Following the initial research and development of a hypersonic “scramjet”-powered aircraft in the early 1980s, and the funding of the National Aero space Plane (NASP) in 1984 (often mischaracterized as the “Orient Express”), rumors began to swirl that either the Air Force or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had already funded a secret, ultrafast aircraft code named “Aurora.” Adding to the rumors, the SR-71 Blackbird was retired in the 1980s, leaving the United States ostensibly with no human-piloted supersonic spy aircraft.

Popular Science frequently ran artists’ illustrations of a “secret, hypersonic jet” that was supposedly based at Area 51 near Groom Lake, Nevada – the site of the Defense Department’s most classified projects. The aircraft’s proposed propulsion was as shrouded in mystery as its existence. NASP was to use a supersonic combustion ramjet, which requires no moving parts to achieve com pression of the air as a turbojet does, but instead relies on the forward speed of air coming through the intake to a funnel to compress the air, known as “scramjet.” This itself constituted a major obstacle in the program, because no wind tunnel even existed to test any article at a speed beyond Mach 8, while tunnels capable of testing larger articles for longer times could only generate winds up to Mach 5. (NASP was intended to fly at Mach 25, while Aurora, according to the magazine accounts, was supposedly capable of Mach 10.) Thus, the concept for building the aerospace plane as an entire air craft system in the first place rested, in part, on the premise that to “test it you had to fly it.”

The “Pumpkin Seed,” another propulsion system linked to Aurora, involved a shock-wave pulse engine in which the exploding fuel propelled the aircraft through the sky at hypersonic speeds by exerting pressure on the aircraft’s flattened body, as when one squeezes a pumpkin seed between the thumb and forefinger. The “Pumpkin Seed” supposedly released a telltale vapor trail of smoke in puffs, much like a cigarette, rather than a steady stream. The more widely held view of the propulsion system of any secret spy plane involved the scramjet, which needed another engine to get it up to supersonic speeds, at which point the scramjet could take over. A scramjet, in the most simplistic sense, is a funnel that compresses air going into the intake. The compression of the air forces it through the engine at vastly faster speeds, like putting one’s thumb over the end of a hose to accelerate the stream of water. Igniting and combusting the fuel is a monumental task, compared to lighting a match in a hurricane. To facilitate combustion and airflow, the entire aircraft must become part of the engine design, with the forebody an intake and the aft section an exhaust. Eventually, most experts agreed a “lifting body” design (wide and flat, with short, stubby wings) was desirable.

If observers reported seeing a “Pumpkin Seed” aircraft that supposedly was the Aurora, another variant of the “secret hypersonic jet” story involved diverted funding from the NASP program. According to this well-circulated view, NASP was a front program to channel money to the real hypersonic program, the Aurora. In this theory, NASP was deliberately underfunded so as to keep it barely operable while the real support went to the black hypersonic program. Artist conceptions of Auroras appeared, usually with text claiming they were already in existence and conducting spy operations. Most of these reports placed the speeds at between Mach 6 and Mach 10. And yet another variant of the story had the Aurora as a stealth aircraft- something extremely difficult to accomplish at the speeds credited to it.

Meanwhile, NASP found its funding cut repeatedly, until the goal of constructing an actual air craft-even a subscale vehicle, which partially used rocket power-was abandoned. By that time, the Air Force and NASA still struggled with a scaled down project to fly a scramjet atop a Minuteman missile, and even that was canceled. When NASP ended in 1995, it had failed to build any full-sized scramjet engines, let alone an aircraft powered by a scramjet. The NASP/scramjet technology was divided into three smaller programs, including the X-33 and Hyper-X programs.

Rumors, however, continued to circulate about a new hypersonic spy plane called the Aurora. As early as 1992, the Wall Street Journal ran the headline “Evidence Points to Secret U. S. Spy Plane,” and a year later, Popular Science touted a “Secret Mach 6 Spy Plane.” Starting in 1994, Popular Science frequently ran articles on “the Secrets of Groom Lake.” That year, the Federation of American Scientists alleged that NASP money was diverted for Aurora, claiming that Aurora’s budget was “hidden in plain sight” with the aerospace plane. In fact, the NASP budget was minuscule compared to the technological challenge. By 1990, according to the original 1986 plans, the program was to have been at $1 billion per year and was increasing. Instead, it was at $250 million and falling-an amount that could not fund any serious technology, let alone a “super-secret spy plane.” A more significant issue for the proponents of the Aurora to address was the lack of progress on any kind of scramjet engines. Numerous tests, at dozens of Air Force and NASA labs associated with NASP by 1995, had yet to get scramjet engines to generate thrust over drag. Moreover, the tests that had been conducted involved running scramjets at fractions of seconds. Whereas the Blackbird utilized existing technology, improved by important innovations, moving an aircraft to the Mach 6-Mach 10 levels would have required an order-of-magnitude leap in technology not present in U. S. aeronautics in the 1990s.

References Brown, Stuart. 1994. “Searching for the Secrets of Groom Lake.” Popular Science, March, 84-85. Harris, Roy, Jr. 1992. “Evidence Points to Secret U. S. Spy Plane.” Wall Street Journal, 4 December. Sweetman, Bill. 1993. “Out of the Black: Secret Mach 6 Spy Plane.” Popular Science, March, 56-60; 62-63; 98-100.


Advanced Air Striking Force in France

Hawker Hurricane Mark Is of No. 73 Squadron RAF, based at Rouvres, France.

The day before Britain declared war on the 3rd of September the Advanced Air Striking Force was dispatched to France, in it were ten squadrons of Fairey Battles. During the Phoney War one of the missions that the Battle undertook was photo reconnaissance. For these missions three aircraft would take off, conduct their mission and return.

Throughout the autumn and winter of 1939 and the spring of 1940, activity on the Western Front was largely limited to the interception of enemy reconnaissance aircraft. Flying Officer W.O. ‘Boy’ Mould of No. 1 Squadron drew first blood for the RAF, downing a Dornier Do 17 over his own airfield on 30 October. Flying Officer E.J. ‘Cobber’ Kain shot down another on 8 November, opening what was to be an impressive score. This first engagement took place at 27,000ft and marked the highest air combat recorded to that date. On 23 November, Kain downed another Do 17 and on that same day No. 73 Squadron accounted for three Do 17s, while No. 1 Squadron bagged a pair of Heinkel He 111s. The tempo of air fighting increased in March 1940, giving Kain the chance to become the RAF’s first ‘ace’ of World War II, downing a single Bf 109 on 3 March, followed by two more on 26 March.

While Nos 1 and 73 Squadrons served with the Advanced Air Striking Force in France, and Nos 85 and 87 with the BEF’s Air Component, Fighter Command units in the UK were also getting to grips with the enemy. Nos 43, 111 and 605 Squadrons in particular saw action against German bombers and reconnaissance aircraft attempting to attack Scapa Flow, several Hurricane pilots opening their scores with Dornier Do 17s and Heinkel He IIIs.

The period of genteel jousting over the French borders came to an end on 10 May 1940, when Hitler revealed his strategy for avoiding a frontal assault on France’s heavily fortified frontier. He attacked through the Netherlands and Belgium, ignoring the neutral status of the two countries. The Netherlands fell after only four days, its air force being virtually annihilated on the ground, while Belgium lasted little longer. The supposedly impregnable Fort Eben Emael fell to a glider-borne assault force, cracking open the entire Belgian defences.

The Germans captured the key crossings of the Albert Canal and this allowed the Wehrmacht to continue its advance. The German forces involved in the offensive (136 Divisions) were actually smaller than those of the combined British, French, Belgian and Dutch armies which faced them. Yet they were better equipped, considerably more mobile, with more and better armour and artillery, and the advantage of surprise and well-rehearsed plans. Crucially, the German forces on the ground were supported by a bigger, experienced and well-equipped air force, and operated under a unified command structure. Germany fielded 3824 warplanes for the attack on France, including 860 Messerschmitt Bf 109s, 350 Bf 110s, 380 dive bombers, 1300 bombers, 300 long-range reconnaissance and 340 short-range reconnaissance aircraft. This represented massive superiority, with the Bf 110s alone outnumbering the combined strengths of the Belgian and Dutch air forces, and with Germany fielding more Bf 109s than the entire frontline strength of the French Armee de l’Air.

Quite apart from the situation at the front, France was in deep trouble. A pervading pessimism (verging on defeatism) permeated government, the populace and the armed forces. As if this were not bad enough, the armed forces were equipped with obsolete and inadequate weapons, a direct result of the rampant corruption of the recent years. During the immediate pre-war period a favoured furniture manufacturer had been given the contract to build an all-metal aircraft, for example, while a paint-maker had gained the contract for parachutes. The newly-nationalised aircraft industry was in chaos, and modern aircraft ready to enter service failed to reach the front in time to make any real difference. Crippling shortages of spare parts and modern servicing equipment further eroded preparedness, while ill-trained aircrew received little direction from a General Staff which had no real grasp of strategy or modern tactics, and lacked a modern reporting system. Small wonder then that the French air force ‘Shattered into a thousand pieces at the first blow’. Thus the small (but highly professional) British force in France was of disproportionate value.

