Tallies quite well with the Cold War experience of the Royal Swedish Airforce, which was smaller than the RAF if still very substantial — 720 fatalities, 600 of which pilots, from accidents through the Cold War period.
Known to be a hazzardous job, that.
Erik Bratt, the pilot and aircraft engineer who designed the SAAB 35 "Draken" (the Dragon), in his autobriography "Silver Wings", indicates a full third of his generation of fighter pilots had been killed in accidents inside the first two years of service. Then the attrition rate dropped, as both the too daring, and the too dull, had been very perceptibly weeded out, leaving the right average mix of able yet cautious.
And this was "peacetime" conditions. Though there were tactical formations for when encountering Soviet fighters, where if the Soviets could be enticed, there were attempts to bring them into turning and manouver games intended to make the Soviets crash. Sometimes this was successfuly done, with official shows of condoleances to the Soviets afterwards...
Wasn't there some accident analysis awhile back about Century fighters? Some kind of ridiculous number especially the first 3-5 years when so many planes were in development. The F-100As had some horrible loss rate, IIRC. Either the Sabre Dance or roll/yaw problems with that short vertical stab.
The F-100C Super Sabre had no flaps and required a high speed landing approach. Although the F-100's low speed performance benefitted greatly from the aerodynamically controlled slats introduced on the F 86, they allowed for higher angles of attack that also had distinct disadvantages. Also, the F-100 had large conventional ailerons that were responsible for the Super Sabre’s legendary adverse yaw. When the aircraft was turned the aileron on the “up wing” or the outside of the turn would deflect downward into the relative wind. This aileron’s deflection would create drag and induce a yawing motion away from the turn. This tendency was greatly exaggerated at low airspeed with high angles of attack. If the yawing were not corrected with rudder, the plane would eventually roll over in the opposite direction of the turn. If this happened in the landing pattern or close to the ground both the pane and pilot were often lost.
Also, through the use of the aircraft's automatic slats the F-100 was capable of a very tight turning radius that was useful in air-to-air combat. This ability to achieve high angles of attack also had disadvantages. The airplane’s unique aerodynamic characteristics caused the airplane to experience large amounts of induced drag from the F-100s wings. The 45-degree wing sweep also contributed the center of lift to moving forward at high angles of attack and causing a pitch up. During air combat maneuvers this pitch up would cause the airplane to slow dramatically and lose energy quickly. The J57 did not have enough thrust to overcome this substantial induced drag. Although the F-100 could turn tighter than its opponent, the energy deficit would leave the pilot vulnerable to a faster enemy plane. Even more pernicious were the consequences from the enormous induced drag in the landing pattern or maneuvering close to the ground. The F-100 wing could fly without stalling at a speed low enough to create more drag than the J57 could overcome. This flight regime is described as the area of reverse command. Pilots refer to it as being “behind the power curve”. It is the condition of the aircraft filmed doing the infamous “Sabre Dance”. The engine could not provide enough thrust, even in afterburner, to overcome the induced drag and allow the pilot to “fly” out of his situation.
Somewhat in the near neighborhood of this discussion about dogfighting, didn't John Boyd have something of a knack with the Hun and dogfighting supposedly? And his favorite option was to use that drag and do a "square "turn when his opponent was in the wrong spot?
Compared with their land based counterparts early naval jet fighters such as the Vought F6U-1 Pirate, entering service in 1945/6, were somewhat pedestrian. In 1945 Vought had already won a US Navy competition with the submission of a design for carrier based fighter with a speed in excess of 600 mph. This aircraft was to be the Vought F7U-1 Cutlass. Unlike its predecessor the Pirate the Cutlass was not a conventional aircraft. It had no tail plane, twin tail fins were attached to a swept back wing, twin jet engines were housed side by side in the fuselage and the aircraft had a very tall nose wheel leg so that it took off and landed with the nose at a steep upward angle.
The first prototype was ready for flight testing in late September 1948. It went out of control and crashed some time about mid October 1948. The second prototype crashed shortly afterwards when that long nose wheel leg collapsed on take off. (The third prototype managed to survive until July 1950 when due to an engine fire it too crashed.) This was not an auspicious start to the Cutlass’s career. However initial orders for a pre-production batch of 12 aircraft had already been placed in mid 1948 before the first prototype had even flown. Delivery of these started in 1950 and within a short time two had crashed. The reasons for the crashes do not seem to have been fully understood. Under normal circumstances at the very least this would cause the programme to be held up whilst the problems were analysed and solutions found and applied but by this time the Korean War was being fought and its possible duration was still in doubt. There was also the ominous spectre of it developing into an all out war with China and possibly even the Soviet Union. The advent of the Soviet Mig 15 in the hands of Chinese and North Korean pilots had come as an unpleasant surprise. Whilst Air Force’s F-86 Sabres had the measure of the Mig the US navy had no fighter with a comparable performance in service. The Cutlass development programme continued. An extensive redesign of the aircraft had been undertaken to produce the F7U-3 Cutlass. Although the general configuration was retained, apart from the wings, all most everything was redesigned.
