Visiting History at Luftwaffen Museum at Berlin-Gatow
Work took me to Berlin for 2-3 days. And as always, the single track mind I have – I wanted to visit something that flew and take some pictures I reached out to some of my friends – Hans, Kevin, Rami, Tom, and Mark – who live across the “Pond” or have taken many trips across - if they knew of anything interesting in that neck of the woods. Berlin-Gatow Museum stood out on top of the list. So decided if I got sometime off, then I would straight away head out there. The moment I got to my hotel, I asked the Concierge of how to get there. Well, it is some ways out side Berlin – in the country side – and taking public transport would take me one hour to reach there. Hmmmm!! Anyway the window of opportunity arose on the day before I would catch my flight back. One of my colleagues from office, Gerd – helped me with getting the right ticket to ride the train and the bus. So out I went. Took the U2 to Theodore-Heuss-Platz from Stadtmitte station. That took me almost half an hour. From there I took the M49 bus to Wilhelmstrasse/Heerstrasse. From there took another bus – 135 – to Kurpromenade. From there I had to walk almost a mile and a half – I had to take a right at the end of a road – and the moment I took the right, I was like “holy cow!!” I could see a whole row of fighters, transports, radars, missiles – wooohooo!!
As I hastily walked towards the gate, I was literally like a kid in a candy store. I mean there were Western fighters to my left, and Russian fighters and helicopters to my right with some missile and radar equipment. I did not know where should I start from. Luckily for me they had a small office at the entrance and they have a handy guide – entrance is free and you can take all the time you want to stroll through history. So even though I would start from my left, and go towards the far end, and then retrace back my steps towards the entrance and then right and back – Let me begin from how it all started. It all started in World War I – when aircraft first flew and were used as observation posts to peer into the enemy territory and find important information for artillery to strike. In the early days, the pilots started with waving to each other, then to showing fists to each other – and because the aircraft were light, they could not carry much with them. This was followed by brick throwing, or even throwing rope so it tangled the propeller to throwing small grenades at each other and even came to ramming each other’s aircraft – the consequence being both pilots getting killed in the process. The next step was to fire pistols, or carbines at each other – and that got extended to fitting machine guns that fired outside the arc of the propeller. Moraine Saulnier a Frenchman designed a gun that fired through the rotating propeller – making it easy to point the nose of the aircraft to shoot down other aircraft. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for the Germans he had a engine problem and landed behind enemy lines. The Germans took that design and improved it and built the Fokker E1 (Eindecker). The technological advantage kept swinging from one side to the other, but the initial air combat was loose engagements – and no real tactics until the arrival of Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke on the scene. In fact Boelcke was the first to analyze the aspects of aerial combat, and he laid down some rules for it – these rules became famous as Dicta Boelcke – and many of these concepts that began in 1916 are still applicable in today’s air combat – things about using the Sun and altitude to your advantage for example.
Above are the Siemens Schukert D.III, Fokker D.VII (center) perhaps a replica of the most famous aircraft in air combat – the Fokker Dr.I – Dreidecker – a triplane (above right and below center). This aircraft was made famous by Manfred Von Richthofen – or otherwise known as “Red Baron” (below left). Richthofen got 19 of his last victories in the Dr.I and he died in air combat in one of these machines. No account of World War I is complete without paying a tribute to the “Red Baron”. Richthofen started life in the cavalry as a recce guy, but then 1915 later transferred to the Flying Corps. After a chance meeting with Boelcke, Richthofen joined Jasta 2 – or Jagdstaffel 2. Despite a poor start in pilot training, Richthofen immediately picked up and was known to be a keen tactician and less famous compared to his brother Lothar, who was an aerobatics pilot as well. He followed the Dicta Boelcke and soon started to notch up kills. After his 16th kill, he was awarded Germany’s highest honor medal, the Pour le Mérite (also famous by its other name, the Blue Max). He would fly many aircraft such as the Albatross D.II, D.III, D.V, Halberstadt D.II, D.III, and the last one he flew is the one he is popularly associated with – the Fokker Dr.I. Although he was working with Fokker on an improved version the Fokker D.VII, he would not be able to fly it – being killed days before the D.VII came into service.
The airfield at Gatow has an interesting history. It was here that Luftwaffe officers and pilots were trained during World War II. This airfield was also used secretly to prepare for WW-II out of the prying eyes of the Allies. The fighter fleet of the Luftwaffe in the initial and most of the war days was borne by the Messerschmitt Bf 109 (below left). Many of the units flew it and many aces were also born out of flying the 109s. The below Bf 109 G2 was flown by Hauptmann Gustav Rödel when he was Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG27. Rödel had accumulated 56 kills at this time. When I was researching the content for this blog, I came upon a site that explained all the markings on the German aircraft during WW II. The triple white chevron seen on the 109 below means it was the Gruppenkommandeur’s aircraft. A Geschwader (or a Fighter Wing) comprised of 3-4 Gruppen (or Squadrons) each of around 40 aircraft. A Gruppe was divided into three Staffeln (or Flights) each having around 12-16 aircraft. The indication of referring to Gruppe or Staffeln was also different. The Gruppe was denoted by Roman numerals, while the Gruppe was denoted by english numerals. So for example when I mentioned II./JG27 – that means Second Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 27 – second wing of Fighter Wing 27; and if I had wrote that as 2./JG27 that would have meant Second Staffeln of Jagdgeschwader 27 – second squadron of Fighter Wing 27. Some Wings had “Honor Titles” or names given to them. JG27 got the name “Afrika” for example like several others – JG2 “Richthofen”, and JG3 “Udet”. The “Berlin Bear” emblem seen on the forward fuselage was when II.JG/27 was “adopted” by the city of Berlin. The highest scoring ace of the Luftwaffe in WW-II was Oberst Eric “Bubi” Hartmann – scoring 352 kills (4 on the western front, and 348 on the eastern front) – he flew the Bf 109 as well.