Britain’s BEF under Lord Gort had moved forward into Belgium as the German offensive began, forming part of a defensive chain stretching between the Meuse, N amur and Antwerp. But any chain is only as good as its weakest link, and when the retreating Belgian Army failed to fill the gap between the BEF and the French. Seventh Army, von Rundstedt broke through on 13 May. This cut off the BEF and the Seventh Army from the rest of France, and marked the beginning of the end.

Before the breakthrough, the RAF had eight Hurricane squadrons in France, with Nos 3, 79,501 and 504 Squadrons reinforcing the BEF’s Air Component from 10 and 11 May. These were reinforced by No. 11 Group squadrons flying patrols from their English bases. On 13 May, pilots from home-based squadrons were sent to reinforce the French-based units. No. 3 Squadron received pilots from Nos 32, 56 and 253 Squadrons, No. 85 from Nos 145 and 213, No. 607 from Nos 151,242, and 245, and No. 615 Squadron from Nos 151,229 and 601 Squadrons.

In one week from 10 May, no less than 27 Hurricane pilots became aces, while during the entire Battle of France up until 21 May, Hurricane pilots claimed 499 kills. Some 299 of these were subsequently confirmed as falling to RAF fighters by a post-war study of German records. The battle as a whole produced 41 RAF fighter aces. This was a remarkable achievement, and one accomplished despite the RAF’s continuing reliance on discredited tactics, and despite the fact that many of the aircraft involved were early Mark I Hurricanes, with two-bladed wooden propellers. It would be a mistake, however, to regard the Battle of France as having been fought by the Hurricane alone. British fighters based in France formed only a small proportion of the overall Fighter Command effort, and the Spitfire also played a major role, albeit while operating from airfields in southern· England. Even the Defiant had a part to play No. 264 Squadron actually amassed a tally of 65 victories by 31 May, and accounted for 17 Bf 109s and 11 Ju 87s and Ju 88s in a single day. But the undoubted achievements of the RAF fighters in France were quite naturally over-shadowed by the terrible losses suffered by the Battle and Blenheim light bombers, and, of course, by the fact that the campaign ended in humiliating defeat.

Many called for greater efforts, and pushed for the despatch of further squadrons to France to try and stem the German advance. ‘Where’, asked some, ‘were the Spitfires?’ Air Marshall Sir John Slessor, for example, pointed out that ‘500 or 600 good short-range fighters sitting in England’ would be unable to influence the course of a war which would effect Britain’s future. ‘Our quite natural and proper obsession’ with the danger of a knock-out blow in France, he thought, was leading to an over-insular outlook. Defeat in France would, after all, inevitably increase pressure on Britain, and the battle to save England was effectively already being fought over Belgium and France.

Churchill and his war cabinet were quite ready to respond to French Premier Reynaud’s appeals for more fighters, but Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding objected in the most forceful manner. On 16 May he reminded the Air Council that it had been agreed that a force of 52 Squadrons was felt necessary to defend Britain against even unescorted raids from the East (let alone raids launched simultaneously from France and the Low Countries, and escorted by single-engined fighters based on the French coast). He pointed out that he was now down to only 36 Squadrons, having lost the equivalent of ten units to the French campaign within the last few days.

In a remarkably candid letter he advised Churchill that ‘if the home defence force is drained away in desperate attempts to remedy the situation in France, defeat in France will involve the final, complete and irremediable defeat of this country… I believe that, if an adequate fighter force is kept in this country, if the Fleet remains in being, and if home forces are suitably organised to resist invasion we should be able to carry on the war single handed for some time, if not indefinitely.’ Privately, Dowding worried that the ‘Hurricane tap is now full on’, and that his Command was in real danger of being. ‘bled white’.

As a result of Dowding’s timely intervention, plans to send yet more whole squadrons to France were put on hold, though aircraft and pilots continued to be sent out piecemeal as replacements. Fighter Command also formed three composite squadrons (later six) from single flights of six (later twelve) Hurricane squadrons, and these were despatched across the Channel to operate from French bases on a daily basis. The first of these units (56/213, 111/253, and 145/601) began operations from French bases on 16 May.

Their fight was to be short, however, since the BEF’s Air Component began withdrawing to UK airfields on 19 May, and had completed its withdrawal by 21 May. As early as 18 June, Churchill had stated baldly that ‘What General Weygand has called the Battle for France is now over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.’ The withdrawal of the Air Component left only the AASF Squadrons (retreating to the south and west) actually in France, though RAF fighters continued flying from their British bases. The BEF soldiers, meanwhile, were themselves becoming encircled, and the possible ports which could be used for an evacuation fell one-by-one, until only Dunkirk remained.

On 23 May, Goring announced that the Luftwaffe would now destroy the British singlehanded, and told Milch that he had ‘managed to talk the Fuhrer round to halting the Army. The Luftwaffe is to wipe out the British on the beaches.’ On 24 May, Hitler did order the Panzers to halt, but probably because von Rundstedt and von Kleist worried that the armoured divisions might be worn out if they pushed on through the lowlands of Flanders, which had, by now, been flooded. The Panzer divisions had also raced ahead of their logistical tail, rendering them vulnerable to counter attack, and they had left the extended southern flank dangerously exposed. Suggestions that the tanks were halted specifically to give the Luftwaffe a chance of glory, or to allow Hitler to negotiate with the British (capturing the BEF being felt to be somewhat provocative, and perhaps likely to undermine peace talks), would seem to be somewhat far-fetched.

History records that an extraordinary fleet (including some small and barely seaworthy rivercraft commandeered for the operation) lifted 338,226 men to safety between 26 May and 4 June, snatching a moral (or morale) victory from the jaws of what remained a military defeat. Churchill had expected that only about 30,000 men would be evacuated, but the total number was more than ten times this, and included about 50,000 French and Belgian troops. This meant that only some 60,000 members of the BEF were left behind in France killed, missing or as Prisoners of War. This was a great achievement, not least for the unpopular Lord Gort, of whom little had been expected beyond personal bravery. But it was the ‘brusque and pedantic’ Gort who realised that his allotted task (to advance on and relieve Calais and re-join the main body of French troops advancing from the Somme) could no longer succeed, and it had been he who rapidly drew up a new plan to withdraw west to Dunkirk, and to save his soldiers with their hand-guns and personal weapons.

The Battle of France continued after Dunkirk, with the Germans launching Fall Rote (Plan Red) the next day, storming south across the River Somme. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel broke through at Amiens on 6 June, and the Germans took Paris on 14 June. Mussolini, eager not to lose out, had joined the war on 10 June (the very day that Norway surrendered), but even at this very late stage, it seemed that Hitler was not bent on the total defeat of Britain and France. The original communique announcing the formation of the German/Italian axis read: ‘Germany and Italy will now march shoulder to shoulder and will not rest until Britain and France have been beaten’. Hitler personally crossed out the last few words and wrote instead’ … will fight on until those in power in Britain and France are prepared to respect the rights of our two peoples to exist.’ This made little difference in France, where it was as easy to complete the campaign and take Paris, as it would have been to halt the advance. France finally surrendered on 22 June, with Hitler taking great delight in ensuring that the surrender was signed in the very same railway car that had been used for the German surrender in 1918. This was a powerful symbolic gesture, and at a stroke wiped out the humiliation and shame of Germany’s Great War defeat. Hitler himself was so excited that he danced a jig as he waited to enter the railway carriage.

But even in France, Hitler stopped short of invading the whole country, and left a massive swathe of territory nominally independent under the Vichy regime headed by the Great War hero, Marshal Petain. That portion of France actually under direct German control was fairly small, and arguably sufficient only to safeguard Germany’s own borders and prevent the Allies having an easy ‘back door’ for invasion. But France was, decisively, out of the fight. Former President Reynaud had wanted to send the army to Switzerland to be interned and to move his government, air force and navy to North Africa to continue the fight (just as British contingency plans saw a move to Canada). Unfortunately, his deputy Petain, and General Weygand, the head of the armed forces, had been more in tune with the defeated mood of the country, with many famously preferring ‘slavery to war’. When Reynaud’s group was finally outnumbered in the cabinet by the defeatists, he resigned and was replaced by Petain, and full surrender became inevitable. His order to hand over 400 Luftwaffe pilots (held as POWs by the French) to the British for safe-keeping were overturned, and Petain refused to let the fleet escape to Canada, fearful of German reprisals should he agree.

Meanwhile, large numbers of British troops remaining in France retreated in good order to western ports for evacuation, covered by the three remaining AASF Squadrons and by UK-based fighters. Nos 17 and 242 Squadrons briefly joined the AASF in France on 7 June, but all fighters had been withdrawn from France by 18 June, the last No. 73 Squadron Hurricanes flying from Nantes to Tangmere on that date.

By 22 June, RAF losses in the West had reached 959 aircraft of all types, including 66 in Norway. Of these, 509 were fighters, with 435 pilots killed, missing or captured. Only 66 of the hundreds of Hurricanes dispatched to France made the return journey, and many of these were severely damaged – some so badly that they were scrapped on the spot. Even as early as 5 June, Fighter Command had an operational strength of only 331 single-engined fighters. But fortunately German losses had been heavy too, including 247 of the much-feared Bf 109s and 108 Bf 110s.

