delivery of a modern S-300 air-defense missile complex to Syria,” the statement said.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has given Assad crucial support throughout the war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.

Moscow helped protect Assad from possible defeat and turn the tide of the war in his favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

Much of Syria’s air-defense network has been provided by Russia but consists of weapons that are older and less effective than the S-300.

Russia suspended the supply of an S-300 system at an earlier stage in the war, amid Israeli concerns that it could be used against it.

Shoigu said that “the situation has changed, and it’s not our fault,” adding that the supply of an S-300 would “calm down some hotheads” whose actions “pose a threat to our troops.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia’s decision to deliver an S-300 was not targeted against anyone and was aimed solely to protect Russian troops in Syria.

The reconnaissance plane’s downing “was indeed preceded by a chain of tragic accidents,” Peskov said, but this chain was set in motion “largely by the deliberate actions of Israeli pilots.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that supplying S-300s to Syria is Russia’s “right” and voiced confidence that this would not hurt Russian ties with Israel.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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Pentagon looks to laser-armed drones for enemy missile shootdowns

The U.S. Department of Defense is exploring options that would see drones fitted with lasers that could shoot down incoming enemy missiles.


The U.S. Missile Defense Agency tested a “directed-energy airborne laser” that can be fired from a drone, according to a report by the Last Vegas Review-Journal. Theoretically, the new weapon would allow the U.S. to fly drones over suspected enemy ballistic missile launch sites, allowing them to shoot down any missiles shortly after launch.

“Our vision is to shift the calculus of our potential adversaries by introducing directed energy into the ballistic missile defense architecture,” agency spokesman Christopher Johnson told the Review-Journal. “This could revolutionize missile defense, dramatically reducing the role of kinetic interceptors.”

The laser-mounted drones would add another layer of missile defense to U.S. capabilities. The drones offer an advantage over current missile defense systems, which rely on an intricate system of radars and satellites that guide a missile interceptor to a target. The laser drones would be much simpler and possibly just as effective, as they could loiter in a potential launch area and take out an enemy missile before it gets too far in its course. Current systems require an enemy missile to be in mid-course or descent phases before a traditional interceptor can be deployed.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
Image via General Atomics

North Korea would be a likely potential deployment for such a system. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un has engaged in more than 20 missile tests, the most recent of which occurred Feb. 12. The missile tested was propelled by solid fuel, as opposed to combustible liquid, marking a major advance in missile technology. Solid fuel missiles are more dangerous, as they can be concealed on mobile launchers.

The idea for drones armed with lasers originated with former President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense shield, part of which envisioned using space-based lasers to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles. While Reagan’s contemporary critics scoffed at the project, it helped spawn missile defense systems used today.

Laser-armed drones as an effective missile deterrent is still in the planning stages. The top major defense contractors — including Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon — are all currently involved in a $230 million, five year-long demonstration program at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Pentagon will engage in the first official demonstrations of laser-armed drones in 2020 and 2021, according to Johnson.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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This app lets you see the destructive power of nukes on your hometown

Growing up relatively close to an Air Force Major Command base toward the end of the Cold War, we were constantly reminded of one thing: If the “big one” ever came, we were among the first to be toast. But were we really? Thankfully, now there’s a way to find out for sure.


Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
The short answer is yes. (Nukemap)

 

This simulation is a map of the effect of a 25-megaton strike on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from a Soviet R-36 intercontinental ballistic missile warhead. The R-36, introduced in 1974, gave the Soviets a first-strike capability with a rapid reload ability and a missile that could carry up to 10 independently targetable warheads.

The green area represents an immediately lethal dose of radiation, the yellow represents the initial fireball burst, and the red is a 20 psi air blast, capable of completely destroying most structures and projecting a 100-percent casualty rate. The dark circles surrounding the outermost red area represent different air pressures inflicted by the blast on the local population. The orange-ish area shows where third-degree burns and other radiation injuries are likely.