The Junkers (pronounced Yunkers) Ju-87 Stuka (above center) – short name derived from Sturzakampfflugzeug – again was the symbol of the Luftwaffe Strike capabilities at the start of the War and on the Eastern front. It was easily recognized by the inverted gull-wings, fixed undercarriage (or landing gear), and the infamous Jericho-Trompete (Jericho’s trumpet) – small propeller driven siren units fitted to the leading edge and landing gear – to create a fearful siren when the Stuka started its dive on the target below. Some felt it was a psychological tool to weaken the enemy’s morale and create fear. These were later withdrawn as the enemy got used to it Instead later, small whistles were designed in the bombs they dropped to create the awful noise. It was very effective in the early days of WW-II but as new fighter designs emerged it was a sitting duck – so to speak – and did not fare well at all in the Battle of Britain. It was also used on maritime shipping – sinking allied ships braving the storms of the North Sea. On the Eastern front when Russia responded back with better armored tanks, the Stuka was kitted out with tank-busting cannons mounted on the landing carriage, wing assembly. The most notable of the Stuka pilots is Hans-Ulrich Rudel – claiming 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery pieces, 70 landing craft, several aircraft, armored trains, bridges, one destroyer, two cruisers and the Russian battleship, Marat.
The DFS-230A was a transport glider made for German paratroopers, and was involved in many landings at Fort Eben-Emael and the Greek island of Crete. Fort Eben-Emael was a fort reputed to be impregnable and was designed to protect Belgian borders from a German attack. Around a 100 paratroopers descended on the Fort – the fort occupants taken by complete and utter surprise – and after a day of battle, reinforced by German infantry – the fort surrendered. This was the first use of gliders in WW-II. The gliders were also operated in the invasion of island of Crete. This invasion involved comprehensive use of gliders, and airborne troops and was perhaps the first use of airborne troops on a massive scale. This operation probably gave the Allies their plan to lead the invasion of Germany using the same concept – of using gliders to secure bridges and other important assets and the use of massive airborne drops to secure strategic targets.
The technology innovation period was going all strong during the War, with one side trying to get one-up the other side constantly. Towards the end of the War, as Germany was getting squeezed, there were some surprising concepts that were made operational and pressed into service – some were great, while others were sheer desperation. The example was the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet (below left). It is the one and only pure rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have reached operational status, ever. Of course, being rocket powered the performance envelope for the time was sky high – one type reaching almost 700 mph – but the flip side was duration available for flying was severely restricted to almost 8-10 minutes. It was ineffective as a fighter and was responsible for only 9 allied aircraft. The concept was simple – imagine yourself strapped to the Komet that would be launched into the sky via a rocket engine – at a whopping 31500 feet per minute – yeehaw!! – after the motor burnout – you shoot whatever aircraft you can engage at the time and then head for home gliding back to the runway – all un-powered. Well that is where your troubles just began The path home is beset with all kinds of problems – since it was unpowered, you better nail your landing the first time – since that was the only time – and if that was not the only trouble – you have the skies filled with marauding enemy fighters on the lookout for an easy kill – so you my friend are then a sitting duck
Of course that was not the case with other advances in technology being made at the time. Above center, is the feared Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe – or Swallow in English. Well it looked less than a swallow and more like a shark when viewed head-on. This was the world’s first operational jet fighter entering service in mid-1944. Even compared to the Allied efforts of the day, it was better armed and much faster. It was used in a variety of roles – fighter, light bomber, reconnaissance and even a night-fighter variant. Interestingly enough, the world’s first jet engined aircraft had flown in 1936 – the Heinkel He 178 – on an engine based on Jans Joachim Pabst von Ohain. The Me 262 was already under development as Projekt 1065 before the start of WW-II. Just imagine the consequences of seeing the Me 262 at the start or even during the War. There were several factors that led to the delay. Initially there were engine problems, and funding for the engine was also reduced by the chief of Luftwaffe, Göering – and then Hitler had visions of the Me 262 as a revenge bomber. Kommando Nowotny led by Major Walter Nowotny was charged with the development of combat tactics and leverage the Me 262′s strengths. Jagdverband 44 (JV 44) was formed with Leutenant General Adolf Galland as commanding officer. So in March 1945, 37 Me 262s attacked a force of 1,221 Allied bombers and shot down 12 of them for the loss of three Me 262s. This was too little and too late to affect the outcome.
The Me 262 was too fast and the cannon was not accurate approaching bombers head-on. Instead they developed roller-coaster attack profile – you approach the bombers from astern and about 6000 feet higher. From about 3 miles behind, you then go for a shallow dive that punches a hole through the fighter aircraft protecting the bombers, with little risk of interception by the fighters. When you are about 1 mile astern and 1500 feet below the bombers, you then pull up on the stick sharply to reduce the excess air speed. Leveling out, now you are placed 1000 yards astern and overtaking the bombers at about 100mph – well in place to press home an attack. Another tactic that was formed was using R4M rockets, approaching from the side of a bomber formation where their silhouettes were the widest. While still out of the bomber gunners’ range, fire a salvo of rockets towards the bombers. One or two of these could even take down a rugged bomber as the B-17 Flying Fortress. The Me 262 was also a formidable opponent in air combat – many pilots achieved ace status – Franz Schall shooting down 12 fighters, 10 of them being P-51 Mustangs; Walter Dahl with eleven including 6 Mustangs; George-Peter Eder with 12 fighters to his credit and several others.