The Korean War was over by the time the first F7U-3s were delivered in 1952. Production ended in 1955 when 300 fighters had been delivered to 10 US Navy squadrons. Most were taken out of service in 1956 and ’57. Over 25 % of all F7U-3s were lost in accidents (some fatal) and the plane was regarded as dangerous, this is reflected in the very low flying hours clocked up by the aircraft. The total for the type was 55,000 giving a rough average of 180 hours per plane (which makes the very high accident rate even more alarming). This is a very low figure and suggests that the Cutlass was flown only when absolutely essential.
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was sometimes called “the missile with a man in it” In some countries it was dubbed “the flying coffin”. In Luftwaffe service it earned the name Witwenmacher ("widow maker") and in the Pakistani Air Force Badmash (outlaw or bastard). The German minister of defence Franz Josef Strauss was almost forced to resign over the procurement and deployment of the aircraft and in the Netherlands a senior member of the royal family’s reputation was blackened in a scandal over bribes taken from Lockheed to ensure its purchase.
The prototype XF-104 first flew in 1954 but due to problems with the engines and air intakes was not cleared for squadron service until January 1958 when the F-104 entered service. This was brief as by April of that year an unacceptably high accident rate soon resulted in a three month grounding of the aircraft. In June of 1958, English Electric test pilot Roland Beaumont test flew an F-104A. He found many problems with the aircraft including a persistent wavering (hunting) in direction. The use of a thin, highly loaded wing badly affected manoeuvrability especially in turns. At high angles of attack the stabiliser could stall in the wing downwash, this would often cause a flat spin. Recovery was generally only possible if there was enough height to allow time for increased engine power to be applied to accelerate the aircraft back into controlled flight before it crashed. Beaumont found that subsonic handling properties were very poor and specifically hazardous during take-off and landings, this characteristic would make operation in bad weather very dangerous. His forecast was that the F-104 was likely to suffer a high accident rate in operation. The early F104As were equipped with a downward firing ejector seat that could not be used at low altitude unless the pilot had the time (and the control) to roll the aircraft into an inverted position first. The engines of the first F-104As lacked adjustable afterburning, which meant that this could only be used full on, which in effect meant no interim level speed was possible between mach 1 and mach 2.2.
The F-104A entered service with the USAF again in July 1958 and set up a number of international air speed records.. However the F-104 was primarily a lightweight high speed (mach 2), short range and clear weather interceptor suitable for protecting the USA from incoming Soviet bombers. It was only appropriate for this role. By 1958 it was already recognised that the primary threat to the USA homeland from the Soviet Union was the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and not the bomber. Any bomber attack would be unlikely to be made in clear weather and so in 1959 the F-104As were passed on to the National Guard. However by this time Lockheed had already commenced manufacture of the F-104C (an improved version) and there was some political pressure to ensure that production continued. Accordingly the US Air Force accepted this version for service with the Tactical Air Command but by 1965 these were also being taken out of service although some were deployed for use in Vietnam (a theatre for which they would seem to be singularly unsuitable). The USAF bought only 296 Starfighters in one- and two-seat versions as it was considered to be inadequate for either the interceptor or tactical fighter-bomber role, lacking both payload and endurance compared to other aircraft already available to the USAF. The MacDonald Voodoo and the Convair Dart replaced the Starfighter as the USA’s prime air defence fighter.
Lockheed desperately needed the revenue and employment that the Starfighter generated and so embarked on what Lockheed later called “the sale of the century”. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Holland. Italy, Japan, Jordan, Norway, Pakistan, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey were all persuaded to adopt new versions of the Starfighter, in the shape of the F-104G and F-104S, for service in their respective air forces.
The aircraft was now sold as an all weather (including bad weather) multi mission aircraft. A total of 2,578 F-104s were built in the USA and under license elsewhere for use by non-American air forces. It soon built up an unenviable reputation as a dangerous aircraft. In 1965 the Luftwaffe was loosing a Starfighter every ten days! All in all 110 German pilots were killed flying the aircraft. Even towards the end of its service with the Luftwaffe the loss rate was still some 139 aircraft for every 100,000 flying hours. This meant that they could, on average, expect to loose an aircraft after it had about 720 hours on the clock. Some air forces lost over half their Starfighters in accidents. Lockheed blamed both pilot error and inefficient ground staff for the horrendous accident rate. It seems strange that so many qualified people in so many countries could have been so derelict in their duties. Experienced pilots expressed views about the aircraft that were not dissimilar to Beaumont’s 1958 analysis.