French efforts included 67,000 air missions and about 600 air victories, of which only 277 can be officially confirmed. The French air force suffered the heavy toll of 557 losses.

The incredible MiG-25…

With its extensive borders – territorial, maritime and arctic – the Soviet Union had always needed to pay particular attention to its air defence. In the late 1950s a new lightweight turbojet, the R15-300, offered the potential to develop a fundamentally new type of interceptor. The Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) design bureau took up the challenge and the project was designated E-155.

Powered by a combination of jet and rocket engines, the machine aircraft promised dazzling performance. It could intercept targets flying at 2,500mph (4,000km/h) at 18-30 miles (30- 50km) high more than 100 miles away. Armament was to include K-9 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), with plans to replace them with the more advanced K-155s.

By 1960 this hypersonic dream was abandoned and efforts were concentrated on the S-155 weapon system, comprising a rethought E-155P interceptor, armed with two K-9 all-aspect AAMs and Kh-155 rockets.

The E-155`s tactical radius enabled its use beyond the intercept distance of the short-range surface-to-air missile defence barrage. It was planned to utilise K-90 (or Smerch-A) on-board radar, which had a target detection range sufficient to perform a successful missile attack.

Initial sketches of the E-155 were in line with the technology of the late 1950s, including a delta wing, side-mounted inverted-scoop air intakes, single fin and skid undercarriage. This did not last long – in 1960 the designers proposed a new configuration with a trapezoid wing of 40-degree sweep at the leading edge and two vertical fins.


This was the beginning of the MiG-25 dynasty. The pace was rapid: the threat of the North American B-70 Valkyrie bomber had to be addressed. NATO meanwhile allocated the reporting name Foxbat to the programme. MiG set up an experimental design bureau, OKB-155, to tackle the project. One of the most significant challenges facing it was to overcome the `temperature barrier’ – intensive heating of the airframe. After thorough analysis it was decided to use stainless steel as the main structural material.

The thin-profile, high-mounted and medium-sweep wing combined with high fuel efficiency enabled the interceptor to conduct long-duration flights with externally-mounted missiles at airspeeds of up 1,615mph up to 15 miles high and to sustain loadings of up to 4.3g.

Also proposed was a high-flying tactical reconnaissance version, dubbed E-155R, which was to be built first. It would be fitted with optical, infrared and topographic mapping cameras and electronic reconnaissance equipment. To increase the range of the E-155R, 263-gallon (1,200 litre) fixed fuel tanks were mounted on the wingtips.

In May 1968 the Gorky factory completed the E-155R4. In production this was designated MiG-25R in October 1969.


The Middle East `Six-Day War’ in 1967 alerted the Kremlin to the need for a high-performance fighter-bomber and the decision was taken to expand the Foxbat’s capabilities. The first reconnaissance/bombers, MiG-25RBs, could only carry up to 4,400lb (2,000kg) of ordnance on fuselage-mounted hardpoints. But with the development of wing-mounted bomb carriers, the payload doubled.

In 1970 the Air Force Scientific Research Institute began testing a MiG-25RB equipped with the Peleng navigation system. During the trials A G Fastovets dropped two bombs automatically for the first time, while flying at 1,553mph for the first time. Production of the ‘RB continued until 1972.

The MiG-25RB could only carry out basic electronic reconnaissance, until the improved Kub-3 (and later Kub-3M) gear was installed, enabling real-time location and analysis of radio emissions and data transfer to a command post. This configuration was designated MiG-25RBK and the type was built in 1971. It was followed by the MiG-25RBS equipped with Sablya sideways-looking radar.

Other improvements included introduction of the SAU-155R automatic flight control system. The reconnaissance version employed the Siren-1F (and later 2F and 3F) airborne jamming system for self-protection.

The final version was the -25BM, armed with four Kh-58 anti-radiation missiles, intended to `Wild Weasel’ could also carry up to 1,100lb of bombs. MiG-25BMs were in series production from 1982 till 1985.


Service entry for the MiG-25R began in 1969 and the first unit to master the new type was the 10th Detached Reconnaissance Air Regiment. The following year, regiment pilots were already carrying out bombing in automatic mode with MiG-25RBs. If their bombing suppress enemy radars. This Soviet error during did not exceed 2,600ft (800m) pilots received an `excellent’ rating; a `satisfactory’ mark was given for a 7,800ft error. Later, ‘RBs were fitted with the improved Peleng-2 navigation system and the standard was reduced to 1,300ft and 3,900ft respectively.

The Foxbat’s combat debut was in Egypt in 1971. Under the command of Colonel Aleksander Bezhevets, the 63rd Detached Air Unit was formed that year. It was overseen by General G Baevskiy and the Mikoyan Design Bureau was represented by deputy chief designer L Shengelaya.

In the autumn, four Antonov An-22 Cock and 56 An-12 Cub transports carried four dismantled MiG-25Rs directly from the factory at Gorky to Cairo West airfield. After assembly the Foxbats, which did not carry any insignia, were flown by MiG test pilot V G Gordienko.

Aleksander Bezhevets recalls: “Reconnaissance flights were carried out in pairs with a 30-second interval [between them]. Initially it was planned to keep one-minute intervals but this was reduced to improve the already low chance of our planes [being] intercepted.

“In 1971/1972 the pilots carried out 13 combat missions. In one mission, myself and Uvarov flew at a distance of just 18 miles from Tel Aviv, while the allowed distance was 25. Permission for such flights was given by Chief Military Advisor Okunev.”

Israeli attempts to intercept MiG- 25Rs with Mirage IIIs and F-4E Phantoms, or to shoot them down with surface-to-air Hawk missiles, were unsuccessful.

Iraq became the first foreign customer for the MiG-25R in 1985, these were upgraded to MiG-25RB status, facilitating the carriage of up to eight FAB-500T-M62 bombs.

MiG-25RB combat experience in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the northern Caucasus proved the unique capabilities of this reconnaissance/ bomber variant, and in 1981 India acquired six ‘RBs and two MiG- 25RU trainers. Other operators included Algeria, Bulgaria, Libya and Syria. The Soviet Air Force used the type for reconnaissance during its Afghan war and in Chechnya.


Developed in parallel with recce version, the E-155P interceptor prototype made its first flight on September 9, 1964 in Fedotov’s hands. Conforming to the original specification, the E-155P could carry only two AAMs, but for the E-155P3 the armament was increased to four K-40 missiles. Six E-155Ps were built and, under the designation MiG-25P, the type entered service in 1972.

Four interceptor prototypes were demonstrated at the Domodedovo air parade on July 9, 1967. They had severe airspeed limitations – and ignoring these parameters had dire consequences. Test pilot I I Lesnikov died on October 30, 1967 when the E-155P1 crashed. It had been banked at transonic speed and the wing failed. Pilots at OKB-155 worked hard to cure the problem but it was not finally resolved until 1971.

The MiG-25P entered service in April 1970 with the Soviet Air Defence Forces at Sevasleyka and Pravdinsk. Its operational debut led to considerable speculation about its performance and potential, but the guesswork all stopped on September 6, 1976 when V I Belenko took off from Chuguevka airfield near Vladivostok and landed at Hakodate airport in Japan in a high-profile defection. The aircraft was quickly inspected by an American engineering team and then returned to the Soviets.

With its air defence secrets undermined, the Soviet leadership reacted rapidly. A decree improving the MiG-25’s combat capabilities, issued in November 1976, led to three MiG-25PD interceptors being fitted with modified armament (R-40TD and RD, and R-60 missiles) before the end of August 1977, with flight testing beginning three months later.

In addition, the Smerch-A2 radar was replaced with a Sapfir-25, which had a different emission frequency, improved jamming protection and better targeting capabilities including, for the first time, at low level. It was housed within a much longer nose section. Modified R15BD-300 turbojets completed the transformation to MiG-25PD. NATO called this the Foxbat-E and its effectiveness was significantly higher than that of its predecessors; earlier MiG-25Ps were eventually converted into this standard.

The MiG-25P’s baptism of fire came on February 13, 1981 when Syrian Foxbats took off to intercept Israeli reconnaissance RF-4Es which had entered Lebanese airspace. It turned out the Phantoms were acting as bait as they quickly turned on their jamming, descended and retreated back to Israel. The Syrian MiG- 25Ps were then waylaid by a pair of F-15A Eagles which had approached from low level – one of which fired two AIM-7P Sparrow AAMs, one hitting a Foxbat.

Other countries that operated the MiG-25P in combat were Iraq during the Gulf War and Azerbaijan in action against Armenia. From 1967 until 1984 a total of 1,112 MiG-25s of all versions were built, 38 of which were exported. In 1983 the Soviets started to phase in the much-improved MiG-31 Foxhound which clearly exhibited its MiG-25 lineage.

The Last MiG-25 Foxbats of the Syrian Arab Air Force


How do the SR-71 and MiG 25 compare?