Estimated fatalities number more than 319,000 with another 375,000-plus injured.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
It could always be worse. This is a 150-Kiloton North Korean nuclear strike on Los Angeles. (Nukemap)

 

These simulations are brought to you by The Nukemap, a project created by Alex Wellerstein of the New Jersey-based Stevens Institute of Technology. Wellerstein is a professor at SIT, and his expertise is in the history of science and nuclear weapons technology. He also runs the Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Professor Wellerstein has devoted his life and career to the study of the effects of nuclear weapons on societies and geopolitics.

The Nukemap is aimed at helping people visualize nuclear weapons on terms they can make sense of — helping them to get a sense of the scale of the bombs. By allowing people to use arbitrarily picked geographical locations, I hope that people will come to understand what a nuclear weapon would do to places they are familiar with, and how the different sizes of nuclear weapons change the results.”

Wellerstein’s previous work was the MissileMap, a way to see that a country’s nuclear arsenal was even capable of hitting your hometown.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
Sorry, Ohio. You’re toast. (MissileMap)

 

Nukemap needs the user to enter the location of the target, the yield of the warhead used, and if the explosion is a surface explosion or airburst. If you don’t know anything about nuclear weapons, that’s okay: there are numerous possible presets available. For example, you can target New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other American cities. But since the United States and Russia aren’t the only countries with nuclear capabilities, Nukemap also offers the effects of all potential nuclear attackers, including Israel, Iran, North Korea, France, Britain, India, Pakistan, Japan, and South Korea.

You can even see historical presets, from the effects of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima blasts to the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear device ever exploded on Earth.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
Which would devastate four of the five New York City boroughs, if you were curious.
MIGHTY TACTICAL

F-35s wrecked their competition in mock battles

The US Air Force put the F-35 up against “the most advanced weapons systems out there” during the recent Red Flag air combat exercise, and the fight-generation stealth fighters apparently dominated — so much so that even the rookie pilots were crushing it.

Pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron took to the skies in upgraded F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, integrating into a “Blue Force” consisting of fifth and fourth-generation fighters for a “counter air” mission against a “Red Force” made up of “equally capable” fighters.


During the intense fight, aggressor aircraft blinded many of the “blue” fourth-generation aircraft using electronic attack capabilities, such as those advanced adversaries might employ in battle.

“Even in this extremely challenging environment, the F-35 didn’t have many difficulties doing its job,” Col. Joshua Wood, 388th Operations Group commander, explained in a US Air Force statement summarizing the exercise results.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

An F-35A Lightning II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Feb. 1, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Novice F-35 pilots were able to step in and save more experienced friendly fourth-generation fighter pilots while racking up kills against simulated near-peer threats.

“My wingman was a brand new F-35A pilot, seven or eight flights out of training,” Wood said, recounting his experiences. “He gets on the radio and tells an experienced 3,000-hour pilot in a very capable fourth-generation aircraft. ‘Hey bud, you need to turn around. You’re about to die. There’s a threat off your nose.'”

That young pilot took out the enemy aircraft and then went on to pick up three more “kills” during the mission, which lasted for an hour. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Wood added.

The latest iteration of Red Flag — a multinational exercise aimed at training pilots to defeat enemy aircraft, integrated air-defense systems, and electronic and information warfare tactics — was said to be “exponentially more challenging” than past drills, as they were specifically intended to simulate real combat against a more serious threat like Russia or China. The pilots waged simulated war in contested environments characterized by electronic attack, communications jamming, and GPS denial.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

Capt. Brad Matherne conducts preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission at Nellis Air Force Base.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

“Those situations highlight the fifth-generation capabilities of the F-35. We’re still able to operate and be successful,” Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, the 4th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a US Air Force statement.

The F-35A participated in Red Flag, the service’s top air combat exercise, for the first time two years ago. At that time, the powerful stealth aircraft was only at its initial operating capability, yet it still destroyed the opposition with a 20:1 kill ratio.

This year, pilots were flying F-35s with upgrades offering improved combat capabilities and maneuverability, making the aircraft more lethal in air combat. The Block 3F software upgrades brought the aircraft up to full warfighting capability.

The F-35A is “exceeding our expectations when it comes to not only being able to survive, but to prosecute targets,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said Feb. 26, 2019, according to Air Force Times.