The Arado Ar 234 Blitz bomber (above right) was again the world’s first operational jet bomber. It was mostly used in reconnaissance but on the few uses as a bomber it impressed the crews flying it as well – it was almost impossible to intercept. It was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to fly over England during the War, in April 1945. Again its development came about as too little too late – and many of the examples were just sitting out on airfields waiting for the fuel to arrive. For their part the Allies were tightening the noose on logistics on Germany, and everything was in short supply. Also as a counter strategy to the jet aircraft, the Allies tried to catch these jet aircraft when they were most vulnerable – taking off or landing – or just sitting on the ground. Many airfields that housed the Me 262s and Ar 234s were constantly bombed so very few of these magnificent aircraft ever took off.
After World War II – the Aviation Industry became what the Consumer Electronics Industry is today. German technology was explored by the Allies and put to use in new designs and trying to make the aircraft – more sleeker, more faster, more potent. Aircraft designed in the post-War period were rapidly outdated as newer and more powerful designs evolved – making the current generation aircraft obsolete at a rapid pace.
The Fairey Gannet is another aircraft that I had never ever heard of. The Fairey Gannet (below left) was built in response to an Admiralty requirement for an anti-submarine aircraft. It was powered by contra-rotating propellers driven by a turboprop engine. It also served in other roles such as electronic countermeasures (ECM), carrier onboard delivery (COD) and even as a carrier-based airborne early warning system (AEWS). It was introduced in 1953, retiring as late as the 70s being used by several different countries. The T-33 Shooting Star (below center) was a variant of the Lockheed P-80 fighter that was introduced in 1948 and had a very short span till 1959. The 2-seat T-33 was used as an advanced jet trainer and also other tasks such as drone director and target-towing. The T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon began replacing the T-33s on the USAF side, while the arrival of T-2 Buckeye and TA-4 Skyhawk II replaced the T-33s with the US Navy.
The English Electric Canberra (above right and left) was a light bomber in service through the 1950s. Since it could fly higher and was comparatively faster for a bomber, it could evade interception by jet interceptors of the time, making a popular export aircraft – and served in many a nation’s Air Force. It was also produced under license by Martin in the US and served with the designation of B-57. In addition to being a nuclear strike aircraft, it was also adaptable to many other roles such as reconnaissance, and electronic recce. It served in many conflicts like the Vietnam War, Falklands War, the Indo-Pak wars and several African conflicts. Three variants were ordered by the Indian Air Force – the Bomber, the PR version (PR for Photographic Reconnaissance) and a Trainer version. It was first used in combat by the Indian Air Force supporting the UN campaign against the breakaway Katangese rebels in Africa in early 1960s. During the 1965 and 1971 wars, the Canberra saw a lot of action. The raid on Badin was perhaps the most audacious use of the Canberra being flown by 16 Sqn “The Rattlers”. They also took part in the attacks against the oil fields at Karachi, Masroor and Badin again – which helped the Indian Navy to plan attacks using missile boats against the port of Karachi. On 21st May 1999, during the Pakistani mis-adventure in Kargil, a lone Canberra from 106 Squadron took off for PR duties close to the conflict zone – and was hit by a Stinger missile that exploded near the left engine. Skilful flying by the pilot Sqn Ldr Perumal and with the help of his navigator Flt Lt Jha – saw the Canberra land safely back at Srinagar Air Force Station. Finally on 11 May 2007 after 50 years of service, the Canberra was retired by the Indian Air Force. The flexibility and adaptability of the platform can be derived from the fact that the IAF had another more survivable PR platform in the MiG-25 – but retired that three years earlier than the Canberra even though it was inducted almost 20 years after the Canberra. NASA still operates the B-57 airframe for weather research duties in the US.
The Nord Noratlas N-2501 was designed as a transport aircraft towards the end of WW-II. The French Armée de l’Air had two transports – the locally built German Junkers Ju-52 and the American Douglas C-47 Dakotas. They both had tail-wheels which made them stand nose-high that made the job of loading/unloading complex, restrictive side-loading doors and limited payload. Nord Aviation designed the 2501 with rear-opening clamshell doors allowing ease of loading/unloading operations. The 2501 is more famous for its use in the Suez Canal operations when French paratroopers dropped over the southern part of Port Said and Port Fouad in Egypt during the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956.
The Republic RF-84 Thunderflash (above right) was the PR variant of the F-84 Thunderstreak fighter. It was introduced in 1954 in the US Air Force. The PR variant could carry upto 15 cameras in various places around the fuselage and nose. Some of the new things at the time that were introduced on the RF version were computerized controls for camera settings and a voice recorder to record the pilot’s narration at the time of his mission. Again as a result of the rapid growth of industry and technology, it was quickly retired from active front-line service in 1957 being replaced by the F-101 Voodoo.