MiG-25, The Original Soviet Rat Rod


Escort fighter 1941–5

A damaged B-17 bomber being protected by two P-51 fighters.

In the Second World War the bedrock of US strategic bombing tactics in Europe was formation flying in a self-defending 54-aircraft combat wing, which was both dangerous and physically exhausting. Extreme physical effort was required from the pilot to keep station in the turbulence generated by hundreds of propellers. The pilots flying in wing positions depended on the skill of element leaders right up to combat wing level. Poor flying by the leaders, and the constant seesawing of positions, added to pilot fatigue and ran the risk of collisions or breaking the formation, thus providing Luftwaffe day fighters with “cold meat”—isolated aircraft.

Flying consisted of sliding the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers around to maintain the integrity of the formation. Banking was dangerous because of the close proximity of other aircraft. Frequent throttle changes were required, which could lead to excessive fuel consumption, particularly by aircraft flying in high groups. By the spring of 1943, heavy losses to German fighters had forced the USAAF’s 8th Air Force to adopt the “tucked-in wing” formation of three 18-aircraft squadrons stacked closely together with one squadron flying lead, one high and one low.

A combat wing, dubbed a Pulk (herd) by the Luftwaffe, deployed formidable defensive power and was a daunting sight to novice fighter pilots. The B-17G’s defensive armament consisted of thirteen .50 machine guns. A combat wing could bring to bear 648 machine guns firing 14 rounds a second with an effective range of 600 yards (548 m). The two-ounce bullets remained lethal on the human body at ranges of up to 4 miles (6.5 km).

“… the progressive destruction of and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”

Directive on the air war issued by the Western Allies after the Casablanca Conference, January 1943

Self-defending fallacy The USAAF began to make shallow penetrations into Germany in January 1943, and from February losses began to mount steadily. The Luftwaffe’s day fighters were as well armed as the US bombers, and by autumn 1943 they were carrying 30-millimeter (1.2-in.) heavy cannon and 210-millimeter (8.3-in.) rockets. The latter were not particularly accurate, but were effective in loosening up the bomber formations.


Heavy losses over Germany became the norm. The attrition reached a peak on August 17 when the 8th Air Force attacked the fighter assembly plant at Regensburg and the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt. Of the 376 aircraft dispatched on the double raid, 60 were lost and many more written off. A second raid on Schweinfurt in October cost the Americans 77 aircraft lost and another 133 damaged out of 291 dispatched. After the second Schweinfurt raid, bombing operations were temporarily suspended. It was brutally clear that the bombers would have to be escorted to and from targets deep in Germany. However, there were no aircraft capable of fulfilling this role.

The USAAF’s P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters lacked the performance to meet enemy fighters on equal terms and the range to escort the bombers over Germany. The Luftwaffe could now choose the time and place to attack, even when the P-47’s range was extended by 490-liter (108-gallon) drop tanks. German fighters would often draw the P-47s into combat, at which point they would have to jettison their drop tanks and reduce their escort range. The P-38 had a longer range but poor performance over 6,000 meters (20,000 ft.), the altitude at which most combats over Germany took place.

Major George Earl Preddy Jr. (February 5, 1919 – December 25, 1944)

Preddy was killed by “friendly fire” on the morning of December 25, 1944. As commanding officer of the 328th Fighter Squadron, 352nd FG, he was leading a formation of 10 P-51 Mustangs. They had been patrolling for about three hours, when they were directed to assist in a dogfight already in progress. Preddy destroyed two Messerschmitt Bf 109s, (the Bf 109G-14/AS Werk.No. 784111 “Yellow 6” of Uffz. Heinrich Zinnen, Killed and Bf 109G-14 Werk.No.785758 “Yellow 9” Fw. Karl Heinz Schröder, wounded) before being vectored to a lone Focke-Wulf Fw 190, strafing Allied ground forces southeast of Liege, Belgium. As the Fw 190, Preddy, and two other Mustangs passed over the Allied front line at tree-top height, a US Army anti-aircraft (AA) battery (believed to be part of the 430th AA Battalion, XIX Corps), fired at the FW-190 but missed and instead hit all three P-51’s. Preddy managed to release his canopy but was unable to bail out before the aircraft hit the ground at high speed and a low angle. He had a chance of surviving the crash but his wounds from .50 calibre fire were mortal.

Enter the Mustang

The crisis was resolved with the arrival of the North American P-51B Mustang in December 1943. Powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin and fitted with a 340-liter (75-gallon) drop tank, the P-51B had a range of 1,000 miles (1.6 km), enabling it to fly escort to such targets as Emden, Kiel and Bremen. The bubble-canopied P-51D, which arrived in May 1944, had a boosted performance with reinforced wings, allowing exceptional fuel loads and, with drop tank, a range of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) sufficient for escort to any target and even for the shuttle missions that flew to the Soviet Union.

The P-51D matched the Me 109G in level maneuvering flight and had the edge in climb and dive. Only the rate of roll left the German fighter on equal terms. It could remain in the air for over nine hours. In the P-51D the USAAF possessed a superb escort fighter that it could use to provoke and win a series of air supremacy battles. In January 1944, the Americans had introduced a modified bomber support relay system, which remained standard for the rest of the war. Rather than flying to a predetermined rendezvous point and then accompanying part of the bomber stream until relieved by another unit, a group was allocated an area along the route, which it patrolled while the bomber stream passed through.

Air supremacy battles

On May 30, 1944, 8th Air Force Mustang ace Major George Preddy wrote in his combat report:

As the bombers were approaching … Magdeburg, I was leading a section of seven ships giving close escort to the rear box which was quite a distance behind the main formation. I noticed 20 to 30 single-engine fighters attacking the front boxes, so we dropped our tanks and headed toward them. We came up behind three Me 109s in rather tight formation. I opened fire on one from 300 yards and closed to 150 yards. The 109 burst into flames and went down. I slipped behind the second 109 and fired while closing from 200 to 100 yards. He started burning and disintegrated immediately. He went down spinning. The third enemy aircraft saw us and broke down. I followed him in a steep turn, diving and zooming. I got in many deflection shots, getting hits on the wing and tail section. I ran out of ammunition, so my element leader, Lt. Whisner, continued the attack getting in several good hits. At about 7,000 feet the pilot baled out.

The most experienced P-47 groups were assigned those sectors where enemy opposition was anticipated, while the target leg of the bomber route was flown by P-38s and P-51s. The arrival of the Mustangs prompted another tactical adjustment of the bomber formations. They were reduced to three squadrons of 12 aircraft, with the lead squadron in the center and the trail squadrons formed up above and below. Although overall strength had been cut by one-third, the new formation occupied 17 percent more air space than its predecessor, reducing the strain on pilots and making it easier for the Mustangs to provide escort. The Mustangs were employed not only as escorts, hugging the bomber formation as had the German Me 109s in the Battle of Britain, but as fighting patrols whose role was to seek out and destroy the enemy.

Free French Spitfires

Following the dissolution of the Vichy French naval aviation arm, the second escadrille of the combat fighter group GC II/7 accepted several navy pilots into its ranks. In March 1943, it received its first British aircraft; Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb fighters. When GC II/7 was broken up in August, the squadron received two designations – one of which was French, the other British – by virtue of the fact that its complement included both French and British pilots. While the British designated the unit No.326 Squadron of the RAF, the French knew their squadron as GC 2/7, even though it was attached to No. 345 Wing of the Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force (MACAF). Its first mission as GC 2/7 was an armed reconnaissance mission on April 30, 1943, during the final phase of the war in North Africa, by which time the Luftwaffe had all but vanished, but ground-based Flak units still remained. By May 13, the Germans had surrendered in North Africa, and GC 2/7 had by then flown 42 missions, accumulating 296 sorties. On June 18, the squadron replaced its Mk.Vb Spitfires with the more agile and maneuverable Mk.IX variant, built originally to combat the German Focke-Wulf Fw 190, an example of which had been credited to GC 2/7 just seven days earlier.

September 1943 witnessed the participation of GC 2/7 in the liberation of Corsica, claiming seven enemy aircraft destroyed for the loss of two of its pilots. On the 27th, the squadron, alongside GC 1/3, had the distinction of becoming the first Armée de l’Air unit to be stationed on French soil, since the dissolution of the Vichy French air force the previous December, when it occupied the airfield at Ajaccio-Campo dell’Oro. Now part of No.332 Wing, the squadron’s duties encompassed patrols over the island of Corsica itself, interception of German bombers attacking the island, protection of Allied convoys traversing the Mediterranean, attacks against German shipping berthed in Italian ports, and, from January 1944, the escort of USAAF bombers attacking targets in Italy. From the spring of 1944, GC 2/7 would involve itself both in strafing and dive-bombing attacks against ground targets in coastal regions of western Italy as well as the island of Elba, famous as the place of temporary exile of Napoleon in 1814 prior to his escape.