The F-35A, an embattled aircraft still overcoming development challenges, is expected to eventually replace the aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is Boeing’s new autonomous fighter

Boeing has a new plane that is sure to raise eyebrows around the world. The Boeing Airpower Teaming System is boringly named, but it’s also an autonomous fighter jet that could protect human pilots and assist on missions as early as 2020.

Yup. Robot fighter planes are in flight, and they’re about to come to market.


First, a quick look at the weapon’s missions. It’s supposed to fly in combat, perform early warning missions, and conduct reconnaissance. So, basically, it’s a jack of all trades. According to a Boeing press release, the plane will:

— Provide fighter-like performance, measuring 38 feet long (11.7 metres) and able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles
— Integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare
— Use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.

Boeing hasn’t announced the plane’s exact capabilities which, since they want to eventually sell it around the world, is probably a good idea. No one who buys the plane is going to want all their adversaries to already know its limits, even if there is no pilot to kill.

But expect aviation media to keep a firm eye on the plane. One of the biggest selling points of autonomous fighters is that the planes won’t be limited to speeds, turning rates, and altitudes where humans can survive. See, the human meat sack in the middle of the plane is often the most fragile and valuable part of it. So everyone wants to know what the plane can do without a pilot.

“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems. “With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

In the ALPHA AI program, developed with a team from University of Cincinnati an artificial intelligence running on a cheap computer defeated skilled fighter pilots in simulations.

(Journal of Defense Management)

While the announcement has made a lot of waves, it’s not a huge surprise for people keeping track. Robots began beating experienced human pilots reliably in simulators a few years ago, and they’ve only gotten better since.

And the Air Force already began packing the computers into older jets to test the concept, leading to a 2017 test where an empty F-16 flew in support of human pilots. The program, Have Raider II, was ran in conjunction with Lockheed Martin and their Skunk Works program, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if Lockheed unveiled its own proposal soon.

There are legal limits on autonomous fighting systems, but the key component is that they ascribe to at least “man-in-the-loop” protocol where a human makes the final decision for any lethal engagement. But Have Raider II and the BATS envision robot fighters flying next to human-crewed planes and under the direction of the human pilots, so both will likely be accepted on the international stage. And, Boeing hasn’t said that BATS will necessarily have lethal weapons.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

Weapons like Lockheed Martin’s F-35 are sold across national boundaries to American allies. Boeing has developed an unmanned fighter that it hopes to sell across the world as well.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)

BATS was developed in Australia and, as mentioned above, Boeing hopes the final iterations will have a place in the air forces of U.S. partners around the world. But there is some downside to the new robot paradigm for the U.S. and its allies.

China’s military is improving at a great rate, growing larger and more technologically advanced by the week. One factor that’s holding them back is a shortage of pilots and good candidates for the training. So if China is able to develop a similar breakthrough, they can pump new planes into the air as fast as the factories can crank them out. And they’ve already made Dark Sword, an autonomous stealth drone with some fighter characteristics.

No matter how few pilots they can train.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The world’s biggest airplane took its first flight ever

Somewhere out in the California desert, a streamlined, aerodynamic behemoth woke up on April 13, 2019. It was Stratolaunch Systems’ critical test flight for an airframe designed to launch rockets into space while in mid-air. The aircraft was a long time coming, the dream of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who died of Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2018.


After the plane’s historic two-hour flight, Allen would have been proud to watch the mammoth plane land on the Mojave Desert test strip.

Stratolaunch’s six-engine, 500,000-pound aircraft has a 385-foot wingspan and is designed to fly around 35,000 feet. In comparison, the largest aircraft used for civilian air travel is the Airbus A380-800, with a wingspan of 238 feet and weighing in at slightly more than the Stratolaunch.

“The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want a first flight to be,” said test pilot Evan Thomas. “It flew very much like we had simulated and like we predicted.”

The previous record holder for largest aircraft ever flown was Howard Hughes’ famed Spruce Goose, an eight-engine, wooden-framed plane that was less than half the weight of the Stratolaunch. Until April 13, it was the longest wingspan aircraft to ever fly.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd.

