Naval Air History has recently contributed to two pieces on Hush Kit, ‘the alternative aviation magazine’
When music is terrible the artist will often describe it as ‘experimental’ to avoid criticism, the same is often true of prototypes and experimental aircraft. Given the parade of ludicrous machinery that test pilots were required to fly, the long career of Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown is all the more remarkable. Test pilots deserve everyone’s respect.
The list features several naval connections. For example, the bizarre and flawed Supermarine 508/525 which morphed, after a tortuous design process, from an undercarriage-less fighter intended to land on a cushioned ‘flexible deck’ into the Scimitar fighter. Also the Convair F2Y Sea Dart, which, like the Supermarine 508, was developed out of thinking that aircraft were getting too fast to operate from conventional aircraft carriers.
1946 was the zenith of piston-engined fighters. The bloody lessons learnt from the hundreds of thousands of dogfights fought in the War had been carefully noted by designers. This knowledge had been distilled into the creation of a generation of aeroplanes wildly superior to their peers from the recent past, but these perfected killing machines faced fierce competition from immature upstarts with an unfair advantage: the first generation of fighter jets. To make this list, aircraft had to have been in operational service during the year in 1946 – hence no Sea Fury, La-9, Twin Mustang or MiG-9 (likewise, also no Me 262 or Ki-84 for example).
The order is somewhat arbitrary and cases could be made for aircraft that didn’t make the grade such as the Tigercat and Spitfire F Mk.22. Reality doesn’t confirm to the ‘top ten’ format – and war is not a sport with a league table. This list of ten supremely capable aircraft should however form a good basis for a discussion on the relative merits of ten extremely exciting machines at the cutting edge of mid-20th century technology.
(Co-written with Edward Ward)
Again, there are some naval connections here – the Vought F4U-4 and Grumman F8F were pure naval fighters, while the DH Hornet had a naval variant – and of course the DH Vampire was the first naval aircraft to land aboard an aircraft carrier, courtesy of the late and very lamented Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown.
Update 26 May 2016 – I’ve also contributed a section on the Yakovlev Yak-38 for the ‘11 Worst Soviet Aircraft‘