Finally, in September 1944, GC 2/7 found itself based in metropolitan France itself and was assigned to the same kind of missions that it had conducted over Italy. However, its commanding officer, Captain Georges Valentin, was shot down by flak over Dijon on the 8th, while another, Captain Gauthier, was shot down a week later, only he managed to reach Switzerland from where, having been interned, he “escaped” to rejoin his unit. As the front line advanced eastwards towards Reich territory, GC 2/7 went to Luxeuil, from where missions flown in early October resulted in four enemy aircraft being confirmed destroyed and another one counted as a “probable”. Christmas Eve saw GC 2/7 escorting B-26 bombers. “Around 20” enemy fighters attacked the formation, and GC 2/7 claimed four of them destroyed, but the French lost one of their pilots in the process.

GC 2/7 frequently clashed with the enemy as the Allies advanced farther into Nazi Germany – including a sighting of two Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters on March 22, 1945, which were just too fast for the piston-engined Spitfires. On April 14, sixteen of the squadron’s aircraft were escorting Lockheed F-5s when they were intercepted by a mixed formation of Bf 109s and Fw 190s, two of which were claimed by GC 2/7 pilots, yet one pilot was shot down and became – for the brief duration that the war in Europe yet had to run – a prisoner. By the time the war did end on May 8, GC 2/7 had, since its formation two years earlier, accomplished just over 7,900 sorties.

French Spitfire pilot Pierre Closterman opens his score

Pierre Closterman had joined the Free French, No.341 Squadron in the spring of 1943. Now based at the famous RAF station at Biggin Hill in the south of England, under the leadership of Henri Mouchotte, they were as experienced as any squadron in Fighter Command.

Twenty two year old Closterman had spent time developing his skills under the tutelage of the older pilots, including Mouchotte and Martell, but he had not yet made a name for himself. When the time came for him to open his score, he did so in dramatic fashion. They were engaged in a sweep over France when suddenly a dozen Focke Wulf 190s attempted to ambush them out of the sun:

Led by a magnificent Fw 190 A-6 painted yellow all over and polished and gleaming like a jewel, the first were already passing on our left, less than a hundred yards away, and turning towards us. I could see, quite distinctly, outlined on their long transparent cockpits, the German pilots crouching forward.

‘Come on, Turban Yellow, attack!’

Martell had already dived straight into the enemy formation. Yellow 3 and Yellow 4 immediately lost contact and left us in the middle of a whirlpool of yellow noses and black crosses.

This time I did not even have time to feel really frightened. Although my stomach contracted, I could feel a frantic excitement rising within me. This was the real thing, and I lost my head slightly. Without realizing it I was giving vent to incoherent Redskin war-whoops and throwing my Spitfire about.

A Focke-Wulf was already breaking away, dragging after him a spiral of black smoke, and Martell, who was not wasting any time, was after the scalp of another. I did my best to play my part and back him up and give him cover, but he was far ahead and I had some difficulty in following his rolls and Immelmann turns.

Two Huns converged insidiously on his tail. I opened fire on them, although they were out of range. I missed them, but made them break off and make for me. Here was my opportunity!

I climbed steeply, did a half-roll and, before they could complete the 180° of their turn, there I was — within easy range this time – behind the second one. A slight pressure on the rudder and I had him in my sights. I could scarcely believe my eyes, only a simple deflection necessary, at less than 200 yards range. Quickly I squeezed the ring-button. Whoopee! Flashes all over his fuselage. My first burst had struck home and no mistake.

The Focke-Wulf caught alight at once. Tongues of flame escaped intermittently from his punctured tanks, licking the fuselage. Here and there incandescent gleams showed through the heavy black smoke surrounding the machine. The German pilot threw his plane into a desperate turn. Two slender white trails formed in the air.

Suddenly, the Focke-Wulf exploded, like a grenade. A blinding flash, a black cloud, then debris fluttered round my aircraft. The engine dropped like a ball of fire. One of the wings, torn off in the flames, dropped more slowly, like a dead leaf, showing its pale yellow under-surface and its olive green upper- surface alternately.

I bellowed my joy into the radio, just like a kid: ‘Hullo, Yellow One, Turban Yellow Two, I got one, I got one! Jesus, I got one of them!’

The sky was now full of Focke-Wulfs, brushing past me, attacking me on every side in a firework display of tracer bullets. They wouldn’t “let me go; a succession of frontal attacks, three-quarters rear, right, left, one after the other.

I was beginning to feel dizzy‘and my arms were aching. I was out of breath too, for maneuvering at 400 m.p.h. a Spitfire whose controls are stiffened by the speed is pretty exhausting work – especially at 26,000 feet. I felt as if I was stifling in my mask and I turned the oxygen to ‘emergency’. All I could feel was a hammering in my damp temples, my wrists and my ankles.

Moments later Closterman was ‘flabbergasted’ to shoot down a second German.



Mil-8/17 Helicopter

In May 1960, Mil conceived a machine to replace the piston-engined Mi-4 Hound. On June 9, 1961, the first Mi-8 Hip prototype, with a single AI-24V turboshaft and four-bladed main rotor system, lifted off for its maiden flight. On September 17, 1962, the Hip B, modified with two TV2-117 1,482-horsepower turboshafts mounted atop the fuselage, and a five-bladed main rotor system measuring 70 feet in diameter, took flight. The Mi-8 went into full production in 1965, and by 2000 fifty-four countries operated the more than 10,000 Mi-8s manufactured by the Rostov and Kazan production facilities in Russia and by foreign licensees. Designed as a medium-lift transport helicopter, the Hip, in its many variants, fulfilled a miscellany of mission requirements, including troop and cargo transportation, air ambulance, attack helicopter, airborne command post, fire fighter, and civilian carrier.

Constructed of light alloys, the Hip featured a “bus-shaped” fuselage with a rounded nose and glassed-in cockpit that accommodated a pilot, copilot, and flight engineer. The cabin housed twenty-four passengers, 8,800 pounds of cargo, or twelve stretchers. A large sliding door on the forward port side and rear-opening clamshell doors simplified loading large cargo. Removable interior seats and an internal winch capable of lifting 350 pounds that doubled as a rescue hoist facilitated cargo handling. Additionally, Mil equipped the aircraft with a cargo hook capable of carrying slingloads up to 6,500 pounds. A long tailboom extended from the upper portion of the fuselage and swept up to a tapered vertical fin that housed the gearbox and tailrotor, attached to the left side (right on the export versions).

External racks attached along the center of the 61-foot fuselage were designed to hold auxiliary fuel pods or weapons systems. Variants of the Hip carried a combination of 57-mm or 80-mm rockets, AT-2 Swatter or AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, 12.7- or 23-mm gun pods, or either 4  500-pound or 2  1,000-pound bombs. In 1967, Mil introduced the Hip E and F ground support helicopters, each mounting a flexible 12.7-mm heavy machine gun under the nose and carrying 192 57-mm rockets. Combat troops could also fire their individual weapons from the windows of the helicopter. In later models Mil installed the upgraded Isotov TV2-117A engines, which produced 1,700 horsepower each. Generally a Hip cruised at 122 knots, had a service ceiling of 14,700 feet, and hovered Out of Ground Effect (OGE) at 2,600 feet. All Mi-8s rested on a fixed tricycle landing gear, with dual wheels at the nose. Total production estimates ran as high as 15,000 units of the Mi-8 and its export version, the Mi-17.


Country of origin: USSR

Crew: Two pilots and flight engineer

Rotor diameter: 70 ft. Length: 61 ft.

Armament: Combinations of 12.7-mm machine gun in nose, SA-2 Swatter/ AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, 57- and 80- mm rocket pods, 23-mm cannon, and bombs

Powerplant: Two Klimov TV2-117AG (Mi-8)/ TV3-117MT (Mi-17) turboshafts

Airspeed: 135 knots

Range: 200 nautical miles (545 with auxiliary fuel)

Cargo capacity: Up to 32 combat troops, or 8,800 pounds’ internal cargo, or 6,614 pounds slingload

Notes: Designed to replace Mi-4, first flown in June 1961; used by Soviet and Russian forces and Aeroflot. Military versions denoted by round windows and armed with machine guns and 57-mm rockets. Later version designed and equipped for ECM operations. Introduced in August 1975, Mi-17 employed Mi-8 fuselage and Mi-14 engines; latest version with upgraded engines is Mi-17 Hip H. More than 10,000 of all variants manufactured and used by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Madagascar, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Yemen, People’s Republic of China, Slovakia, South Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and Zambia.

Heinkel He 111

Although the Heinkel He 111 was designed ostensibly as a civil airliner for Lufthansa, its military potential was of a far greater importance. The first prototype of Siegfried and Walter Günter’s enlarged, twin-engine development of the remarkable He 70 was fitted with a glazed nose when flown at Rostock-Marienehe on 24 February 1935, in the hands of Flugkapitän Gerhard Nitschke. An all-metal cantilever low-wing monoplane, it was powered by two 660-hp (492-kW) BMW VI 6,0Z engines and was followed by two further prototypes, each with shorter-span wings than those fitted on the first prototype. The third aircraft became the true bomber prototype and the second, which flew on 12 March 1935, was a civil version with a mail compartment in the nose and two passenger cabins, with seats for four and six passengers. After tests at Staaken this prototype eventually joined the Lufthansa fleet, although much of the development work on the civil version was carried out by the fourth prototype, the first to be revealed to the public and demonstrated at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport on 10 January 1936. Lufthansa received six He 111C 10-seat airliners during 1936, and these first entered service on the Berlin – Hannover- Amsterdam, Berlin-Nuremberg-Munich and Berlin-Dortmund- Cologne routes. Lufthansa received subsequently a number of He 111G-3 transports with 880hp (656-kW) BMW 132Dc engines and, later, a further generally similar batch under the alternative designation He 111L.