Purchase of the Starfighter was considered by many in Europe to be politically motivated, with their governments having been intimidated by U.S. political pressure into accepting a USAF cast-off. This grew from a suspicion to a major scandal in the 1970s when it became clear that Lockheed had embarked on a major campaign of bribery and corruption in order to achieve “the sale of the century” which now looked very much like “the rip-off of the century”. As late as 2004 an interview with Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was published (posthumously) in which he admitted to having accepted a $1,000,000 bribe from Lockheed to promote the deal with his country’s top military staff. It is highly unlikely that he was alone in this. Sadly it would appear that US jobs and Lockheed’s profits had been protected by the deaths of European pilots.
Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)
In the immediate post war period jet aircraft rapidly replaced piston engined propeller driven fighters. The advantages of increased speed and altitude were all too evident. There was, however, a school of thought that considered the jet as unsuitable for operation from aircraft carriers so that propeller driven naval aircraft should be retained and further developed. There was a problem with this insomuch that the maximum possible speed such aircraft could achieve was under 500 mph (800 kph) whilst jets were already probing at mach 1 (the sound barrier). The Republic XF- 84H, ordered in 1952, was intended to be an answer to this challenge. The wings and cockpit of the already successful F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighter were married to an entirely new fuselage and tail. The power plant was a turbine driving thick and stubby propeller blades at very high speed. It was anticipated that this aircraft would be capable of speeds close to 700 mph (1120 kph). Both the USAF and the US Navy were interested as the aircraft promised to have a much greater range than contemporary jet fighters without sacrificing speed. It would not need the long runaways that early jets demanded. It is possible that the USAF saw the aircraft as a solution to the problem of providing long range fighter cover for the B-36 strategic bomber.
Two prototypes were delivered in early 1955 and between July 1955 and October 1956 twelve test flights were made. This low number may be explained by the fact that of these twelve flights no less than eleven ended in a forced landing. The maximum speed achieved was only 520 mph (832 kph) which is not a lot faster than a conventional piston engined propeller driven fighter. An even greater draw back was created by the tips of the high speed propeller that in rotation achieved speeds greater than mach 1. This produced a range of painful audible vibrations (that earned the XF-54H the sobriquet of “Thunderscreech”) and potentially lethal inaudible shock waves. Such ‘noise’ can have serious effects on the human nervous and digestive systems. Prolonged or repeated exposure can maim or even kill. The pilot was protected if the cockpit canopy was closed but the effect on anyone standing within 200 yards of the Thunderscreech when its engine was running up for takeoff was extreme nausea and a blinding headache, for many the vibrations had the same result as a powerful and instant enema. Watching the Thunderscreech take off was truly a moving experience. The symptoms could last for a day or more. Wearing helmets or earplugs had no effect. Different designs of propeller blade were tried but these neither removed the noise problem or improved performance.
A single XF-84H launching from the confines of an aircraft carrier’s flying off area would have resulted in the incapacitation of the entire deck crew. With aircraft like this in one’s armoury who needs enemies? A surviving XF-84H is mounted on a pylon in a museum where it can do no harm unless it falls on someone.
Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)
Having had a chance to fly the F-104 (actually a CF-104 as the US no longer had any active) during USAF test pilot school, I’ll throw my “nickel on the grass”. The F-104 was good at what it was designed for as a high speed interceptor. It was also excellent at low level penetration which is what the Germans used it for. Because of its high wing loading its “ride” at high speed and low altitude was excellent. However because of its flying qualities at low speed, you had to treat the aircraft with a lot of respect. This was especially true during landing where the approach speed was very high. This made executing instrument approaches in the weather more difficult.
The loss rate of Luftwaffe Starfighters was not all that extraordinary, since the Luftwaffe had suffered a 36 percent attrition rate with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak, the Starfighter's immediate predecessor. The Royal Norwegian Air Force operating identical F-104Gs suffered only six losses in 56,000 flying hours, and the Spanish Air Force lost not a single one of its Starfighters to accidents.
The German’s own accident reviews did indeed point to human factor issues as the cause of a majority of the accidents.
I cannot argue with the purchase corruption, however, it should be noted that jobs were created in Europe as a result of the sale.
In addition many J-79-11A engines which powered the F-104G were licensed manufactured in Europe as part of the large F-104 consortium production program, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Fabrique Nationale being the main suppliers for the project.
Hi, PR, you didn't mention the Canadians suffered really horrible loss rate with their 104s; 46%, 110 lost out of 239. Worse than the Germans....although the Canucks flew them way more. And how did you like the CF-104? That had the earlier Orenda J-79 right? Not the same model as the F-4s had?
