Sunday, August 09, 2015

“Fighter Aircraft” Design: Driven by Operational Requirements

Part 1: Introduction

In the wake of the disinformation cascade set off by the mischaracterization of an F-35 Developmental Test report leaked to the poster-boy for Punk Journalism (and his equally hapless compadres) it became apparent that somebody, someplace should highlight just how infantile all the F-35 H8er and click-bait copycats have been on the subject.

Since ‘Axe is Boring’ ‘broke’ the story (if you can call being hand-fed the raw data by some other cretin and then making sh*t up about things he doesn’t understand ‘breaking’), I think we’ve seen every perversion of reality about the test itself, the relevance of the test, the F-35’s capabilities, the history of air combat, ‘dogfighting’, and airpower-in-general trotted out and gleefully regurgitated as if it were gospel by the innumerate and the illiterate.
As creative as the fiction published about the aircraft (it was an early production 'A' model: AF-2) performance during  the Developmental Test has been, it seems most if not all of the F-35 criticisms related to the ‘leaked’ test report fall into two broad categories. In the first category we can place all the claims/accusations that the F-35 is not somehow ‘fighter’ enough to successfully engage in air combat. In the second category we can place all the assertions that the scenarios flown in this one test were representative of how the F-35 would perform Air Combat Maneuvering aka ‘Dogfighting’ in actual combat.

We will deal with both these strains of criticisms in what will be Part 2 and Part 3 respectively within this short series. In Part 2, we will recall a rather cogent, insightful and in many ways prophetic AIAA paper from 1970s: “The Characteristics of a Fighter Aircraft”. This paper is the text transcript for the Wright Brothers Lectureship in Aeronautics speech given by Prof. Gero Madelung (speak German?) to attendees of the annual AIAA Aircraft Systems and Technology Meeting in 1977.  I’ll then introduce the thoughts on fighter development from a very influential and widely-cited engineer (among aircraft design types anyway) who among other things can be considered the originator of the concept ‘supermaneuverability’.  Thus, Part 2 (which may have to be broken into sub-parts if it gets too unwieldy) will bring us up to speed on top-level ‘fighter’ aircraft design drivers right up to the present-day state-of-the-art, and maybe a peek or two at the future.

Whereas Part 2 will provide proper background and perspective, Part 3 will be where the perspective will be applied and so will be more ‘analytical’. We will break down a 1 vs. 1 air combat scenario into a high-level conceptual model of constituent phases and associated combatant states. Then we will apprise the F-35’s potential advantages and disadvantages at different points of reference during engagement scenarios as it moves into and out of those phases and states and under what conditions it can navigate its way through those phases and states. We will also weigh the relevance of those advantages/disadvantages to possible combat outcomes.

Part 3 will take some time to complete after Part 2, so I will ask the readers to bear with me on any delays, or perhaps I will invite comment on aspects of the approach to Part 3 as I build the conceptual model. We should not have to account for probability of outcomes and only illuminate the ‘possibilities’ for discussion-- which will simplify the problem significantly but not to the point that careful construction will not still be necessary just to avoid oversimplification on the one hand or sophistry on the other. This is the hard part of Part 3: to make complete enough to be valid and convey meaning, not so complete that too many eyes glaze over. The topic would be a lot easier for me to treat if there were more authorized references to the F-35’s Developmental Test that I could tie into, but we’ll muddle through without them somehow.

This is also probably going to seem awfully obvious and trivial in many places to some, but I want to have a single reference to point non-technical minds to in the future. -- Because this is one of those topics where you could get worn out just beating down the same stupidity and misperceptions every time they pop up.
Finally, in each part I will include a reminder:
Nowhere in this series of posts, or in any other posts the reader will find here, is the assertion made that ‘maneuverability’ (however one defines it) is "unimportant"-- in the past, modern day or immediate future . This must be stated unambiguously up front because I've seen the tiresome broad-brush accusation of same made too-often when anyone dares challenge some closely held belief as to maneuverability’s relative importance to fighter design or dares challenge the vague reasons why many of the uninitiated think “maneuverability” is important. 
This note won’t stop tired criticisms from arising, but it will make intelligent people stop and think before they paper any comment thread with false conclusions. And this series of posts isn’t for the people too stupid to know better anyway.

Part 2 is here