The Soviets were not to be left behind in all this – they also explored the remains of the German technology and designed their breed of jet fighters. The designer bureau of Mikoyan and Gurevich – jointly called MiG – came up with the MiG-15 “NATO Codename Fargo” (below left) that was introduced in 1949. It was made famous in the Korean War, where they always tangled with the F-86 Sabres of the US Air Force. It was a successful swept wing design and that had some advantages over straight winged designs at the time. It is estimated that there were approximately 12,000 MiG-15s that were ever built – serving in many nation’s air forces. There was obviously interest from the Western allies to procure one and know about the strength and limitations as WW-II was superseded by the great Cold War. There were many defections with some of the Polish MiG pilots defecting to the Western countries close to their borders.
The F-86 Sabre was a transonic fighter and USA’s first swept wing fighter that could go head-to-head with the MiG-15 over the skies of Korea. One of the best post-War known fighters that was hugely successful and popular with many nations with export variants built in Canada and Australia. The F-86 Sabres were transferred to the Korean War in response to the MiG-15 being successful against the F-80 and F-84 straight wing fighters. Many of the US pilots were seasoned WW-II veterans while the North Koreans and Chinese pilots lacked combat experience thus accounting for the large American kills. The F-86F was closely matched with the MiG-15 maybe having a marginal advantage over it. In the end the USAF would claim a 10:1 victory ratio – 792 MiGs for a loss of 78 Sabres – however recent studies show that realistically it is more like 1.3:1 or 2:1. The Sabre was also employed by the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars. Highly inflated claims were made by PAF about destroying Indian Air Force aircraft including claims such as destroying 5 Indian aircraft in less than a minute Of course the Sabres had the advantage of having the Sidewinder missile, whereas the Indian counterparts could only bear their guns on the Sabre. As newer Century series fighters (F-100 and above) were operationalized the F-86 Sabres were transferred to Air National Guard units – some of them being used as MiG-17 simulators for developing combat tactics against it by the F-100 Super Sabre or the F-105 Thunderchief.
The MiG-17 “NATO Codename Fresco” was a improved design of the MiG-15. Although it looks the same as the MiG-15, the wing was more swept but had more like a compound sweep and tailplane for speeds approaching Mach 1. One visible difference were the three wing fences on each wing compared to the two of the MiG-15. Later MiG-17s would come with afterburners. Vietnamese MiG-17s would tangle with F-100 Super Sabres of the USAF in April 1965. The MiG-17 was the primary interceptor of the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF) in 1965, and saw extensive combat during the War. Some historians believe that many North Vietnamese pilots preferred the MiG-17 over the MiG-21 because it was more maneuverable though not as fast. Statistics say other wise since out of the 16 VPAF aces of the war, 13 attained the ace status while flying the MiG-21; and only three attained ace status while flying the MiG-17. The US Air Force also flew couple of ex-Syrian Air Force MiG-17s as part of an effort to study the strengths and develop counter tactics to increase the kill ratio.
The Hawker Hunter is a subsonic fighter bomber aircraft developed during the 1950s. It was a very maneuverable aircraft and was widely exported serving with the air forces of 21 countries. Hunters were also used by many display teams – RAF Black Arrows as well as the Indian Air Force Thunderbolts. The IAF procured Hunters in response to Pakistan buying a number of F-86 Sabres. The Hunter would play a decisive role in the Indo-Pak wars – the most famous would be the “Battle of Longewala”. This involved 6 Hunters stationed at Jaisalmer that were instrumental in halting a Pakistani tank and infantry advance and forcing them to retreat. The Hunters were replaced by Anglo-French Jaguars and in some cases as late as 1996 with Sukhoi Su-30MKIs. The Hunter also served in the Swiss Air Force, Swedish, Singapore, Rhodesian Air Force, Belgium and Netherland, as well as several countries in the Middle East including Jordan operated the Hunter as well.
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a tandem two-seat twin engine, all weather long range supersonic fighter originally developed for the US Navy. It also served with the US Air Force, and the Marines. With a top speed of Mach 2.2, it could carry over 18,000 lbs of weapons on nine external hardpoints on the wings and fuselage. Like many aircraft at the time, it was initially designed without an internal cannon. Later models had a M61 Vulcan rotary cannon. Its interesting how the two arms name the Guy in Backseat (GIB). The US called the backseater a WSO (pronounced weezo) or Weapons Systems Officer, while the US Navy called him a RIO (for Radar Intercept Officer). It also served as Wild Weasel (or SEAD – Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) platform carrying Anti-radar missiles to take down SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites and their radars. There were large engagements of the Phantom with the MiG-17s and 21s during the Vietnam War. The Phantom showed above served as a high speed PR platform – the RF-4E – with the Luftwaffe Aufklärungsgeschwader (AKG) 52 based at Leck. I guess the Phantom was the one thing the US Navy and Air Force agreed upon – both their display teams – the Thunderbirds, and the Blue Angels – once flew the Phantom as their steeds Recently JG71 “Richthofen” of the Bundeswehr based out of Wittmund – that used to fly the F-4F Phantom II had a ceremony with 71 spotters in preparation for the retirement of the F-4 in the Western hemisphere, later this year. Perhaps the best story about the Phantom would be the world’s only supersonic recorded gun kill.