Development of the military counterpart continued with the manufacture of 10 He 111A-D pre-production aircraft, based on the third prototype, but with a longer nose and armed by three MG 15 machine-guns in nose, dorsal and ventral positions. Two were used for operational trials at Rechlin but poor handling, power deficiencies and inadequate performance resulted in rejection, and all 10 were later sold to China. The solution was the installation of two 1,000-hp (746-kW) Daimler-Benz DB 600A engines, first fitted to the fifth (B-series) prototype which flew in early 1936 as the forerunner of the first production versions built at Marienehe from the autumn of 1936. These comprised the He 111B-1 powered by the 880-hp (656-kW) DB600, followed by the He 111B-2 with 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines. The improvement in the performance of these aircraft resulted in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium placing such large orders that it was necessary to build a new He 111 construction facility at Oranienburg, near Berlin, this being completed in 1937.

The B-series was followed by the He 111D-1 with improved DB 600Ga engines, but the urgent need to divert DB 600 powerplant for fighter production meant that this version was built in only small numbers. This brought introduction of the 1,000-hp (746-kW) Junkers Jumo 211A-1, installed initially in an He 111D-D airframe to serve as the prototype of the He 111E-D pre-production series. In the initial production He 111E-1 bomber of February 1938 the bombload was increased to 3,7481b (1700 kg), but the He 111E-3 had another increase to 4,409 Ib (2000 kg), and the ensuing He 111E-4 could carry 2,205 lb (1000 kg) of this total on underfuselage racks; final sub-variant of the E-series, the He 111E-5 introduced an additional 183.7 Imp gal (835 litres) of auxiliary fuel carried within the fuselage. The next version into production was the He 111G which first introduced a new wing of simplified construction with straight, instead of curved taper. This was used first in the He 111G-3 civil transport built for Lufthansa, and there was some delay before it was approved by the RLM. Then followed the He 111G-1, basically similar to C-series aircraft but for the addition of the new wing, and the He 111G-4 which was powered by the 900-hp (671-kW) DB 600G engine; four He 111G-5 aircraft supplied to Turkey had Daimler-Benz 600Ga engines. Next came, unsequentially, the similar He 111F-1 powered by Jumo 211A-3 engines of which 24 were supplied to Turkey, and 40 virtually identical aircraft were built for the Luftwaffe in 1938 under the designation He 111F-4.

Developed in parallel were the H-series and P-series, the latter introducing in 1939 a major fuselage redesign which replaced the stepped cockpit by an extensively-glazed cockpit and nose section and, at the same time, moved the nose gun position to starboard to improve the pilot’s view. The pre-production He 111P-0 also introduced a revised ventral gondola, with the gunner in a prone position, and was powered by two 1,150-hp (858-kW) DB 601 Aa engines. Relatively few He 111Ps were built before this version was superseded by the H-series, the He 111P-1 which was virtually identical to the pre-production aircraft being delivered first in the autumn of 1939; the He 111P-2 differed only by having changes in radio equipment, and the He 111P-3 was a dual-control trainer. Heavier armour protection and up to six MG 15 machine-guns were introduced in the five-crew He 111P-4 which, in addition to carrying 2,205 Ib (1000 kg) of bombs internally had ETC 500 racks beneath the fuselage for a similar external load; the He 111P-6 had all-internal stowage for 4,409 Ib (2000 kg) of bombs, and later P-series conversions, for use as glider tugs with l,175-hp (876-kW) DB 60lN engines installed, were redesignated He 111P-2/R2.

The major production version, built in a large number of variants, was the H-series, the He 111H-0 and He 111H-1 pre-production/production batches being basically the same as He 111P-2s except for the installation of 1,010-hp (753-kW) Jumo 211A engines. The He 111H-2 which became available in the autumn of 1939 had Jumo 211A-3 engines and carried two additional MG 15 machine-guns, one in the nose and one in the ventral gondola, and the He 111H-3 introduced armour protection and armament comprising a 20-mm MG FF cannon and an MG 15 in the ventral gondola, two MG 15s in the nose, one dorsally mounted, and similar weapons in beam positions. The He 111H-4 introduced Jumo 211D-1 engines and was equipped with two external racks to carry a 3,968-lb (1800 kg) bombload that could include two 1,686-lb (765-kg) differed only by having increased fuel capacity. When He 111H-3 and He 111H-5 aircraft were later fitted with a nose-mounted device to fend off balloon cables they were both redesignated He 111H-8, and subsequent re-conversion for use as glider tugs was made under the designation He 111H-8/R2. Junkers Jumo 211F-1 engines with variable-pitch propellers, and a fixed MG 17 machine-gun mounted in the tail, identified the He 111H-6; and the He 111H-10 was developed and built in small numbers especially for the night bombing offensive against the UK, these being equipped with Kute-Nase balloon cable-cutters in the wing leading edges and additional armour protection. Armament changes and a fully-enclosed dorsal position accommodating an MG 131 machine-gun identified the He 111H-11, in which the nose position carried a 20-mm MG FF cannon and the ventral MG 15 was replaced by a twin-barrel MG 81Z; when the beam guns were later replaced by MG 81Zs these aircraft were redesignated He 111H-11/R1, and changed their designation yet again to become He 111H-11/R2 when adapted to tow Gotha Go 242 gliders. The He 111H-12 and He 111H-15 were both built in small numbers, without the ventral gondola, to serve as missile launchers for Henschel and Blohm und Voss weapons respectively. The first of the pathfinder versions had the designation He 111H-14, and when converted later to serve as a glider tug was redesignated He 111H-14/R2.

Built in large numbers, following introduction in the autumn of 1942, the He 111H-16 was generally similar to the He 111H-11, but equipped to carry a bombload of up to 7,1651b (3250 kg), although this necessitated the use of R-Geräte rocket-assisted take-off equipment; it was built in sub-variants that included the He 111H16/R1 which had a revolving dorsal turret with an MG 131 machine-gun, He 111H-16/R2 equipped for rigidbar towing of gliders, and the He 111H-16/R3 which carried additional radio equipment for use as a pathfinder. The ensuing He 111H-18 was also a pathfinder, with exhaust flame dampers to make it suitable for night operations, followed by the He 111H-20 built in sub-variants that included the He 111H-20/R1 carrying 16 paratroops, He 111H-20/R2 night bomber/glider tug, He 111H-20/R3 night bomber with heavier armour protection and improved radio, and the virtually identical He 111H-20/R4 with GM-1 power boosting equipment for the powerplant; when a 1,750-hp (1305kW) Jumo 213E-1 engine with two-stage superchargers was installed in He 111H-20/R3 aircraft they were redesignated He 111H-21. The He 111H-22 was equipped to carry a Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1) missile beneath each wing, and the final H-series variant was the He 111H-23 paratroop transport with 1,776-hp (1324-kW) Jumo 213A-1 engines.

Produced in parallel with the F-series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 were intended as torpedo-bombers and powered by 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines, but the He 111J-1 production aircraft, of which about 8 were built, were equipped as bombers. A single prototype was built of a proposed high-altitude bomber under the designation He 111R, powered by two 1,810hp (1350-kW) DB 603U engines, but no production aircraft resulted. Final, and certainly the most unusual version, was the He 111Z (Zwilling, or twin), designed to tow the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant transport glider. It comprised two 111H-6 airframes joined by a new wing centre-section which mounted a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine. Two prototypes and 10 He 111Z-1 production aircraft were built during the winter of 1941-2.

First deliveries to an operational squadron were made late in 1936, to l./KG 154 at Fassberg, and in February 193730 He 111B-1s were sent to the Legion Condor bomber unit K/88 in Spain, following operational trials in which four of the pre-production He 111B-0s were flown by a flight of VB 88. The He 111 bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s bombing effort in early World War II: Poland in the autumn of 1939, Norway and Denmark in April 1940, France and the Low Countries in May and against British targets during the Battle of Britain. Large-scale introduction of the Junkers Ju 88, and the He 111’s vulnerability to British fighters, resulted in the Heinkel bomber being transferred to night operations and to a variety of specialised roles, as a missile-carrier, torpedo-bomber, pathfinder and glidertug. Transport duties were also undertaken, including operations to supply the beleaguered German army at Stalingrad between November 1942 and February 1943, and by the end of the war He 111s were virtually flown only in the transport role. Production of more than 7,000 German-built aircraft for the Luftwaffe was completed in the autumn of 1944. In addition to those manufactured in Heinkel factories at Marienehe and Oranienburg, He 111s were built by Norddeutsche Dornierwerke in Wismar, by Allgemeine Transportgesellschaft in Leipzig, Arado in Babelsberg and Brandenburg/Havel and at other centres. Some 236 He 111Hs were built by CASA in Spain during and after the war as the CASA 2.111, approximately 130 with Jumo 211F-2 engines and the rest with Rolls Royce Merlin 500-29s; some were converted later for transport and training duties.