Stratolaunch was founded in 2011, the brainchild of Allen, who originally also wanted to make the rockets the Stratolaunch planes would launch into low earth orbit. The company plans to do incremental tests of the airframe over the coming years, as they had done in previous years. Other small tests included engine tests and runway taxis before the April flight.

While the two-hour test flight was a success, not much else was conclusive save for a deal with Northrop Grumman to use Stratolaunch planes to put their Pegasus XL rockets into space. Who knows – these could be the early models of a Space Force troop transport. The skies are no longer the limit.

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This is how the Russians turned this fighter into a bomber

We’ve talked about how many Americans fighters have gone on to serve as kick-ass bombers. But did you know that the Russians managed to do the same thing with one of their fighters? All they had to do was sacrifice any hopes of a multirole capability to do it.


That plane was the MiG-23 “Flogger”, a fighter that was later modified to become the MiG-27, a ground-attack aircraft. In a very real sense, the Soviets, in designing the Flogger, created an airframe that was able to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In a sense, it’s a lot like the F-86H Sabre, a lethal bomber created from an air-superiority fighter base.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

The MiG-23 was primarily designed to carry air-to-air missiles like the AA-7 Apex and the AA-8 Aphid.

(DOD)

The MiG-23 first entered service as a fighter in 1971. It was a notable improvement over the MiG-21 in that it carried medium-range, radar-guided AA-7 Apex missiles that could be guided toward targets using the on-board High Lark radar. The Flogger could also use the AA-2 Atoll and AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles, which primarily used infrared guidance. The plane also packed a twin-barrel 23mm gun for dogfighting.

But the Soviets also wanted a ground-attack plane. Although the MiG-23 could haul just over 6,500 pounds of armaments, the Soviets wanted more.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

The MiG-27, seen here, replaced the High Lark radar with sensors optimized for the air-to-ground mission, including a laser-range finder.

(Photo by Rob Schleiffert)

The MiG-27 entered service in 1975. Early versions maintained the twin 23mm guns of the MiG-23, but this Flogger was intended to hit targets on the ground and eventually was given a proper gun for it — a six-barrel 30mm Gatling gun. It could carry almost 9,000 pounds of bombs. The plane also featured a laser rangefinder.

In order to make room for all of those ground-attack tools, the Soviets removed the High Lark radar. This didn’t leave it completely defenseless in the air — the MiG-27 could still carry heat-seeking missiles.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

Something all too familiar to Flogger pilots: An American or Israeli jet on their six.

(U.S. Navy)

The MiG-23 was produced in huge numbers and saw action in the hands of countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq. American and Israeli pilots had no problem blowing the Flogger out of the sky, though. Despite a lot of negative combat experiences, over 5,000 Floggers of all types were produced. The Soviet Union and India also produced almost 1,100 MiG-27s. Some Indian MiG-27s, though, went on to become true multirole fighters.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy approves its first metal 3D-printed part for ship use

Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) approved the first metal part created by additive manufacturing (AM) for shipboard installation, the command announced Oct. 11, 2018.

A prototype drain strainer orifice (DSO) assembly will be installed on USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in fiscal year 2019 for a one-year test and evaluation trial. The DSO assembly is a steam system component that permits drainage/removal of water from a steam line while in use.

Huntington Ingalls Industries — Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) builds Navy aircraft carriers and proposed installing the prototype on an aircraft carrier for test and evaluation.


“This install marks a significant advancement in the Navy’s ability to make parts on demand and combine NAVSEA’s strategic goal of on-time delivery of ships and submarines while maintaining a culture of affordability,” said Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, NAVSEA chief engineer and deputy commander for ship design, integration, and naval engineering. “By targeting CVN-75 [USS Harry S. Truman], this allows us to get test results faster, so — if successful — we can identify additional uses of additive manufacturing for the fleet.”

The test articles passed functional and environmental testing, which included material, welding, shock, vibration, hydrostatic, and operational steam, and will continue to be evaluated while installed within a low temperature and low pressure saturated steam system. After the test and evaluation period, the prototype assembly will be removed for analysis and inspection.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?

The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman transits the Gulf of Oman.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor M. DiMartino)

While the Navy has been using additive manufacturing technology for several years, the use of it for metal parts for naval systems is a newer concept and this prototype assembly design, production, and first article testing used traditional mechanical testing to identify requirements and acceptance criteria. Final requirements are still under review.