On June 2, 1972 – when I wasnt even born – Major Phil Handley and his WSO Jack Smallwood were leading Brenda Flight supporting a CSAR (Combat Search & Rescue) mission north of Hanoi for Roger Locker, shot down 23 days earlier. He had three other Phantoms in the Brenda element, Brenda 01 being himself. While doing a turn, the 1000 Hz SAM indicator went off and they tried to turn into the missile but never saw one – false alarm. But the jinking has cost the flight some fuel, and Brenda 03 calls bingo fuel and he alongwith 04 head for home. At the same time controller calls up Handley – “Brenda 01, this is Worm, you have bandits, 123 at 8″ 120 degrees, 8 miles out closing from 4o’clock low. As Handley and his wingman turn into the MiGs, his wingman, Buddy Green calls bingo fuel. Separation at this point would be deadly and they decided to disengage and head back home. As they egress back, on a routine check of Buddy Green’s six, Handley notices a glint of light – that can only mean one thing – all the MiGs were silver at the time – so Handley orders Buddy to cross right wing allowing him a better view – and there they were two sharp looking silver MiG-19s at a range of 8000 feet. Handley told Buddy to keep egressing, but wanted to get a crack at these MiGs. His wingman, refuses and says he will stay with him. So Handley slammed on the afterburners – the twin J79s producing 18,000 lbs of thrust each – and swings into the MiGs in a 9g turn. In the words of Handley himself “I was so full of adrenalin, I dont recall pulling any gs whatsoever – but I slammed 9g into the airplane – and that supported by God’s radial-g, I really just came around quick on these guys”. In the dive the Phantom has gone supersonic and he never comes off the afterburner – he is travelling at 4.5 football fields per second. As Handley recaps from an interview – “So in the next minute and 42 seconds, I traded half-a-ton of JP4 (aviation fuel) and three miles of altitude for airspeed to pursue this guy”. His wingman, Buddy Green climbs up to conserve fuel. The MiG leader makes a mistake and follows Buddy Green missing Handley. Handley is now on the MiG’s six and lines up for a AIM-7 Sparrow missile shot – he ripple fires two Sparrows – rocket motor does not ignite on one, and the other goes into a moon shot – unguided. Handley corkscrews behind the MiGs since he is traveling twice the speed of the enemy and has to travel more distance while keeping the position behind the MiGs. He lets off this time using AIM-4 Falcon heat-seeking missiles – once he has heard the buzz of the Falcon seeker head locked on target – and fires – one never comes off the rail, the other goes into a moon shot. He is only left with the 20mm cannon and closing in at 900mph and so he tries to get into a firing angle. The MiGs start to turn hard right – but because of the nose he has difficulty in keeping the MiG visual in front of him. For a brief moment, he gets his nose up, and then turns back down onto the MiG-19 and pulls lead on it – in that split second, Handley calculates the high deflection shot, presses on the 20mm cannon for a burst of three seconds – firing ahead of the MiG. 310 20-mm rounds riddle the MiG-19 fuselage and take out a wing, and it starts flopping through the air. Handley quarter rolls out and climbs. The MiG’s wingman get into Handley’s six – but Handley is barreling away from the scene and disengages quickly using burners. Whoa !!
The English Electric Lightning (above left) was the only all-British aircraft to do Mach 2 and was the first aircraft in the world capable of supercruise – the ability to stay supersonic without the use of afterburners. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force. It had an incredible climb rate. After takeoff, the nose would be lowered to accelerate to 430 knots before initiating a climb at 450 knots. This would get a whopping 20,000 feet/min climb rate. Around 13,000 feet the Lightning would be at Mach .87 and maintain this until reaching 36,000 feet. On an optimum day, the Lightning would reach 36,000 feet in under three minutes.
The Dassault Super Mystere (above center) was a French light bomber, and built on top of the Ouragan and Mystere II, III, IV. The difference laid in the fact that the Super Mystere could achieve supersonic in level flight compared to the earlier variants. It saw action in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and 1973.
The Fiat G.91 Gina (Above right) was an Italian fighter aircraft, and served with the West German Luftwaffe since 1962 mainly in the PR role – these were replaced by Dornier Alpha jets during the early 1980s.
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (above left and center) was a hi-performance, supersonic interceptor. Being part of the Century series fighters, it served in many countries’ Air Forces throughout the world. Compared to the fuselage, the wings were very small trapezoidal in shape and were extremely thin. The fuselage was tightly packed with radar, cockpit, cannon, fuel, landing gear and the engine. The Starfighter had excellent acceleration, rate of climb and top speed but its turn performance was poor, and at low speeds it was very difficult for it to be an effective fighter. The Starfighters did serve in Vietnam but scored no kills – there to deter enemy aircraft during the initial stages of the war. Since it lacked payload capabilities and endurance compared to other fighters of the generation, its US service was quickly wound down, leaving active service in 1969. The Pakistani Air Force operated the F-104s during the 1965 and 1971 wars with decent kills against a Breguet Alize and some Folland Gnats of the Indian Navy and Air Force respectively. The much anticipated F-104 vs MiG-21 engagements were tipped in favor of the 21s according to some statistics. It also saw service in the West German Luftwaffe, but poor safety records coupled with a general bad weather in Northern Europe left a dismal service record. However the F-104 had an impressive collection of world records in the speed and altitude and time-to-climb records.
The OV-10 Bronco (above right) was used as a light turboprop attack and forward air control (FAC) aircraft also serving in Counter-Insurgency (COIN) roles with its ability to carry 3 tons of external weapons, and endurance of up to 3-4 hours. It also served in the Vietnam War modified to carry machine guns, rockets, and other close-support weapons being operated by US Air Force, US Navy and also the US Marines. Many Ov-10 Broncos are still active today with the California Department of Forestry and Fire (CALFIRE) serving as observation platform to direct fire extinguishing tankers to tackle wild fires during the summer.