MarkV - Over the years I have spoken to both an ex Luftwaffe and an ex Pakistani Air Force pilot. Both had unprintable views on the 104
Humm. I have spoken to Luftwaffe pilots who enjoyed flying the F-104. As for the ex-Pakistani pilot’s comments; they probably have more to do with the fact that the Pakistanis tried to use the F-104 as a fighter rather than an interceptor. The way to fight the F-104 in air-to-air was to NOT try to turn with the enemy. The book “The Indian-Pakistan Air War of 1965” documents several engagements where the Pakistani F-104 pilots tried unsuccessfully to turn with Indian fighters.
boomer400 - Hi, PR, you didn't mention the Canadians suffered really horrible loss rate with their 104s; 46%, 110 lost out of 239. Worse than the Germans....although the Canucks flew them way more. And how did you like the CF-104? That had the earlier Orenda J-79 right? Not the same model as the F-4s had?
First let me say I am not trying to paint the F-104 as a great aircraft. However, for many air forces the F-104 was their first truly supersonic fighter and it had characteristics which required caution on the part of it pilots. From my point of view its biggest issuers were related to its speed requirements in the landing pattern. As for its other characteristics, they were shared by other fighters of the day. For example the F-101 Vodoo had a high T-tail and it also had a major issue with pitch-up as high angles of attack.
As for the Canadian experience with the F-104: There were 110 class A accidents in the 25 years that Canada operated the CF-104 resulting in 37 pilot fatalities. Most of these were in the early part of the program centering around teething problems. Of the 110 class A accidents 21 were attributed to foreign object damage (14 of which were birds), 14 were in flight engine failures, 6 were faulty maintenance, 9 were mid-air collisions. 32 struck the ground flying at low level in poor weather conditions. Of the 37 fatalities 4 were clearly attributable to systems failures, all of the others were attributable to some form of pilot inattention.
And finally, the accident rate of the 104 compares favorably to its predecessor, the F-86 Sabre. In only 12 years of operation the F-86 had 282 class A accidents with a loss of 112 pilots. The Sabre was a much simpler aircraft and was flown at altitude rather than low level.
While at USAF Test Pilot School I had two flights in the CF-104. During those flights I had the opportunity to fly the aircraft to the edges of its operational envelope (not max Mach). Unfortunately I can’t find my post flight write-up so this is based on my recollection of those flights and the flight cards for the flights.
The cockpit was tight but not uncomfortable. The instrument panel was typical of that era jet which did not include the instruments arranged in what we referred to as a “standard T” with the attitude indicator surrounded by the performance instruments. With the CF-104 the attitude indicator was displaced to the right of the performance instruments.
Start – takeoff were not unusual.
The flaps on the CF-104 had three position:
TO – Leading Edge (LE) 15 deg
LAND – LE 30 deg Trailing Edge (TE) 45 deg.
The CF-104 had Boundary Layer Control (BLC) on trailing edge flap which blew engine bled air over the flaps to reduce flow separation and increase flap effectiveness. (Also used on F-4C, D on both LE and TE flaps).
Takeoff roll acceleration was good but not spectacular. Climb out was good. At altitude the flight controls were well harmonized and normal handling qualities were fine. Hard turns bled off speed pretty rapidly, and the stick shaker came on as expected. Maximum speed reached was approximately Mach 1.5.
CF-104 was optimized for the nuclear strike/reconnaissance role, fitted with avionics equipment dedicated to the air-to-ground mode. The Canadians flew mainly low-level penetration profiles, many times at 100 ft. At low altitude and high speed the flight controls were again well harmonized and the ride quality was excellent. Maximum speed reached on my low altitude run was approximately 590 Knots.
Orenda J-79 engine response and operation seemed the same as the GE-J79 engines I had flown in the F-4.
In the landing pattern, with a temperature of probably 90 deg F (flight was in early June), the landing was at a pressure altitude of about 4,000 ft. Here are the approximate airspeeds for the landing pattern:
Downwind = 240 kts.
Base turn = 200 kts.
Final roll-out = 190 kts.
Final stabilized = 175 kts.
Touch down = 155-160 kts.
I remember that, based on our density altitude, if I wanted to go around the aircraft did not have enough power in military power to climb out. I had to select afterburner and bring the flaps up to the take-off position as soon as I could.
Hi, PR, a couple more questions and I'll stop bothering you. One, you mentioned the pitchup problem a la Voodoo, did you happen to fly any other Century jets that you felt had particular handling issues? And two, of the Century jets, how many did you get fly and which of them would've been your preference in general to go to combat in? (as a fighter pilot, of course)