“Specifications will establish a path for NAVSEA and industry to follow when designing, manufacturing and installing AM components shipboard and will streamline the approval process,” said Dr. Justin Rettaliata, technical warrant holder for additive manufacturing. “NAVSEA has several efforts underway to develop specifications and standards for more commonly used additive manufacturing processes.”

Naval Sea Systems Command is the largest of the Navy’s five systems commands. NAVSEA engineers, builds, buys and maintains the Navy’s ships, submarines and combat systems to meet the fleet’s current and future operational requirements.

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

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What’s going on with Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets this year?

Search and rescue efforts are underway for the pilot of a United States Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet who was forced to eject from his aircraft 120 miles southeast of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.


According to a Marine Corps news release, the Hornet was assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force and was on what the Marines described as a regular training mission when it went down.

An investigation into why the pilot was forced to eject is underway.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
Cpl. Chris Lawler, a crewmaster with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152, observes an F/A-18C Hornet with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122 approach the refueling hose during Exercise Pitch Black 2016 at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 9, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg)

This latest mishap marks the fourth crashed or badly damaged Marine Corps Hornet so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

In October, an F/A-18C crashed on approach at Twentynine Palms, California, and in November, two Hornets collided in mid-air, losing one plane and badly damaging another.

So far the Marine Corps has suffered five major flight mishaps this year, while the service suffered eight in all of fiscal 2016.

The Marine Corps has had serious problems with its Hornet fleet specifically, including the need to pull nearly two dozen from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base this past summer. It was unclear whether this one was of the “boneyard” birds, a Navy hand-me-down or a plane in the Corps’ regular inventory.

Marine Hornets had a rough summer, with a number of crashes prompting a 24-hour stand-down.

However, the August timeout seems to have had little effect, as FoxNews.com reported that there have been four incidents since October, including a mid-air collision between two Hornets in November.

The baseline F/A-18 Hornet has been out of production since Fiscal Year 1997, and the line now only produces the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare plane.

The Marines plan to replace both their F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B+ Harriers with the F-35B Lightning II. The F-35B has seen some delays, but was introduced in July, 2015. Marine Corps Lightnings are expected to operate off HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021 due to a shortage of airframes in the Fleet Air Arm.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Israeli plane was so good the Marines used it as an aggressor

Israel faced a problem in the 1970s. The Yom Kippur War had seen them take heavy aircraft losses. They needed more planes – and they wanted to get some better performance as well. After all, Syria was acquiring advanced MiG-23s (the Flogger was advanced at the time).


The Israelis had been forced to steal the plans for the Mirage 5 from France after an arms embargo. Mossad had managed to get the Mirage 5 plans in a very brilliant operation, but it was just an interim solution. Israel built 50 Neshers, which correlated to the number of aircraft it had ordered from France. The Nesher was flown by Giora Epstein when he took on 11 MiGs by himself.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
An air-to-air right side view of an F-21A Kfir (young lion) aircraft. The Israeli-built delta-wing tactical fighter is being used as part of the Navy’s aggressor training. (US Navy photo)

Israel did get lucky when they acquired a license to produce the J79 engine most commonly known as the powerplant of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. While Mossad was trying to swipe the plans for the Mirage 5, Israel had a backup plan: figuring out how to make the J79 work with the Mirage airframe.

Israel had been hoping to pull off one of those ideas, but they soon were in a pleasant quandry after both of their plans succeeded. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the first Kfirs entered service in 1974, just missing the Yom Kippur War. The planes, though, proved to be excellent – and so good that the United States Navy borrowed a number of them to serve as aggressors at schools like Top Gun.

Could the SR-71 Blackbird have been a fighter plane?
Three F-21 Kfirs in flight. (USMC photo)

The Kfir saw action with the Israelis, mostly in ground attack roles. The Ecuadorian Air Force planes did rack up three air-to-air kills in the 1990s while fighting the Peruvians. Sri Lanka’s Kfirs fought the Tamil Tigers. You can see more about this Israeli lion of the skies in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tnNbNAyrrY
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