The Hawker Siddeley Harrier – also known as the Jump Jet – was developed in the 1960s. It was the first operational close-support aircraft with Vertical/Short Take Off Landing (V/STOL) capabilities and successful till today and is well on its way to serve on to the near future as well. The unique abilities of the Harrier gave the commander in the field the flexibility to base it as close to the area of battle where they could provide close air support for the ground troops – rather than base them at conventional airfields that might be taken out in the initial stages of the battle itself. The above is a GR1 variant that served with No. 4 Squadron RAF. The US built the Harrier under license calling it the AV-8A/B/C deployed with the US Marines. The Sea Harrier was developed from the Harrier to serve aboard aircraft carriers. The Sea Harrier was not intended for ground-attack, and was equipped with radar and Sidewinder missiles for air combat and fleet air defense duties. The single engine is fitted with two intakes and four vectoring nozzles for directing the thrust generated – with several smaller reaction nozzles in the nose, tail and wingtips for keeping the balance during vertical flight. They were tricky to fly and only experienced crews fly them today. The Harrier served in the Falklands War, and as recent as the Middle East conflicts. The Indian Navy still operates a handful of the Sea Harriers even today – but they are soon slated to be replaced with the MiG-29K.
The Breguet Br.1150 Atlantique (above left) is a long-range recce aircraft especially used for maritime reconnaissance. It is also used as a patrol aircraft for anti-submarine operations. It can carry either 8 guided Anti-Submarine Torpedoes or 12 depth charges or two AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles. In 1999, one of the Pakistani Navy’s Atlantique was shot down by Indian Air Force MiG-21s when it strayed into Indian territory and attempted to escape to Pakistan. It replaced the Neptune aircraft in the 1960s before being replaced by the P-3 Orion in the 1980s.
The Mirage III (above center) is a supersonic fighter aircraft design by Dassault introduced in the early 1960s. The airframe was adaptable to many roles like, trainer, reconnaissance and ground-attack. It was a popular and successful design being exported to many countries around the world. Currently Pakistan is the largest operator with around 75 aircraft still in service. The prototype achieved supersonic flight on its 10th flight and manually operated intake half-cone shock diffusers were moved forward as speed increased to reduce inlet turbulence. This enabled it to achieve max speed of Mach 1.8. Upgrading the engine led to exceed Mach 2 in level flight. The PR version fit in 5 cameras in the nose instead of the radar. It was also used extensively by Israel in the Middle East conflicts in the 60s and 70s.
The Antonov An-26 “NATO codename Curl” (above right) is a twin-engined turboprop civilian and military transport aircraft. This was again used by many countries around the world as a light transport aircraft. Its interesting to note that at least one An-26 was operated by the 6th Special Operations Squadron in the USAF till 2007.
There was a strange F-104 on poles with a rocket booster underneath it. It was supposed to be a special version of F-104 enabling it to launch without needing long runways. It was built in case the runways were bombed out in the initial days and one would still want these fighter to take off. The principle was simple – the engine would be run up with afterburner at which the rocket fired launching it into the air – after which the rocket booster was jettisoned and the F-104 getting airborne. Needless to say this was cancelled due to its high cost.
At this point I suddenly realized that the camera battery was not fully charged when I strolled out in the morning – and I had forgotten the spare in my suitcase back at the hotel – Nice – I had to hurry up and get some more shots of the Russian hardware lying around on the other side of the Tower. So I did not go inside the Tower where there are some nice historical pieces of information kept – but decided to cover all the aircraft first and then decide. So seen below is the Tower at Berlin-Gatow – incidentally this field was used heavily during the Berlin Airlift – where transport aircraft would land and takeoff and do a air drop of food, and essential survival material to folks on the blockaded part of Berlin. A Royal Australian Air Force C-47 (below center) was also parked to the side of the tower building. Another view of the Atlantique (below right) .
And that brought me to “MiG Alley” – well not from Korea – but here at the Berlin-Gatow Museum. As you can see to the left, this was the whole section where all the Russian aviation pieces were kept. There was a row of MiGs and Sukhois on this side of the Tower building. The MiG Bureau of design as it was known back then was founded by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich from which the name “MiG” is derived. MiG aircraft are the backbone of the Russian Air Force as well as many other nations like China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Arab nations. In 2006, the Russian Government merged 100% of the MiG shares with other design bureaus as the Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Yakovlev to form a new company called United Aircraft Corporation. Many of the MiG designs are still going strong today, starting from the MiG-9, 15, 17, 19 being the first supersonic fighter, the famous 21s, 23, 25, 27 being the dedicated ground-attack aircraft, 29 which is widely feared even today known for its superb agility, culminating with the MiG-31 Foxhound which is a Mach 3+ interceptor being operated today by the Russian Air Force. It also has the MiG-35 – which is a derivative of the MiG-29 with vectored thurst – but there is no market operating that type today.
Who doesnt know the MiG-21 (NATO Codename Fishbed) ? Dont answer it, it was just a rhetorical question It was based on the continuation of the MiG-15, 17 and 19 series with the nose intake design. It was a successful designing combining the qualities of an interceptor and a fighter. It was a lightweight fighter achieving Mach 2 with a afterburning turbojet. This has so many variants that is confuses the hell out of me – and I havent given it a fair attempt in order to know the differences. In later versions, the G-limits were increased to 8.5g and given a skilled pilot and capable weapons, it would form a formidable opponent which should not be underestimated. It has been a very successful design being exported to many different countries around the world. And the future looks great too – in fact many Russian, Israeli and Romanian firms offer upgrade packages on the dependable air frame greatly modifying the avionics and weapons to modern standards and enabling it to kick some butts today.