He 111 A-0: 10 aircraft built based on He 111 V3, two used for trials at Rechlin, rejected by Luftwaffe, all 10 were sold to China”.

He 111 B-0: Pre-production aircraft, similar to He 111 A-0, but with DB600Aa engines.

He 111 B-1: Production aircraft as B-0, but with DB600C engines. Defensive armament consisted of a flexible Ikaria turret in the nose A Stand, a B Stand with one DL 15 revolving gun-mount and a C Stand with one MG 15.

He 111 B-2: As B-1, but with DB600GG engines, and extra radiators on either side of the engine nacelles under the wings. Later the DB 600Ga engines were added and the wing surface coolers withdrawn.

He 111 B-3: Modified B-1 for training purposes.

He 111 C-0: Six pre-production aircraft.

He 111 D-0: Pre-production aircraft with DB600Ga engines.

He 111 D-1: Production aircraft, only a few built. Notable for the installation of the FuG X, or FuG 10, designed to operate over longer ranges. Auxiliary equipment contained direction finding Peil G V and FuBI radio blind landing aids.

He 111 E-0: Pre-production aircraft, similar to B-0, but with Jumo 211 A-1 engines.

He 111 E-1: Production aircraft with Jumo 211 A-1 powerplants. Prototypes were powered by Jume 210G as which replaced the original DB 600s.

He 111 E-2: Non production variant. No known variants built. Designed with Jumo 211 A-1s and A-3s.

He 111 E-3: Production bomber. Same design as E-2, but upgraded to standard Jumo 211 A-3s.

He 111 E-4: Half of 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) bomb load carried externally.

He 111 E-5: Fitted with several internal auxiliary fuel tanks.

He 111 F-0: Pre-production aircraft similar to E-5, but with a new wing of simpler construction with a straight rather than curved taper, and Jumo 211 A-1 engines.

He 111 F-1: Production bomber, 24 were exported to Turkey.

He 111 F-2: 20 were built. The F-2 was based on the F-1, differing only in installation of optimised wireless equipment.

He 111 F-3: Planned reconnaissance version. Bomb release equipment replaced with RB cameras. It was to have Jumo 211 A-3 powerplants.

He 111 F-4: A small number of staff communications aircraft were built under this designation. Equipment was similar to the G-5.

He 111 F-5: The F-5 was not put into production. The already available on the P variant showed it to be superior.

He 111 G-0: Pre-production transportation aircraft built, featured new wing introduced on F-0.

He 111 G-3: Also known as V14, fitted with BMW 132Dc radial engines.

He 111 G-4: Also known as V16, fitted with DB600G engines.

He 111 G-5: Four aircraft with DB600Ga engines built for export to Turkey.

He 111 J-0: Pre-production torpedo bomber similar to F-4, but with DB600CG engines.

He 111 J-1: Production torpedo bomber, 90 built, but re-configured as a bomber.

He 111 L: Alternative designation for the He 111 G-3 civil transport aircraft.

He 111 P-0: Pre-production aircraft featured new straight wing, new glazed nose, DB601Aa engines, and a ventral gondola for gunner (rather than “dust-bin” on previous models).

He 111 P-1: Production aircraft fitted with three MG 15s as defensive armament.

He 111 P-2: Had FuG 10 radio in place of FuG IIIaU. Defensive armament increased to five MG 15s.

He 111 P-3: Dual control trainer fitted with DB601 A-1 powerplants.

He 111 P-4: Fitted with extra armour, three extra MG 15s, and provisions for two externally mounted bomber racks. Powerplants consisted of DB601 A-1s. The internal bomb bay was replaced with a 835 L fuel tank and a 120 L oil tank.

He 111 P-5: The P-5 was a pilot trainer. Some 24 examples were built. The variant was powered by DB 601A engines.

He 111 P-6: Some of the P-6s were powered by the DB 601N engines. The Messerschmitt Bf 109 received these engines, as they had greater priority.

He 111 P-6/R2: Conversions later in war of surviving aircraft to glider tugs.

He 111 P-7: Never built.

He 111 P-8: Its existence and production is in doubt.

He 111 P-9: It was intended for export to the Hungarian Air Force, by the project founder for lack of DB 601E engines. Only a small number were built, and were used in the Luftwaffe as towing aircraft.

He 111 H-0: Pre-production aircraft similar to P-2 but with Jumo 211A-1 engines.

He 111 H-1: Production aircraft. Fitted with FuG IIIaU and later FuG 10 radio communications.

He 111 H-2: This version was fitted with improved armament. Two D Stands (waist guns) in the fuselage giving the variant some five MG 15 Machine guns.

He 111 H-3: Similar to H-2, but with Jumo 211 A-3 engines. Like the H-2, five MG 15 machine guns were standard. One A Stand MG FF cannon could be installed in the nose and an MG 15 could be installed in the tail unit.

He 111 H-4: Fitted with Jumo 211D engines, late in production changed to Jumo 211F engines, and two external bomb racks. Two PVC 1006L racks for carrying torpedoes could be added.”.

He 111 H-5: Similar to H-4, all bombs carried externally, internal bomb bay replaced by fuel tank. The variant was to be a longer range torpedo bomber.

He 111 H-6: Torpedo bomber, could carry two LT F5b torpedoes externally, powered by Jumo 211F-1 engines, had six MG 15s and one MG FF cannon in forward gondola.

He 111 H-7: Designed as a night bomber. Similar to H-6, tail MG 17 removed, ventral gondola removed, and armoured plate added. Fitted with Kuto-Nase barrage balloon cable-cutters.[68]

He 111 H-8: The H-8 was a rebuild of H-3 or H-5 aircraft, but with balloon cable-cutting fender. The H-8 was powered by Jumo 211D-1s.

He 111 H-8/R2: Conversion of H-8 into glider tugs, balloon cable-cutting equipment removed.

He 111 H-9: Based on H-6, but with Kuto-Nase balloon cable-cutters.

He 111 H-10: Similar to H-6, but with 20 mm MG/FF cannon in ventral gondola, and fitted with Kuto-Nase balloon cable-cutters. Powered by Jumo 211 A-1s or D-1s.

He 111 H-11: Had a fully-enclosed dorsal gun position and increased defensive armament and armour. The H-11 was fitted with Jumo 211 F-2s.

He 111 H-11/R1: As H-11, but with two 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81Z twin-gun units at beam positions.

He 111 H-11/R2: As H-11, but converted to a glider tug.

He 111 H-12: Modified to carry Hs 293A missiles, fitted with FuG 203b Kehl transmitter, and ventral gondola deleted.[68]

He 111 H-14: Pathfinder, fitted with FuG FuMB 4 Samos and FuG 16 radio equipment.

He 111 H-14/R1: Glider tug version.

He 111 H-15: The H-15 was intended as a launch pad for the Blohm & Voss BV 246.

He 111 H-16: Fitted with Jumo 211 F-2 engines and increased defensive armament of MG 131 machine guns, twin MG 81Zs, and a MG FF cannon.

He 111 H-16/R1: As H-16, but with MG 131 in power-operated dorsal turret.

He 111 H-16/R2: As H-16, but converted to a glider tug.

He 111 H-16/R3: As H-16, modified as a pathfinder.

He 111 H-18: Based on H-16/R3, was a pathfinder for night operations.

He 111 H-20: Defensive armament similar to H-16, but some aircraft feature power-operated dorsal turrets.

He 111 H-20/R1: Could carry 16 paratroopers, fitted with jump hatch.

He 111 H-20/R2: Was a cargo carrier and glider tug.

He 111 H-20/R3: Was a night bomber.

He 111 H-20/R4: Could carry twenty 50 kg (110 lb) bombs.

He 111 H-21: Based on the H-20/R3, but with Jumo 213 E-1 engines.

He 111 H-22: Re-designated and modified H-6, H-16, and H-21’s used to air launch V1 flying-bombs.

He 111 H-23: Based on H-20/R1, but with Jumo 213 A-1 engines.

He 111 R: High altitude bomber project.

He 111 U: A spurious designation applied for propaganda purposes to the Heinkel He 119 high-speed reconnaissance bomber design which set an FAI record in November 1937. True identity only becomes clear to the Allies after World War II.

He 111 Z-1: Two He 111 airframes coupled together by a fifth engine, used a glider tug for Messerschmitt Me 321.

He 111 Z-2: Long-range bomber variant based on Z-1.

He 111 Z-3: Long-range reconnaissance variant based on Z-1.

CASA 2.111

The Spanish company CASA also produced a number of heavily modified He 111s under license for indigenous use. These models were designated CASA 2.111 and served until 1975.

