I am an aviation nut. I know that some of you, Dear Readers, may well be wondering by this stage if there is some aspect of nerdishness that I do not adhere to (there is: I don’t do, and have never done, computer and video games) but this is one of those cases where I throw up my hands and say “I know! It’s just the way I am!”
I am an aviation nut. I love planes. I particularly like military planes. For many years, I had an interest solely in those of World War Two. I liked the fighters, like the Spitfire and Mosquito; I liked the four-engined heavies, like the Lancaster and Sunderland. I have a familial connection to the Sunderlands, in fact: built in Belfast, in Shorts, the steel from which they were made was ordered in to the factory by my late great-aunt. I have built models of most of these (although not, as it happens, the Sunderland – I have two kits of those still waiting to be built) but over the last couple of years I have found myself getting interested in what happened after the war.
I worked in Modelzone, and as a result of the healthy staff discount I was afforded I was able to collect some of the diecast metal models that have started to come on to the market in recent years. These are lightyears ahead of the old Matchbox toys – these are proper scale models that look wonderful. Although you always run the risk of encountering manufacturing problems and errors, the finish on them is still better than I can manage, and they do look awfully good on the bookshelf I have set aside for them.
But because these are primarily display models (rather than kits built to be suspended over the railway) it’s worth being a little bit picky. It’s worth selecting them for their aesthetic merits. It’s worth sitting down and thinking which are the nicest looking. To that end, might I present four of what I think are the most attractive jets ever built?
Fighter planes, they say, come in generations. The first of these came immediately after the end of WWII and lasted until roughly the mid-1950s, when aircraft started to come along that used air-to-air missiles as their primary armament rather than guns. But of those initial cannon-armed fighters, I suggest that the most attractive was the American F-86D Sabre Dog.
The F-86D was a single-seat all-weather interceptor developed from the earlier F-86 Sabre (the easiest way to tell them apart is the nose: the Sabre Dog has a radome where the Sabre has a simple air intake). Larger, faster and more powerful, a Sabre Dog went on to set the world speed record at an altitude of only 125 feet (remember, air is thicker lower down, so you go slower). But records like that fell easily in the 1950s and 1960s, and the next plane on my list took things to a whole new level.
The F-101, nicknamed the ‘F – One Oh Wonderful’ by the people who flew it, was officially called the Voodoo. Initially designed as a ‘penetration fighter’ (i.e. a bomber escort), and then reconfigured as a nuclear strike fighter, the two-seat F-101B was built as an interceptor and used for air defence. Deployed from 1959 onwards, they lasted until 1982 in the role, although by that stage they no longer carried the Genie nuclear air-to-air rockets that they would have used to shatter formations of inbound Soviet bombers.
The big engines you see extending beneath the tail of the aircraft were sufficient to get it up to Mach 1.85 – not bad for a plane in active service before 1960.
The third generation of fighters saw increasing specialisation, and so after a pair of American interceptors can I turn your attention to a training aircraft from the other side of the world? The Mitsubishi T-2 was introduced in 1975 as the first Japanese-built aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight, and bore a striking resemblance to the Anglo-French Jaguar – which was not surprising, since that had been the plane the Japanese initially wanted to buy and, when stymied, used for inspiration. In 1981/2 the Japanese air force display team, ‘Blue Impulse’, re-equipped with the type and gave it their distinctive livery. The result was a wonderful-looking aeroplane.
Which takes us up to Generation Four, which for most of the world is where we are now (the only ‘fifth generation’ fighter in service is the F-22 Raptor). We return to America and to an emphasis on air-to-air superiority, and to the fighter that was advertised as being designed with ‘not a pound for air-to-ground’. Able to go supersonic in a vertical climb, so aerodynamically efficient that one was able to remain in controlled flight after a collision tore its entire starboard wing off, and with a victory roster that boasts over a hundred kills for no losses, the F-15 Eagle is one of the best aircraft of any type ever to take wing. Chuck Yeager – the first man to break the sound barrier – described it as his favourite airplane.
I said at the beginning that I have display models of these. If you are interested, these are they:
…But these are just my preferences. What are yours?