Recently the Indian Air Force celebrated 50 years of the MiG-21 in IAF service. They are still expected to serve till 2020 before being replaced by the Dassault Rafale that was selected the winner of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). Several of the pilots who flew the MiG-21 have gone on to become the Chief of Air Staff of the IAF. The latest version of the MiG-21 is the Bison – that has upgraded avionics from an Israeli firm and serve in many different squadrons of the IAF. Unfortunately, in between the MiG-21 was conferred the nickname of “Flying Coffin” by the Indian media because of the death of many IAF pilots flying this type. But it was a love for life for pilots who still fly or have flown the 21 in the past. One of my friends who has flown it before still recollects the days and during a recent visit quipped to me – The MiG-21 looks and flies like a fighter – compared to all the current monstrosity that we have these days Perhaps a fitting tribute to the MiG-21 was paid by the current Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal N.A.K. Browne – “We might be flying a different aircraft today, but our heart will stay with the MiG-21″!!
The MiG-23 (NATO codename Flogger) is a swing-wing (variable geometry) fighter aircraft – and it was the first attempt by MiG to design look-down/shoot-down radar and one of the first Russian fighters armed with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air2air missiles. The MiG-21 was agile and fast, but lacked operational capabilities like radar, greater
endurance and a large weapons load. The Flogger was a bit heavier, more powerful engined yet lighter to have some dogfighting capabilities. The Flogger was also to be operated from rough air strips and had a beefy landing gear – with this it could take off and land on highways and have less dependency on a proper airfield. The Flogger has three sweep settings – 16 degrees for takeoff and landing, 45 degrees for maneuvering in flight, and 72 degrees for making a high speed dash. It max speed is Mach 2.35 – that is approximately 1500mph – and if you compare the distance, it would reach Pismo Beach from San Jose (around 200 miles) in around 8 minutes The F-4 Phantom II and the F-111 were an influence on the Flogger design. It primarily came in two variants – above left, and right are the air defense variants with radars in the nose, while above center is a ground attack version of the original Flogger – called the MiG-23BN. Again it was very popular and operated by many nations’ Air Forces around the world serving in the Middle East conflicts, and as late as the Kargil conflict in 1999. No. 221 Squadron “Valiants” was one of the original MiG-23BN squadrons that started the swing wing era with it. In the summer of 1999 they were deployed to Kashmir during Operation Safed Sagar – the IAF name for the Kargil conflict. Being one of the pioneers of the MiG-23BN the squadron accounted for 28% of the total ordnance dropped and 30% of all missions flown. The Indian Air Force retired the MiG-23MFs in 2007 and the BNs in 2009.
The Sukhoi-22 (NATO codename Fitter) is a Russian attack aircraft developed from the Sukhoi Su-7 fighter bomber, and is the export variant of the Su-17. This was again a swing-wing variant built on the Su-7 that was fixed wing – and this was done to improve the low speed and takeoff/landing performance of the latter. When used in Afghanistan by the Soviets, the high altitude and hot dusty climate created challenges to operate the Fitter. However the engine proved tolerant of routing ingestion of sand and sand-contaminated fuel – a NO NO in current fighters – and its operational readiness exceeded that of the Su-25 fleet. Perhaps the most famous incident is the Gulf of Sidra incident where two Libyan Fitters were shot down by the F-14 Tomcats with Sidewinder missiles. The Fitter is a rather reliable steed able to rough it out in tough environment situations.The Fitter is a rather impressive aircraft recently seeing it in operation at the Florennes Air Base show in Belgium operated by the Polish Air Force – it more looks like a Main Battle Tank rather than an aircraft that can fly!!
There were some helicopters too. There was the Mil Mi-8 (seen below) (NATO codename Hip) – it is a medium twin-turbine transport helicopter that can double up as a gunship. It is one of the world’s most produced helicopters and the airframe has been flexible to accommodate a variety of roles – casualty evacuation, special forces insertion, ground-attack, combat search and rescue, and a myriad civilian roles. In the ground attack role, it can carry 3000 lbs of disposable stores on 6 hardpoints, including 57mm S-5 rockets, bombs or even anti-tank guided missiles.
The Mil Mi-8 seen (left) is in Luftwaffe colors being operated as a transport for VIPs. The Mil Mi-24 (right) (NATO codename Hind) is an actual derivative from a Mil Mi-8 Hip. The Hind is dedicated gunship and attack helicopter with a troop transport for eight troops. The export versions are often called as Mi-25 or Mi-35. The body is heavily armored and can resist impacts from .50 caliber rounds from all angles, including titanium rotor blades. The pilot and WSO are well protected by ballistic-resistant windscreens and a titanium-armored tub. It has a retractable undercarriage to make it more streamlined and cause less drag. The Hind proved effective in Afghanistan moving troops and landing them on hill tops to secure the road ahead for convoys moving around in the treacherous mountain terrain of the Hindukush mountains. However the pilots felt the troops were a burden and prevented them from flying aggressively. So that task fell to the Mil Mi-8 Hips. This combination of the Hip and Hind working in unison was highly effective in the Afghan War. With the introduction of CIA supplied Stingers, it became more and more dangerous and the choppers started to carry flares to deflect the heat-seeking missiles. It was also known as the Devil’s Chariot by the Mujahideen. It has seen action in most hot spots around the world – Africa, Middle East, Europe, Asia.