Specifications (He 111 H-6)

General characteristics

Crew: 4 (pilot, navigator/bombardier/nose gunner, ventral gunner, dorsal gunner/radio operator)[82]

Length: 16.4 m (53 ft 9½ in)

Wingspan: 22.60 m (74 ft 2 in)

Height: 4.00 m (13 ft 1½ in)

Wing area: 87.60 m² (942.92 ft²)

Empty weight: 8,680 kg (19,136lb lb)

Loaded weight: 12,030 kg (26,500 lb)

Max takeoff weight: 14,000 kg (30,864 lb)

Powerplant: 2× Jumo 211F-1 or 211F-2 liquid-cooled inverted V-12, 986 kW (1,300 hp (F-1) or 1,340 (F-2)) each


Maximum speed: 440 km/h (273 mph)

Range: 2,300 km (1,429 mi) with maximum fuel

Service ceiling: 6,500 m (21,330 ft)

Rate of climb: 20 minutes to 5,185 m [83] (17,000 ft [83])

Wing loading: 137 kg/m² [83] (28.1 lb/ft² [83])

Power/mass: .082 kW/kg [83] (.049 hp/lb [83])


Guns: ** up to 7 × 7.92 mm MG 15 or MG 81 machine guns, some of them replaced or augmented by

1 × 20 mm MG FF cannon (central nose mount or forward ventral position)

1 × 13 mm MG 131 machine gun (mounted dorsal and/or ventral rear positions)

Bombs: ** up to 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) carried internally (eight 250 kg max), or:

up to 2,500 kg (5,512 lb) on two external racks

Variant Detail

He 111A/A-0

Following unsatisfactory tests of 10 pre-production He 111A-0 bombers, all were sold to China.

He 111B/B-1/B-2

Testing of the fifth prototype with 746 kW (1,000 hp) DB 600A engines led in 1936 to the production He 111B-1 with 656 kW (880 hp) DB 600C engines, followed by the He 111B-2 with the 708 kW (950 hp) DB 600CG.

He 111C

Six 10-passenger airliners for Lufthansa.

He 111D

An improved version with DB 600Ga engines and auxiliary wing radiators deleted; production was discontinued in favour of the He 111E.

He 111E/E-0/E-1/E-3/E-4/E-5

The shortage of DB 600 engines brought installation of 746 kW (1,000 hp) Junkers Jumo 211A-1 engines in an He 111D-0 airframe; the resulting He 111E-0 pre-production prototype had increased bombload; production He 111E-1 bombers were delivered in 1938, followed by the He 111E-3 and He 111E-4 with further increase in bombload and He 111E-5 with fuselage auxiliary fuel tank.

He 111F/F-1/F-4

The new wing of the He 111G and Jumo 211A-3 engines characterised the 24 He 111F-1 bombers supplied to Turkey; the Luftwaffe received 40 similar He 111F-4 aircraft in 1938.

He 111G/G-1/G-3/G-4/G-5

First version with the new straight-taper wing which, incorporated on the He 111C, brought redesignation He 111G-1; the He 111G-3 had 656-kW (880-hp) BMW 132Dc engines, the He 111G-4 671-kW (900-hp) DB 60OGs, and four He 111G-5 aircraft for Turkey had DB 600Ga engines.

He 111H/H-0/H-1/H-3/H-4/H-5/H-6/H-8/(H-8/R2)/H-10/H-11/(H-11/R1/R2)/H-12/H-15/H-14/(H-14/R2)/H-16/(H-16/R1/R2/R3)/H-18/H-20/(H-20/R1/R2/R3/R4)/H-21/H-22/H-23/

Developed in parallel with the He 111P series, the He 111H-0 and He 111H-1 were basically He 111P-2s with 753 kW (1,100 hp) Jumo 211A engines; the He 111H-2 of 1939 had improved armament; the He 111H-3 introduced armour protection and a 20-mm cannon; the He 111H-4 had Jumo 211 D-1 engines and two external racks for bombs or torpedoes, and the generally similar He 111H-5 had increased fuel capacity; the He 111H-6 introduced Jumo 211F-1 engines and machine-gun in the tailcone; He 111H-8 was the redesignation of He 111H-3s and He 111H-5s following installation of fenders for balloon cables, most of them being converted later to He 111H-8/R2 glider tugs; the He 111H-10 for night bombing of UK targets had additional armour, reduced armament and wing leading-edge balloon cable-cutters; the He 111H-11 and He 111H-11/R1 had revised armament, the last becoming He 111H-11/R2 when converted later as a glider tug; the He 111H-12 and He 111H-15 were missile-launchers, the He 111H-14 a pathfinder version and the He 111H-14/R2 a glider tug; introduced in 1942, the He 111H-16 was a major production variant similar to the He 111H-11 but able to carry a 7,165 lbs (3250 kg) bombload with the use of rocket-assisted-take-off gear. The He 111H-16/R1 had a revolving dorsal turret, the He 111H-16/R2 was for rigid bar towing of gliders and the He 111H-16/R3 was a pathfinder version as was the He 111H-18 with exhaust flame dampers. Four versions of the He 111H-20 comprised the He 111H-20/R1 capable of carrying 16 paratroops. The He 111H-20/R2 night bomber/glider tug, the He 111H-20/R3 with increased armour protection and the generally similar He 111H-20/R4 which introduced GM-1 power boost equipment. A version of the He 111H-20/R3 with 1,750 hp (1305 kW) Jumo 213E-1 engines and two-stage superchargers was designated He 111H-21. The He 111H-22 was a missile carrier and the He 111H-23 was a paratroop transport with 1,776 hp (1324 kW) engines.

He 111J/J-0/J-1

A torpedo bomber version of the He 111F series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 both had 950 hp (708 kW) DB 600CG engines.

He 111L

The alternative designation for the He 111G-3 civil transport.

He 111P/P-0/P-1/P-2/P-3/P-4/P-6

In 1939 the He 111P series introduced a major fuselage redesign, the stepped cockpit being replaced by an asymmetric glazed cockpit and nose. The He 111P-0 introduced a prone position ventral gondola and was powered by two 1,150 hp (858 kW) DB 601Aa engines. First being deliveries of the He 111P-1 began in late 1939. The He 111P-2 was similar but for radio revisions. The He 111P-3 had dual controls and the five crew He 111P-4 had more armour and armament. The He 111P-6 had 1,175 hp (876 kW) DB 601N engines and its 4,409 lbs (2000 kg) bombload stowed vertically in the fuselage; when later converted as a glider tug the He 111P-6 became the He 111P-6/R2.

He 111R

A single prototype of proposed high altitude bomber.He 111Z/Z-1

The He 111Z (Zwilling, or twin) combined two He 111H-6 airframes, joined by a new wing centre-section to mount a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine; designed to tow the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant transport glider; two prototypes and 10 He 111Z-1 production aircraft were built.

Specifications (Heinkel He 111H-16)

Type: Four or Five seat medium bomber (Later used as a torpedo bomber, glider tug and missile launching platform)

Design: Ernst Heinkel AG

Manufacturer: Ernst Heinkel AG, SNCASO (France), Fabrica de Avione SET, CASA (Spain), Romania.

Powerplant: Two 1,350 hp (1007 kW) Junkers Jumo 211F-2 12-cylinder inverted Vee piston engines.

Performance: Maximum speed 227 mph (365 km/h) at sea level; service ceiling 21,980 It (6700 m).

Range: 1,212 miles (1950 km) with full bombload.

Weight: (Z-2) Empty equipped 19,136 lbs (8680 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 30,865 lbs (14000 kg).

Dimensions: Span 74 ft 1 3/4 in (22.60 m); length 53 ft 9 1/2 in (16.40 m); height 13 ft 1 1/4 in (4.00 m); wing area 931.11 sq ft (86.50 sq m).

Armament: One 20 mm MG FF cannon, one 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine gun and three 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 81Z machine guns, plus a normal internal bombload of 2,205 lbs (1000 kg). Could carry up to 7,165 lbs (3250 kg) of bombs (most externally) with the use of rocket-assisted-takeoff-gear (RATOG).

Variants: He 111A, He 111B/B-1/B-2, He 111C, He 111D, He 111E/E-0/E-1/E-3/E-4/E-5, He 111F/F-1/F-4, He 111G/G-1/G-3/G-4/G-5, He 111H/H-1 to H-6/H-8, He 111H-8/R2, He 111H-10, He 111H-11, He 111H-11/R1/R2, He 111H-12/H-15 (missile launchers, He 111H-14 (pathfinder), He 111H-14/R2 (glider tug), He 111H-16 (major production version), He 111H-16/R1/R2/R3, He 111H-18, He 111H-20/R1/R2/R3/R4, He 111H-21, He 111H-22, He 111H-23, He 111J/J-0/J-1, He 111L, He 111P/P-0/P-1/P-2/P-3/P-4/P-6, He 111P-6/R2, He 111R, He 111Z/Z-1 (Zwilling).

History: First flight (He 111V-1 prototype) 24 February 1935, (pre-production He 111B-0) August 1936, (production He 111B-1) 30 October 1936 (first He 111E series) January 1938, (first production He 111P-1) December 1938, (He 111H-1) January/February 1939, final delivery (He 111H-23) October 1944, (Spanish C2111) late 1956.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe, Lufthansa), China, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Turkey.