As good as the opportunity was to shoot old birds that once flew proudly – there were many constraints in taking nice shots – there were ropes to avoid in trying to get a clean shot – sometimes I had to go high, and sometimes low. The uneven arrangement forced me to think about alternatives and throw conventional wisdom out. It is always good to be challenged – since that brings the best in you – if it was easy its good – but the sense of satisfaction that one gets after getting a challenge and out-maneuvering it is different. Below shots are part of that challenge – where you think of alternates. Especially the shots to the left below – bring out the different approach to swing-wing from the two different design bureaus of MiG and Sukhoi respectively. The MiG-23BN having inlets to the side, and dog-teeth wings bringing out the sweep more pronounced – while the Sukhoi Su-22 has a nose intake, and one can see the wing sweep of a pure delta configuration.
In the shots to the right above, is the Atlantique head-on and one can see the pronounced funny shape of the fuselage from this angle. It almost looks like a cartoon character with a funny large nose and a small mouth. The Mi-24 on the other hand is seemingly endless bubbles and circular shapes.
There were Surface-2-Air (SAM) missiles on display as well. Seen below left are the Nike Hercules – a solid fuel propelled two-stage used for high and medium altitude air defense. It could also be employed for surface-2-surface taking out other missiles. It was a successor to the Nike-Ajax and had the ability to attack high-flying supersonic targets. The Nike-Hercules was a distributed system. The guidance and fire control area was located around a mile from where the launcher fired the missile. After a target was tracked, and the missile was fired, a computer continuously updated the intercept point even if the hostile aircraft performed evasive actions. When the missile neared the intercept point a command exploded the warhead on the missile. The Patriot missile replaced the Nike-Hercules in the high and medium air defense roles – the advantage of the Patriot system was it could be set up in hours, unlike days for the Nike-Hercules, and it had a Phased-Array radar and had better missile target tracking. The pictures below left center and right center are the emblems of the missile flights 3 and 4 within the missile wing of 26. Below right is the HAWK SAM system – which was a medium range SAM system. It was replaced by the Patriot and the Stinger MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System). It was a semi-mobile system. The missiles are carried on a M192 towed triple-missile launcher. A typical Phase II HAWK battery consisted of a Pulse Acquisition Radar, a Continuous Wave Acquisition Radar, two High Power Illuminator doppler radar, one Fire Distribution Center, one Identify Friend/Foe (IFF), six Digital Launchers with 18 missiles, six 60KW generators, 12 M-390 missile transport pallets with 36 missiles, three missile loading tractors, one bucket loader and one missile test shop – Phew
The S-75 Dvina (NATO codename SA-2 Guideline) – below left – was perhaps the most famous of the Russian SAM systems – being active in Vietnam – and also being responsible for downing Gary Powers’ U-2 spyplane. The system was also deployed in Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. It also shot down another U-2 in Cuba almost precipitating the war. Talking about Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) and Electronic Counter-Counter Measures (ECCM) – the russians introduced passive guidance mode whereby the tracking radar could lock on the jamming signal itself and guide missiles directly towards the jamming source. This also meant shutting down the site’s tracking radar. Another tactic was to point the radar away from the site for a brief moment and let the anti-radar missile follow the beam away from the radar and it simply crashed. Yet another tactic was to send false launch codes without actually launching a missile – this gave the enemy indication of a missile launch while not launching one actually – guess this is what happened with Brenda flight as mentioned earlier. It was also nicknamed the “Flying Telephone Pole” – since it was a humongous missile for a SAM.
Above center, was the Pechora SAM system – NATO codename SA-3 Goa. It was designed to complement the SA-2 Guideline and S-75 – it had a shorter range and flies slower but due to its two stage design it is more effective against maneuvering targets – and is also able to lock lower flying targets and is more resistant to ECM. The missiles reach Mach 3.5 in flight being guided by radio command guidance. Above right, is the S-200 (NATO codename SA-5 Gammon). It is a very longrange medium to high altitude SAM designed to defend large areas from bomber attack. Each battalion has six single-rail missile launches for the 35 feet long missiles and a fire control radar. Maximum range is between 81 to 162 miles depending upon variants. Effective altitude for earlier models was 65000 feet and 115,000 feet for later models. The system utilizes a semi active radio guidance with mid-course correction and has active terminal radar homing. Peak missile speed is Mach 8 and the single shot kill probability is quoted as 0.85.
The Museum even had MAN trucks manufactured by Rheinmetall MAN – older trucks and recent ones – the one in the center carries dual missile launcher for the Roland battlefield SAM system, and the one at the right is a similar truck for a different purpose.
And with that – I ran out of battery – and I also thought that Hangar 7 which housed the Tornado and the MiG-29 was closed since the door was closed and no one was manning it like Hangar 3. I had a lot to process from the just the outdoors but perhaps maybe I get to go there back one day for covering the rest.
After that I made my way back to my hotel – it was a difficult feeling to get back to reality after that whole experience. The Museums all over the world, do a great job in restoring these timeless pieces – I will never understand what is the total cost and man hours invested in keeping these machines alive for the next generation to see how things evolved – but they do a play a huge role in maintaining the legacy and the history. I saw all the machines that once took to the air proud and serving the men and women’s order with utmost precision – and now they lie in their final resting place – at peace – more like the footprints in the sands of time.
Take care folks, till next time – Auf wiedersehen, ciao!!